This year has been a teeny bit better financially, in much the same way that one might prefer to have, say, ants in their kitchen instead of mice. There's still an overwhelmingly insane amount of juggling, selecting, scrimping and going without. No one goes hungry, no one goes without - but people have had to learn a bit of patience.
You can't get what you want when you want it, is my constant refrain.
When it came time to shop for Christmas, I debuted my "Want, Need, Wear, Read" mantra to my kids and the hubby and I agreed to avoid gifting to each other. There were times, during the past month, when I looked at the list of people to buy for and culled, trying desperately not to feel guilty. I made a lot of stuff at home and hoped that people wouldn't feel like I'd "cheaped" out. I tried, really, really tried, to give gifts that were personal and thoughtful, even if they weren't expensive.
I spent six days making cookies, breads, bath salts, foot soaks, hot cocoa balls, marshmallows, and sugar scrubs for gifts. I boxed and bagged and when that internal, infernal voice whispered, cheapskate! - I pulled an Archie Bunker and told myself to STIFLE.
The four younger kids had the ability to shop at the Santa Bazaar at school, which is a wonderful godsend for us. There are many, many inexpensive items marked well below retail and there's always a section for .25, .50 and $1.
One year one of my kids bragged that with her $10, she bought for the entire family, picked up a couple things for herself, and even bought raffle tickets.
That was the year we all got .25 parachute men. It was a very SPECIAL year.
I know that many parents send their children with larger amounts of money, in some cases as much as $40 - to buy for just two parents and a sibling. My budget allowed for each of the four of them to bring $10. It felt stingy, it felt cheap - but it was the best I could do and I was determined not to apologize. I told them to embrace their creativity and graduated the lists - if you run out of money, drop this name and then this name and I'll take care of it, I told them.
Yesterday, one of my children apologized as each of the gifts purchased were given. "It's nothing spectacular, it's just a little something...", despite the fact that each gift showed a thought and was a reflection of the recepient - lip gloss for a sister, a compact ratchet set for Dad, etc. I pulled Child X over and we talked, and this child felt terrible that there wasn't the ability to buy the expensive gifts dreamt of and Child X felt like a flop at the business of giving.
Christmas isn't about how much you spent on the gifts, it's about spending time together, and your gifts were great - you thought of something personal and reflective of each person. I rubbed shoulders and hugged, thinking that I really should be talking to myself and teaching myself a lesson. You know that I bought you the book Inheritance, right? It's just one book and when I went to the store, I wanted to buy you at least twenty books - but I couldn't afford it and so I tried, I really tried, to pick the one book I knew that you'd enjoy the most.That's the fun part of the holidays - trying to get something personal and show that you thought of the person.
This child is sensitive and easily worries, and so when my mom came over, I shared the tale with her.
She called Child X over to her, and as they sat together on the recliner, she told this story.
Do you remember when you helped me decorate the tree? And I had all of those small ornaments, and you asked me where they came from? Remember the little red reindeer I said came from my brother? The one that came with a little bottle of perfume from when I was a little girl?
When I was growing up, there were 6 kids and our parents and grandparents and for Christmas. We each had $1. $1, to buy nine presents, and so we went to the general store. All of those ornaments that I have on the tree, the ones that I've saved my whole life - they came from my family. My brother bought us all ornaments that year, for ten cents each. I saved it my whole life. There's lots of gifts I've gotten over the years that I don't remember, but I remember the ones from my family when I was small.
My mom didn't grow up with much of anything, but she surely is one smart cookie.
Happy Holidays to you, and I hope that you are chock a block full of memories that will last a lifetime.