And So This Is Christmas
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