My parents gave me many gifts, and growing up as an only child made that pretty easy. I had a purple Barbie boom box, a Barbie house, Guess jeans, Easy Bake Oven… you get the drift. But I think the single most valuable gift they ever gave me didn’t seem much like a gift at all – I thought it was more like an opportunity. But the reality is, it was a gift.
It was the summer of 1994, I was about to turn 14 and was packing my bags to head overseas to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales for a 24 day adventure as a Student Ambassador. I was a relatively shy kid, had plenty of friends, but just not the first person to take charge of any situation. Leaving my parents to travel with a group of about 20 other students my age was definitely out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, they saw the benefits of the trip and saved the money to send me, on what would turn out to be, the greatest gift of my life. I got to experience a different part of the world. I got to exercise independence. I got to sit in on a session of the British Parliment, stay with host families and experience life outside of my 5 digit zip code.
As I morphed from a young person into an adult, and then into a Parent – I have realized that the best gifts, are the gifts of experiences. Real life experiences.
There are a few things that I want for my children in life; the main one is of course to be happy. But coming in as a close second to that is that I want my kids to always believe in their dreams and never be afraid of what’s out there in the world. The only conceivable way that I’ve found to help develop that space in their lives is to give them the gift of real life experiences.
I could purchase them mindless toys, bottomless clothes and junk that would fill up a few wrapped boxes under the tree or for their birthdays… but as my children have gotten older and able to appreciate [the world], I have enjoyed giving them the gift of real experiences. They’ve touched the Vietnam Wall, searching for a Veteran that was in the same platoon as Papaw. They’ve scoured Arlington Cemetery looking for the grave of a Great Uncle that was killed on D-Day. They’ve toured the White House, stood at JFK’s grave and watched the Presidential Motorcade pass by. They’ve shook hands with our Vice President-elect, years before he was on the ballot.
They’ve danced with Dolphins, witnessed [real] life of the locals in the Caribbean, learned about the history of an Island that some people hundreds of years ago, thought was America. They’ve touched the Mayan Ruins, stood in awe of the shore line of Cuba from the deck of a cruise ship and stood at the Southern Most Point of the United States. They’ve served the homeless, helped the poor and prayed for the broken.
They’ve been on mystery road trips, shopped at the Mall of America and stood outside of Michael Jackson’s childhood home. They’ve brushed shoulders with the Amish, listened to stories of the elderly and walked through the historic streets of Boston. They’ve toured the CNN headquarters, looked out the windows of the St. Louis Arch and walked the Magnificent Mile.
I say these things, not to brag but to tell you, as Christmas is approaching, give your [of age] children the gift of life experiences. They will eventually outgrow their lego sets, their American Girl dolls and their clothes. Their DVDs will get scratched, ipods broken and nerf darts will disappear. But the memories, the impact and the experience of exposing your children to things outside of their town, their county, their state and even their country … they will never outgrow. In fact, they will do the opposite.
They will grow. They will grow through exposure. Through realization, through humility, through thankfulness. They will grow through strength, leadership, determination and desire to provide the same experiences for their own children. They’ll breed a new generation of [more] open minded humans that, not only learn to accept those different than themselves but also learn to embrace those differences. They’ll open their eyes to all that lies outside of home.
…and someday, they’ll thank you – big time.
It may take some effort to plan a memorable trip, and obviously it will take some money but it is so very worth it to give your children the gift of travel, life experiences and skills that will equip them with everything they need to go anywhere they want in life.
At the end of our initial 18 years with our adorable humans, the only thing they have to help carry them through the next fifty or more years of adulthood ar the things that we have given them in their childhood.
Give them experience so they can navigate through life.