Halloween just ended, so suddenly my email is full of advertisements for Christmas gifts and decorations, the city is putting up Christmas lights, and my social media begins to fill with the inevitable bitching about whether some harried cashier said “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas” and if they were offended by the well wishes of strangers. M has received her American Girl and Toys R Us catalogs and is busy circling everything in both. In spite of Thanksgiving being eclipsed and pre-holiday panic setting in, I really do love the holiday season. I love the lights, I love baking cookies, I love watching my daughter’s eyes light up at the sights, I even love Christmas music for awhile, until it eventually starts to drive me insane. (I once worked at a craft store in December, and we had been listening to the same six Christmas songs on a loop since September. It was a bit traumatizing) I try to make holidays as amazing for my girls as they were for me.
We just bought our first house. It’s an amazing house. We love it dearly. We bought the cheapest place in best neighborhood we could, with an amazing park, pool and wonderful schools. It’s the perfect place for the girls to grow up. It did, however, completely torpedo our savings, especially once everything broke when we moved in. We’ve got credit debt for the first time, which gives both my husband and I stomachaches. I desperately want to decorate the place for Christmas and pile presents under the tree. I want a Martha Stewart Christmas, complete with the handpainted ornaments I make myself, and perfectly wrapped gifts, even though due to a lack of spacial reasoning, all of my packages look like they were wrapped by wolverines. It’s not going to happen this year. We joke that eventually we’ll be able to afford decorations, and our grandchildren will love them.
I know that in reality, this is not a huge problem. When I worked in the high poverty school, I saw how holidays devastate children. I knew first graders who got nothing. I knew one girl who was so excited for all the presents under the tree, and then the car broke down. All the presents were unwrapped and returned, and she said, “We’re getting brakes for Christmas.” Children would walk through the nearby mall, dazzled by the lights and sparkles and Santa asking them about their dreams, only to find that Santa never came. They came back to school dejected, jealous of television families who had fancy dinners and bright trees. We’re so fortunate to have the house, a wonderful family, and to have plenty of food and at least enough to make a decent haul from Santa. We’re lucky, and I’m grateful for that.
I also worked at a wealthy school, and saw those children come in after vacation beaming, holding their treasures with pride. they talked about family, trips, their beautiful homes. One of them even went to the extreme, coming in with a brand new Nintendo DS that was “the wrong color because Santa’s an idiot.” He proceeded to crush it beneath his foot and throw it until it burst into pieces. Sure enough, the next day he came back with one of “the right color.” I resisted my urge to drop kick him into the parking lot. But most of them were just so happy with whatever they got. I watched children come in with that perfect treat and I wish I could do that for M and later, baby A.
I remember being little and rushing out Christmas morning, and the sheer magic of it all. Amazement at the crumbs from Santa eating the cookies, the delight of Christmas breakfast, the joy of opening gifts, and the thrill of seeing my extended family, who always had such a beautiful tree and delicious food. I wish that I could relive that delight, even for an hour, but I can get that through the delight on M’s face. I want her to remember her childhood with that same wide-eyed wonder.
I was watching M sit on the floor, reading her American Girl catalog, and talking about the dolls she liked. I want so much to take her to the store and let her design her own, no strings attached. Unfortunately there are just too many strings, so this year we’re getting little trinkets for her room: a clock, a wastebasket, a mirror, and so on, as well as saving for a bed. she has tons of toys and doesn’t really need more. Yet my heart hurt, wanting to get her the things she dreams about in the catalog, even though I know she also really wants slippers, a mirror and that clock. But then, she took a scrap of red tissue paper, twisted it around to make a head and a dress, and said, “Look at my beautiful doll! She’s getting married.”
It struck me then: she got the same thrill from the tissue paper doll. Even without the other things, she’ll still be happy. When I was little, my parents didn’t have any money, but I didn’t realize that until I was much older. Everything was still magic. This year I bought a tree at a garage sale; it’ll be our first, because our apartments were too small before. It will be decorated with M’s handmade ornaments, and I’ll let her pick out something special to put on it. We’ll bake cookies, eat them while drinking hot chocolate, go look at Christmas lights, and play in the snow. She won’t know that the way Christmas looks in reality isn’t what I picture in my head. She won’t remember what was under the tree, but she’ll remember the joy and the love.