It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and little children everywhere are counting down. Parents are too; we need this to get done with so we can move along.
The kids are so excited.
I see the excitement and I’m trying to mirror that joy.
Sometimes, though, it feels difficult to live in the moment as we plan for all things Christmas Eve. I forget that it’s really the season, not just the day, with the extra dress-up themes at school, Grinch Week, gingerbread construction party worries and Secret Santa remember-to-bring-your-$10-gift things to do.
There are purchases to complete, between gifts and what we’ll want in the house for the holiday dinner.
We walked through Target last night to pick up one thing (it’s always one thing, right?) and my first-grader insisted we go see the toy aisle. That section of the store is like falling down a rabbit hole this time of year. Minutes feel like hours as kids pause, touch and press all the buttons. I always stand there ready to leave and wonder what sounds we can live with on these toys with their blinking lights and app-connected functionality. Kids’ imaginations and the possibilities of Christmas mystery packages take over as I try to get us out of that aisle, not just once, but pretty much every shopping trip this season.
This hasty Target run was no different except that Isaac spied a Fingerling, a new glittery green seadragon one named Bo that would doubtlessly serve as a best friend to Kingsley, the sloth Fingerling we already have, and do whatever interaction they’re supposed to do when you have two Fingerlings. How they play together and what that really means, we don’t know except for from YouTube because we own exactly one Fingerling. Well, Isaac was okay with moving on until we noticed a promotional sign. They’re on a buy-two-get-one-free sale right now, which he’s just old enough to read and figure out.
The incredible concept we could leave that store with three Fingerlings seemed to flash through his mind like it was the best news he had heard all year. These days, the ones right before Christmas, are when it is tempting to cave as a parent and just hand over what Santa is bringing because the lead-up is an everyday struggle.
I said no and that he would have to add a “P.S.” to his unsent Santa letter. We talked through what P.S. means, what an addendum is and how he could ask but there are no guarantees. And I led him away by the elbow.
Isaac is way past the age of tantrums. I saw the frustration creep across his face, a sudden realization that he didn’t have the $9 required to buy one Fingerling much less the $18 plus tax to bring home two but actually three. The fact that he had fallen asleep during the day’s Christmas movie at school coupled with a lack of routine lately and that it was 9:30 at night and he was standing in a big box store instead of settling down for the night all crossed my mind. Choosing to have patience at that moment was hard for me as a grown-up and it’s understandably difficult for kids right now too. They have a lot more invested in this thing than we do really.
This time of year is beautiful. It is. I see the beauty, waiting for us, shiny and bright. What I don’t see yet is the peace. It will come. Joy will follow. Kids are ready to get out of school, adults are ready for fewer commitments and to get on with it all.
We, the adults on duty, are feeling mildly annoyed right now but what I am hopeful for is that next week will be totally different.
Isaac’s Fingerling sale episode reminded me of when I was about 8 and desperately wanted a doll named Tiffany with blonde ringlets and her own wardrobe of dresses. She factored heavily in the 1993 JC Penney Christmas catalog we got in the mail with its fantasy toy section that a lot of Millennials used as a guide for possibilities to mention to Santa during the all-important mall visit, long before that mythical figure could be emailed or texted or called on your smartphone.
I was really too old for dolls but not old enough to babysit. I asked my parents for the doll. I asked Santa. I asked my Grandma Billie and that was apparently the right way to go, because UPS delivered a giant box of wrapped gifts from her Kansas address a few weeks later. Except I didn’t realize the doll was under the tree.
Christmas Eve came and it was finally time for our family’s “you can open one present but wait until morning for the rest” tradition. I was sure Tiffany was waiting in the box I selected as I gleefully tore off the wrapping paper from something that had hard plastic and a lot of angles.
It was a piggy bank, the 90s era transparent plastic kind that’s like a Rube Goldberg machine where you put in a coin and it goes through a series of levers and gears before hitting the bottom with a satisfying smash. That’s fun about two or three times and I never used it without thinking of what followed.
I watched in horror as my younger sister unwrapped Tiffany.
Crying ensued. I was sure the tags had been switched, Grandma had made a mistake, something had happened. It was piteous and looking back, seemed incredibly spoiled. The family dog, my parents’ border collie they received as a wedding present years before and that we grew up with, came to lie down in my lap as he often did when one of us cried, loudly and with no signs of stopping.
It did not occur to me that the identical package under the tree with my name on it was probably a doll, the exact same Tiffany my sister had just unwrapped and was enjoying way too much right in front of me.
Katie didn’t even like dolls.
Her hand is clapped over the one in the picture, though, because I would have fought her for it.
Coveting something was a sin and it seemed like a particularly egregious one on Christmas Eve but there I was, coveting Tiffany from the JC Penney’s Christmas catalog.
Christmas Morning dawned and there she was, lifelessly unaware of the girl drama surrounding her, in a tartan dress and Mary Jane shoes. Of course, she had been there the whole time but because I couldn’t see any other possibilities of what the morning might bring, I cried myself to sleep on Christmas Eve.
The fact that my parents didn’t just give in and say “Oh, come on, look at this box”or “Go ahead and open another,” I greatly respect as a mother of four boys 25 years later.
That family story is something my sister and I now laugh over as we both look at this kind of hilarious photo well into our 30s and remember childhood Christmases in matching pajamas. I’ll tell it to Isaac on Tuesday when he wakes up to the Fingerlings we’ve already purchased.
More than for Isaac, though, I think that memory is for me right now.
The reminder to live in the moment and the reality that we don’t know what good things are already waiting for us has a kind of Christmas theme to it. My favorite movie, Christmas or not, is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The idea that George Bailey isn’t sick, but worse, he’s discouraged is relevant for adults too. We’re all just trying to make it through. “Keep the faith” my Dad, who is not a religious person, would say.
Faith, hope and joy/love have to be here this season, in our home but also in our minds, where worry dwells. We have to find the spirit of Christmas before we can share it and that takes time we just don’t have right now. Kids already manifest all three as they wish for what’s under the tree, with hope and faith that joy awaits, wrapped up in paper and ribbons.
My wish for your family this Christmas season is that you find your own version of those three. Take the time. Disconnect. Do it all. Do nothing. Go out. Stay in. Just enjoy it and don’t vacuum anything. The glitter on the carpet, in our case from Bo the seadragon Fingerling, will be there Jan. 8 when they all go back to school but we won’t have them this little again, when their main worry is what’s under the tree.
Take the pictures and agree to be in them, even when you don’t want to be.
You probably won’t Instagram photos of the presents but you might keep pictures of the people.
If you want a gift idea that will give you time together, check out our Experiences as Gifts guide. Put the new toys aside and go do something you’ll remember. Isaac and I are going ice skating. It’s much more fun than hanging out in grocery stores this time of year, I have no doubt.
Happy Christmas to you and yours.