My kids still talk about the time I was the meanest mom ever. And around Christmas even. My daughters were just reaching their tween years and my son was about eight.
I had already proven myself to be a cruel mother by policing television programs, and limiting their TV and video time to two hours a day. I made them have reflective quiet times spent reading or writing in their journals. In the summer, I extended the TV-movie time to four hours, after much begging. We had a large supply of what I called clean movies. Any movie encouraging good morals, respect for parents, caring for others, and loving God, qualified.
But this time, I really outdid myself. I was “forcing” them to almost entirely go off TV and videos, cold turkey, for a month.
“It will be our Christmas present to Jesus. God gave us a part of Himself, in the best present ever: the baby Messiah in the manger. We give Christmas gifts to each other each year. This year, let’s give God a part of ourselves. The time we would spend watching TV or movies that exclude Him, let’s instead give to Him as a thank-you and birthday gift.” I said.
Their expressions didn’t reflect my enthusiasm or my gratitude. “Oh, come on. It’s just for the month of December.” I petitioned.
A look of horror grabbed their faces. “A. Whole. Month!”
The thought had been swirling in my head since the end of summer. I was not happy with the way my kids relied on television and movies for entertainment. I babysat four children, four days a week, one entire summer; to raise enough money to build them a great jungle gym. Something I wanted to do before, but didn’t have the means. I then was surprised how little they used it.
I lived a somewhat confined existence the first ten years of my life. After arriving in this country, I felt great freedom and joy climbing trees, and playing outdoors. I would have gladly traded any TV set for such a jungle gym. I wanted my kids to experience the thrill of being kids, before adult life took over.
This wasn’t just an ordinary jungle gym, this was custom built to accommodate older kids. It had a longer and bigger swing. A heavy-duty pirate’s rope ladder, a great eagle’s nest, and high monkey bars.
“We wanted one when we were younger, but now we are too old.” They surprised me by saying.
“No way! That’s silly thinking. You can still have lots of fun on this. You are still kids! Hang out on the eagle’s nest with friends or use it as a hideaway to read a book.” I gave them countless ideas. Other kids who came over thought our jungle gym was “really cool.”
After repeatedly shooing them outside to enjoy this beautiful token of my love for them, one of them said, “Mom, you said you babysat so we could get this, but we were the ones stuck playing with the kids.”
“Oh, give me a break! Yes, you did play with them. But it didn’t seem to me you were suffering much when I saw you guys kicking the soccer ball around or playing in the above-ground pool or running through the sprinkler, or playing street-hockey or catching bugs with them.”
“It was a lot of work doing all that stuff,” someone said.
Of course, nobody noticed I was the one with the responsibility of supervising, playing nurse and referee, making lunches and snacks, keeping things on track, and coordinating activities.
After the jungle gym was built, I kept encouraging my kids to play outside. Jonathan came in several times saying, “Mom, I can’t think of anything to do on the jungle gym. I don’t think I have an imagination.” I was floored.
The idea for them to learn to find their own creativity and imagination without having to be prompted, kept brewing in my mind. That’s when I ran across an article in a Christian magazine about a family who dedicated the month of December to Jesus, as a gift to Him, by not watching any television or videos that didn’t emphasize God’s love or the Christmas story.
My then-husband, reluctantly agreed to play along after much coaxing, making it known that it was my idea. When I gave the kids the news, they looked like I had just told them of a dear relative’s death. And in a sense, that is how they saw it.
“But, what are we going to do for an entire month?”
“You have school during the day and in the evenings you can read, or write plays or do a craft or play a game. Then during Christmas vacation, we can find more ways to be creative.” I really was trying to sound encouraging.
“Our Christmas vacation is ruined!” They cried.
“You can still watch a video or TV program with the message of the Bible or Christmas.”
“But we can already do that!” They said. I heard comments like. “Why are you doing this to us?” “No one else’s mom is doing something so terrible to their kids.” “I never thought you could be so mean.” “How could you be so cruel to your own kids.” No amount of dialog on my part was convincing them this really wasn’t the original meaning of the term “cruel and unusual punishment.” For the first couple of days, they moped around, with extended sighs, long faces and forlorn looks. “I can’t believe we have to live such a depressing life,” One said.
“This is only for a month. I am not asking you to do anything I am not doing. We’ll go to the library and bring home a stack of books we can read and projects we can work on, and we’ll look for some Christ-centered videos. At the mention of videos, their faces lit up.
I continually encouraged them to use creativity. Make a fort with blankets, break out the Legos, pretend, pretend, pretend anything you want. Enjoy your life as a kid. You will grow up soon enough.
Just as I began to wonder if this was such a great idea after all, I saw a miracle unfold before my eyes. Rachel made amazing miniature doll house furniture with twigs, glue and pieces of cloth. Hannah read stories to Jonathan. They wrote plays and acted them out. They wrote stories and poems. They pretended. They were kids!
“Oh thank you Jesus,” I whispered. “And, Happy Birthday!”
By ~ Elizabeth Yalian ©2013