Friday, December 27, 2013

After This Christmas, My Kids May Need The Affluenza Vaccine

I thought we were going to cut back a little this year. Looking at the ginormous stack of presents threatening to engulf the tree on Christmas morning, it was clear that we “overdid it” again on gifts for the kids.

“Where’d all these gifts come from?” I asked my wife, in merry bewilderment.

“We may have overdone it,” she confessed.

In the twenty-four hours before Christmas, the presents multiplied like Gremlins under a broken sprinkler, overtaking our tree and the surrounding available floor space. That was even before the packages from my wife’s parents showed up, which happened shortly after they arrived on Christmas Eve. I’d thought they were planning to cut back this year, too -- a fact hard to discern as they hauled in giant trash bags full of wrapped kid presents.  

And let’s not forget the marque gifts from Santa, dropped off on his late-night visit, including a bike for the boy, a big chair with her name on it for one of the girls, and an American Girl "Bitty Baby" doll, which must have cost the elves a fortune to replicate.

It can certainly be said that on Christmas, at least, our kids are spoiled.

Kids take a rest during Sibling Secret Santa
Shopping Day.  This was before the family
rumble at the mall's pretzel joint.
It’s not like they get everything on their wish list. Our family still doesn’t own an iPad – or even a Kindle, for that matter – which they’ve wanted the past two Christmases.

Most of the wrapped presents are, in the words of the five-year-old after unwrapping yet another box, “more clothes!”

They get clothes – lots of clothes – as well as books, a handful of electronic gadgets, family board games and plenty of toys.

It’s not like we're wealthy; Far from it. In fact, we may have to sell some of the loot to pay the bills next month. (Just kidding. We’ll sell other stuff).  In reality, we don’t even spend all that much, relatively speaking. That’s partly because my wife’s an excellent shopper. She’s always finding deals, and always buying stuff at greatly-reduced prices. If I had a nickel for every nickel she saved on discounts … well, she’d probably buy even more stuff at greatly-reduced prices.

Still, I often worry what the overabundance of gifts teaches our kids. Are we teaching them to be generous, and kind, and giving – like we think we’re being? Or are we teaching them to want stuff, to make lists for stuff, and to get stuff.

I mean, what if one of my kids comes down with a case of affluenza? Admittedly hard to do on our budget; But still, it could happen.

We really try not to spoil them 364 days a year. And we try to let them know how fortunate we are to have a roof, warm beds and shoes to wear. We try to teach them to be concerned about less fortunate families, to care about others in general, and to find ways to make the world better. We gather cans for the food pantry, give our old clothes to the Rescue Mission, and try to teach them to be concerned and charitable.

But are those lessons getting through? Or is all that lost under an avalanche of gifts on Christmas day?

This year, trying to show them again that it’s more fun to give gifts than to receive, we had them exchange names, picking from a hat and each buying a gift for one of their siblings. We even had a specific day that we all went out shopping for our Secret Santa gifts.

The highlight of the trip came when the four of them fought to the death over the single Icee bought at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Over-priced Icee Emporium. They never seem to mind sharing a pair of giant cinnamon-sugar pretzels. But stick four straws in one Icee and all hell breaks loose. I think 3-year-old Drew actually landed a roundhouse kick to his 5-year-old sister's head.

As other holiday shoppers stared and shook their heads at the melee, I thought to myself, “Yet another parenting lesson gone terribly awry.”

Still, when it came time on Christmas Eve to exchange the sibling Secret Santa gifts (the only gift opened on Christmas Eve), it was clear they all loved getting a gift for someone else. Was giving for them more fun than receiving? Heck no. They’re kids. But they enjoyed it. A small victory.

But what finally rest my mind at ease this season of plenty came two days later. On Boxing Day, after all the gifts were unwrapped and evidence of our excess absorbed into our existing belongings, we went as a family to the outdoor skating rink nestled amongst the buildings of downtown Syracuse, next to the city’s giant holiday tree. It’s like Rockefeller Center without the lines, the crowds, or the expense. It only cost 2 bucks per kids, 3 bucks per parent. Total family cost: $14. Skating there is something of a Christmas Break tradition.

Skating by the tree at Clinton Square. 
For the kids, as memorable as any gift.
As always, the kids all loved it: slipping, sliding, falling, learning, and skating hand-in-hand with their parents and grandparents. 

As we waited for the Zamboni to clean the ice during one break in the action, I overheard the kids talking about skating at the same rink on Boxing Day last year. I saw an opening.

“Do any of you remember what you got for Christmas last year?” I asked.

“Not really,” replied 7-year-old Chloe. The others shook their heads.

“But you remember skating here?” I asked in my faux-incredulous voice.

That’s when 10-year-old Maisie laid it on me, “Dad, that’s because doing stuff together is better than getting stuff."

Maybe spoiling them with gifts one day per year isn’t so bad. Though, the next time we get pretzels at the mall, there will be no Icees.

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