Friday, December 05, 2014

Kids, Christmas, Charity.

We have had enough Christmases as a family now that the girls know it's something to get excited about. They remember presents, a tree, lights, absurd quantities of food and being allowed to watch telly during the day, add the social acceptability of drinking alcohol with breakfast and you have all of the things that I love about Christmas too. And yet as they get older I feel more and more compelled to kill the glorious magic of it, just a little.

As a child I spent a not insignificant part of the festive season crying for those who were less fortunate than me. It started at six or seven with the starving children in Africa and as I grew older came to encompass the homeless, the lonely, the poor AND the starving children in Africa. The first Christmas that Nye and I spent together we were sitting on the sofa, watching telly by the light of the tree, and the Oxfam Christmas appeal came on just before the Vicar of Dibley. I sobbed. I sobbed huge, heaving tears, and Nye was (while sympathetic) a little taken aback, 'aren't you used to seeing images like that by now?' he asked. 'Yes, but it's JUST SO SAD.' I wailed. I was 19 and still crying for the starving children of Africa.

When I was in primary school I took part every year in the Shoebox Appeal. Remember those? Each child filled a shoebox for a specific age and gender with small toys, clothes and essential toiletries, wrapped the whole thing in Christmas paper and then they were collected and distributed them to children in need. I hadn't thought about the shoebox appeal for years until last Christmas when I began to feel like my kids really needed to start to understand how incredibly lucky they are and that there are many, many people who are less so. And not just to understand it but to do something, however small, about it. So I looked into the shoebox appeal again and found that a) I was about 6 weeks too late (apparently it takes some time to organise sending 8 million shoe boxes around the world) and b) unbeknown to me, the whole thing is organised by an evangelical Christian charity and the shoe boxes are sent 'in Jesus' name', alongside a pamphlet of evangelical literature. Which. . . I have problems with. So that year I just did what I always do, donated money to Shelter and Oxfam and cried quietly into my laptop as I typed in my debit card number. It felt . . . not enough. And did nothing to teach my children anything.

Yes, they were three years old.  Many people would argue that three is too young to start learning about the injustices of the world and of course I don't want to burden them too young with sadness and worry and guilt (it's too soon to tell just how sensitive to it they will be; normal-child-sensitive, or cry-yourself-to-sleep-sensitive), but I do want to start sowing the seed. I do want them to know that Christmas isn't just about getting new stuff and eating until you hurt. I do want them to understand that as someone lucky enough to be born into comfort and security it is your duty to help those who weren't. But, they're four. There's only so much I can do at this point and the struggle is to find a way that both helps and that they can engage with. It's so easy to donate money and it's very easy to buy a goat or a vaccination kit or a meal for a child on the other side of the world, those things help but they are too abstract for a small child to understand. The shoebox appeal appealed (ha!) to me because it was tangible, something that the girls could get involved with, and yes, that we could mostly do without leaving the house which is always a bonus as far as I'm concerned. There are also some pretty hardcore things we could do, many places we could volunteer as a family (hospices, hospitals, shelters etc) but I know my limits, as an extremely sensitive introvert I'm just not ready to take on the level of emotional and sensory input that volunteering with two four year olds would involve. One day, but not yet.

So that leaves me with my usual donating to charities and a bit of a blank when it comes to my children. My thoughts are that we will go shopping together for the local food bank and that we will go through their extensive bookshelves picking out the books that they no longer read and finding a way to distribute them elsewhere. But more importantly I will try to find a way to talk to them about injustice, about privilege and about the fact that our Christmas is not the Christmas that every family gets. I have no fucking idea how to even begin this conversation.

My questions for you are;

  1. Did/do you teach your children about charity? How? When? At what age?
  2. Do you know of any books aimed at pre-schoolers that explain charity? Or are we just not supposed to shatter their innocense until they start school?
  3. Do you take part in any charity at Christmas? Tangible or virtual?
  4. Did you take part in the Shoebox Appeal? Did you know that you were sending toothbrushes IN JESUS' NAME?
  5. What are you having for Christmas dinner?

Finally, this year I will be donating money to Shelter and Plan UK.

90,000 children will be homeless in Britain this Christmas and a further 1.5 million living in poverty. The government are doing all that they can to protect the rich from the brutality of paying taxes on their massive wealth while royally fucking the poor in a myriad of ways. I believe that 'Big Society' is a bullshit way for the government to sound like they give a damn about the poor while not-so-slowly stamping them into the ground, but in the face of an ever-diminishing welfare system it seems that it is in fact down to the members of our society with even the smallest social consionce to do what they can for those who are being screwed. Shelter is working really hard to offer advice, representation and support to those facing homelessness while campaigning for reforms in housing law to prevent homelessness ever occuring.

PlanUK is a global children's charity helping children in area's of natural disaster and promoting the rights of adolescent girls in areas where female genital mutilation and child marriage are rife. You can sponsor a child with PlanUK here or donate to the Girls Fund here.

* Blogger Fail. I reverse searched the image, I googled 'glitter hands', I seriously spent 20 minutes on it. I gave up. I don't care. Sorry.