Not just a grey pencil!


Our home-made Advent wreath

Hrrrmmmmmmmmhhh. Pfffff. :-(

It was one of those desolate “the world just ended” sighs that small children do when something awful just happened, (the last flat piece of lego is jammed stuck to the second last piece of flat lego which is completely the wrong colour, etc.) and I turned round quickly, activating the on-switch to the SOS box of Mummy’ll fix it tricks in my head. He was sitting at the table, clutching a 1.5cm long stub of pencil and shaking his head miserably: “Mummy, about after next Thursday I won’t be able to do drawing ever again :-( ”

“Oh! Why’s that Poppet?”

“Becau-ause” he mused “my grey is almost all sharpened away.” This was followed by another desolate “Hrrrmmmmmmhhh” and more head shaking.

Now, my child is a colourful character in heaps of ways, but is going through an extended ‘drawing and colouring everything in grey and blue’ phase. Consequently after 3 months of school, he still has a generous assortment of brightly coloured pencils in his case, but the blue is on its way out and the grey … well, as he said.

After much empathising and debating on our options, I deliberately left the conversation open and bustled him off to some other important thing like teeth-cleaning to give him something more dominant to gripe about. Meanwhile I made myself a mental note.

Switching zones for a second: Here in Bavaria, Advent is huge and is celebrated everywhere in a big way from 1st December with markets, wreaths and candles, street decorations etc, but the one thing which has boomed, particularly where I live, is the whole Advent calendar “culture”. These days, the average Bod spends more on an Advent calendar than my folks could afford to shell out on me as a kid for all my Christmas presents put together. Much as I love Lego and Playmobil (no ad. intended) and much as I have to tip my hat to them for them locking down on another niche market, I have to admit to finding the extent of commercialism behind the calendars just a little bit (lot) displaced. As if Christmas wasn’t enough, here in Germany we celebrate Nikolaustag on


Cleaning boots for Nikolaus

6th December (the value of presents generally given here is already off the scale (what traditionally was a tangerine and a walnut dropped into a polished-up boot by the door has evolved into full-blown electronics/jewelry/complex-lego-sets frenzy) ) and to top it all off and ensure we start the next year totally bankrupt, we now have the (drum roll) Advent Calendar. Gone are the days of little windows exposing a star, a donkey or a Christmas stocking for the kids to ooh over, it’s about the cult: how expensive and exclusive can we make the little “things” that sit behind the doors and (for the kids) “is my brand more “in” (or whatever the “in” word for “in” is in 2013) than Zeno’s down the road …”

So although the advent calendar stands do like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn and appear out of no-where at some point in September, I avoid them like the plague, and prefer to collect “bits” throughout the year, often from flea-markets where you can pick up fabulously interesting (often weird) ((but we love weird)) assorted “accessories” for next to nothing with a bit of luck and haggling. L. is developing a taste for the “slightly off the wall” (bit lucky really) but is also starting to really appreciate the thought behind a present rather than the financial value of it, so I love the challenge of finding tiny things that he can use, that will fire off his already fantastic(al!) imagination or that will make him laugh and all for a few cents each. Not easy but with a creative head on it IS possible!

So where is this going? Well, I’d like to knead my little analogy into a message from MJM to the marketing genii at Lego, Playmobil, XYZ Exclusive Chocolates and Jewelry etc…. Dear Sirs and Ladies, we do love you but sorry, we don’t need you for advent calendars; My boy did a minute-long whoop that is still ringing in my ears 2 days later at the fact that he found “the exactly right-coloured” grey pencil in number 3 on Tuesday.

It is as simple as that.

Blimey, wouldn’t life be so much happier if we could just go back to our roots! With kids, it really can be easy as long as we offer them an alternative perspective from day #1 – i.e. that the biggest and most expensive aint necessarily the best, … but that requires us parents to strip back, stop over-complicating stuff ourselves and hone in on the little things. It never ceases to amaze me, but it does actually work. (Sometimes!) :-)



This entry was posted in Children, Christmas, Germany, Kids, Parenting, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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