At my parents’ business, we’ve just survived the busiest season of the year. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, we just have to hold on and pray we make it. As Christmas draws closer and closer, my mom starts to panic a little because there’s still so much to do and not enough time to do it. Last year, she worked so hard that got very sick when she had her first chance to slow down, and it was weeks before her body recovered.
As for me, I savor the days leading up to Christmas. There’s the anticipation of the day, of course, but I love the music, the lights, my collection of Christmas socks. It’s after Christmas that becomes a little much for me to handle.
As I look around my house, I think it looks rather like Santa’s bag of toys threw up all over the place. My elder son, who is into everything Lego, received umpteen million sets of Legos this year, and he builds them so quickly that he just wants more and more. We had to clear the dining room table to hold his new Lego train track, and as I surveyed the carnage, I thought that all I want for Christmas is a container to hold all the pieces.
You may be thinking, Sarah this is nothing. My house is ten times worse. But this is how my house looked after I cleaned up. Things will get slightly better after we put away all the Christmas decorations, but the new normal will still include a lot more stuff than before. And I worked so hard to clean our house this summer. Until Christmas, I was able to keep up. The OCD part of me loves “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Well, there’s not a place for everything anymore.
I finally said to my husband that something has to change next year, and although I would love a larger house, that’s not the solution to this particular problem. I love buying gifts for my kids and watching the joy as they open them as much as everyone else, but then we parents are left to deal with it all. We can’t get away with asking for nothing but clothes and diapers anymore. Those were the good old days, weren’t they? Now, the kids actually have expectations, and no one would want to let them down, would they? My goodness, they might feel like they’re not loved. I can’t help but think of Dudley Dursley counting his birthday presents in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I had to lecture my seven-year-old a few too many times this past week about Christmas being Jesus’ birthday first and foremost. He was begging to open presents days in advance, and even after letting each of the boys open a book on Christmas Eve, they wanted more when we went to story time at the local bookstore later that morning. It continued after Christmas. They got everything they wanted from Santa, plus a roomful of bigger and better toys from everyone else, but they still wanted more.
I know I’m partially to blame. I love the sacred aspects of Christmas; every morning from December first through Christmas Day, my kids and I read part of the Christmas story from the Bible, and it doesn’t feel like Christmas for me until my church’s candlelight service on Christmas Eve. But a few short hours later, it’s on to the secular: my husband and I are arranging presents under the tree, and I’m the one who’s too excited to sleep because I can’t wait to see my kids’ excitement as soon as they get up.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Well, maybe other parents sleep better than I do on Christmas Eve, but I think they have just as much fun watching their kids on Christmas morning as I do. And so they go crazy. They spend thousands because it’s only once a year, right? Then they post pictures on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s like keeping up with the Joneses, kid-style. We can’t let someone else’s children have a better Christmas, can we?
At least at my house we didn’t go crazy with our spending – and thank goodness because after all the presents were opened, it wasn’t even the things that Peter asked for that he liked the most. So we have a house full of toys that may not all get played with. Peter knows we’re running out of room, and he’s offered to give away some of his old toys, but I know it will take me combing through all the kids’ stuff when they’re not looking to a make a dent. And when I do that, of course, it’s like flushing money down the toilet. (I do donate the toys, but still.)
I read a blog a few weeks ago about non-toy gifts for kids like books, trips to the movies, museum or zoo memberships. Aside from the books, these aren’t things that kids can open and use on Christmas day. But isn’t that okay? Wouldn’t it be great to get more than a few minutes’ or hours’ enjoyment from our presents? This year, I already started doing this for birthdays by not giving my kids a party but taking them to the zoo instead – why not extend this idea to Christmas, too?
I’m not nixing all presents, but it would be nice to have a Christmas when we can come home and not feel overwhelmed with piles of stuff. The most fun we’ve had this past week was going out to buy our own gifts with gift cards. My mother-in-law, who usually gets us great gifts, was focused on helping my father-in-law recover from back surgery this year. And although a gift card isn’t all that exciting to play with, my kids certainly enjoyed going to the store and picking out their own toys. They’ve also enjoyed reading and making puzzles together, not to mention listening to all the new music we downloaded and watching the movies we bought with our iTunes gift card. The whole Christmas season has been a lot of fun, of course, but I still think I feel a change in the wind.
Maybe 2015 will be our trial run. It will mean retraining my family. It will mean working harder with my kids to focus on what really matters. It will mean taking time to be with them – instead of cleaning up their stuff.
Hey, I think I could live with that.