When my daughter was 4 we took her to see a child psychiatrist for anxiety. When she was young we had lightning strike close enough to knock us to the ground and then later, on a family vacation, she and my husband were swarmed by hornets. This caused an immense fear of bees and storms in her that we just couldn't seem to manage.
The psychiatrist gave us some good tricks to help her, but told us that she was one of the most empathetic children he had ever met. Normally, he told us, he didn't recommend children sharing in the troubling things that adults face, but in her case, she was so good at reading our faces that she could tell when things were wrong and imagined things that were usually worse than the truth. He told us when we were dealing with tense issues that we should share a thumbnail version of those issues with her so that her imagination didn't run away with her. We have done that. Of course we don't drag her into the dregs of the drama, but she knows more than most children about things, such as the economy. She knows that we are lower middle-class and that while we have enough money for the important things, we don't have a lot of extra.
She also knows there are a lot of children out there who have nothing and their parents are struggling right now. So when the Toys r' us wishbook came out I asked E to go through it and circle what she wanted. She spent an hour pouring over it and came to a page that she hesitated over for a very long time. I went to look at what had stopped her and it was the page with the DS games. When I asked her why she wasn't circling it, she said, "Because it is so expensive." I was taken aback. This was Christmas we were talking about. I told her that if it was something she wanted, she should circle it. Yes, it was expensive, but maybe Santa would get it for her.
At that point she kind of paused and said, "I don't want to ask Santa for it. There's so many kids this year whose parents can't afford Christmas, Santa needs to help them." My mommy heart just ached after that. She's such a good kid, but I feel so bad for taking away her innocence.
But the thing is, Hubby and I are not buying each other gifts this year because we are really trying to buy her a WII. She really wants the Wii but knows there's no way we can afford it. Since there are no children in our neighborhood and this is going to be a sad Christmas without her neighborhood friends from last year, we wanted to get her something really special. I guess we're trying to buy her love. Only now I feel guilty all over the place. Tis the season.