Sunday, December 21, 2014

Too Much Christmas

We travel for the holidays.  Every year.  If we want to see our families then we have to drive across the state for the holidays.  I wouldn't give this up for anything.

So, to accommodate, our small family of three (five with The Girls included) celebrates Christmas early.  Santa sends a letter saying he is making a special trip to our house early, we set out cookies early, we finish our last-minute shopping early.  Everything.  Ahead of schedule.

A problem this creates, particularly with a child whose birthday is just 2 weeks shy of Christmas, is not only feeling financially strained, but a prolonged Christmas celebration.

Not that celebrating Christmas in itself is a problem, it’s that when we say we have “three Christmases” to celebrate, it entails three rounds of presents.  Also, not a problem in itself.

I love little baby Jesus in the manger and I'm all for celebrating the gift of the first Christmas by giving to our loved ones.  But, to be honest, I can't tell you the last time I sat down and pondered and took in the true meaning of Christmas.

Because I'm shopping.  And baking.  And wrapping presents.  And planning a birthday party for Little K.  Taking him to spend the money he received in the mail to buy that one toy he wanted and didn't get – even though his birthday party was like a damn toy drive.  And carving out one evening to celebrate my birthday (which falls just one week shy of Christmas).  And going to a Christmas program.  And going to work Christmas parties.  And remembering that one last person for whom I forgot to buy a present.  And ordering overpriced Christmas cards.  Addressing and mailing those Christmas cards and then realizing I forgot important people on the list but I ran out and for the love of God I am not going to go to that devil's playground known as Wal-Mart one more damn time just to get cards that the will be thrown away by the recipients.

See what I mean?

So Little K sees a hard-working dad, frustrated at all of the money being swept out of our bank account on crappy plastic toys.  He sees a mom who is bustling and busy trying to make him have the perfect Christmas, make sure that every gift requested is on the her shopping list (or is passed along to a grandma).  A mom who is trying to help ease the pain of him never getting any siblings by ensuring he has every single toy he ever wanted.  He sees me frantically trying to accomplish all of the tasks I have inevitably forgotten.  He sees me shove my body full of delicious freshly baked Christmas cookies and then saddened with guilt after I have once again sabotaged any progress towards healthy living.  We watch Christmas movies, but really I am working or writing or cleaning while he is the only one watching.  Only at bedtime am I sitting down with him and reading and talking about Christmas – but by then I'm exhausted by the day.  His stack of Christmas books are mostly about Santa.  Even his one book about our Savior's birth is about how Santa was at the manger.  Wait a second – I just realized how ridiculous this is.  As if the child of God being born to a virgin wasn't enough of a miracle to write a book about; we had to place a mythical fat guy in fur in the manger too?  I get that it was someone's effort to tie the two together so to not let children forget the real importance of Christmas.  But.  Come.  On.

Mr. B has been saying for a while, "Little K is spoiled.  We are spoiling him."  I have been ignoring my nagging conscience that has been telling me, "Slow down.  Stop.  Less is more."  I have shut that voice up by drowning it with birthday cake, lattes, cookies, and margaritas.

I envisioned a wonderful time of baking cookies with Little K to set out for Santa, I anticipated his thrilled reaction to his gifts from Santa.  I was maybe just as excited as him to celebrate our first Christmas in our new house.


Last night I begged Little K to help me make cookies and he wound up playing in his room while I made them.  For him to give to Santa.  The butter was too melty because I was in a hurry (as per usual this time of year), so the cookies wound up flat and wide (but still delicious).  Too exhausted to care, I delivered cookies to our neighbors – by myself.  Before bed we all played Uno as a family (which was really very fun and chaos-free) and set out cookies for Santa.  Because, as you remember, Santa is coming early for him.

This morning at 8:00, he ran into our bedroom with two Rescue-Bots Santa had set out and yelled, "LOOK WHAT SANTA BROUGHT ME!!!"  Reminded of all of the Christmas mornings my sister and I jumped out of bed at 5:00 to open presents, I was thankful for the extra three hours of sleep and followed him down stairs to where Santa had left his goods.

Santa came!!!!

Excitement quickly turned to disappointment as one of the expensive-yet-cheap plastic Rescue-Bots didn't transform just exactly as it was supposed to.  Sorry kid, I can't do anything about the quality control at The North Pole.  And also I already threw away the packaging.  Then he was pissed because Santa only gave him two Rescue-Bots instead of four.  Because he clearly asked for all four in his letter.  We talked about being thankful for what you get and that Santa did read his letter and brought him things he knew he wanted.  Also that if you whine about what Santa gives you it puts you on the naughty list for next year so be happy with what you have and play with your damn toys.

For the record, The Girls were thrilled with their new giant bones and toys from Santa.

Daisy doesn't want her bone or toy...
she wants Ruby's bone.

This bone will be completely consumed within 30 minutes of this photograph.

Then he said he hoped he got a new elf next year because Elfie doesn't do anything.  For.  The.  Love.

Mr. B went for a run while I made breakfast; we would open the rest of our presents as a family later in the day after watching The Polar Express (as per tradition).  Little K whined and whimpered about his robot's stupid non-transforming head as I cooked and continued to tell him to be thankful and kind and happy.

