Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Wishes

With finals over, I am finally free to rev up for Christmas. We actually have most of the shopping done, but there is decorating and general festivity to be done. However, my biggest gift this holiday is a 'B' in physics.

To clarify, I am usually a solid A student, but this one subject has been kicking my backside. I already had a B in Physics, but the final was scary in a 30% of our final grade kind of way. So when I saw that it hadn't had a negative effect on my grade, joy is probably an understatement for the way I felt.

What does this have to do with the holidays? Delayed gratification. It's something that our Santa Claus culture celebrates in words and disdains in actions. Right now the message everywhere we go is "don't you want....?" The impression I get from most of my non-homeschooling friends is that they feel compelled to buy their children every item on a long wish list of toys. For the record, I think this will have a long term negative effect, especially on their physics grade.

Being a college student, especially a pre-med student, requires a grasp of delayed gratification. How frustrating is it to do the same problem over and over, ending up with the wrong answer every time, until at last you have worked through the bugs and get it right? We have about twenty problems like that for homework every single week. No wonder over half of my class was gone before finals week. Modern life is about getting what you want as easily as possible, right? And Christmas is a frenzy of this attitude.

What will my children do if they want to be a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer? Will they be able to put in hard work with the reward deferred for a decade or so? A lot of young adults now can't seem to put in the two years necessary to get basic training for a skilled labor job. They don't even want to start at the bottom at a normal, every day job. Remember how Jacob worked seven years to win the hand of Rachel, only to have his father-in-law switch out his daughters? Jacob worked another seven years to get the wife he really wanted. That's a little extreme, but it stands in sharp contrast to modern men who expect sex on the third date.

I don't want my children to end up unsuccessful because their desires aren't handed to them in a pretty wrapped box. I want for them to want, and work, and associate the hard work with the eventual success. I want them to know what intellectual hunger feels like. I want for them to decide what success means to them and then to pursue it wholeheartedly.

On the other hand, I think that never getting what you want is disheartening. Not to mention that our society preaches that only naughty children don't get showered with gifts on this one special morning. So here's how I have been handling it: one present from parents, one from Santa Claus, and a stocking of fun but useful things including a little candy. They get many gifts from aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well, so it's hardly an austere existence.

I try to make sure that at least one of those gifts is their heart's desire, whatever that happens to be. Because I'm not into buying toys outside of major holidays (it severely limits their ability to have fun making homemade musical instruments with cardboard), this hardly seems excessive. This year, wish lists in my home include blocks, erector sets, bicycles, and some new-fangled cupcake-only version of the Easy Bake Oven. These are things that Santa is happy to buy.

These are things that my children have wanted for months, so imagine their joy when their wish is at last gratified. The world waited thousands of years for Christ, so waiting a few months for a new bicycle doesn't seem unreasonable. This patient waiting will come in handy should any of them decide they want to be a doctor.


Sarah said...

Congratulations on your B in physics! I am a first-year pharmacy student who took physics this time last year; I'm right there with you.

Your opinion on delayed gratification hit home for me. It's a great way to put it and a message that I'll keep with me.

I hope you and your family had a blessed Christmas.