Edgy Mama: Talking more about less

“You guys realize that we’re trying to save money and stuff is getting more and more expensive, so you won’t be getting as many presents for Christmas this year,” I say to my two offspring.

“I understand, Mom. Gas is really expensive,” says my 10-year-old girl.

“WHAT?” yells my 7-year-old boy. He gives me his best “you’re effing kidding me, right?” look.

“Like, how many presents will I get?” he asks.

Enviro-spouse and I concur that, given the current financial crisis and everyone’s need to cut back on expenses, we’ll start preparing the kids early for a sparse holiday season. Clearly, October is not too early to start prepping the boy, at least.

Typically, I like to give our kids one or two special gifts for Christmas or birthdays. E-spouse doesn’t shop, and, in fact, doesn’t particularly like either giving or receiving gifts. (Example: For my birthday this year, I received a mass-market paperback I’d already read and a candy bar—both thrown in the grocery cart in the checkout line at Ingles. His true gift to me was doing the grocery shopping). However, our kids are part of a big Southern family (on my side), so they often receive, to my mind, an obscene number of gifts on special occasions.

I’m sometimes to blame as well. I love making holidays special. I actually like cooking for 10 hours straight (once or twice a year). I like decorating the house. I even like buying gifts. I’ve been guilty of overbuying for my kids in the past. I remember the excitement of Christmas morning, of glittering wrapping paper and ribbon so tight it must be torn with tiny teeth. I still get excited about seeing my kids excited.

Yet, what I want to teach my kids is that something small, if given from the heart, is just as wonderful—often more wonderful—than something with a high price tag given carelessly or because a gift is required. I want them to find magic, not in plastic crap made in China, but in a handmade card or a bird’s feather or a kiss on the nose from someone who absolutely adores them.

This lesson works sometimes.

My girl’s answer to the boy’s dramatic response to fewer presents this year was: “Don’t worry. There’s still Santa Claus.”

My boy’s answer to that: “Well, I hope he doesn’t die.”

“I’m not sure Santa can die,” I stutter.

“Mom, everybody dies,” he replies darkly.

I imagine he’s thinking, “No prezzies from Mom and Dad this year, and with my luck, Santa will kick the bucket on Dec. 24.”

I try to figure out how to get back on topic. I tell the boy he definitely will get a few gifts this year, but the point of holidays isn’t gifts. The point of holidays is families, friends and fellowship. It’s taking a break from the daily grind, from myriad concerns and work commitments and piled-up piles of paperwork, to celebrate. It doesn’t matter what or who you’re celebrating. It’s a time to be thankful for what you have—for your family and friends, for your home (which for the moment, at least, your parents still own), for the hickory tree outside your bedroom window, for your pretend superhero powers, for growing up in a small, hip town.

He nods. I think he gets it.

“So can I have three presents at least?” he asks.

I sigh. Luckily, I’ve got two and a half months to work with him.

I try another tack.

“Why don’t we write down some ways we can work as a family to save money so we have a little extra to spend on Christmas gifts,” I say.

The girl immediately comes up with options: “Walk more. Drive less. Don’t buy new Halloween costumes. Don’t buy as many groceries. Don’t buy candy.”

The boy’s answer? “If you don’t use money, you’ll have it.”

Pretty straightforward, although not as concrete as I’d like. Of course, he’s a hoarder. The kid’s been saving his allowance for years, and some days, he has more cash in his piggy bank than we’ve got in the family bank account.

“What are you willing to give up that we use money for? Newman’s oreo cookies? Movie rentals at Blockbuster? Dinners out at any of the six Asheville pizza joints we regularly frequent?”

Both kids look flabbergasted.

“Well,” says my girl, “at least we can walk to Asheville Pizza and Marco’s.”

“And to Circle in the Square,” the boy chimes in.

There’s that. And the hope that Santa’s still healthy.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com


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7 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Talking more about less

  1. Gratuitous

    I try something similar every year. It’s made more difficult by their friends’ parents not being on the same page. You might want to lift the plastic toys referendum. At a ratio of 300 plastic toys to 1 high-quality toy, you’d solve the quantity dilemma handily. Nobody wants an explosion of cheap plastics, but when do relatives ever honor parental requests anyway? I’m still angry about Grandpa proudly being the first one to introduce my girl to chocolate, at age two.

  2. Rio

    Friends’ parents definitely do not help. My kids (6th and 9th grade) overheard my phone conversation with my Mom last week bemoaning Wachovia’s problems (the bank was started by Moravians, just two blocks from my office in Salem). I made the statement – “And Christmas! We’re not even having Christmas this year!” They freaked, but I just informed them we would scale down and try to make things for people. I’m pretty sure my son already knew that snowboarding camp was a pipe dream :)

  3. OMG, Gratuitous, I can’t believe you found that story. Sounds like it came straight from a John Irving novel.

  4. Barbara Toth

    Don’t worry! By the time they are teens, you will only be able to give them money and that is not satisfying!!
    I started a similar process by hiding buckets of toys when the kids were at school. If after 3 months nobody missed them, they went to Goodwill. It’s especially gratifying to do before Christmas so other families have low-cost gifts. After years of this, whenever my kids would wonder where some long-lost toy was, I would get this far-away look in my eye and they would know the answer: Goodwill!!!
    So don’t worry – they will get used to scaling down because they will actually want a lot less in a few years!

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