The Angel Tree

ChristmasThis is a little late for “Giving Tuesday,” but the angst is fresh so I’m gonna use it. That’s what we writers do. Anyway, I stopped by my daughter’s school today to get an angel from the angel tree. I’ve never contributed to an angel tree and if you haven’t, here’s how it works. Kids and families are asked what they want for Christmas and those items are listed anonymously on a paper angel that gets hung on a tree. Donors pick an angel or two, buy the items, and return them to the tree coordinator, who distributes them.

My daughter’s school sent out a message last week saying it had a tree for students’ families. So I thought, great, I’ll go, pick out an angel, buy some stuff, and I’m done. I looked at that tree expecting to get a nice toy to put a smile on some kid’s face on Christmas morning.

I was not prepared for what I saw. So many of the angels said “socks” or “underwear” or “boots” or “jacket.” I had to look hard for one that asked for a toy. There were a few, but the majority asked for basic items that most of us take for granted. It gave me a knot in the pit of my stomach. These kids weren’t homeless or living in poor areas. They went to school with my daughter. They could’ve been her friends. And I didn’t know.

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Christmas presence

New-YorkWe snuck off to New York last month. We didn’t tell my father. We visited my birth family and best friend, but we did not visit my dad. I wasn’t trying to punish him. He did it to himself. I told him that my birth mother wanted to buy us plane tickets to visit and he said, “Don’t go taking money from her. You’re getting too involved. She wants to mother you. She has a mother complex.” read more

Vacation Day

I was going to write about how to ensure you have a good Christmas this week. Basically my message was: Spend the holidays with people you like — not necessarily your family — but people who are going to make you happy on Christmas Day.

But I’ve been thinking that I’m a bad boss. I don’t give myself many days off, so this Christmas, I’m going to take the week off from writing a real post. I’m assuming you’re all pretty busy with the holidays, so you won’t be reading either, so I’m hoping it’s mutually beneficial.

I’ll be back next week with what I hope is an inspiring, entertaining post.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and I’ll be back in touch before the new year!

“Is there more?”

Christian's Christmas cache

I’ve coined a new phrase: Shower the gifts and spoil the child. I told it to the family in many different ways, before Christmas, but they must have misunderstood me. They must have thought spoiling was the objective and not the problem.

It all started Christmas day. The kids woke up, headed for the tree, and stopped to take it in. There was a treasure chest for Rose and a ride-on construction truck and a pirate ship for Christian. Rose, remembering our threats the night before when she was acting up, was really happy that Santa came at all. (We’d been using Santa as a discipline tool for months and he was losing his edge.) She opened her treasure chest and found a Princess Jasmine Barbie doll and accessories, a Disney Princess notebook and a sheet of Princess magnets.

“I didn’t even tell Santa I wanted this,” she exclaimed, holding the still-boxed doll, her eyes wide, “He knew!” She took out her notebook and magnets and examined them. She was happy. We showed Christian how to ride his toy and immediately he started pushing the buttons, making driving and construction sounds. He was happy.

I wish Christmas morning could have ended there.

We broke their reverie by telling them, “There’s more. You’ve got gifts from Yiaya.” We hadn’t put them under the tree because we wanted to distinguish each set of gifts and their sender. We also feared getting robbed – no thief would have been able to help himself if he saw how many presents we had.

So Matt went downstairs and made his way through the box and gift-bag-stuffed guest room and brought up Yiaya’s gifts. Rose opened the box of four specialty Barbies – Doctor Barbie, Ballerina Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie and some other Barbie – and waved it around. “Barbies!! Look Mommy, Barbies!!” She unwrapped three more gifts, squealing about each one, and we were done with Yiaya’s batch of toys. Christian opened his gifts and went back to his construction truck until we could get the new ones out of their plastic prisons.

Rose was happy. She asked us to free her Barbies from their plastic pods, but then we said, “There’s more.”

“More?” she said, wide-eyed as Matt went downstairs.

“These are from Grandma,” Matt said as he struggled to find the steps under a mound of boxes and bags. “I’ve got to go back down for Christian’s,” he said, as he dumped the haul in front of Rose.

Rose opened a “Little Mermaid” baby doll, at least two “My Little Ponies,” some clothes, a huge Barbie Winnebago, and others too numerous to remember, all from Grandma. Christian opened a “Little People” safari truck, an animated Cookie Monster, some clothes and a “Thomas the Tank Engine” self-propelling train, and some other stuff I can’t remember. Matt left three large toys intended for Christian downstairs so Rose wouldn’t think that he got more than she.

When Rose finished opening Grandma’s presents, she asked, “Is there more?”

My greedy little girl. “Yes there are,” Matt said, heading downstairs. When he came up he told her they were from her aunt, uncle and cousin.

My brain was so fried at this point, I don’t even remember what they got, but at the end, when Rose was surrounded by a haul even royalty would envy, she said again, “Is there more?”

“No, Sweetie, that’s it,” we said.

“Awwww!!” She said, stomping her foot.

Therein lies the problem.

