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And So This Is Christmas

Dec07

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My kids are sitting with pens and paper writing out the Christmas lists. They are rattling off item after after they want, or need. I find myself vetoing things before they are even written down. Why save the disappointment for Christmas Day? Let’s spread it out to enjoy for the whole month of December.

“I don’t even have an iPad.” I say.

“You aren’t getting an iPhone… Well, the fact that you think Santa Claus might actually bring you an iPhone indicates that you are too young for one… I don’t care if you are eight years old.”

“You are seven, where are you going to ride a quad?”

Is it just me or has it seemed like the expectations for Christmas presents has been ratcheted way up. Suddenly expensive electronics are appropriate presents for children of younger and younger ages, children who aren’t even responsible enough to brush their teeth without being reminded?

I recall when I was a kid and begging for an Atari, my parents complaining that the entire holiday season had become much more materialistic than it had been in their childhoods. Is it a generational thing? Am I revising the history of my youth? Am I unaware of how much money my parents spent on Christmas presents?

*****

My parents grew up during the Great Depression, both in poor families. My mother would tell me that for Christmas she might get some new clothes for the one doll that she had. Clothes that my grandmother would have sewn late at night while my mother and her siblings were sleeping. They would have been made from fabric scraps leftover from their old threadbare clothes. Scraps that were too small to be made into anything truly usable. Nothing was ever thrown away.

As an adult, I can imagine my grandmother, a widow, tired from a long day of working a job which often didn’t provide enough money for food to feed all of them. I can see her sitting in the dim light, hand sewing tiny doll clothes. Did she think about her exhaustion? Did she sit in a rocking chair and worry? Did she say a little prayer of thanks for what little they had as did made each stitch? Had she already started the habit of drinking hot water to fill her empty stomach, or did that come in later years?

I remember once telling my mother that I felt sorry for her and her horrible Christmases, devoid of “real” presents. My mother had laughed and said I shouldn’t feel sorry for her. In some ways it was better then, she had said.

The most exciting thing that both my parents talk about was getting an orange in their Christmas stocking, an actual sock, not a velvet trimmed one from Pottery Barn with their name machine-embroidered across the top. An orange was a treat they looked forward too all year long. They wouldn’t eat it right away. They would hold it like a treasure, smelling it’s sweet skin from time to time. When they did peel it, they would do so carefully, licking the juice off their forearms. They would even eat the bitter white pith.

Neither of them ever remember their parents ever eating one. The perspective of a child is never the same as the parent.

How strange it is for us, where everything in the world is at our fingertips, at any time of the day or night, to even imagine an orange being so cherished. I look over now at my kitchen counter where a bowl of oranges has sat untouched for days.

Both of them agree, unequivocally, that oranges do not taste as good as they did back then.

Sometimes they go round and round in their conversations speculating on what has happened to oranges they buy at the grocery store. Even the organic ones, they will say have lost their sweetness. Usually they settle on the reason being that they are imported from so far away they have lost the flavor on the journey.

But I know the truth. When everyday you live a life that is harsh, the sweet things shine a little brighter. Can you truly appreciate things without that contrast?

I think of my own children click clicking away on the computer, pointing out stuff they want. Random things they didn’t even know they wanted until it popped up on the screen. I don’t want my children to feel the sort of deprivation that my parents grew up with. In fact, I hope that they never do. But how do you teach them to appreciate things that come so easily? Do they even have a (metaphorical) orange? I wonder what sort of disservice I am doing to my children.

My 12 year old son closes the laptop. He has nothing written down on his list. “I can’t think of anything. I have everything I want.” He shrugs his shoulders and flashes me his dimples, “Surprise me.”

My heart sinks a little. The greater implications of having your every want fulfilled at 12 years old. We all desire this for our children, in theory, for them to be happy. All of us sitting here reading this on our computers are more blessed than most people in this world. How do we help our children appreciate this? Or do I expect too much from children?  I honestly want to know.

Somehow, I don’t think an orange in the toe of his stocking is quite the surprise my son means.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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11 Responses to “And So This Is Christmas”

  1. Myriam Dec 07 at 11:21 am Reply Reply

    Touching… we don’t want our children to miss out on anything, yet we don’t want them to have everything they fleetingly want. It’s a hard balancing act, one that we, as parents, have to apply to our own lifes too.

  2. Krystyna81 Dec 07 at 12:56 pm Reply Reply

    That is so profound in this age of Entitlement that we are in.  yes, we have our two children write Christmas lists, and yes, lots of those toys will make it under the tree.  But the first time they forget to say “thank you” or complain about what they DIDN”T get, those gifts will be set aside until they earn it back.

  3. Erin Dec 08 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    I love this piece so much. I struggle with this every year as I contemplate what gifts I can find for people who have everything. My son is not quite two and I am thinking about how to make Christmas special for him. I’m not sure yet but I’m wondering if he needs random gifts all year round or can wait for some things to come once a year. Perhaps even more than that I wonder how to make this holiday special for ME and not have it be about shopping.

