One of the first things I do on the day after Thanksgiving is break out the Christmas music. It is the universal music in our home; the only time I don’t see my husband grimace when I turn on country music. For some reason, he doesn’t mind country singers and Christmas songs–go figure. [And no, I would not be equally solicitous if there was hard rock Christmas music.]
This past weekend, I had Faith Hill booming out the song ‘Where are you Christmas’ and said aloud to my granddaughter, Charlotte, “that is me this year.” Instantly, she asked, “why, Mimi?”
I just stared at her for a minute. With impressionable young children, I always choose my words carefully…she is 10. I hadn’t planned that statement, it just came out of my mouth inadvertently. So, I said to her, “that’s a good question, Girlie. I think I’m just feeling some extra sadness because there have been some disagreements in the family in the past couple of months. But, what better time than Christmas to get over them, right?”
She got that. Tweens always know what is going on, but are smart enough to keep their thoughts to themselves. She has shared enough things with me in the past year to confirm that. But what I told her was scripted to be generic and only a piece of the real truth.
Normally, I have finished all of my shopping by now and am focusing entirely on family activities: our annual Nutcracker outing, and our annual ornament making and cookie party. This year, for the first time, I’ve barely bought or planned anything and the Nutcracker outing will be missing two of my daughters (because they have new babies). I feel sad about that. But, that is not the origin of my heavy heart. This all started a couple of months ago…
The most accurate way to describe what happened is this; my kids orchestrated a coup with reference to my Christmas gift giving standards, via email. I want to begin by saying I’m not being critical of their right to have a voice. I raised my children to be independent thinkers and I have to accept that sometimes I will not like their independent thinking. When things like that happen, I trust them to [in the end] be decent people and make respectful conclusions and decisions.
And they did just that…came to a respectful decision, but I can’t seem to forget the emails that accomplished that goal (and with emails you don’t have to forget–you can read them forever). It is one thing for people to think things and discuss them with me (or their siblings) privately, but to see it all out there communally was not a pretty sight. It felt like public shaming to me; which is why I began this story by saying I’m not being critical, and I am trying to choose my words very carefully.
My standard for Christmas has always been this; if you don’t plan to give to everyone, don’t give to anyone. That being said, a ‘gift’ can (and should be) something from the heart. All of my children have gifts they can share. For 364 days of the year, we are too busy or too distracted to share our gifts with our family. Surely, one day a year is not too much to ask? If you are great with kids, offer to babysit. If you have a beautiful voice, promise to sing at the next birthday party. If you are a computer expert, fix someone’s computer. If you are none of those things, promise a trip to visit, or to FaceTime weekly with people who live far. Or write a childhood story…is there anyone out there who wouldn’t love to receive that kind of gift? Everyone has something to give that has great meaning to their family. Store bought gifts are an option, but certainly not the only one.
However, four of the six kids wanted to exchange names so that the one gift they received would be better than the individual gifts they had been receiving. Just writing that sentence hurts me. It makes me feel like a complete failure as a mother. Don’t they all know that if they need something, all they need to do is ask me and I will move heaven and earth to make it happen for them? ‘Better’ or ‘more expensive’ has never been part of my Christmas vocabulary. I wonder how it became part of theirs? Have I somehow failed them and left them wanting?
Seven years ago, there were so many gifts around the tree that we had to ‘take a break’ while opening. Think about it—with our numbers, if everyone buys a gift for everyone, that is a lot of gifts. My husband, Steve, and I used to buy several gifts for each person too. But, that year I re-evaluted and decided to make a change to keep the sanctity of the day.
Steve and I would stop giving the adults an actual gift on Christmas (by the way, never happened–only give two now) and instead put all of that money towards a family vacation each year. So, each year since then, our entire family has spent a week at the Outer Banks in the spring in an oceanfront home on Whalehead beach. Everybody talks about ‘beach week’ all year long—especially the grandkids—so it seemed like a great decision and a tradition had been created: family bonding time.
The Christmas gift coup made me rethink the beach week. Have I given my kids the impression that the beach week allowed me to give no thought to Christmas? I suppose they don’t know that I spend two months getting ready for the beach week. That all of the kids craft activities were long pondered and researched to include all ages before purchasing the supplies; that all of the food, activities, beach supplies, and everything that is in place when they walk in the door, took enormous chunks of time and thoughtful planning. I suppose they don’t know that orchestrating an entire week for (now) 28 people to live in harmony is no small feat…that that is my gift to them and it does come from my heart…my whole heart.
Surprisingly, my most shy, ‘go with the flow’ child defended my position. Actually, I think if anyone other than her had spoken up, the majority rule would have stuck and they would have drawn names and each be receiving one gift this year. I stayed out of the discussion until directly asked to contribute, because after all, they are adults. The final decision amongst my adult children was this: do what you are comfortable doing. If you want to give gifts to all, give gifts. If you do not want to give gifts to all, don’t give gifts (with the exception of children of course–nobody debated that one). Nobody has to give their siblings gifts, but if they decide to give one, they must give to all. It is a good compromise made by good people.
But, after reading all of that, can you see why my heart hurts? Can you imagine the emails that went back and forth before that decision was made? All too often, we say things in an email that we would never say in person. We all know that…so why do we allow it to happen?
So, as I search for my Christmas heart—the one that is filled with joy—I implore all of you to get out from behind your email and actually speak to your family in person. Maybe your computer will still be the conduit—via Facetime—but don’t allow your most beloved relationships to exist only through emails and texts. They are worth more than that! Maybe that will be your Christmas gift to someone: personal contact. It would be a great one.