A time for giving
Christmas is coming.
As is close scrutiny of the Argos and Toys R Us catalogues by our children. They watch the advertisements for toys in-between children's TV shows attentively. They watch out for the references to the latest, most popular toys in the media.
Their behaviour, and our resigned reaction, is no different to that of so many other families.
It wasn't always that way.
Our children arrived with differing possessions. Largely provided by their foster parents they reflected their immediate, their recent history rather than any longer heritage.
Commonality came in the paucity both in the quantity and quality of the items that survived from their lives before being taken into care.
All of these very few items were damaged in some way. A dirty, smelly teddy bear. An interactive sound and speech book with half of the buttons broken. A selection of books all of which were torn with damaged spines. Even the baby's book with cardboard pages had suffered the same fate.
Saddest of all were the broken box and carrier bags in which they arrived. Items that should have been cherished, familiar, comforting instead acting as a constant reminder of a damaged past. Childhood sullied just as the toys themselves were stained.
A few weeks ago I tok our daughter to a local play farm. Some rare 'Daddy & daughter' time while our son spent the day playing at one of his friend's homes.
Exiting the park we went through the gift shop. Our daughter was attracted by a toy rabbit. I agreed to buy it for her. The sales assistant, in a kindly way, made a comment about being sure this would be added to a very large contingent of stuffed toys our daughter must already own.
It made me stop and think for a moment. She has a good number, but when compared to her peers that total seems much more modest.
That made me consider further our attitude towards possessions and our children.
Our son's birthday fell approximately six months after he had first come to live with us. It being the first opportunity for major present buying, I decided to make sure it was a birthday to remember.
I had been touched more deeply than I cared, at the time, to admit, by the few, damaged, poor quality items he carried with him from the foster home to our own.
So, I set out to try and make amends. To make amends for a failure that wasn't mine. For unkindnesses I had not committed, but for which I still felt responsible.
The pile of toys purchase at the local toy superstore was a large one.
I sent J a text from the checkout.
"How much would be too much to spend on birthday presents?" I asked
J gave me a figure.
"Try doubling that." I replied.
He responded with an expletive.
"Then double that again".
The phone rang. J had left his meeting to intervene. Too late, I had just passed the credit card over for payment. He wasn't amused. I was in the dog house. And our son had a pile of birthday presents in a few days time.
When that morning came however J's concern was confirmed. His concern had not been that to buy so much would somehow spoil our son. It was more that to provide too much, too soon, would be overwhelming.
That the presents would not be appreciated. Their worth in the sense of their use and interest would be overlooked.
This is what happened. Our son loved them all, it increased his tally of possessions by a considerable proportion immediately.
But it was too much for him to take in. There were just too many things for him to concentrate upon. Too many stimuli. He retreated to the simplest of the toys, discarding the rest.
We talked about it later. My instinct had been a good and fair one. Well intentioned, but inappropriately applied.
Our children arrived with nothing. That's so often the case with those adopted from care. Our instinct was immediately to try and atone for their treatment. Compensate for their disadvantage. Provide recompense in the form of material possessions.
I learnt after that first birthday possessions are not what they need.
Our children might want enormous numbers of material things. What they need though is us. Our attention. Our love. Us.
That's what provides compensation.
So, this Christmas, our children will get presents. Our son will get his Mutant Ninja Turtle outfit. Our daughter her Queen Else hair styling kit.
But they won't be getting items beyond the norm. We won't be trying to atone for the losses of the past.
We do that each and every day. And have done so for some years now.