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This year I missed the spontaneous "Merry Christmas" wishes that used to surface so often once Thanksgiving had passed -- good wishes from friends, retail clerks, occasional strangers. Apparently political correctness has gotten the best of us -- instead of well-wishing, we now say nothing, because "Season's greetings" and "Happy holidays" are just too bland to be meaningful. It reminded me of the preschool I had visited one Valentine's Day when my son was a child. There had been no hearts or love ditties on the bulletin board or any indication at all that Valentine's Day exists in our culture. When I asked the headmistress why, she said something like, "We don't celebrate any holidays. We don't want to offend anyone!" So this year I decided -- realized -- it would be OK to say to everyone, "Merry Christmas, AND Happy Hannukah" -- both. Because both are with us regardless of what religion we follow. Both are part of the season. And if there were a chance that someone I encountered might celebrate Kwanzaa or something else in this season, I'd either say, "Happy Kwanzaa, too" or ask if that person had his or her own holiday to celebrate. In that freedom of spirit this issue of Nanny News offers thoughts on charities one can contribute to at any time of year.(Also a quick piece on getting out in the cold.) It's something like saying that there's no reason to wait for birthdays or holidays to give -- to anyone -- a gift that says, "I love you."

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Getting Out

It's cold out now -- sometimes hard to get outside to enjoy a walk or a bike ride, tempting to drive everywhere, even if just down the block or from one store to another.

I remember how we used to drive to town, decades ago, find a parking spot, and then walk to stores, sometimes from one end of town -- really just one main street -- to the other. It didn't occur to us to un-park in order not to have to walk for the next errand on the list.

Now, though, I find myself tempted to park at one big box store and then drive to the next, even if the two are just on opposite sides of the parking lot. Is it because parking lots are so less friendly to walk through than a neighborhood of shops and people? The wind whips, or the rain spatters, cars back into my way, and there's nothing much to look at or enjoy.

I watch parents with strollers, outdoors getting exercise themselves and admittedly fresh air for the toddler in the stroller, but I wonder sometimes when it is that that little one will be expected -- allowed? -- to get out and walk.

Another thought: I recently ran into a woman changing her baby's diaper in an airport restroom. She noted that it would only get harder as her baby became a toddler, kicking while Mom struggled to get the job done. And I remembered how, as a Montessori nursery teacher, I had helped children out of the diaper habit by encouraging them to get the diaper off and on for themselves -- they would start by going to the shelf to get the clean replacement. Allowed such self-reliance, offered that intermediate step of participating in the project, they soon found that they could also consider assuming responsibility for toileting themselves.

I didn't learn that unaided: I, too, had gone through the kicking stage with a toddler, only it was over shoe tying. I would try to tie my son's shoes while he did his bests to kick them off. Why? I finally figured out that he was ready to learn to tie them for himself -- he wasn't just kicking off the shoes, he was kicking back at my assumption that he couldn't participate. He was only three then -- my mother hadn't taught me to tie shoes until age 6, but in the classroom I had encountered two year olds who did it very well. Yes, it takes time to engage a child in learning independence, but the reward can be years saved in Mom's list of chores.

Similarly, being outdoors and on one's own two feet provides a measure of independence, not to mention exercise. These days I have the luxury of riding a bicycle on most of my errands. However if I had a small child, I would do what I see some other parents doing: I would take my toddler along on the back of the bike. When we got to the store, she would walk in with me (we obviously couldn't carry a stroller). She would have to learn store manners -- what to touch or not touch, and could help push the basket. Maybe we would even go over the shopping list together before going out -- and in the store, we would play "Can-you-find-the-parsley? Let's buy it, and then we can both have a taste!"

With an older child the following approach might be possible.

Start with a short errand, e,g., for toothpaste, shampoo and soap -- things to get in a single store. With your child, go over the list the night before, to give him time to digest the idea. Note the brands family members use, and invite him to go along with you to help out. And just for fun, you will ride your bikes.

With a slightly older child or one already well into shopping, you might mention price range for a product such as shampoo, or the particular label desired, say, "for dry hair." Or the size (8 ounce? economy? refill?) and quantity to buy (1 or more?).

Ask what he already knows about navigating the particular store -- the toothpaste ("Oral Care"?) aisle? the shampoo ("Hair Care"?) aisle? Or start by shopping together. You can steer to the relevant section, and then he can be the one to find the item -- kind of a treasure hunt.

If your list is long, either leave your child at a playdate or have the patience to play this game part of the time, not all of it. Better yet, set aside recurring times for such interaction, so that it builds significance as both a timesaver for Mom and some welcome and much-needed togetherness for both of you.

X-Mas Gifts

I was so happy this year to discover that my grandchildren (boy age 8 and girl age 12) didn't get a lot of expensive toys for Christmas. There were books, a few shirts and T-shirts, a bracelet, some small things, but nothing loud, fast, garish or likely to break with a few days' use.

Even more delightful was the pleasure they took in their gifts. The assorted little things I contributed -- a pad of placemat-sized instructions for drawing horses, giraffes, cars, and a large eraser that says OMG! for him, so conscientious about homework that he really needs it; a Journal of Lists ("List your friends and their birthdays," "List the books you have read this year," and many more), and a first pair of earrings for her -- seemed about right because they already have everything they need -- their needs are satisfied in the normal course of the year and do not wait for Christmas. They, and we, are very fortunate.

Others, of course, are not so fortunate. Each year New York times reporter Nicholas Kristoff lists his pick of small charities for Christmas giving (Slide Show A Giving Guide), organizations that provide books for American children who have none, or water filters for Afghan families without drinking water -- basics that we take for granted.

Remember, though, that there are other, non-material basics to share with family. Love may be measured by what we give our children, but "stuff" is not all of what we can give. Insights, opportunities, wisdom -- these are more lasting gifts than toys.

Should gifts be exchanged in the family? Absolutely! We want to give to those we love. Sometimes, no matter the cost, it is wonderful, both to give and to receive, something, no matter how big or small.

It's just that one such gift may be enough. Children can tear open package after package without really savoring any. Kristoff points out that "One of the paradoxes of living in a wealthy country is that we accumulate tremendous purchasing power, yet it's harder and harder for us to give friends and family presents that are meaningful." So consider asking children what they want or need, but also ask them what they would like to share. Get your children online with you to see what charities they themselves might relate to: A mosquito net to protect a family against malaria ($5)? A pregnant goat for a family to help them feed themselves? A year of schooling ($20) for a Haitian child who would otherwise go uneducated? You may also Google "charities for children" and find many more.

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These articles provide information of a general nature only, and should be used only to supplement your knowledge. We hope you find the articles interesting, but cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in these articles. Nothing in these articles is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your own physician if you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child.