For the past couple of Christmases, we’ve tried to orient our giving toward the acquisition of experiences over things. Either we go away somewhere interesting for a few days as a family, or we give our boys lessons in a skill they’d like to try out. Some experiences bomb, others take hold, but every one is part of our family’s story.
A few years ago, we gave my older son Ben a year of guitar lessons, and he’s been obsessed ever since. My eleven year-old son, Finn, recently took up the guitar as well, but that’s not his first love. Finn yearns to build, to make things that fuel his imagination and his education in the creation of even greater things. Swords, wands, movie props, costumes, and masks; his imagination runs amok with projects and aspirations for the things he’d like to build someday. Those creations are on display all over his room, but the leavings of those creative endeavors end up on display all over our house. I recently sent Finn, wielding two cans of spray paint and a cardboard Iron Man costume, out into the snowy backyard to work, and even I had to admit we needed to find a more appropriate space for his projects.
As our house is small, the only available location for such a space lies in our cold, dank basement. Finn has professed a love of this basement, specifically, he says, “the way it smells” – go figure - so the basement, it is.
The first step was to make room down there for the depth and breadth of his creative ambitions. I dug deep and gave away anything we didn’t need, then sent out a plea on our town’s email listserv with requests for Finn’s new space. I wrote that I needed “stuff to make other stuff, odd bits of cool things that can be used to build other cool things.”
The response to my plea was overwhelming, and I’ve spent much of the past week in neighbors’ basements, pawing through their doodads and gewgaws, selecting dohickeys and thingamabobs. The best gifts, however, were not the stuff, but the conversations.
I’ve learned about the things my neighbors have made over the years; soapbox derby cars, the Model T rebuilds, benches and boxes. I heard about their grandfathers and fathers, where their tools came from and how that old anvil landed in the corner of their basement.
My son has years of experiences to look forward to in his Christmas maker space, but thanks to the generosity of my neighbors, I’ve already received my gifts this year.