Christmas Hangover

Of all the Christmas books and stories and legends, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is my absolute favorite.  It’s a joy to read aloud, with its brilliant combination of silly Suessical lyrics and a serious sentiment that is impossible to miss:

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!  “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

That part always leaps off the page and smacks me in the face, because I’m still striving to learn the lesson.  We have our traditions:  chopping down a Christmas tree and building up a gingerbread house.  We spend Christmas Eve with dear friends, and our little family unit spends Christmas Day at home in our PJ’s playing with new puzzles and games.  It sounds very Who-ville and Suessish, but in reality much of the holiday revolves around stuff that comes from a store.

I’d like to think our kids would sing like happy Whos even if a Grinch stole their Christmas, but in reality I think serious tears would result.  Them and me both.

Clark & I both grew up with magical Christmas mornings, and want to recreate that for our own children.  Clark’s mom raised three kids by herself and managed to hide a nice stash of Christmas gifts in her car’s trunk each year.  (No wonder they could never find them!)  My mom always warned, “It’s going to be a light Christmas this year,” but it never was.

Unfortunately, we seem to go a little overboard.  I hate to admit it, but our stash of gifts could never fit in the trunk of a car.

It starts Christmas Eve, when the kids unwrap their new PJ’s.  They must be comfortable, complimentary, and cute.  Soft fleece is preferred, because I know they will live in them for at least 24 hours.

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Then they open one small gift, and off to bed they go.  This year Sam had no problem falling asleep, since he had a low grade fever and was exhausted from the Christmas Eve festivities.  Maggie, on the other hand, was full of anticipation that churned to the point of explosion.  She kept creeping downstairs to check on Santa’s progress, and we kept creeping upstairs to see if she had finally fallen asleep.  It was after 11 before the coast was clear for Santa to visit our living room.

The kids hadn’t asked for much, that is until we visited Santa two days before Christmas.  They proudly climbed on his lap and asked for random and ridiculous things we had never heard them mention before, like a speed gun.  (I know Sam just wanted to clock a few baseballs, but Santa looked at me like I was a very naughty driver indeed.)

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Despite Santa’s failure to deliver the random last minute requests, his sleigh was very full this year.  He arrived with a karaoke machine, snowshoes, a new board game, and new desks!  I’m not sure what’s more confusing:  how Santa stuffed all that down the chimney, or how he will pay his credit card bill this month?  It was far, far too much… more than the kids would ever dream to ask for.

It was 7 AM when Maggie decided to rouse her sick brother and sleep deprived parents from their slumber.  She skipped down the steps screeching about Santa’s arrival as the rest of us rubbed our eyes and tried not to stumble over each other.

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And so began the ritual of stuff.  All the packages that taunted them in the mail could now be opened.  I might have been sleep deprived, but I’d been anticipating this morning just as much as the kids.  From Santa to cousins to grandparents to parents, our children were absolutely and horrendously spoiled with stuff that comes from a store.

The unwrapping began, but in an explosion I witnessed mostly through the viewfinder of our camcorder, it was over.  Really?  Was this what I had been anticipating for weeks?

There were a few surprises, since dear old Dad bought some major gifts that weren’t on our neatly organized Google Doc.  An iPod for Maggie (what 6 year old doesn’t need one?) and a bb gun for Sam.  Sigh.

The day was spent exploring the new stuff.  Clark and Maggie put together the ISpy Puzzle Sam picked out.  Maggie and I built the Ivy and Bean paper dolls from Grandma.  Sam pranced around in a fake mustache from Janelle, shooting baskets in a new hoop from Grandma. Clark and I nearly peed ourselves with laughter watching the kids jam out to Just Dance 4 on the Wii.  (And then we nearly keeled over trying to play the game ourselves.)

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In the following days we tested out the snowshoes with a nice stroll across Potter Marsh, and helped the kids organize their new desks.

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New, new, new.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.

It all gave me a Christmas hangover.  I wondered why we didn’t put all the money towards plane tickets so we could have a good old fashioned hectic holiday back home.  It’s not like the kids asked for any of it:  all it takes to make them happy is an empty room to flip cartwheels, and parents who will actually sit down and watch.  So why do we do this every year?

Sure, the desks will keep clutter off the kitchen table, and it did warm my heart to watch Maggie using her iPod to text with her cousins.  And next year when it’s time to search for the perfect Christmas tree, the hike will be much easier with snowshoes.

But I want to be the kind of parent who does more with her children than for her children.  I need to quit trying to give them the world, and give them more of myself instead.  We are living proof that parents don’t always get to spend the holidays with their children, so I need to savor the time we get more than the gifts we give.

Next year I vow to imbibe less.  (Remind me!)  As for this year, I have another week off with the kids and a long weekend with Clark.  It’s time to pull up a chair to that new desk and dress up some paper dolls with my girl.  To strap on those snowshoes and break some new trails with my family.  To enjoy being together, because honestly, that’s the only gift that really matters.

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