Uh-oh. Today is the day. It has finally hit me. Later this year than in years past — I think I am growing. But I still have it — the little lump in my gut — the little twinge between my shoulder blades. It’s the worry about the stuff.
Maybe some of you have this worry too. It comes with having children, and having people in your life who love your children and want them to scream their heads off when they open a wrapped mystery box.
A few years back I wrote about this topic, trying to be careful, trying not to offend the grandparents in our lives, and I’m not sure how it went. I just know that every year I continue to get a paycheck from that article because people continue to read it, so I must not be the only one out there experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
I wrote that article a long time ago, so I’m not sure if I still feel exactly the way I did then. It has been a few years. I have tried to force myself to mellow a bit. I no longer return anything the day after Christmas in a fit that includes me screaming, “I have got to get that thing out of my house!!”
I consider that progress. I have come to realize in these past 6 years of motherhood that we are very blessed to have many people in our lives who love our children, and love seeing them happy. And that what this gift-giving tension comes down to is why.
We have these rules, and they seem so arbitrary. I can hear that in the conversations we try to have. Why no video games? Everyone has video games. Why no Pillow Pets? Every child wants one. Why, why, why?
And the truth is, there are a lot of reasons. I spend my days with my children, and I spend my nights after they are in bed with my head in a book and so I have the reasons.
I don’t think anyone would say that raising children is simple, and so the reasons aren’t simple.
I could say, “because we are the parents, ” which is true, but I don’t often use that line with my own kids, and so I try not to use it with anyone who saw my husband or me take a Mr. Bubble bath with a sibling.
And as a family we may seem to have more rules than other families. But I think each family has to make choices based on who they are and what they value. And that is never going to be the same for everyone.
Among my friends, who are pretty like-minded, we’ve had discussions about gifts we would prefer people not give to our children. But just as one has a more lenient gun-play policy than another, some like Barbie and some hate her, some embrace toys based on TV or movies and some don’t watch TV or movies at all, the rules are anything but arbitrary. They are exact, for that exact family at that exact time.
But what is Christmas (or any other major gift giving holiday including birthdays) about if it is not about getting something plastic, beepy, large, loud?
And why would any parent want to keep their child from getting the hot new toy? And why is our generation punishing grandparents who just want to be generous and blow their grandchildrens’ minds?!
It took me several years, and several holidays spent with a polite-yet-strained smile on my face to understand that us, the parents, at times probably seem like lunatic nutjobs who at best are controlling and unappreciative and at worst are undermining the role of grandparents and killing Christmas for everyone.
So two years ago we tried writing that letter. You’ve heard of the letter. It was a combo of the advice from Mothering Magazine (help them build a kite!) and from the New American Dream Web site,with some news reports about lead paint and an explanation of endocrine disruption thrown into just to balance everything out.
You can imagine how it went over.
Day 1: Complete Radio Silence
Day 2: The Questions
Day 3: The Confrontation
Day 4: Either tears, yelling, or a promise that my kids were going to get the loudest plastic junk anyone had ever seen or heard of.
Day 4 (Later): The Giving-In.
(That was us. The parents. Giving in.) Apologizing for causing everyone grief and strife. “That will be fine,” we said a half-dozen times. “We have a very large trunk and a Goodwill 3 minutes away,” we muttered to ourselves.
Because the truth is, whatever our reasons are for not wanting our children to have something, trying to explain those reasons to someone who 1) has already made up their mind and 2) remembers the time when your head exploded over a Teddy Ruxpin is sort of wasted energy.
Because the parents still win. That’s how it is. That’s how it is structured. I mean if they want to enough. If they think it is important enough, they will deal with the aftermath of an inappropriate toy in a way that works for their family, without compromising their values.
I’m realizing now that a lot of this is about continued open communication with extended family, but also about communicating with your kids (when they get old enough). It is about establishing a family culture, and family values within your unit, and everybody else can either climb on board or not, but your train is leaving the station, so to speak.
This holiday gift-giving business basically comes down to people who all love a child, and all want to do what they think is best for that child (but as the parent, you know your child best, so it’s true that someone else may get it wrong).
But trying to see it that way — trying to understand the intentions of the giver helps me be a little more understanding and patient, I hope.
It is true, that in my memory banks, my very first Christmases smelled like plastic-babydoll-head. And I did not die.
It is true that I got a Barbie Dream House once, and it did not make me develop an eating disorder or get addicted to plastic surgery.
But is is also true that it is not 1980, I no longer wear Wonderwoman Underoos around the house, and my body has birthed and nourished two entire people.
Things have changed. That is my point there. Things are different. The biggest difference I can think of is that I am a mother now, not a little girl, and I am busting my non-Underoo wearing butt every day to try to do what I hope is best for my kids.
For the people in our life, they can love that or hate that, but if they truly care about our kids at all, they need to try to respect it.
Stomach lump better. Twinge gone.