I was talking with my mom the other evening about Christmas and buying presents for my almost five year old son. I’m not Christian and didn’t grow up religious but we love Christmas in my family. Decorating a tree, the lights, Christamas carols, food, presents, chocolate!! I have such special memories about that time of year and I’ve come to view it less about the birth of Jesus (although I’m sure Jesus was a super cool guy-but hey, I’m also pretty sure his birthday is not on the 25th) and more about family, solstice, celebration and a good excuse to have an Irish coffee.
But the real focus of Christmas has always been gifts. As I was talking to my mom I realized that I’m totally stressed out about getting gifts for my son and not feeling psyched about this part at all. It feels more like an obligation than coming from a place of sincere joy. I happen to be pretty broke this year so I think that’s where the stress is coming from and even if I wasn’t: what to buy, how much to buy, how to not buy plastic even though all the toys he wants are cheap plastic figurines and I don’t have the time or money to make special little wooden gifts like the elves and mostly how to avoid the dreaded enemy of Christmas: disappointment.
I’ve worked really hard not to feel or act like a victim in my life. In so many areas I’ve worked to become the creator of my own experience and choose my attitude, my outlook, my behaviors and my responses. I try to stake Woke and choose behaviors in line with my values. I try not to consume too much and make healthy choices.
But when it comes to certain aspects of parenting and Christmas I’m finding I might as well be any other American, a hopeless consumer. “How did we get here!?”, I asked my mom. How do we get from Christmas being about light and love to it being about mass manufactured toys made in China?! I went to Wal-Mart the other day to get a [plastic] Christmas tree stand and there were several isles of nothing but pre-packaged plastic gift sets for every age and attitude in your family-Skittles lipgloss, gingerbread handcream, and every kind of plastic figurine no one needs.
I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to be the kind of mom who bought useless toys, and yet five years later here I am buying my son a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll because he wants it so badly and I’m too tired to argue. I know how it happened, it’s a slow spiral of being too busy and exhausted, of needing my son to watch cartoons so he didn’t need me while I cooked dinner, took a hot bath or did some yoga. Then one day I brought him into the toy aisle at Target. And he saw all his beloved cartoon friends. And I made the fateful decision to buy him one of these toys. The End.
Really, I’m not unique. The toy companies and other corporations have us dialed. But why do I, a socially and environmentally aware citizen, fall prey to it so easily? And why is all the responsibility put on me!? Where is the responsibility of the corporate toy companies who manufacture all this crap in the first place? They should be responsible for the life of the product and for the carbon footprint, where’s our carbon tax!? Everyone talks about how we as individuals need to stop using plastics but there’s hardly any talk about how the corporate producers and marketers are responsible. ARG!! As I scream these questions into the sky, nothing changes.
I can hear you already reader, telling me to buy experiences, to do the 4 present rule, to keep it simple. The problem isn’t that I don’t know these things. The challenge is changing my behavior and resistance. I don’t know why, but there’s some part of me that resists the “white liberal” environmentally conscious, eco-friendly approach to the holidays. It feels privileged and I have a voice in my head that says, “I’m just doing the best I can, leave me alone while I go the easy route!”. Shameless honesty, relentless self-awareness and full disclosure are my strengths 🙂
I’ve contemplated all this and here are my solutions (switching from victim mode to creator mode):
1) forgive myself. No one is helped when we beat ourselves up about our choices.
2) Dust myself off and move into creator mode. Make choices in line with my values. 2020 is a great time to start.
Here are some concrete things I’ve decided I can do:
-I’ve heard of the four gift rule, which I’ll probably try this year. I’ve heard of wooden toys they make in the North Pole, I’ll probably ask Santa.
-Manage expectations. Disappointment will only come for my son if his expectations are too high. This is why I like the four gift rule. Keep it simple and make the holiday much more about food, song, love, and cookies. If he’s disappointed, be with it.
-Work with my own emotional baggage around all of this which is really fueling the whole fire. I’m really the one who wants to avoid disappointment based on all those times growing up I didn’t get what I wanted. I remember the year my neighbor friend got a cabbage patch doll and I wanted one so badly [who knows why-they were so ugly] and they were like $90, in 1985! There was no way my single mom who was raising six kids was going to get me one.
What other latent emotional baggage do I carry around with me regarding the holidays? They can be kind of a set up. You’re supposed so be happy and feel good during the holidays and yet somehow they can bring up the opposite and being around family is hard.
Do fun things for the holidays. Make it more about experiences than stuff.
We can all do the work of taking care of ourselves, especially our emotional selves during the holidays. Managing expectations and celebrating the small stuff. Let me know how it goes.