Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's the most wonderful tiiiiiiime of year?

I'm going to do what I can to bludgeon the Grinchey attitude out of him before you're particularly aware that anything is amiss, but your Dad has a fairly nasty attitude towards the holiday season that I really can't hold against him. Some of this may stem from his working in the mall - and in retail in general - for too many holiday seasons, but I can absolutely attribute his disgruntlement with the holidays to a number of totally legitimate factors. In fact, even I have grown somewhat jaded about the notion of the "season" of jolliness, good cheer, and all that happy junk. Batman, it's really that ridiculous out in consumer land, but I'm still afraid I'm falling for it.

A few weekends ago, your Dad and I went to your Gramma's church fair. Now, okay, you might be asking yourself "WTF, Mom and Dad? What the everloving heck are you doing in a church?" This is an entirely fair question, especially at the one time of the year when those people who attend church painfully sporadically suddenly realize that they ever mean to do so. To answer you, we were in a church for mad sweet deals on potential holiday gifts (and crazy cheap baby clothes, but that's going to be a regular pursuit from now until you start to care about what you're wearing...and hopefully you'll get in on the fun long after that, too). Granted, I think we only actually got three gifts for the holidays. We also got a totally kick-ass ottoman for $3, a board game that we've been meaning to buy for years but haven't because it costs $30 normally (but not at a church fair: there your Dad has to demand to pay a full dollar instead of $.25 for it out of principle), a slew of clothes and shoes for you for $8, and a handful of church-lady-produced treats that seriously could have cost anything and I wouldn't have cared. Did you know that it's possible to make a Rice Krispie treat with butterscotch, peanut butter, and a layer of fudge in the middle? Well, yeah, of course you didn't, but let me be an awesome parent by making sure you know early on that such a marvel exists. 

What's so special about going to a church fair to peruse holiday gifts? Batman, this constituted a substantial quantity of our actual gift-shopping efforts this year. We're getting a goodly handful of items online (most of which at great discount or by using some kind of fancy deal), making a few things, having a friend make some pretty incredible artwork for us, and ultimately keeping our gift spending extremely focused on quality and personal meaning. This is pretty standard for us (convenient how not having a ton of money forces one to be especially thoughtful sometimes, huh?), but this year I've really been seeing some major contrast in our holiday shopping behavior as opposed to the status quo.

Consider the Saturday after Black Friday. Why your Dad and I decided to even go near the mall side of town on that day, I still don't entirely know. Maybe it was the fact that I had spent fifteen of the previous hours literally starving myself to do a glucose tolerance test, but then I don't know what your Dad's excuse was. Perhaps we really are just gluttons for punishment. In any case, for whatever reason, we ended up at a handful of big chain stores, as well as (horror of horrors) the mall. Did we purchase a single holiday gift? No. We were exchanging a few baby shower gifts that were either repeats or just not anything we really needed, and we were buying a few essential (and I legitimately mean essential) items. I think we were the only people in a substantial radius who weren't hemorrhaging money on stuff, junk, and things that no one really needs. 

Don't let all this suggest that we won't spoil you rotten when we have the ability to do so; if I have one completely against-my-normal-personal-standards thing to say about the holidays, it's that making them really special for kids must be a blast. That doesn't mean a barrage of crap, however. Both your Dad and I were lucky enough to have parents who, through a mixture of common sense and middle class-ed-ness, did a really solid job of making holidays special without making them absurd. I don't remember a single Hanukkah or Christmas when I got more than one "big" present, and I was never the kind of kid who wanted the trendy or expensive stuff. (Okay, there was that one time in college that I got really whiny about wanting an iPod, but that was only because your Uncle David had gotten one months earlier - not even for a holiday!) Growing up, your Dad never got anything too crazy for Christmas, even when he wanted something flashy...because his parents would just kill two birds with one stone and get the flashy thing as a joint present for him and your Uncle Cameron. Did either going with modestly priced, unique gifts or shared presents between siblings make the holidays any less special for either of us? Hell, no. Getting presents seriously wasn't the point.

