Friday, November 21, 2014

Gifts of the Season

Christmas time is coming up which means many of us will contribute to a toy drive of some kind.  

For years I did what most people do.  I eagerly strolled down the toy aisle, delighted to buy a big colorful gift for a child.  Tonka Toys, Matchbox Cars, Lincoln Logs, Legos, dolls, action figures, Slinkies, crayons were all there to transport me back to my and my sons’ childhood.  

I thought about the delight on the faces of the children who would receive them and smiled as I dropped them in the big box outside the store.

Then one year I worked behind the scenes with one of the organizations that sponsored the toy drive.  It was fun to be given a basket along with a list of ages of the children in the families I was picking for.
In front of me were giant crates of donated toys, organized and labeled according to age ranges and gender. 

The crate for the little ones was overflowing and the adolescents had a good selection as well.  Even the crate labeled “Girls Ages 12-16” had a good supply of things like scarves, purses, and fun blank books, and jewelry boxes.  

It was when I got the “Boys: Ages 12-16” that my heart sank.  The supply was meager and the selection looked like cast-offs from the 99 Cent Store.  When there was nothing left in the crate, I asked the supervisor what to do.  She shrugged and said, “Just give them one out of the little kid boxes.” 

Perhaps it is because I have known the stigma of poverty, or because I am the mother of sons, but this experience really affected me.  Boys between the ages of twelve and sixteen are perhaps some of the most conflicted, most tender, and most misunderstood creatures on the planet.  

They are caught between childhood and adulthood.  Everything in our culture is screaming at them about what they should be and do.  The true little voices inside their heads are devalued and many times drowned out completely. 

Often times when there are financial burdens in the family, the older children are rushed into adulthood.  When the holidays roll around, the resources and attention are given to the younger kids.  
The older males, especially, have to rise to the occasion, and do what is expected.   Inside they may still be little boys, but circumstances dictate they sacrifice for the good of the family.  

They do it because they have to. The options open to then are as colorless and meager as the collection of items I saw in the crate that day.

So now, I don’t head to the toy aisle when it’s time to make my yearly donation.  Instead, I buy several presents I know will be right for boys between the ages of twelve and sixteen.  I look for good wallets, battery-operated coin sorters, I-Tune gift cards, cool watches, key chains that double as tools, and great t-shirts.  

I like to think of the boy who receives my present leaning up against the wall on Christmas morning, watching all the little kids open their presents, grinning at their exuberance, and then opening his, nodding and smiling.  

I hope my present helps balance the gap between childhood and adulthood.  

More than anything else I hope it keeps his pride intact and his boyish heart alive for just a little bit longer. 


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betty - this is a such a good post ... helping us to understand the limits of giving .. and really how we need to buck our ideas up - take a look around, see where the need is .. and offering some help.

Now with the snow, with the poverty anyway ... many will be in need, let alone dire need - and that thoughtful present will be much appreciated ...

Thanks for posting this - especially just before Thanksgiving time in the States ... Hilary

My Mind's Eye said...

BB you are so correct about the toy collections being geared to children 12 and under. What a great idea about the wallets, key chains etc.
Hugs madi and Mom

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

As someone who has five sons, all grown now like yours, I so agree with you. They are difficult to buy for. I love teenagers and taught PE to 9th and 10th graders for years. People never understood why I loved that age when those young men love to play like boys and then acted like men the next minute. It was awesome to watch them grow up.
I'm going to remember what you said when I donate this year.

Brian said...

That is a wonderful thing to do and we can almost see the smiles. We always shop for toys for homeless cats and dogs at some of the local shelters.

Hilary said...

Thank you for this. Now I know where my focus should be this year.

I wonder if it might be a good idea to send the link to this post to places that can influence what people purchase for toy drives. Like the Ellen Degeneres show, for example. Just a thought.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

ITunes cards and t-shirts - perfect! Maybe books if you can find ones suited for boys that age. I know that's difficult.

Gigi said...

Oh Betty, you make me cry. Yes, these much is expected of them and yet, so little is given to what they need/want.

Thanks for this PSA, I will be looking for gifts for our forgotten boys.

Ms. A said...

Tough age for boys (and girls). They are still young, but at the age where so much is expected of them, versus the younger ones. Tough age to go through.

Out on the prairie said...

I buy lots and enjoy this type of gift giving. I will join you with the same type gifts. I like ethnic dolls also, instead of the blond barbies. We started this when my kids were young, and it was fun for them to get others things they liked.

Ann said...

I've often seen those toy bins and you're right they are always loaded with toys for younger kids. I like your idea of purchasing for the older boys.

Alexandra said...

No one should feel forgotten. xo Happy holidays, friend. xo

Lin said...

GREAT post! I love your thoughts on these young men---so at danger for going the wrong way when life hands them a tough lot. Good suggestions for gifts too.

Last year, we adopted a family we know and bought presents for their little guy. It was the most fun we've had shopping in a LONG time. I am doing it again this year. I need a little guy to buy for--he needs somebody to make Christmas grand. It's a win-win. And our hearts are the biggest winners.

Connie said...

Oh my, this is a moving post! I never realized this. Never would have thought of it either. As a mother of sons, this is a story close to my heart.

Baby Sister said...

Wow. I love this, Betty. It never would have even crossed my mind. Thanks Betty. :)

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