Every year I provide my family with a list of gift ideas. Since I have a birthday a scant four days after that of the baby Jesus, I make it slightly more elaborate that I otherwise would. I do this because I fully expect two separate gifts. If you’re a near-Christmas baby you probably understand the bitterness I have towards the perpetrators of of the two-in-one gift. I know this makes me sound selfish, and you’re probably right, but I at least want it to be clear that these gifts need not be expensive or even of any set quality. You could wrap up a pencil and an old kitchen utensil and I’d be fine with that, as long as they come separately.
When I would put my wish lists together as a kid, I’d sit for hours leafing through the Sears catalog, picking out the clothes, games, toys, tools and babies I wanted to find under the tree. Usually I’d get a handful of things I asked for and a pile of things that I didn’t even know I wanted. We always had an obscene cascading pile of gifts on Christmas morning. I’d wake up at 5am and rouse my family so that we could shred the paper my parents had just finished taping onto the boxes about 20 minutes before. My most memorable gift was a sturdy, collapsible doll stroller that had red velvet fabric with white polka dots. I had been eying it for months at the local toy store and much to my delight it appeared one Christmas morning. I packed my Cabbage Patch Kids in it and wheeled it to the neighbors house to show it off.
My parents must have always felt pretty cheated on Christmas morning when, after they’d spent thousands of dollars on the newest toy fads, we’d give them useless gifts made of sticks, walnuts and macaroni. Maybe, as you become a parent, your gift expectations dwindle until your children are old enough to support themselves and buy something at an actual store rather than the Santa’s Workshop the grade school puts on for kids to purchase “gifts” donated by other families. One year I accidentally re-purchased a lint brush shaped like a mallard duck that my mom had unsuccessfully been trying to unload at several garage sales, finally thinking she was clever enough to donate it to the school for some child to give to their poor, unsuspecting parent. I was also a big proponent of the IOU. Sometimes the IOU would be for something that I’d already been given as a chore – like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning my room. I gave my mom a booklet of coupons for Christmas one year and as she tried to redeem each one I’d add more and more reasons why it wasn’t the right time for me to spend the afternoon weeding the backyard until, eventually, I had to point out that they had expired. I think she still carries them around in her purse hoping that one day I’ll come over and take out the garbage.
These days I still prepare elaborate lists and pass them out. I think my mom and sister await them like many people await the Neiman Marcus catalog. Sure, everyone wants to see the ridiculous listings but no one can ever seriously consider buying that Skycar prototype. One thing I know for sure, no matter how I phrase it on my gift list, no matter how bold and large of font I use in the note I make to the contrary, my mother will always buy me clothes. I think this is just what mothers do. I don’t even have kids, but with each trip to Target that I make, I come home with a shirt for our future child.
That is how I know that as a parent in the not-too-distant future I will love this time of year even more than I do now. I will spend too much money on too many gifts for my children as I teach them about the birth of the baby Jesus and why we don’t believe it, but celebrate it anyway. I’ve always loved the act of giving a gift far more than I did receiving one. There is something spectacular about finding something special and unexpected. I can’t even imagine the joy a parent must feel to see their child so elated to be given piles of presents for no good reason. I want to see that look on the faces of our children, especially when they are barely old enough to understand what Christmas is. I want to see their expressions when I shake them awake at 5am on Christmas morning to show them what some strange fat man who had been spying on them all year long left in our living room while he ate our food and drank our beverages before escaping out their bedroom window into the cold, dark night.