Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Christmas Art Form

I thought Christmas was a challenge even before I had kids.  We had quite a few family members to buy for, so even prior to Jacob being born, we had quite the array of presents under our tree by the time I was done with my pre-Christmas Eve marathon wrapping session.  But once we had kids, it became exponentially harder...but not really for the reason I thought.  It turns out it's not as much about what to buy for the kids, but who is buying it.  I never knew that the biggest challenge of Christmas is solving the puzzle of who gets which part of the Christmas list. 

There is a lot to consider.  You have a handful of gifts in mind that you want your child to receive.  They'll come from you, from Santa, and from caring relatives.  No one has to follow your plan, but it seems these days that most people want to ensure your child gets something they want, or at least something along the lines of what they're interested in.  But when everyone is out shopping at once, it's not like you can give everyone the same list and let them go at it, as you will end up with duplicates and that's just awkward.  Kids are not the best at hiding their emotions, especially at Christmas, and no matter how many times you practice the, "Oh, this is awesome, thank you," script and try to teach them to be grateful regardless, it usually doesn't come out that way in the moment.  So you plan.

In our case, in addition to what happens in our house--between us and Santa--we have two sets of grandparents, two sets of aunts/uncles/cousins, and one formal family exchange and one informal one (which is always random stuff--no lists needed).  In addition, our daycare does a visit from Santa, so there's always been a need for one small gift for that event.  Every year, from when Jacob did it until now when it's just Carter, I try to pick a gift that's within the low price range and that he'll love, but that I don't expect will elicit a "Christmas morning moment" kind of response, as I want as much oomph reserved for the "big show" as possible.  And I think that's usually the challenge--the reaction that we as parents look for is key, and inevitably we want to be the one responsible for the best one of the holiday.  So we handpick which gifts we want, consider what Santa should bring, and dispatch the rest of the ideas off to others.  But how much glory should we get, and how much should we pass off to Santa?  How do you balance it all so it seems like you as the parent didn't cheap out? 

But sometimes, admittedly, there have been times that the gift my child wanted most is not something I was willing to give them.  Then that usually falls on a grandparent (or a couple years ago, the random Santa visit at my family exchange, which brought Jacob his Wii), and then is it bad that their favorite gift won't come from their parents?  I think back on my childhood and I guess the answer is no.  Some of my favorite gifts came from my grandparents.  My cousins on my dad's side will cop to us being spoiled there, and I can definitely think of a couple times that my best gift came there.  I don't think it bothered me a bit.  If nothing else it saved the best for last, as that was often our last exchange of the holiday!

But as a parent, I sort of want to keep the fun at home.  Maybe that's because I feel guilty about how we can't actually do Christmas morning here, that our visit from Santa usually comes on Christmas Eve Eve, before the rest of our craziness starts.  God forbid it loses more of its luster because the gifts aren't that exciting.  So I try to get one or two great gifts and supplement with little stuff, leaving some of the good-but-less-essential stuff for the relatives.  But that means that I need to be strategic about it because I don't want to risk something important getting missed.  The good news for Carter is that his birthday is only a couple months away, so anything I can't work out (or find) at Christmas is a ready-made birthday gift.  Of course, that also means that Christmas can't steal all of the thunder so I have to keep in mind what might need to stay on the back burner until February.

Given the absurd amount of stuff in our house already, I like to be strategic about it when I can.  For example, Carter hasn't been playing with his Duplos a lot lately, so I was thinking I might get him one of the base plates so it's easier for him to build structures.  Maybe it'll be an utter failure, but if it renews his interest in them, it's a win for both of us.  I often look at it as finding ways to make old stuff interesting again and supplement what's already there, rather than add a whole new set of one trick ponies to the toy bin, you know?  As much as we're all thankful for those who think of us and the kids each year, sometimes you just don't want to have to carve out another spot for that giant toy you weren't expecting.  But we do.  And we're grateful.  Surrounded but stuff, but grateful.  

And, of course, all of this strategy is on top of the usual tough decisions about what to get and what to let pass.  When you have kids with very specific ideas of what will make their Christmas awesome, it is very daring to make a decision that might not align.  What will spoil them?  What will ruin everything?  How can you teach them to be grateful when year after year your efforts seem to fail?

Ugh, this seems like a really materialistic post, and if nothing else it's proof that I overthink everything, particularly this time of year.  But let's face it--presents tend to be the highlight of Christmas for kids.  Even if the gifts are only exciting momentarily, we all have those memories.  So even though I overthink things, I do it because I know that my kids are making memories every single year.  And I truly want Christmas to be memorable for them.  Even now my Christmases are enhanced by remembering my own experiences--opening that amazing gift, going caroling at the nursing home, decorating cookies, spending time with family--and you never know what little moment will stick with them for years to come.  As a result, I really want to add in other activities and traditions that aren't gift related.  It's why I decorate so much around the house, in fact.  I want to create an atmosphere that they'll remember down the road.  We do Advent calendars.  I make the two types of gluten-free cookies I'm decent at.  We try to go look at light displays.  We honestly don't do enough, but hopefully what we do is sinking in somewhere.  I want it to be about more than the gifts...but I know they're a big part of it so I do my best to make some magic where I can.  But you know what?  Some of the best gifts I ever received were ones I wasn't expecting, and I hope someday my kids realize that too.  But until then, let this year's strategy commence...  

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