Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mrs. Grinch does Christmas

As my relationship with material goods grows ever more tenuous and fraught, I find getting Christmas right with young children challenging. I have reached the point in my life where due to extremely good fortune and 38 years of life experience, very little of what I want, comes from a store anymore. What do I want? More sleep. To be a better mom. To be a better wife. To be a better person. A healthy left knee so I can run again. More hours in the day. To derive more enjoyment from my life and my job. A sunny outcome to this situation and also to another similar though far less dire situation. To make a contribution. Somehow, I find receiving material things an extremely depressing event... (unless they are utilitarian and will help me in my everday life (like the dustbuster and the car snow shovel I got this year)... unless a Precor EFX Elliptical machine shows up at my door... that extremely materialistic object would be welcomed with open arms and a cozy spot in my basement especially now (see desired healthy left knee above). It is obviously not realistic or fair for me to expect La Cocotte to share my dim view of material goods. Her job is to want and our job is both to give and to help her be happy with what she received.

Last year we went overboard on the gifts... so overboard that La Cocotte's joy in receiving them was, I believe, blunted by their sheer number. Confronted with the small mountain of presents, she went into a trance and tore into package after package without being able to process the contents of each. The overall effect was similar to the giant chocolate chicken episode. This year, I was determined to get the "right" number of presents. I also sternly lectured my family members who would be buying presents on the importance of keeping it reasonable and buying small (in number and size) presents for the children. Despite the complaints, my edict was stuck to grudgingly and the result was a contained, reasonable Christmas haul where I feel every present was appreciated and will be remembered. La cocotte said that she liked all of her presents and that she got "beaucoup" (lots) presents but not, however, "assez" (enough) presents. And indeed as I looked at the pile of presents we, her parents, purchased for her, it did seem that the pile was perhaps somewhat modest. Or has my compass just been thrown off by the ridiculous excess in society (again. I refer you to the giant chocolate chicken). So, here is a complete listing of all the presents we got for la cocotte for my future reference and also for judgement against the barometer of the opinion of the internet:

1.  44 key keyboard
2. ballet outfit for her upcoming lessons (tights, slippers and body suit)
3. magic carpet sled
4. slinky
5. bathtub crayons (already used down to stubs)
6. weird stocking stuffer thingy too convoluted to describe

Total cost approximately $160.

In addition to this she received an assortment of other presents from people other than us (Dolls, Mr. Potato Head, puzzle, Snakes and Ladders game and there are more on the way we have been warned). This, in her estimation, is simply not enough presents. I find this somewhat alarming and disheartening but I think ultimately her feeling of not being satiated comes from us not hitting the sweet spot... we did not buy the one toy that is designed to be appeal to her inner princess, you know the one... pink, plastic, child spends hours in front of totally entranced, good for stimulating the imagination and the Chinese economy. Anyway I am curious as to how her haul (just the enumerated one above i.e. the one from us) compares to others...

***begin depressing part of post ... might want to bail out now***

This next part of my train of thought is really a separate thought... really should be a separate post. Also, there is nothing original in these next few thoughts and they are something I am sure every other parent (no, scratch that breeder-centric thinking) person who is relatively comfortable thinks... it just feels obscene to have such luxury against the backdrop of all of those around the globe who go without. Our Christmas, reasonable and contained as I felt it was, would represent luxury beyond the wildest imagination of hundreds of thousands of children (again, scratch that) people around the world. Inequity is always present and, indeed, we don't have to look to iconic images of extreme deprivation in impoverished countries to find it. God knows it exists right here in my city, in my neighbourhood... but somehow inequity is particularly poignant at this time of year (which is ridiculous right? bc people go without regardless of whether I have heaps of presents under my tree and heaps of food on my table). So I make the donations which I do with a nauseating feeling of power... $10 for a mosquito net to prevent malaria, $20 for immunizations for a family, $100 for clean water for a family, $1000 for a one-room schoolhouse for village, $200 for a cow for a family... I guess there are no easy answers and I don't really have a point. I am just having a hard time reconciling all of these images and numbers this time around.


