It’s December. The month when I grit my teeth and mumble “keep it simple” like it’s a verbal fence uttered to prevent me getting kidnapped by elves. Everything about this month is designed to make me lose common sense and overspend.
Herein a list of the myriad ways I have already failed and it’s only the first week of this bonkers months.
Couldn’t handle getting the tree from the charity we normally support and bought one at Whole Foods for $30 instead. Carried it on public transit and annoyed a bunch of commuters.
The slave-free chocolate advent calendars I normally splurge for got ditched when the kids spotted some cheap versions at Walmart with cute penguins and oh hell fine.
In my bid to never enter a store during the month of December I purchase the family gifts a few months earlier. This isn’t too tough as I try to get the kids only a handful of gifts. And yet, gifts become an ever-expanding minefield as the holidays draw near. One single mom friend was telling me that her son on the spectrum is angry at her and at Santa because her son wants a Macbook and he won’t get one from Santa and why not? Why does Santa hate him? My youngest is convinced Santa will bring her a GoPro on a drone. She’s confused when I tell her Santa only makes simple wood toys and we can’t afford to get her that kind of tech. What are moms on a budget supposed to tell their kids when friends are getting tablets and tiaras for Christmas?
And what of many of us who don’t have friends and family nearby to celebrate time off from work with us? What about those of us who will get no income over the holidays because “work slows down” and we get paid only when it’s busy? The holidays is a time of crushing economic insecurity and when all of the ways you’re failing are thrown in your face in bas-relief.
Many of my friends suggested cheap places for me to get something that will satisfy the GoPro wishes and make dear little one’s Christmas dreams come true. I didn’t realize I was in a silent arms race with other parents. I’m honestly and truly trying to clear that kids’ room of unused toys and outgrown clothing. I thought the holidays was supposed to be about taking time off and sleeping late, neither of which I’ll get to do but maybe I don’t have to add to my burdens by buying more stuff either. Because you know what will happen? The GoPro will provide five seconds of excitement and then I’ll be the one who has to set it up, show her how to work it, help her through frustration, only to bog down my hard drive with fourteen hours of a cat stuffie sitting on a tree log, and later when it malfunctions I’ll be the one troubleshooting it as well. A kid in Grade 2 does not need a GoPro.
In addition to their gifts, and tree, and advent calendars full of chocolate, we do a family gift each year. One year it was our rescue cat. The following it was a new family computer. This year I finagled a free hotel stay on points and they’ll get to swim in a hotel pool and order room service. These kids are not deprived just because they’ll have only a few gifts under the tree!
In case you’re curious for actual gifts I bought: pajamas, swimsuits, pencil cases, and candy to put in the stockings.
We have the added complication of a child with a December birthday so I said throwing her party is her gift. The eldest loves manga and so after three years of begging me I finally bought her Copic markers for her birthday ($$$). I’m probably going to take her and a couple of friends to a manga convention. Again, these kids are not deprived. Globally-speaking they are the luckiest kids on the whole planet.
And yet. That pressure to make Christmas magic. That pressure like a silent call to all the moms of the Western World to morph into Santa elves and work in a secret basement that opens only on the first of December like a hellish Brigadoon. If we could skip sleep this month and spend the entire secret nighttime baking and fashioning electronic toys out of twigs we found in the garden we would do it. I hear the call and I am not immune to the siren song of stressed out merry making. Be cheerful and bright. Do it!
We have many parties this month and many exciting holiday obligations. I was delighted to sing with my choir at an annual Yule Duel where battling singers raise money for May’s Place. (Kick ’em a few bucks if you’re able.)
This is the kind of holiday event I love to get behind. We show up and sing and money gets raised along with spirits and no one had to cook or buy gifts.
I’m looking for more opportunities to show my kids that they are lucky and so we remember to enjoy what we already have. This can be taking part in charity fundraisers and Christmas hampers and gift exchanges, or it can mean spending the holiday break going through old stuff and purging. Finding lost toys along the way and learning to play with them again while dressed in our new pajamas.
How will we navigate the intense scheduling of December? The many chores and obligations that crop up and assault our every attempt to couch and drink tea? How will we fight back against the scope creep of holidays and birthdays?
I’m making a list. Checking it twice. Gonna cut two-thirds of those planned purchases because I am not made of time and money. Let the kids be mad at Santa. I don’t care if they cry on Christmas. We’ll make a little magic in a Grinch-like way. I will not succumb to the dying of the fairy light. Rage, rage against the rampant consumerism that is our modern plight.