Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas, again

I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I loved it when the kids were little. When there were so many things that I could get them that they would enjoy and it was easy to surprise and delight them. Ah for the days when the closest they came to comparing for fairness was counting the boxes.

As they got older, as we added more children to the family, fairness has seemed to become more important than anything else, and that is certainly partly my fault. When it was just Andrew, Brian and Carl, I took Brian and Andrew aside and told them that we were going to give Carl a couple of extra presents because they (Brian and Andrew) were going to get gifts from their aunts and uncles and Carl wasn't. They were very generous of heart about it.

Fairness becomes a dominant theme when you have biokids and foster kids in the house at the same time. Foster kids in particular are on watch for any signs of being second-class family members. Everything is watched, measured, and recorded. They all seem to have a tendency to not "record" things that were done for them, particular if they fall into the "had to do anyway" category. If they need for you to drive them to appointments three times a week, that doesn't count. I had to do that. If one of the bios needs to be picked up from school after band or play rehearsal, that is measured. Band and drama are things the boys chose to do.

I've learned that I really can't fix this. I need to be sensitive to their needs, try to talk to them about their feelings, but I can't fix the way they perceive reality. They see it as it has been for them. No one ever drove them around to extra curricular activities. They don't have a bedroom full of the detritis years of childhood in one place and one family. So I accept it. I make the best decisions I can moment to moment, trying to concentrate on each child's need, including the need to feel both that they are being treated fairly and are special.

Christmas though is a time when the measuring is easy. They are old enough to know about what things cost, but not what price I may have paid. For the past few years it was getting more difficult because there were MORE of them. Fortunately I had relatively modest budgets for Christmas (compared to most of my friends) so it wasn't as difficult as it might have been to maintain that budget and just add another kid to the list. So three kids wasn't too hard on the budget. Four was a bit tight but it was also about the point that we stopped buying presents for some of the nephews and nieces, so that helped.

Last year was the first time I started seriously considering how to lower expectations. It really does seem right to me that adult children should not expect as much as younger children. Certainly my mother, and Roland's parents, do not spend as much on us as they did when we were kids. I'm not sure when that happened, but it did. Probably around the time when we had jobs and were able to buy things for ourselves.

This year I finally can. What is different you ask? I have a biokid on the other side of the line! Woo hoo! This year at Thanksgiving I can pull all the older boys aside (Evan, David, and Andrew) and tell them that Santa won't be bringing presents to them any more. They are too old. Roland and I will of course still give them something, but they will notice that the total amount spent on them will be lower.

And when they pout and I will tell them to grow up and deal with it.

Okay, I will be nicer than that, but I really have to draw the line somewhere. I can't afford this crap.

It is also true that even if I spent the amount that I spend on the younger boys I still wouldn't make them happy. They would just get more crap they didn't really want. If I could afford to buy them all an iPod Touch I am sure they would be delirious with joy. That however is not going to happen. They will get new shirts or socks, or a gift card, or some other idiotic thing that one buys young men who pretty much buy themselves whatever they want.

I used to love Christmas.

I miss looking forward to it.

I suppose I will just have to grow up and deal with it.


Seriously though, I would like to give Andrew, David and Evan gifts that are variations on a theme -- you know, like getting them all new PJ's or robes. If you have suggestions, please share.


  1. Other than matching iPods?

    How about something consumable? Chocolates, jam, baked goods...etc. Matching quilted wall hangings (12X12 size), maybe with the family picture on fabric in the middle, or even the quilt wrapped around a frame of that photo. Travel mugs with coffee gift cards inside...boys are so darn hard.

    Two of my kids are asking for the touch and would like to have that and nothing else.

    There is a possibility that we could swing it, (they would like to sell their video games to contribute and a relative is sending money) but I wonder, should we?

    Christmas is such a battle. I wish we never set such high expectations to begin with.

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  3. I vote for something consumable and gift cards as well. I have the odd situation of having a 23 y/o who is disabled living w/ me full time as well as 3 kids under 13. In some respects because of his disability he expects to see those same number of gifts. Yet he doesn't want or need the things that I could afford easily and frankly trashes expensive stuff. (compulsively takes things apart) So I have learned that boxes of favorite foods and wrapping gift cards in a silly way (like a box n a box deal) make the morning fun and feeling fair.

  4. "but I really have to draw the line somewhere. I can't afford this crap" I think this line says it all. The boys must know abit about your financial situation, be truthful and get them all sensible practical presents this year. They will understand someday. Wish my mom had been more disciplined, she may not have lost her place when I was in college.

  5. I just ordered a boys robe from Kholes today at $16.

  6. Evelyn4:22 AM

    I'm trying to figure out how to teach my youngest that Christmas is about giving, not getting, but it is tough with older kids that haven't been here since birth and rely on that affirmation of the gifts each year. I've scaled back financially, but that has required that I put a whole lot more thought and advance planning in to find less expensive gifts that are unexpected - because I too like the surprise factor in gift giving! And of course there is always the one kid who is so easy to find things for while the others are so very hard. Yes, a love hate relationship with Christmas is right on.

  7. My sister and I knew we where grown ups when our mother stopped buying us underwear for christmas. we revolted, because by then we knew how much it cost and couldn't afford it.

  8. The kids want and expect new pj's, underwear and socks every year. My adult kids know I will basically spend the same amount on each of them, and then I try to get them something they want. Towels have been a favorite for me. I get everyone their own color so they don't get mixed up.

  9. I love reading your blog and having to think a few years down the road. I already struggle with this feeling as it seems like each year I have the feeling to outdo the last. Due to my Sons Autism, his picture perfect memory, facination with couting and presents, I often feel like he is the Cousin Dudley in Harry Potter who throws an ever living fit because he has 36 birthday presents this year and last year he had 37. My thoughts are with you and if I come up with any ideas I'll be back.

  10. What about something for the "out of the nest" boys like an inexpensive slow cooker (or blender or other appliance that can be found for under $25) and a cool cookbook like one of Alton Brown's cookbooks? (Or is one of your boys in culinary school and I've forgotten?)

    What about some other "house" present, like a set of nice glassware or something -- a gift that says "you are an adult" and is also attractive and hip? The year my mom gave me and my brother each a set of inexpensive but very cool flatware to replace the mismatched Goodwill forks and knives I was using (or plastic utensils in the case of my brother!) was really made us feel like adults, and made our youngest brother so jealous!

    Or write them each a poem or a fable or even just a paragraph about how special he is, copy it in pretty printing or calligraphy onto nice paper, maybe even add a photo of you all as a family, and frame it, and give that along with warm pjs or a nice, soft sweater?


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