Saying Goodbye

grandmaYiaya Julie was my birth-grandmother. I met her three years ago, when we went to New York and met my birth family. She cried and told me “I wanted to meet you before I die.” The sentiment was funny at the time. But now she’s gone, and I see how lucky we both were for those three years.

I’d never known an old person like Yiaya Julie. The old people in my family were bitter and complained all the time. Yiaya Julie was full of life, always smiling, hugging, and apologizing for her (perfect) English. We spoke to each other in a combination of English and Greek, and she was forever taking me or my kids to her apartment to do or see something special. She showed me pictures of her late husband – my grandfather – and the daughter she lost too soon. She showed my kids her pet parakeet and played games with them.

Since I only knew her for three years, I don’t know that much about Yiaya Julie’s story. I do know that she immigrated to New York from Greece and made a good life for herself. I admire her because I know I could never be that brave. read more

“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.