You probably have heard - I talk about it here quite often - that by the time the average American youngster is in the second grade he or she owns about 500 toys. Grandma probably won't like that revelation but it's true just the same.
Most of us can look back and remember some special toy from childhood - a teddy bear with some of the hair gone that we slept with, a favorite doll, a puzzle map with each piece shaped as one of the states. As a preschooler, I remember a black, felt, Scotty dog. I never knew that dog when he had both eyes.
But I'd like to make a suggestion. Instead of bringing home things for our kids, let's help them store up experiences. Most toys are quickly forgotten, many in the first week. But memories can live forever. Rather than a room full of glitzy stuff covered with lead-based paint, I'd rather my kids have a heart full of precious experiences.
Memories don't have to be expensive. When our boys were young we were living in Washington, DC. One warm summer evening we braved the MARTA and went down to the Tidal Basin and heard the U.S. Navy Band play an evening concert under the stars. It was unforgettable.
A friend told us a story of when he was about 5. Late one night his daddy came into his room, woke him up and took him out on the front lawn to watch a vivid meteor shower. One shooting star after another sliced across the night sky. Nearly six decades later this 5-year old would reflect how his dad believed that a new experience was more important for a small boy than an unbroken night of sleep. The boy remembers it as one of the happiest remembrances of his childhood.
One summer we were in Europe for some conferences and we took our boys along - one of whom was old enough to have his driver's license. They rented a motor scooter and spent a week on a self-guided tour of the back roads of Europe. When they got a little older we helped them raise the funds so they could each spend a year teaching English in a foreign country. One went to Bolivia, the other to Thailand. They both learned a lot about what it means to serve. Those are the kinds of gifts they remember.
The 500 toys? Oh, they're long gone.
Don Jacobsen is Administrator and Dean of Coaches for the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Institute. Don is a Certified Master Coach, author, educator, syndicated newspaper columnist, and clergyman; his third book, "Rare Kids; Well Done," was recently released. He is also a member of the American Christian Leadership Council. Visit his website at http://rarekidswelldone.com/