Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Too much of a good thing...

Look, I have no issue with the long-standing tradition of presents under the tree.  Gift opening and seeing the joy on your children's faces, not to mention the magic involved in the gifts spontaneously appearing on Christmas morning should be cherished.

However. HowEVER.

No child needs 30 Christmas presents from Santa.  No child needs 30 presents at all. But I'm afraid that estimate is on the low end of what most children in our area will be receiving for Christmas.

I sat down and did the baffling assessment this year of how much my children stand to gain from the Christmas holiday.  Three sets of grandparents.  Two great grandmas. Three sets of aunts and uncles.  Two very generous first cousins, once removed.  If each of these entities only get our children one gift (which, by the way, they probably won't) my children will have 11 gifts right there. Counting the fact that my husband and I want to give the children each a gift (a batgirl costume and a minecraft lego, respectively) that brings their  my kids' gift total up to 12.

We've been begging and pleaded with our relatives to get our children NOTHING or give the gift of an outing. The grandma who grew up in poverty gave me a puzzled look and then went off and probably bought them a car. One sporting grandma agreed to give a coupon to take the kids to lunch and a movie which filled my heart with joy but I later found out she bought the kids a bounce house. But it's going to stay at her house, she reasoned, so it really doesn't count.

So, clearly, the grandparents cannot be contained.  The aunts and uncles gently asked me/guilted me to not suck the joy out of their hearts by denying them the privilege of picking out toys for the kids while they are still young.

So maybe I can't control the people in my family, but my husband and I can certainly control ourselves.

I had to say something to the kids. I had to do something to stop them from coming to expect piles of presents from Santa under the tree. I don't want my children surrounded by piles of THINGS when so many go without and nor do I want to raise entitled little brats.   I don't have a bigger house than I need. Half the furniture in our house is second-hand (repurposed is the trendy word). We are not wasteful people. And I didn't want to throw all that to the wind because a fictional fat guy in velvet suit was going to squeeze through my chimney bearing gifts.

So I sat down with them and we talked about the two families we had helped to "adopt" to assist them with buying Christmas through the Salvation Army Angels program and one from my WINGS group.  And I lectured them about waste and giving back to others and how things will never love you back and I reminded them of the meltdown Mommy had last year when she realized the giant mound of plastic and paper that all the toy packaging had generated. And how it would all never decompose and be stuffed into poor Mother Earth indefinitely.

"Santa's NOT COMING?!" my son immediately went to DefCon 5, as is his way.

"I was GOOD!  Ask that elf!" Little D insisted.

"No, no," I hurriedly assured them. "You were very good.  Santa is definitely coming.  But he's not going to bring you a ton of gifts this year. Just a couple."

"Why?" Big A wanted to know.

"I think because you're very lucky and you have so much family around you to give you gifts.  And some kids have less family and less money to spend on gifts." That was my response.

"So if we get less, other kids can get more?"  Big A questioned.

"Yes," I said, even though that probably wasn't true.

"Do you know what communism is? I believe mommy is trying to illustrate it. " my husband interjected.   I shushed him.

"It's not that," I tired to explain to the kids what I was feeling myself. "It's just that...for Santa to bring you piles of gifts...when you have so much already...and you're getting even more gifts from your extended family...well, it all seems like a bit much, right?"

Big A looked at me thoughtfully while Little D climbed onto my husband's head, as she often does.

"I think...that would be greedy." Big A came up with.


"Exactly!" I was relieved he was getting it.

"But..will Santa still bring me a Mario Microworld?" he asked hopefully.

"And my basketball shirt?" Little D piped up.

"Probably, if you're good." I exhaled...glad that they didn't seem phased by getting less gifts from Santa this year.

"So, I still get a few gifts from Santa but just not a pile up to the ceiling or near the ceiling?" Big A clarified.

"Yes." I responded.

"Like how many?" he prodded.

"I don't know," I said. "But remember how many gifts you're getting from all your aunts and uncles and grandparents?  You guys are incredibly lucky to have such loving relatives"

They both seemed okay about it.  And my husband and I agreed that Santa would bring them each three gifts  (A Ghostbusters lego set, the Mario World and an Emmett alarm clock for our son and a soccer ball, basketball shirt and mechanical butterfly for our daughter).  I was glad I managed their expectations and I felt lighter just knowing we'd be generating less waste and consuming less things.

Even though I often feel unsuccessful, I'm not just trying to raise kids here. I'm trying to raise decent adults. And the sooner we can teach them that our society's warped obsession with accumulating things is NOT the path to satisfaction, peace or happiness the better off we will be.