  4. Katie Dec 08 at 11:47 am Reply Reply

    I’ve been feeling a little sad about Christmas this year. I’d like to get my family (no kids for me, but many siblings and two nephews) things they’ve been really wanting, something they’ve been thinking about but couldn’t get. But there is nothing like that! If they want it, they buy it, right then. That wasn’t how it was when I was a kid. I remember making a list long in advance, knowing exactly what I wanted. I adopted a few kids through work and they’ve asked for things like clothes and hair things and I want to buy them everything their little hearts desire because I know they won’t get it.

    In other words, I feel your pain, it’s my pain too.

  5. Lyssa Dec 08 at 11:59 am Reply Reply

    I am trying to raise my children that Christmas is a holiday for family, you wake up, open a few presents, and spend the day with friends/family enjoying eachother its not about the gifts. One thing i think is nice and seems to help open kids upto “they have it better then some” or being “happy with what they have” is getting them into donating to needy kids or a charity of some kid like “adopt a family/kid” or something like that. A lot of families that i have known who do that their children seem to appreciate the holiday more.

  6. Roxanna (miguelina) Dec 08 at 1:29 pm Reply Reply

    This is beautiful. I know what you mean. Thanks for putting into words.

  7. Becky Dec 08 at 2:52 pm Reply Reply

    Love this. I’m a new mom to my now 1 year old daughter. At my nursing group last night something of this same theme came up when we were talking about family traditions. One of the woman said to fight some of the pervasive consumerism aspects of the holidays she wanted to start the tradition of only 4 gifts at Christmas: 1. Something they need. 2. Something they want. 3. Something to read 4. And Something to wear. It stuck with me. I thought this still let in the fun and giving of the holiday without so much of the materialism.

  8. Grammy Dec 08 at 3:12 pm Reply Reply

    Buckets. Last year, Grandpa and I were trying to figure out what we could get our then-18-month-old grandson that he didn’t already have or would be getting from someone else at Christmas. We settled on a variety of plastic paint buckets from the hardware store, along with one metal bucket for a special treat.

    He spends a lot of time at our house, and he still uses those buckets every single time he’s here. He collects small stones around the yard and carries them from one place to another. In summertime, he spends hours filling a small plastic milk bottle with water, pouring that into the bucket, and continuing until the bucket is almost full, at which time he dumps the water from the bucket on himself and begins again. In Summer he also takes a bucket to the garden to harvest cherry tomatoes by himself.

    Indoors, he stacks the buckets like building blocks to make a wall of a fort. Or puts alphabet blocks in one and then transfers them to another.

    And, best of all (to him) he turns all of them over and uses anything resembling a stick to play drums (until Grandpa bought him a real pair of drumsticks). He has a real set of drums at home, but he doesn’t seem to think that his makeshift drum kit is any less fabulous, plus he can customize it infinitely (the metal bucket serves as the cymbal).

    Sometimes a bucket is a chair. Or a footstool. Or a table. Or a hat.

    If you have very small children, think of simple things that aren’t sold in toy stores, but allow them to use their imagination. The “toy” will be used much longer and for more things than anything else they get.

    If you have older children, I can’t help you. My own kids went through a “horrible” phase when they were teenagers where all they wanted was money “so I can get something good.” They do outgrow it, but it’s not so jolly at the time.

  9. Kristen Dec 12 at 11:45 am Reply Reply

    First, I would like to come to the defense of your 12 year old boy.  There are some children who just don’t need as much.  I have a 21 year old step daughter and a 23 year old stepson.  The step daughter has always had a list a mile long — clothes, the latest and greatest electronic, and when she was younger, toys.  Her brother has never had much on his list.  He has always been fine with less — an ipad or iphone just would never be on his list.  He is certainly much less spoiled than his sister. Though now that he is 23 and on his own, he actually has a list for about the first time.  Your 12 year old may be one of those that just needs less. Honestly, I am proud of my stepson for needing less and for not being as materialistic.  I don’t see it as a bad thing at all.  I actually feel much worse about my step daughter who “needs” the $200 jeans and the Uggs and all the rest of it.

    This year, I have twin boys that are nearly 7. Both of them have a lot of toys, and they both have lists.  They have been repeatedly warned that they won’t get everything they want (one of them really wants a nintendo DS and that just isn’t a toy our family will buy).  I do have questions about how much we should get them, not because of our budget, but because I don’t actually believe that getting everything on their list will make them happy.  

  10. Meg...CT Dec 13 at 6:23 am Reply Reply

    I struggle with this EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.

  11. Julie H Dec 14 at 3:57 pm Reply Reply

    Seems to me that you got a Christmas present when your son recognized that he had everything he wants/needs. Even if it seems strange or even improper that he already has everything, at least he has the balance to know that there isn’t anything he wants.
    Why not give him the gift of time? Plan an outing to do something he really enjoys doing with you, or with his best buddy? (at 12, my son would have preferred the time with a friend to time with me, while I actually liked one on one time with my Mom). And, as others suggested above, planning a family volunteering effort – preferably something that is ongoing rather than just at Christmas – will provide the opportunity to talk about the difference between wants and needs.

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