I know… I know… Adults aren’t supposed to waste their time writing letters to you. Really, what’s the point? As the jolly, red-suited, head elf himself, you surely have more important things to do than listen to the whiny pleadings of a middle-aged man; but I’d like you to hear me out anyways. This list is different. I don’t want you to get me anything this year. In fact, I would like you to take some things away. For good.
- DVRs and all related technologies: these are the devices we use to time-shift our viewing lives. Can’t be home to watch the latest episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta? Just set the ol’ DVR, and it’ll be there on your machine waiting to be viewed at your convenience. Sounds great doesn’t it? Here’s the problem. It causes things to lose their importance. Along with most members of my age group, some of my fondest memories of Christmas include watching the perennial holiday specials on TV: Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the king of them all, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Oh, how I would look forward to seeing them once the teasers started running in late November. I would arrange my busy sledding and snowball fighting schedule around their broadcast times. Strategically planning was a necessity to make sure your hot chocolate was ready, your slippered feet were placed firmly on the electric floorboard heater, and your favorite blanket wrapped around you just as the show began. For at least the first three-and-a-half decades of my life, I never missed a viewing, regardless of outside circumstances. After becoming a father, I baptized my two boys into this seasonal ritual. We would snuggle up together on the couch, the unresolved tension of what the Bumble might do to poor Rudolph growing with each commercial interruption. It became such a favorite activity we bought the DVD, so we could recreate that bonding anytime we wanted. And now because we can, we never do. It just isn’t special anymore.
- Digital cameras: This goes along the same lines as my request above. Since we got the ability to take a seemingly endless number of pictures, we seem obligated to do so. No event any longer is safe from me having several annoyingly glowing miniaturized versions of what’s happening in front of me held up in my field of vision. Find a way to limit people to only twenty-four pictures a year. Two a month, and that’s it. Make people stop and think about what is truly important enough to capture for eternity, and what is intended to be lived at the moment, stored in your own brain as a pleasant memory, and set aside for the next event to happen in the wonderful place I refer to as “real time.” I admit no immunity from this madness. There are over ten thousand pictures stored on my electronic devices; 98% of which I will probably never look at again. Yet, each one represents a breath of time in which I did not live due to trying to capture it. And while we’re on the topic of technology, please do us all a favor and get rid of…
- Toys with screens: Many parents seem to have forgotten the true purpose of play. It’s not, as many would think, a distraction to keep the kids out of your hair while you scroll through Facebook pictures. Trust me, when the little ones are grown and gone, you’ll miss that time with them much more than reading another person’s re-posted inspirational message or sponsored Target link. The real reason children have toys is to learn skills they’ll need someday as adults. Puzzles teach shape recognition, patterns and most importantly, patience. Legos (once the directions have been mercifully tossed) give budding engineers and architects their first lessons on load-bearing structures and form vs function design principles. Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars provide the foundations of skid-pad traction ratios and inspire creative scenario building with make-believe racers tearing around the coffee table. Games with screens teach you nothing but how to isolate yourself from the wonders of the real world. And speaking of the real world…
- War. Yeah, I get it. This one is a biggie and might not be your department, but anything you could do Santa would be greatly appreciated. Every year, when I teach the novel The Lord of the Flies, I ask my students if we’ll ever have a world without armed conflict. And every year, invariably, the answer from them is always, “No.” Even at their young age, they have accepted the concept that we, as a species, will never learn to get along without killing each other. It just seems to me that as we approach the end of 2014, we could do better. Even as much as I rail against a lot of social media, I gotta admit that the technology we are capable of producing is pretty awesome. Yet, how much of it is utilized to more efficiently end the lives of our brothers? It wasn’t long after the Wright Brothers gave us the freedom to lose our bounds with the Earth than we added bombs and guns to their invention, so we could also kill those sleeping peacefully behind the front lines. The older I get, and the fewer tomorrows I have left on my punch card, the more I realize how truly awesome is this thing my parents gave me called life. If you could find a way to help the world’s citizens learn not to waste this most precious gift, that would be the best present of all.
That about wraps it up. Seriously, I didn’t meant to get all philosophical on you at the end. I just figure any guy who only works one day a year and is surrounded by nothing but ice and snow must have a little free time to reflect on these things. Thanks for reading my plaintive plea, and I hope you and the missus have a safe and merry Christmas.
p.s. – the cookies and milk will be in their usual spot on the counter