  1. I struggle with this as well although really don't have the first clue how to rectify it. And on our end, I also got Zach very little (a transformer, coloring book, and superhero figurine and then a stocking with everyday things like socks, underwear, an umbrella, gloves and a hat - in total I spent $100 on him) and then for Landon I just got her one doll because she certainly could care less at this age but I knew Zach would notice if Santa left nothing for her. But family more than made up for my attempt to scale back. Zach did not notice a shortage. We have so many toys and books we never even use. It makes me a bit sick but I don't know how to stop it. Grandparents that don't live nearby cannot not be stopped in their efforts to spoil grandchildren - or so I am learning.

  2. There is a lot of people who feel the same and i dont think that there is much we can do on a big scale. But we can each do our small share. That also counts!

    You know what makes me mad? Obviously not excess amounts of toys kids have because im not exposed to it as you are. Im disgusted with hoarding that athletes do. At first it was only runners (why do you need 7 pairs of shoes; 13 shorts!!! each in different color, closet full of running jackets), now it is also with bikers and swimmers. I swear there are people who own 10+ biking jerseys and close to 15 swimsuits.Who needs that??? I seriously want to slap those people.

  3. I've been sickened by triathletes and ultrarunners who have thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars of equipment and complain about lotteries into events that would also cost thousands. They've ruined it for me.

    Kids seem to be naturally acquisitive (wow, never used that word before!), but they should outgrow it sometime.

  4. Angela - I think there is maybe less spoiling effect when the people who do the spoiling live far away. Maybe. Hey... while you're here :) how do I get access to your blog?

    Mmmonyka - Yes. hoarding is gross. Especially in people past the age of 12. Speaking of which, I need to do another purge of my running wardrobe. We will be in the US in mid-January. Do you need more things? I could mail them from the US.

    Steve - I agree the acquisitiveness will eventually be grown out of (hopefully the inquisitiveness will not be). Many of my gripes about children's behaviour truly stems from me not embracing the nature of small children. It's like I thought I was giving birth to a twenty year old... about which I can only say, ouch! That would have hurt like a ....

  5. We are very careful with not sploiling Malo, but now that I have kids, I find it harder to always stick to my principles, because it is so nice to see the joy in their eyes (well, Malo at least, #2 could not care less right now and is very content with an old sock or a teaspoon). The only thing I have no problems getting him is books! I must say that I feel it is easier for us not to spoil him than for many other parents because, as we do not have TV, he is not exposed to all the pre-Xmas ads... and therefore did not even know what to ask for Xmas... he ended up asking for a doctor set because a girlfriend from school wanted one! We got him that, he also got a book, some color pencils and an harmonica from his Austrian family, and he will get a wood train and some second hand duplos when we celabrate Xmas a second time with the French family... so all in all, we spent about 25€ and the other all together maybe another 80€... We like the idea of buying second hand toys, especially as it makes no difference whatsoever for him (of course that will be different when he is a teenager!)... the toys get to live a second live, and we spend more money... In the past, we got super cool stuff for a fraction of the price that way!

  6. Do you have any running tights you want to get rid of? Although I realize that I might not fit into your tights...
    Being a person who hates having a lot of unnecessary running gear I have only two tights and believe it or not one of them is almost 15 years old and the other one is 7 years old and I think that it is time to retire those 15 years old ones unless I do not mind getting "exposed" one day:)

  7. I have never bought one present to my son for Christmas in his 7 years. He gets a ton from grandparents and does not expect anything from us. He gets 2-3 presents from each, and also money for college. We open presents very slowly and never 2 people at the same time. Both my husband and I are very easy going about Christmas, don't get presents for each other, and keep the focus on the family. One of the things we do right, I think. Now, the rest of the year we get him a ton of crap, ha!