Last week I was nostalgic for all things near and dear to me that I love about Christmas past and present, but this week it’s time to get real. For all the baked Christmas cookies and sweet memories we’re making there is the ugly side of Christmas that made the Grinch so enraged that he sought to steal it entirely. I’m talking about the presents.
I won’t even go into how it’s my responsibility to decide on and purchase gifts for everyone from our kids to our mailman. A task that’s fallen on my shoulders since the moment we were married and may have been a huge driving force for his proposal. That’s a whole other issue.
No, I’m talking about the out-of-their-Santa-loving-mind crazy way kids act when the countdown to Santa’s arrival begins. For me, this time of year presents itself as a delicate balance between wanting to spoil our kids and give them an epic Christmas while also instilling in them that there is more to Christmas than the 15 minutes of unwrapping gifts that happens on the 25th. I realize that conceptually this is a tall order for any child to grasp, let alone a four-year old and forget about a two year old. Olivia is just relieved to know that Santa is going to be dropping the gifts in the middle of the night without some sort of forced interaction. Silly girl, that’s what the mall is for.
Last year AJR really began to understand what Christmas was but hadn’t completely fallen under the spell of presents. This year I swear every sentence out of his mouth begins with “I want” and it doesn’t help that Nick Jr. has approximately six commercial breaks per 30-minute show. Most times my kids scream at me as if they’re in a great deal of pain should a commercial dare interrupt an episode of a show they’ve seen no less than 12 times. But now commercials are to be enjoyed with glassy-eyed wonder as they mouth “I want that…” and drool drips onto our already ruined couch upholstery.
Before you think me a complete Grinch, I will say that with small children part of what makes Christmas so special is delighting in the innocent wonder and complete belief that a fat altruistic elf drops off gifts in the middle of the night if they’ve been good. Or at least stopped misbehaving when their parents said Santa was watching. I truly want to give my kids what they want for Christmas. Within reason. I want them to know that you don’t always get everything you want and there are some things I flat out draw the line at giving. A game with a plastic dachshund that “poops”? Really? Um, we have a real dachshund that dumps everywhere rendering this toy completely unnecessary. I will gladly buy plastic shovels from the dollar store and let you scoop it up for your own enjoyment. My deep loathing for Paw Patrol aside, I refuse to indulge my kids and purchase the infamous “Sea Patroller,” a worthless plastic monstrosity whose only redeeming value is the red life preservers it claims to launch. If I were to spend $59.99 on that I would at best give it 36 hours before that thing fell out of favor and ended up discarded in a corner of the play room.
I also have a bone to pick with Hot Wheels and their latest product that has rendered our current Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage so passé. For those parents not deep in Hot Wheels land, the Hot Wheels ultimate garage is $100 worth of plastic bits and pieces clinging to each other so precariously that you have to reassemble it no less than 50 times if your kid is playing with it. We acquired this beaut because 1. AJR had seen it on “Ryan’s Toy Review” (side note, this kid made $11 million last year. I can’t even go there right now) and 2. After a brief potty training struggle, we turned it into his reward for dropping a deuce in the toilet a certain number of times. It is a well-used toy, which allows me to forgive it’s ginormous footprint in our play room.
Unveiled in time for the holiday season, the SUPER ultimate garage is double the price (of course) and looks preeetty much the except for this stupid Gorilla on the side. The animation in the commercial makes the gorilla seem very interactive. He’s flinging Hot Wheels cars to the ground as they try to make their way up a twisty elevator and beats his chest wildly, much to the delight of AJR. In reality, I can guarantee that gorilla is merely decorative and throws zero cars. And that fancy looking elevator probably jams if the cars aren’t a specific size. Hot Wheels, I am not paying almost $200 for a guaranteed meltdown fueled by unmet expectations.
Listen, I totally understand why kids want all the things and that it’s totally normal too. New things are awesome. Anytime I walk into Target or HomeGoods I pretty much say “I want that” to every single thing there is. However, I understand the value and concept of money as well as hard work that prevents me from buying it all. Kids, you are darling and precious to me, but I don’t want a pair of Veruca Salts on my hands. Hence our self-editing when it comes to Christmas shopping for you.
I still remember a home movie of me at six or seven years old where I turn to my mom and exasperated “I already GOT Play-Doh!” Ugh. What a jerk I was. Although my mother is filming, I can see her eyes rolling back in her head as she muttered out “Santa must know you like Play-Doh” through clenched teeth. So how do you even try to get a preschooler to understand gratitude and giving amidst the excitement of receiving gifts yourself? Like most things, I am sure it’s something that comes with age. However I’ve been trying to do a few small things to make Christmas about giving, too. If we’re creating all of these new traditions it makes sense to incorporate this as part of it.
Most attempts have expectedly fallen a little short. Needing a good purge anyway, I had AJR go through a bunch of gently used toys and put them into a bin that we’re planning to donate. I explained we need to get rid of things we’re not playing with anymore since there are kids that would love to have them. In exchange, Santa is going to come and bring a few new things. My heart soared optimistically at his excitement, but came crashing down as he volunteered to give up his Ultimate Garage so he could get the SUPER Ultimate Garage. I had to explain that this isn’t exactly a trade-in program here.
I also volunteered to fulfill a wish list for a child in need, something that I’ve always wanted to do. Again, I had unrealistic visions of AJR and I shopping for gifts that he picked out for a kid he didn’t even know while declaring that this was better than anything Santa could ever bring him. The reality was I made the disastrous decision to take AJR into Toys R Us and allowed him to look longingly at the huge wall of LEGO sets, his most coveted Christmas list item. For a kid that looks at the advent calendar as a daily reminder of just how far away Christmas is, he predictably melted down. I ended up carrying him out of the store because he just wanted a hug while I pushed Olivia in the stroller with one hand and tried to avoid the judgmental stares of older people shopping sans kids.
Eventually, I wised up and completed the wish list while both kids were at school. I took them with me to drop the gifts off on the organizer’s porch as they watched excitedly from the car and talked about how happy they were going to make a little boy. Phew. Some of the message had finally gotten through.
Christmas morning is going to be a fun one this year and due partly to how hyped they are for it. Now that both kids can clearly tell us what they want it’s going to make the opening of the gifts even sweeter, even if it’s Santa that inevitably gets all the credit. Giving them joy is truly the best gift I could certainly ever ask for and one day they will know that too. Until then, here’s hoping that stupid Sea Patroller commercial stops airing soon.