Where was the little girl we were so proud of? The one who was happy with five gifts for Christmas? Where was the little girl who was grateful that Santa stopped at our house after all? Where was our sweet girl who was delighted with Jasmine? Washed away by the tsunami of Christmas gifts, that’s where.

Grandparents like to “spoil” their grandchildren, but usually spoiling just means giving/allowing something that Mom and Dad wouldn’t. They do not intend to make their grandchildren selfish, materialistic, ungrateful brats. But that is what happened at our house. Rose was happy with her Santa gifts. We should have stopped there and given the rest of the toys away. That would have been responsible parenting. But we knew how much the grandmas wanted to give the presents they sent; and we wanted to give them credit for sending them; and, more important, if we didn’t how would we handle that uncomfortable Christmas phone call?

We didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. It turns out that we spared feelings at the expense of our children. It’s true that the more you have, the more you want. Someone once told me that it’s impossible to explain appetizers and desserts to someone from the Third World. They’re just happy to have food at all.

Rose asks for dessert every night. While I don’t want my kids to know Third World poverty, I do want them to know gratitude. And if such a bounty is thrust upon them every birthday and Christmas, they’ll learn to expect it. And they won’t be grateful, they’ll keep asking for more.

I don’t fault the grandparents for wanting to “spoil” their grandchildren. It doesn’t help that they live all the way across the country, and most of the time, giving gifts is often the only grand-parenting they can do. Good-natured “spoiling” is ok, but what we see every Christmas is destructive. I’m sure they don’t want their grandchildren to become insatiable materialistic brats. And I’m sure that they want their grandchildren to learn gratitude. But what their grandmas really want them to appreciate is their grandparent relationship. And relationships are born out of love, shared experiences, and wisdom. Maybe we need to read “The Grinch” to them on Christmas Eve. Maybe the’d see that grandmas don’t come from a store, grandmas, perhaps, mean a little bit more.*

*Adapted from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss.

We Wish You a Stress-Free Christmas!

It may be too late to bitch about Christmas, but if I can save even one person holiday heartache now or next year, it’ll be worth it.

You either love the holiday season or you hate it, but one thing transcends your opinion. No matter your view of the holidays, you’re always busy – too busy if you ask me. You think it’s necessary but it’s not. It’s really not necessary to make yourself crazy stressed just because Christmas is coming, or Chanukah or Kwanzaa, but mostly Christmas. Let’s face it, the other holidays don’t demand half as much as Christmas does. So here’s my plan to streamline your holiday season.

Trim the fat. So many things you do during the Christmas season are unnecessary. Take Christmas cards. Do you really have to take on the task of writing and addressing cards to 52 of the friends you see daily on Facebook anyway? And it’s one thing if you write personal messages. I know someone who still does this and I admire the shit out of her – not enough that I would want to do it, but I do admire her. All but one of the cards we’ve received are addressed to us and signed by hand. That’s it. Do I really need a card to tell me that we’re still friends or family? And don’t tell me you’re thinking of me during the holidays. I know you’re really thinking, Dammit, I’ve got to get these F-ing cards out! And it’s worse for people who send holiday pictures. It’s nice to see how they’re aging and their kids are growing, but they went that extra step to get their family portrait taken. Again, I admire them but wouldn’t want to be them.

My solution for Christmas cards? Don’t bother. I know you’re thinking of me when you’re reading my Facebook status, and whenever something reminds you of me. That’s enough for me. If you really feel the need to reach out and touch someone, send an email , but not an e-card because no one trusts those anymore. It’s totally cool if you want to contact me after the holidays, when things calm down. I almost feel guilty receiving your cards because I know you worked hard on them and I’m going to throw them away after Christmas. Don’t make yourself crazy.

Another thing you don’t need to do is take Santa pictures. I expect some controversy for saying it, but do we need them? I recently found eight Santa pictures from two years ago in a desk drawer. We never sent them to anyone. Nobody ever saw them. This year we didn’t take them. I know I run the risk of hearing “Why didn’t we ever take Santa pictures?” from my kids, but unless you get in before Thanksgiving, you’re going to wait an hour or more and your kids will be cranky and you’ll buy expensive pictures that you’ll never see again. I may rethink that next year if I get in line in time but for now, who needs ‘em?

Christmas cookies. That’s right. I said it. I have heard so many people talk about the stressors of getting the cookies done in time that I’ve deemed cookies unnecessary. Buy them. They make perfectly adequate Christmas cookies and you can get them at any store. If they must be “homemade,” get the refrigerated cookie dough with the snowman and tree insets that you could never have made yourself. That cuts your time down from hours to minutes. Totally worth skipping.

Christmas events. These, in my opinion, are the fun parts of the holidays, but to some, they’re not. Simple rule. If going to holiday office parties, special concerts, or Christmas villages stresses you out, don’t do it. If you do, pick and choose, and skip the ones that happen during the last week of the Christmas rush.

There you have it. Hereditary Insanity’s stress reduction plan for the holiday season. I know it’s last-minute, but now you have all year to rethink your Christmas activities. I hope that the culmination of your holiday season brings you something – whether it’s joy or relief.

Happy Holidays!