This year, my husband and I told our kids that Santa was probably going to give each of them just two presents. Not because they were bad, we said, but Santa was exhausted. “He really tired himself out last year, trying to haul so many presents around the world, many of them way too heavy for him and the reindeer.”
“The elves are burnt out too,” we said. “And if they work too hard again, they might not be able to do anything next Christmas.”
Last year, my husband and I went crazy with gifts. Flashy ones like kitchens you had to build that came with fake wooden food and matching plate sets, plastic cars big enough to sit in, and pretty clothes from Mudpie. And in spite of our efforts, maybe even because of them, it seemed like everyone ended up in a bad mood.
I was unhappy surveying the loot, because I had no idea where to put all that stuff. I didn’t want a tent in my living room.
Santa gave my kids an air hockey table so large a family of five could eat Christmas dinner on it. My husband was upset, because I didn’t appreciate the air hockey table that he transported in his truck, home from Target, and then spent hours and hours putting together– along with the play kitchen and the car. I was mad about that too, because while he assembled, getting in a progressively horrible mood as he misplaced tiny parts, I was left to do all the wrapping, in beautiful paper sold by individual sheet, tied up with sheer, wiry ribbons that he didn’t seem to admire at all.
Needless to say, on Christmas morning a year ago, when the kids woke up and tore open their presents, there were no cries of “how lovely!” about the wrapping. They were disappointed when all the unwrapping was over. No more presents! And then they went on to covet and compare and argue over each other’s gifts.
So this year each kid got a Penbo Penguin— a penguin that waddles around, talks when you pet it, and lays an egg. (Apparently, my kids along with many others across America, saw this creature on TV and fell in love.) My toddler also got some monster trucks, my four year old received a stuffed, lavender unicorn, and my seven year old, a rockstar Zhu Zhu pet.
Here’s the thing: my kids got upset when there were no more presents to open, but no more upset than they were last year when they received more than triple the presents. Seriously. I could time the minutes they spent on regret, and it would be the same.
Here is what I learned: no matter how many presents there are, the ending will always come and endings are always kind of sad. The major difference this year was that I was able to just let my kids be sad. I didn’t get mad at them about how ungrateful or spoiled they were for not appreciating the time and money that went towards making the day perfect for them. For the first time, I didn’t try to use my adult reasoning on their child-minds to get them see the light. I let Christmas be about them and not about me. Not taking it all personally, I was able to see their point of view, let them bum out a little, and then move on in their own time.
I could do this because I felt serene. I didn’t have my annual anxiety attack about all the stuff and how there was nowhere to put it. And maybe the best thing, for my family and the planet: there were no mounds of garbage! Not only were there less presents, but there was no pile of gorgeous paper and $10 bows. On Christmas Eve, instead of swearing as he assembled toys with directions as elaborate as nuclear bombs, my husband and I wrapped together, using thin paper from Walgreens that ripped easily. I let him help, appreciating his lumpy wrap-jobs, white undersides showing at the corners, just happy to do it together. In twenty minutes, we were all done, and we had a great night, watching a movie by the fire.
I wonder what it would be like to start 2011 well-rested with no hangover?