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The wooden characters with their brightly painted faces, dangled from coiled springs and bobbed up and down as they twirled on the miniature merry-go-round.
The display caught many an eye, and not only the ones three feet off the ground. Retirees, tourists, and even a few English-speaking temporary residents paused to watch the cheery characters–a lovely memento for any child–a wooden toy made in Germany.
The price ranged from 12,95 to 15,95 Euro.
If I were to purchase two, it would be well over the amount I donate to Compassion International per month, to help one child who lives in poverty.
As I walked past the gorgeous, hand-crafted German toys (read: wooden), and the heaps and piles and bins of glittering toys not made of wood, and most certainly not made in Germany, I had to pause and fight the urge to cry.
It’s not due (entirely) to hormone swings or to the fact that my kids have outgrown most of the toys in that shop, but it was the sudden and poignant realization that this was an entire store, one of millions across the world, dedicated purely to the entertainment of children–some children.
Consider an eight year-old girl in Kenya named Magdalene.
She is one of seven children in her family and is blessed to have a mom and a dad who love her enough to send her to a Child Development Center, where she can receive food, medication (if needed), and an education.
The letters she writes to me contain so much joy, it’s almost difficult for me (being the Pampered American Princess I am) to fathom.
That is what Magdalene received for Christmas, for less than the price of two dangly toys.
When I told my kids what she had received, they asked, “Was she happy with that?” As if Magdalene had been somehow cheated.
Yes, Magdalene was very happy with her gifts. She wrote to thank me and said that I am a blessing from God–me: a person who is not doing nearly enough, who squanders time as if it’s a renewable resource, and who purchases funny dangly toys without giving it a second thought.
I often think about Magdalene.
When my kids are studying, I wonder if she has access to a book that day. When my kids are eating, I wonder if she’s had a good meal. When my kids are bouncing on the trampoline or riding their bikes, I wonder if she even has time to play.
Standing in the middle of that bright, happy toy store, I felt incredibly sad.
What am I teaching my children? And why is it so difficult to break out of the materialistic mindset? Am I raising my kids to be givers or consumers?
There’s nothing wrong with toys.
But I wonder how much, or how little, we really need to be happy.
I am not the blessing from God, Magdalene is.
That little girl in Kenya is helping me redefine the word “happy.”
I know that many families in the US are struggling to make ends meet. But if you find that you would like to help your children broaden their perspectives a bit, consider making a donation (either a one-time donation or regularly) to children in poverty.
It won’t merely change the lives of children in far-off places, but it will change yours as well.
Two recommended charities:
“I am glad when our kids play together,” said a friend as she sipped her coffee, “because your kids are so sheltered.”
The word immediately brought to mind girls wearing pinafores over their high-necked dresses, with intricately braided hair under puffy white caps; and boys with button down shirts, straw hats, and dress pants that never have the chance to be ripped on playground equipment.
My kids have been taunted in at least three different languages, how can they be sheltered?
I suppose it all depends on your definition. If sheltered means ignorant of real-world issues, then I beg to differ.
In our house, we discuss everything; and believe me, coming from the secluded arctic to Europe has led to some eye-opening conversations.
Here are a few examples:
First of all, my kids have known how reproduction works ever since our cavy decided to piggy-back the other, resulting in two furry little offspring. My children learned about sex without the help of gyrating Mtv Pop Tarts or graphic internet pop-ups. With this groundwork, I have been able to discuss subjects like pornography and prostitution, while remaining tolerably un-squeamish.
And Europe gives us many, many chances to talk about sex and the human body.
While ordering happy meals at McDonalds, I noticed a stack of newspapers for sale on the counter. Gracing the cover was a woman wearing nothing but a scowl for the paparazzi. My son glanced at it briefly and then stated in his manner-of-fact sort of way, “I don’t think they know about modesty here.”
On another occasion, while waiting at a stoplight, my youngest daughter chimed from her booster seat, “What is a Dolly Buster?” I looked over to see a poster of a well-endowed woman spilling out of her underwear—and she wasn’t selling children’s toys.
One morning, on our way from the central train station to our pediatric dentist, the kids and I inadvertently walked through the red light district in Frankfurt, which led to a fascinating discussion on government regulated prostitution.
I love Holland. The people are friendly, they love children, and they have the best cheese in the world. Plus, if you ever want to talk to your kids about drugs, this is the place to go.
But beware, if your youngest children are like ours, they will shriek “Eeewwww!” upon encountering funny smells and plug their noses as they scurry away. For us, it was a rather embarrassing way to begin a very public conversation on legalized marijuana.
We’ve stepped over crack pipes in underpasses. We’ve seen people in subway stations whose minds are so far gone because of drugs, they’re not even aware of the people around them. And each time we encounter something like this, it gives us the chance to talk about the devastating effects of drug abuse, and how each country handles addicts differently.
Rock-n-Roll & Cursing:
You may think I’m going to say that my kids have learned how to cuss in German, but that’s not the case. My kids have learned curse words in English since moving to Germany.
Instead of innocuous synthesizer music blaring in supermarkets, hair salons, or department stores, German Rock music often contains English phrases that have you leaping across the aisle to cover your kids’ ears.
Curse words just don’t seem so offensive when in a different language. Even my sweet landlady utters epithets that could make a sailor blush.
Go to any playground or park in any country in the world and you will encounter bullies. A taunt is a taunt, no matter what the language. Yes, it’s hurtful, but our kids have learned when to make a stand and when to walk away.
My children do not live in a bubble, and we are NOT Amish!
My kids actually leave the house, take classes, go shopping, and play on playgrounds where they interact with living, breathing homo sapiens.
One of my kids was nicknamed “Dracula” in a gymnastics class. Yes, I wanted to strangle the culprits, but instead, we worked through it (nonviolently).
Our kids have made friends with Americans and with Germans, and though they may have their feelings hurt from time to time, my kids aren’t swayed by what children outside the family think. The only peer pressure is from siblings, which can actually be a good thing.
Have you ever planted your pasty white family in a neighborhood where 8 out of 10 women wear long black robes and headscarves? Do you hear the church bells ring every 15 minutes in a town that has a brothel next to the mall? Have you ever had to wear a money belt next to your skin, while making your way into the world’s most magnificent House of God?
These experiences have given us great opportunities to discuss how people choose to worship God and the role and responsibilities of religion in society.
How do you define “sheltered?”
A friend of mine said that being sheltered means “protected from the storm.”
I like this idea.
While our family does not circumnavigate storms, we don’t toss our babies into the gales either.
Instead, we create an environment where the kids can grow until they are strong enough to withstand any tempest of life.
We do this by stressing the importance of honesty, integrity, and willingness to see through the eyes of people who may be radically different from us.
I love that my children can look at any situation, from prostitution to drug use, and view it in a logical, yet compassionate manner.
My children do not live in a bubble, nor do they live in some kind of backwoods compound with other little automatons.
We walk through this gritty, beautiful world like any other family, and we have seen some incredible things.
To us, “sheltered” does not mean to cloister; it means to foster soundness of mind and character, so the children can look at varying points of view, foreign cultures and alternative lifestyles with a sense of love for people, rather than mindless rejection.
I want them to think, and live, and breathe on their own.