Christmases were big when I was a kid. I didn’t come from a rich family, in fact money was usually pretty tight, but if there was a reason mom and dad would go into debt for us that wasn’t medical, it was Christmas. We’d wake up on Christmas morning, run up to the living room and see our piles, yes piles, of gifts. My mother’s gift giving was so prolific that Santa gave so many presents they were artfully stacked and piled unwrapped on opposite ends of the couch for my sister and I. There were too many to wrap. It was overwhelming and in my memory, magical. Unfortunately those memories have evolved from magical to problematic.
I, like many of my generation, am not doing better than my parents. I just purchased my first home, after living in shitty rentals for years, at the age of 38 only after the company I work for was bought and they had to pay me for the stock I owned as part of an employee stock ownership program. I drive a 14 year old car, all of my furniture is hand-me-down, we don’t own the newest or best of anything, and really I’m ok with it most of the time, except Christmas. I have spent my entire adult life, the last 13 years as a parent, chasing those Christmas mornings for my kids. I’ve never caught it. It’s simply never been in the bank account for us. My kids are by no means deprived of Christmas presents, but it’s never as glorious as I remember it being for me as a kid and I feel bad about it. Really bad.
I feel inadequate as a parent, which seems stupid to say as I sit in a house I bought for us outright and my kids are across the hall sleeping in their rooms with TVs, tablets, cell phones, video games, and internet access. Further down the hall is a living room with yet another TV and matching but hand-me-down furniture, and a kitchen with a full refrigerator and working appliances. I shouldn’t feel like I’m failing my kids. They have what they need and much of what they want, but I’ve never given them ‘Christmas’ as I remember it. I’ve never had the financial resources to just overwhelm them with everything they wanted and things they didn’t even know they wanted. It’s the reality of our lives and it just doesn’t sit right for me, which is stupid.
Logically I know I’m holding myself to an impossible standard to reach, but logic has little to do with how I feel about this. This is deep rooted. These are standards created by childhood memories that are always magnified by childhood innocence. I didn’t know at the time my parents were going without to make sure our Christmases were epic. I wasn’t counting the hours of overtime my dad had to work or the dozen kids my mom was babysitting 5 days a week to make it even kind of possible. I talked to my mom about my guilt at my failure to reach the standard she set and she thinks she overdid Christmas for us, mostly to give us what she never got as a kid. She grew up dirt poor with difficult parents. The kind of poverty where she didn’t start school until November one year because she didn’t own shoes until then. Christmases were not magical in her home and she decided they would be for her kids. She says now it was probably a mistake to go as big as she did every year, not necessarily because of my feelings of inadequacy but because the cost and stress she put on herself to make it happen,but she couldn’t stop herself. Even knowing all of that now doesn’t even register against my guilt for not being able to measure up for my kids. Like I said, nothing about this is logical.
Fortunately though, I’m lucky. My kids have never been less than thrilled at Christmas. While it’s not the overwhelming decadence I remember from my childhood, they’ve always gotten gifts they loved that only broke the bank a little bit. Since I’ve never been able to give them my childhood gold standard Christmas, they don’t expect it and don’t know that they’re missing it, but I do, and it hurts. They deserve it and more. Hopefully, eventually, I’ll get past this. I’ll realize that my wonderful children are just as tickled with their modest but carefully selected gifts as I was with my pile of Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcakes, and My Little Ponies, because really they are. I’ll realize that their Christmas morning memories are just as treasured for them as mine are for me and I can stop feeling guilty about failing to accomplish the impossible. That’s what I want for Christmas.