Monday, December 7, 2009

Put a Bow on It

The Mean Season. Our grief counselor coined the phrase to describe what the holidays are for eating disorder patients. Unfortunately, the phrase fits more than that particular group. Personally, I think it started kicking me around about the time I became an adult and suddenly had to buy people gifts with my own piddly income. I've been black and blue just about every year since. I've just spent the last 45 minutes staring at my bank account, marveling over how completely empty it is. Finally, I decided staring at it really wasn't helping anything. I'm still trying to convince myself that hyper ventilating won't do much good either. Scanning the activity, it's a lot of extra expenses that come with this particular time of year. And I'm not done. Granted, this is an unusual year. Most years, I begin to amass Christmas gifts in earnest around May. By now, I should be in mop up mode only. This year, I became a little distracted and did nothing about the holidays until, well, the holidays. And, granted, this year, I am coming off five months of unemployment, and have been a little more than generous with myself since going back to work in my various vain attempts to forge back into life. But, truth be told, there has never been a time when money, or the lack thereof, didn't factor into the holiday equation somehow. Our first Christmas as parents saw us so broke that we did all our shopping at Sears because we had a credit card from there. The only Sears store in town had all of two aisles of toys, so our choices were limited. I remember how stressful it was to look over those picked over shelves and try to find decent toys for my daughter, wanting so much to shower her with gifts to show her how much she meant to me and wondering how I would ever pay for it. One of the items I finally picked up for my six month old was a Cinderella tote bag. I didn't really think my infant daughter wanted or could play with a tote bag, but it was something I could give her that maybe she would like someday. And, as it happens, the tote is in use to this day and is in Marissa's possession now. My little baby girl seemed perfectly content with her lot in life that year.

Once the kids got a bit older, the pocketbook had a little more heft to it, but along with a new largess came a new level of expectation. I remember the first Christmas we hosted here, with Kelsey in full blown tween mode. That meant her wants and desires were tipping toward bigger ticket items, but she was too young to really have a concept of what things cost. What she could grasp was volume. As she watched her two younger cousins rip through present after present of less expensive toys, her expression became darker and darker. She held her tongue until later, but eventually gave voice to her displeasure at the seeming inequity. I was not shy in responding with how I felt about that. In fairness, once I explained the economics of big girl toys versus the things she wanted at that point, and reminded her of the piles and piles she had brought home in year's past, she relented. But, I knew then I had created the All American Monster. Somewhere down deep in their minds, my children knew that the fact that they had gifts at all had some tie to the birth of Jesus, but it was a cursory relationship at best. The thing that really mattered was what they were going to receive. You can say what you want, but even in families where there is a lot more traditional religious dogma going on, the children don't run down the stairs Christmas morning to sing praise to Baby Jesus. They want to see what they're getting in His name. And it better be good.

Don't get me wrong. I love buying gifts for people. Actually, let me amend that. I love it when I give friends or family members gifts that please them. I try pretty hard every year to make that a slam dunk. But, there are the inevitable misses. The fallen faces, the slightly insincere thank yous, or the lack of a thank you at all, later to have a friend of a friend let it "slip" that so-and-so wasn't overjoyed with what you gave them. I think my track record is fairly good with some occasional strokes of brilliance, but I've been stung by all of that. Mostly, I am stung because I don't like the idea that I've disappointed someone I think enough of to actually get a gift for. If I had unlimited resources, that would be less likely to happen. I would imagine Donald Trump generally pleases people with his gifts. And, wouldn't you like to see what Tiger Woods gets his wife this year? My guess is, whatever it is, it could resell for a large chunk of the national debt. Anyway, for my part, hopefully all the people I've ever given a lousy gift to were at least able to re-gift it and get some good out of it that way.

But, that's just the tip of the gifting iceberg my not-so-luxurious ship is heading for. There's the politics of gift giving: do you get a gift for your spouse's boss just because he's the boss? And, if so, how much do you spend? And what do you get since you know nothing about him, and you know your husband's going to be no help at all? I could go on like that for hours. I'd sound like I am whining, but it's the same kind of debates that are repeated in households all over the country. I'm just ungracious enough to verbalize it. But, there's no point. Time's a wasting, and I've got more shopping to do!

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