As piles of presents surround the tree, beautiful tree-skirts no longer visible, and everyone anxiously awaits, I’m reminded of a conversation we had just last week. Trying to pay for a wedding, save for a honeymoon, pay off past debts, and not add any to it, we had a conversation about how much we should really been spending and how many presents the kids actually needed. There are so many unopened crafts, robots that have yet to be assembled, and toys we never see being played with. Should we compete with the other parents? Other family members? Will the kids feel left out or embarrassed if their pile isn’t as big as their cousins? They’re opening presents in at least three houses, it can get excessive pretty quick. So where is the line between fun and extravagant? Blessed and spoiled?
When I start worrying about these types of things, I tend to spend time reflecting on my past experiences. What was I getting to do? What were the things I never enjoyed? When did I ever feel left out? What were the memories that truly bring the warm, gooey, fuzzy feelings to my heart?
Sure there are a handful of presents I remember: a Mickey Mouse watch with a red leather band; a book on how to make hand-tied friendship bracelets; a gift card for my favorite store to buy jeans I truly needed; a new laptop for college when mine was so slow it would lose my term papers; stockings at my aunt’s house filled with the exact same things as her four kids because she never wanted me to feel like I was different; a green hand knitted Ireland coat. While that may seem like a long list, and I’m sure I could come up with a few more, that’s 35 years worth of double Christmases, meaning this is fairly minimal.
Which memories fill me with liquid sunshine?
Hanging Christmas lights in dining room windows with suction cups; making a fort under the bunkbeds in my sister’s room because Uncle David always slept in mine for the holiday; Grandma Molly unwrapping ornaments while the rest of us decorated the tree; taco soup with cheese and cornbread, all the leaves in the table so we could sit together; twinkle lights from the ceiling above my bed that I left up for the next four years; stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands with my bonus mom; watching the adults play grown up card games; finally being allowed to play the grown up card games; beating the grown ups at said card games! There was the best fudge in the world, two whole pans: one with pecans, one without. It would all get eaten, not because we were gluttonous, but because there were just that many people. The moistest pumpkin bread with tiny date chunks. Laughter around the table that never ended. All the mugs of hot tea. A new puzzle that would stay out during the entire break, working a few pieces at a time. After dinner walks under the palm trees. Learning how to be grateful, excited, and thankful when getting a duplicate gift. Writing thank you cards to everyone.
The gifts we chose for them? Board games, dice games, trivia games; all things for us to play with and enjoy together. A robot to build with Daddy, and a Woodstock to crochet with me. So this year, maybe they didn’t get as many things from us. What they did get was time. They got love. They learned a lot, about life and love. Feelings and truths. They totally trampled me in cards, but I got my revenge playing Clue. They have more memories that they’ll look back on in 30 years and say remember when we did this? These are the things that go in the scrapbook. These are the things that make up traditions.