We have changed the way we are doing things around here lately.
We have a history of buying things to celebrate our kids achievements (i.e. some silly little not-too-expensive thing they have been wanting). What happens is that they love their little thing for awhile and then it takes its place in the junk pile before a month has passed and off it goes to Goodwill. We have come to understand that this is not a good way to teach our kids to live the spirit of poverty, nor is it good to feed their natural tendency towards consumerism. Yet, we still want to celebrate our family when they do something special or particularly good, so what to do?
It was Jay's spiritual director that made it clear for us. "Make memories," he said. Rather than buying a new pair of gloves or a giant gummy bear or some magnetic men or a nerf gun, he explained, we should channel those resources instead into making memories that will last a lifetime for the whole family. This is especially true given my precarious and unpredictable health situation. In theory, this should bring our family closer together and help us detach from "stuff" and learn rather to appreciate each other for who we are and truly celebrate together the accomplishments of the individuals.
We have been doing this for awhile now, and so far we are quite happy with the results. It is not perfect (we still sometimes give in on the "stuff" but less than we used to), but the truth is that we can really see better relationships developing between our children.
We rarely go out to eat at real restaurants and we hardly ever go as a family to a movie. The boys love to snowboard but rarely go. The girls are always asking to go ice skating but we don't. When there are so many children, any normal outing such as the zoo costs a fortune and it has always seemed more economical to celebrate the individual with something small than doing anything with the entire family. We are learning, however, that economy is not always the most important thing (though it certainly not cannot be ignored). But when you stop buying a lot of little things, you find you have more to work with!
As a result, in recent months, we have made a point to do more and worry less. One day we had lunch and went underground bowling at Bex after church. I played pool with the boys and had so much fun! Over break we took the boys snowboarding at Squaw Valley (they had never seen any ski resort bigger than Mountain High) and the girls (and Tony) finally went ice skating. We saw a couple of movies (Wreck it Ralph and Les Miserables) and we have been out to several meals. Not ordering drinks makes it much more affordable for us (and healthier too as the kids want soda).
Even our Christmas present strategy changed this year. Santa brought one present for the whole family (a Wii u) and each kid got a game to share with the family. This has brought our kids out of their bedrooms and back into the family room as we had hoped. One of the games is Jeopardy and we have so much fun playing together. Another is Just Dance 4, something we can all play and enjoy that has exercise benefits as well.
As the kids are getting older (we only have three years left with Joey!) we are wanting more together time. They are naturally separating due to their ages but we are doing our best to bring them back together. Thanks to Jay's frequent travel, he has a lot (and I mean really a lot) of air miles and hotel ponts. We use those only for the family, for trips together to places most families of nine cannot go. This is our reward for all the time Jay spends away from us working. Like most people, finances are tight for us but we are learning that when God sends a little extra our way, we are supposed to use some of it for making memories.
Making memories doesn't always have to cost money. Sometimes a family dog walk in the desert can be more valuable than anything. Family prayer as many nights as we can keeps us in tune with one another and with God, and we are working on finding a larger dining table that does not double as a homework table so we can eat dinner together at a table most nights (football season exempted since the boys and cheerleaders get home at crazy hours). It is in these things that we are connecting, in these things that we are gluing tight our family bonds.
I pray they stick forever and ever.