Christmas messages as considered by a pediatric occupational therapist

I wanted to write some Christmas-theme entries this month but I ironically have not had the time. Life can sometimes get very busy.

Being busy is precisely the topic I wanted to discuss. Adult occupational behavior around the holidays is fascinating to study. I don't want to get into a lengthy treatise about the meaning of shopping - but let's face it - is holiday shopping a healthy or unhealthy occupational experience? Watch adults in the mall and you will understand the question.

Western societies are consumer-oriented. Corporations spend untold billions of dollars based on our classification as consumers. Consumer-focused messages are reinforced by cultural practices that remind us what grouping we are in and how that fits in with our status as occupational and social beings. So, I am sent messages that this is my 'prime' as a human being on the planet. These are my 'productive' years - I am past the tumult of young adulthood and this time is prior to the tumult of any aging issues. I have arrived. (trumpets sound). This is my opportunity to leave my impression. This is my time in life to BUY! At least the corporations think so.

I personally don't believe a word of it. It is a story that is a lie - and I have the pictures to prove it.

The pictures I am referring to were at my parent's home for years. They were taken in the late 1960s, and they are arranged side by side in a frame that opens like a book. Standing on edge, they complement one another.

A few years ago, as a birthday present, my parents had copies of these pictures made and gave them to me. They put them in a similar frame as the original pictures.

The pictures are of my brother and I, playing in the front yard of the home where we were raised. My brother's picture is on the left, and my picture is on the right. In some respects, the pictures are panoramic - we were facing each other but the background is a continuous scene. In the pictures I imagine I am only 3, my brother 5. I can tell I am that young for several reasons (my mom doesn't recall when the originals were taken). But my hair is still quite blonde (it really didn't start turning brown until school age) and there is that characteristic fleshiness around my fingers and hands in the pictures - the kind of soft and gentle pudginess you can notice when you look at the knuckles and the back of the hands of children that age.

Anyway, we are both crouched down (as an adult, I marvel at how children can play from this position for hours on end). Some large sized rocks are placed down along the fence that separated our yard from the neighbor's driveway. The lawn was thick, and an ivy and violet mixture grew along the fence, reaching into the yard.

Around the rocks is an aluminum pie tin, filled with an inch or so of water. And in the pictures we are maneuvering dinosaurs up and down the rocks, into the pie tin.

The dinosaurs are mostly red. There are a couple dull green ones. No realism here - not like toys that my children have today. Just plain, single-colored plastic dinosaurs. I am moving a dimetrodon. I see an ankylosaurus. One is rather fantastic looking - a brontosaurus-like dinosaur with wings.

If I close my eyes, I can remember playing with them. Remember the way they feel. Remember the warmth of the stone in the summer sun, and the coolness of the water that I would ask my mother to replenish when my brother and I went out to play in the morning.

My occupation at that time was to play. In that moment that the picture was taken I was a highly productive occupational being.

These memories make me question some basic assumptions that are made about my relative productivity at this time in my life. It makes me think about the occupations that I help children with every day. Which occupations really are of most value? What, exactly, constitutes human productivity?

So as I pause and reflect on human productivity and the false stories we are told about the economy of our species, sometimes I think that our most productive years are behind us. And we spend the rest of our days trying to recapture that same innocence and sense of wonder.

Christmas is approaching. We all have so many jobs to do - so many tasks to complete - so much productivity to achieve. Many of us as adults will be running around madly to find this or that gift and to get it all done 'in time' - we would all do well to stop and remember some innocence and wonder. Observe your children - and think of innocence and wonder as the intended output measures of human occupation.

I promise, it will put you in a frame of mind to receive a very different Christmas message than the one intended for the people in the shopping mall.


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