Due to religious shifting, Christmas kind of went away from my family when I was about twelve. I won't lie: I really, really missed it, and it wasn't the presents. We still had Hanukkah which, if one is primarily considering gift economics, is a vastly superior holiday. Seven nights of small, fun presents and delicious family dinners followed by an eighth night with some kind of massive present? Uh, yeah. I'll take that over one morning of frantic gift-wrap shredding followed by a tryptophan-induced coma. Granted, the thrill of the one-shot giftstravaganza is pretty sweet...but why settle for one? In the long run, we're planning to do Hanukkah and Christmas with you, probably saving the "big present" for Christmas salaries...but only really doing Christmas now means a whole other type of pressure.

Here's the REAL beauty of Hanukkah. Tonight, your Dad and I decided to attempt to balance out relatively shitty days at school by getting take-out sushi. Downtown Portland was SWARMING with consumers because of "Merry Madness," the annual holiday-themed extension of business hours in the shopping district. We had to get sushi from the slightly pricier place on the other side of town because we knew parking would be a disaster. Thanks, Christmas. For the last three weeks, we've had to sprint through grocery shopping (which is an activity we both LOVE) in order to avoid being steeped in crappy Christmas music. I swear to all that is holy, if I hear the "simply having a wonderful Christmastime" song one more time, I will beat someone to death with a cardboard holiday ham display. Nice job, Christmas. I needed a new body pillow, so we went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond...and we were nearly mowed down by some lady with a cart full of Yankee Candle crap. Christmas, I'm looking at you. What's the worse Hanukkah has done? Oh, right. Literally nothing. I love butter cookies, twinkly lights, fun ornaments, and eggnog...don't get me wrong...but even acknowledging to myself that we celebrate Christmas makes me feel immense pressure to BUY! CONSUME! and otherwise perform the dog and pony show of showing and receiving affection through the acquisition of stuff.

All my begrudging of consumerism aside, I have a confession. Since we've known you were coming, your Dad and I have seriously curtailed our spending on stuff for ourselves and each other. We've gotten essentials, to be sure, and we've continued to indulge responsibly in food that we love, but I don't think either of us have spent much of any money on anything that we didn't actually need. That includes birthday presents, a honeymoon, getting anything even vaguely substantial for each other as wedding gifts (which apparently everyone does nowadays), and now holiday gifts. We've set a limit way below what we normally spend, and I'll be honest...this all depresses the hell out of me and I just don't know why. Am I subconsciously picking up on your wonder and excitement at the season? Do I really care that much about material objects, and more specifically being given thoughtfully-selected material objects by the man I love? The worst part (and this makes me feel SUPER lame and stupid) is that I've gotten myself fixated on one particular thing that I really want, and I don't want it from anyone other than your Dad.

This is Radiant in Red Barbie all over again. When I was eight, all I wanted for Christmas was this one particular Barbie. I wasn't even one of those kids who was obsessed with Barbies; I just desperately wanted this one. It pained me. For months, I fixated on the possibility of getting her for Christmas, knowing that because her outfit was effectively festive in a Yule-like manner, I stood no chance of getting her for Hanukkah. Worse still, knowing that she could only be a Christmas gift meant that if I got her from anyone other than my Mom's parents (at whose house we celebrated the holiday), it would be a sham. The whole experience would be so cheapened that I wouldn't even want her anymore. Thankfully, pining for a toy that probably cost under $30 made for a strong possibility that I would get what I wanted, and the night before Christmas, I saw a distinctly Barbie-shaped box in a laundry basket of gifts that my Grandma hadn't put under the tree yet, and the next morning, my months of agonizing came to a satisfied end. I named her Ruby, and all was well with the world.

This year, I'm hung up on this one relatively small thing - that is still nearly the amount of money your Dad and I budgeted for one another - and I don't want it from anyone but him. If I hadn't gotten that Barbie when I was eight, I'm afraid I would have spent the entire rest of our holiday visit sulking in a corner ignoring all the other lovely and thoughtful gifts I'd been given. I might not have even wanted any of Grandma's mandarin orange Jello mold. This year, I know we'll be getting a ton of stuff for you - which is great, and from a practical angle, what we both need and want - but all the hype about having something truly special and personal just for me (as I write that, I can hear a condescendingly soothing female voice crooning the words over a soft-focus shot of a pile of gifts near a crackling fireplace) is leaving me feeling preemptively despondent that I'm just not in a position to be spoiled this year.

Damn it, Christmas. You're ruining Christmas again. 

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