When I think back to my happiest Christmas memories from childhood, very few of them involve gifts.  I remember my mom putting on Frank Sinatra's Christmas record as we decorated the house. I remember my Dad screaming "Pivot! Pi-VAHT!" as my sisters and I dissolved in laughter as we tried to help him bring in the tree.  Hiding the baby Jesus.  Snuggling with my sisters drinking hot chocolate and watching Rudolph. My mom's amazing German cold cut breakfasts.  Seeing my grandparents admire our Christmas dresses.  Sitting with my mom on the living room couch when she (finally) stopped serving people and sat down for a few moments of peace as we listened to opera with the lights dimmed, the Christmas tree twinkling away.  The house filled with the laughter, eating, music and conversation of our family.

I want to create that for my kids. And, believe it or not, I want to watch their faces light up when Santa brings them just what they were hoping for.  But toning it down to something reasonable and less excessive has brought me a lot of peace this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All Good Gifts

With no sarcasm whatsoever, I can freely admit that I adore the Christmas season!  In addition to fact that we celebrate the birth of someone who died so that we may all have eternal life, there's the added benefit that overconsumption of both wine and cookies is not only accepted as the norm, but it's encouraged as well! It's like...if you're not drinking a bottle of Pinot Noir each day and scarfing down a plate of unwitting gingerbread men, people look at you like there's something wrong with you. 

I love listening to Christmas carols, particularly the traditional religious ones like George Michael's  "Last Christmas" and that one by The Waitresses where they both forgot "cranberry" and end up falling in love at the all-night grocery.   And in all seriousness Bing Crosby's "Christmas Waltz" always makes me feel sentimental, giving me an almost irresistible urge grab someone both homely and lonely and mercy smooching them under the mistletoe.

And then there's the task of moving our creepy elf who is plotting to kill us.

There's nothing I like about this part of Christmas. 

But one thing I do love is remembering the meaning of Christmas, which is Christ's sacrifice for us, and whether you're a Christian or not, whether you believe in the guy in the sky or the pie in the sky, there is no human being that doesn't believe in gratitude.  So moreso than Thanksgiving, (when I spend my time avoiding the dry, tasteless meat that is turkey)  the Christmas season makes me remember all the things for which I am thankful.  So here's my list.

 In no particular order, I am grateful for:

1. The 2015 Ford Explorer.  (And no, they are not paying me to plug their brand).  It kept my twin sister safe when she was in a terrible car crash just hours before she delivered her twin infants by emergency C-section. 

2. My brand new niece and nephew.  They are healthy and strong and I very pleased to report that, unlike most newborns, they do not resemble plucked chickens.  I am also grateful that every time Little T makes a face it looks just like the bald guy from The Princess Bride and we all yell "INCONCEIVEABLE!"  I am also grateful for my not-so-new but equally fabulous older niece and nephew who I love like my own kids with the addition of getting to spoil them rotten and having never to discipline them.

3. My children.  When they're not trying to slowly and skillfully make me lose my mind, they are treasure troves of wonderfulness, but specifically I love how Big A is such a gentle soul and a loving, loyal friend.  Every time I see some little shit bullying a smaller child, I'm grateful that although God made Big A physically huge, my little man has come equipped with sweet nature and a conscious.  I am grateful that my daughter is so tough but also has a voice like one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz and is BFFs with her grandmother. I also love that she is the nosiest person in the universe and DOESN'T MISS A TRICK.  At three years old, she's already questioning Santa's toy manufacturing practices.

4.  My sisters.  They are simply the best and I can't write more in a public blog without making everyone uncomfortable.  I would be a (bigger) mess without their love and support. There are two of my greatest blessings.  All I'll say is we could quote the entire movie of Teen Witch.  Well, two of us can.

5. My mom and dad, whose love knows no boundaries. And nor does their every day interactive skills. But one day I will miss them dropping by the house for no reason, gassing up my car when I didn't ask them to, buying me stuff from Cost-co and coming over to tape all the tablecloths down to the tables before I throw an outdoor party. In all honestly, they are the best parents anyone could ask for and the lucky bastard that won the parent jackpot happened to be me.   And you are the gold standard of grandparents!  Your love for my little critters knows no bounds. (Mom, I know Dad will never read this so can you please paraphrase and leave out the cuss words?)  Thanks for putting up with me.

6.  My friends. I adore the love and laughter you funnel into my life.  Whether we met in high school, connected at WINGS or were forced together because of our kids (realizing with some delight that we actually liked each other and play dates were about to become much less tedious) I am very lucky to know such warm, loving women and men.   And one amazing person whose gender I am still not sure about but still, we make it work.

7.  My husband.  I am grateful that he never comes home, flops on the couch and pops open a beer. I love that he has a passion for life and is so down-to-earth and authentic. I love that he has never actually used the word "authentic". I love that he is so tender with the kids. I love that he  tells me he loves me and I am beautiful even when I'm drinking an entire bottle of wine and a eating a platter of cookies, often at the same time.  I love that we laugh together and occasionally, have cried together.

So, of my list of the 7 things I am grateful for this holiday season, one was an automobile and the other 6 were people.

Cheers to that! Pass the eggnog.  And the cookies.