Monday, December 29, 2008

Bad Santa

This past summer, my husband won a raffle at a work event, and the prize was a Nintendo DS Lite game console. Currently retailing at for $130, this was a gift to us, as it would be a perfect present for the kids for Christmas (in my house, free=perfect) AND, we knew they would love it. Put out the word to relatives for a couple of E-rated games, and we'd be in business. No muss, no fuss. I wrapped it, labeled it and put it away.

Fast forward to the week before Christmas. Put out-of-town guests into the room where all gifts have been hidden, wrapped, shipped, donated from and stored.

Christmas Eve: host party for 18 people. Stir in egg nog, screaming, over-sugared, over-tired nieces, nephews and offspring, and very confused dog. Let simmer until midnight. Quietly attempt to retrieve all gifts from gift room while house guest is sleeping in said room. Notice through nog- and fatigue-induced haze that there seem to be fewer gifts than remembered. Re-rifle closet, flashlight in hand. Check under bed. Check own closets twice. Re-check guest closet, now with wakened guest's help. Fail to find Nintendo console or game cartridges.

1:15 a.m.: Admit defeat and go to bed.

2:00 a.m. continue to go over and over every inch of house inside head to figure out what happened to gifts. Were they inadvertently shipped to relatives in Florida? Donated? Thrown away? Given to neighbors?

Toss and turn for the rest of the night, and NOT in anticipation of Christmas morning.

Christmas Day arrived with lots of gifts and fun and family gatherings. I continued to vacillate between happy and troubled, mad at myself for losing the gifts, afraid I might be losing my mind as well, and hoping beyond hope that they would turn up before the end of Hanukkah so they could still be presented to the kids.

The day after Christmas, my nine-year-old turned to me and sincerely asked, "Mom, why didn't Santa bring me a Nintendo DS?" and I had to fight back an apology and the urge to blurt, "He DID sweetie, but Mommy's a loser and can't find it!" Instead I mentioned all the nice things he did get, and reminded him that he never wrote to Santa, so Santa had to do his best at guessing what to bring. If I can't be truthful, I can at least get points for creativity and putting the blame elsewhere.

Two days after Christmas, my despondency and my husband's frustration got the better of him and he took matters into his own hands. Going through the gift closet with a fine-toothed comb, he discovered the gifts right where I'd safely hidden them: between the snack tables. It was then I remembered putting them there and thinking, 'the kids will never find them here!' (Note to self: after two days, neither will Mom).

So tonight, days after all holidays have ended and before the new year begins, we will unveil the 'big gift' to the children late, lame and without explanation. At least I have some egg nog left. Maybe Mommy's senior moment is a sign that it's time for a Rockwellian moment* in our house.

*The Discovery, by Norman Rockwell

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Little Gifts

Ah, the holidays, that joyful time of year when I start brooding over all the things I have to do in preparation.

How often do you wish that, no matter how much you accomplish, there was time to do more? This is the happiest and most stressful time of year for many of us, and it's easy to understand how the whole point of the season can get lost in the far-too-many tasks that come with it.

As if that weren't enough, parenting brings the added responsibility of trying to help our kids grow up with an appreciation of what they have and a sense of responsibility toward those who have less. This is the perfect season for reiterating this message.

Ironically, this is also the season when my kids are completely focused on all the gifts they are hoping to receive. Jacob, especially, looks at it this way: he hasn't received anything new since his birthday SIX WHOLE WEEKS AGO. So while I'm looking at the big picture, and of everything we have, Jacob is thinking about all the things he wants. He calls me to the t.v. to show me commercials of the latest cool toy, and he flips through toy store fliers, circling every other item.

Rather than lecture about materialism, I decided to take a different tack to give him a new perspective. I had looked around my house, and realized that whenever a really touching piece of children's artwork comes home, I hang it up. In my office there is a small paper handprint, of a hand that will never again be that small, which says, "I'm thankful for bananas." And in my dining room is my particular favorite, a stick figure portrait of me with a mohawk, wearing a purple triangle dress and a big smile, with the caption: "Once upon a time, there was a mom... who gave me pudding."

These small reminders of this brief and wondrous time in my sons' lives are keepsakes of the things I treasure most. This exercise worked well for me, so I decided to try it on my kids to get across the message about what's really important.

I casually mentioned upcoming plans we have with friends. I pointed out the beauty of the sparkling snow when the sun shines on it. I talked about the family members who had hand made each of the ornaments we used to decorate the tree. Getting grunts and shrugs in response, though, did not leave me optimistic.

Then one day I found Jacob sitting at the dining room table going through yet another toy catalog. Suddenly he piped up and said, "Hey Mom. 'If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.'"

"You're right, Jacob," I answered, wondering where he'd heard the quote by John Quincy Adams. "Do you know anyone like that?" I asked him, slyly searching for evidence of someone or something in his life he valued beyond the material.

"Yeah, you," he said.

I froze. "Me? Really?" I asked, baffled. All my days of shouting and lecturing filled my head. I wracked my brain in vain for a memory of some way, in the midst of all my fumblings, that I might have inspired him.

"You help me come up with ideas for my art, and you help me study until I understand my homework," he said.

I realized then that, just as it is the small, special moments in my ever-hectic life as a mom for which I am truly appreciative, it is the seemingly little things I do for my kids that really matter most to them.

Right now my kids may be most thankful for toys and food. But it's nice to know that every now and then, they really do recognize — and appreciate — the bigger picture, in their own little ways.