I set his plate down at the table in front of him, with toast, eggs, and a few tiny hash-browns that he needed to try before deciding he really did hate them as much as he had proclaimed he did.  He lost it.  He instantly screamed at me that he didn't want hash-browns and yelled that he was NOT going to watch Polar Express.  I flipped my shit.  I really did.  I put him on his bed and told him to be thankful for nice things people did for him and that Mommy and Daddy work really hard to do nice things for him and to stay in his room until he could be nice.

He came out bawling a few minutes later ready to be nice.  Except he was still pissed about that godforsaken robot (that I am ready to put in the garbage disposal) and the hash browns.  Mr. B took the Santa toys away and I put him back in timeout.

Mr. B told him he can't have them back ever.  I said he had to be nice for 300 minutes before we could talk about it again, as he bawled on my lap and begged to open the presents under the tree right now.  And 300 minutes is a really long time and he can’t be nice that long!

The 300 minute thing isn’t normal for us, I just wanted to him to know that he was going to have to get his behavior in check for quite a while before he was getting anything.

So now what?  We have presents under the tree from us (because Santa can’t get all the credit).  Do I take them back?  Do I make him wait until Valentine's Day and hope he has developed a better attitude by then?  Do I start making him celebrate his half-birthday to spread out the spoiling?

Because the thing is, it's not his fault.  It's mine.  I have created this attitude of taking in him.  I am responsible for giving him more, more, more, so now he expects it.  Yes he knows to say “Thank you”, but how do I make sure he feels gratitude?  I have allowed huge birthday parties with way too many people and presents.  I have allowed overindulgent grandparents.  I have given in to mommy-guilt and bought one last present over and over and over.  Mr. B was right, Little K is spoiled.  Everything we do is for him and about him.  Even Santa Claus who only works one day a year (lucky bastard) hooked up his reindeer, and flew his sleigh all the way to Kansas just for him.

After hearing, "Be nice!  Santa is watching you!", and "Elfie is watching!  If you want presents, you can't be naughty.", for a month, I'm sure he was buzzing all the way down to his toes as he waited for today to come.  That’s a huge amount of anticipation for a little guy who is already prone to anxiety.  There is so much buildup to the big day with so many big emotions – a meltdown is practically inevitable.

He is not usually this naughty.  He really isn't (and I'm not just saying that because I'm his doting mother).  But having nearly a full two months of anything-goes, gimme gimme (because, let’s be honest, this shit starts at Halloween) can turn even the most angelic of children into a full blown ass-hole.

This can’t continue.  I don't know what to do though.  I want him to remember parents who worked hard and loved him fiercely.  I want him to have memories of the excitement of Christmas morning and getting the toy he had been yearning for.  I want him to have fun memories at his grandparents' house (and I know both sets will say it is their duty to spoil him).

The breakdown subsided, and he turned back into his sweet self, and we watched The Polar Express (at his request).  He apologized for being naughty, and even helped with a few chores.  Though he continued to ask if it had been 300 minutes yet, his toys stayed in time-out.  Our presents sat under the tree for several more hours.

Finally a peaceful moment, watching The Polar Express
When we finally opened presents, I expected an attitude of thankfulness.  We had just discussed the lack of presents at some homes, how we are fortunate to be able to have nice things at Christmas.  And it worked.  For a minute.  He was so sweet -- until we were done.  And then he wondered why we didn’t give him any toys – and he was pissed all over again because he had his new robots taken away from him.  Though we were planning on giving him back those robots (or transformers, whatever), we decided against it because of his giant fit.  In time-out they continue to stay.

As I look at these pictures, it doesn’t look like he was given a hoard of stuff.  But what is upsetting is that I’m afraid that even if he had been given every single item he has ever asked for (which he might actually have by the time we’ve had our third Christmas), he still would have expected more.

He was pretty excited about the huge vintage comic book covers for his room.

Excited for her new harness.

New harness (she is so hard to photograph)!
Something has to change.  I am just not doing this Christmas thing right.  We have to have less, do less, buy less, bustle less, pray more, and give more.  We cannot continue to buy presents he will break in a day or discard in 6 months.  We have got to forge a way to make this season better, more joyful, and simpler.  Because this is not working.

How do we create a spirit of gratefulness in him?  How do we make him appreciate simplicity and effort?  How can we give him the appreciation of hand-made and full of love over store-bought and under-thought?  How do we create in him the right balance of being awe-struck by the magic and wonder of the season without being overindulged and spoiled?

I wish I had the right answers, but I don't.  Mr. B and I have been discussing opportunities for giving and volunteering; opportunities that Little K can be involved in.  But will it be enough?

And while I cannot change the mass amount of presents under any of the trees he will sit near this year; I hope that next year things can be different – less and simple.

Stop.  Slow down.  Less is more.  Thank you for keeping me In Good Company.

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  1. We are exploring the "how" of this awareness at our house too and that is one reason we elected for a birthday trip this year instead of gifts and a party. I think it is much harder with Dec. birthdays like our kids have because it's all stacked right together.
    We have thought of going to the 4 gift rule - want, need, wear, read and one special gift from Santa but that didn't happen this year.

  2. You have written the exact thoughts in my mind. My oldest son's birthday is Dec. 14, so we also struggle with spending extra during this already expensive month. Last year after Christmas, I felt so empty... and here I am again a year later having changed nothing. I too want my kids to truly feel grateful and understand how fortunate we are. I'm with you on every level of this... I HAVE to change this for next year. Thank you for sharing your thoughts - you are not alone!


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