In the lull that is the week between Christmas and New Year (and the imminent return to school of our children), I find myself thinking on children’s relationships with adults. Positive relating between generations is something I’ve long been driven to give consideration to. What a world our children could enjoy if only every adult always understood and respected them.
Around this time of the year, children are given more consideration by the adults directly in their lives and, indirectly too, by other adults. That is, Christmas has morphed from a Christian religious affair to a secular kind of thanksgiving for family and friends, albeit fuelled by a consumer position, and/or a midwinter break from work and other pressures: children are often placed at the centre of this modern ritual. However, of course, gift-giving because of love and gift-giving because of the usuality of ritual can easily merge to the point where those who give aren’t quite sure what they’re motivations are any more. I wonder if children benefit or not.
Don’t worry: this is not intended as a ‘bah humbug’ post! The older I get the more I understand the positives about this time around Christmas in our calendar. That said, gift-giving to children just because it’s gift-giving time in the calendar has its obvious drawbacks: gift-giving centres on this time of the year (and, in the culture that I’m used to, on birthdays too) — there is the possibility of false relating here though because objects given can be seen as just ‘representative’ of love.
Children can suck it all up, of course: give me this, or give me that; I’ll be good. They’re greedy in this respect because our culture has taught them to be. Our ancient rituals have morphed, from pre-Christian society, into modern rituals. It’s not the children’s fault, though they are a part of it. So children will want the latest gadget or toy, and when they receive it they’ll see it as something they’ve earned by negotiations of behaviour, or as something they deserve, or as something they’ve been given because it acts as a token of family unit belonging, etc.
These tokens may well be given with love (who am I to say whether any parent loves their child or not?) — but tokens are, by their very nature, representative of something; they’re not the real thing. If you receive a plastic chip and you put it into a slot machine, you can then go and exchange your plastic token winnings for real coins. Coins themselves are just tokens, used in exchange for other physical goods — an Xbox maybe. An Xbox, in this continuation, is just a token exchange for the idea that someone is loved or valued. Our society is fuelled by tokens. Is there reality in our relating?
What is this reality of relating anyway? Perhaps it’s a quiet look between adult and child (be they members of the same family, children of friends, children worked with on a regular basis, children worked with but just met, etc.); perhaps relating is in the way the child’s face shifts in expression when the adult is in the room, or in the building, and the child knows this; perhaps the child’s whole demeanour takes on a subtle yet significant relaxing; perhaps, dare I say it, playworkers of the old guard, it’s when a child just must wrap themselves around you, a hug without words, because they consider that you have ‘it’.
Children give their physical gifts too, of course, but this gift-giving takes place at any time of the year. If objects of the adult world can be seen as tokens to represent other things, then so too, I suppose, can objects given by children. However, more often than not, there is something ‘more real’ and ‘less token’ in children’s given things: a scrap of paper with a few squiggles and scribbles on it, saved for a while, stuffed into a pocket, brought out when that child meets the intended adult, is a token of a child’s love but it often has more integrity than an adult gift: an adult may not often give an Xbox just because they feel like it, at any time of the year; an Xbox isn’t hand-made, spur of the moment, kept in a pocket for days till the intended child is met again.
Gift-giving is an important part of our culture. Our tokens represent our love, and it is appreciated when we receive these given gifts. Perhaps we, as adults in our society which also includes our children, should also just give randomly, at any time of the year, more offerings of hand-made love (and other, non-material, love: sit at carpet level, talk with children, listen to children, laugh with them); perhaps we should give more offerings just because the children are appreciated.