Jesus did not encounter Santa Claus but many children do, very early in life; are long lines of midnight shoppers on Black Friday, Diwali or Boxing Day proof that getting means more than giving?
To Give Or Not to Give
I spend the better part of my day fretting over our possessions – toys, dishes, clothes, toys and more toys. Instead of divesting and de-cluttering, I ineffectually move things around, sometimes storing them in a dim, unfinished basement not unlike the recesses of my own fraying memory. Thanks to a faulty retrieval system, things are often duplicated. I have four umbrellas, but can’t find one on a rainy day. Gloves, mittens and snow bibs disappear this way too. My problem seems to be that I have too much of everything.
These were the years I had planned to spend rearing my children - giving them the best of my time. Yet as they grew, so did the clutter. Nickelodeon, Disney and a brilliant marketing establishment did their part to aid this process. More often than I’d like to admit, I am now a neurotic shrew, constantly shouting, admonishing, and keeping count of chores not done.
The First Wave
My first child was born a few weeks before Christmas. The words from an old carol played in my head, “Away in a manger, no crib for his bed….” My baby was already considerably better off than that with a bassinet, crib, changing table and car seat. Even so, our rented student apartment was still reasonably uncluttered.
My first portent of things to come should have been the baby showers I got at work. Not being native to the U.S., this was new for me. My colleagues showered me with gifts of everything that I had not anticipated I would need but did, including a stroller, bibs, pajamas, toys, and a bathtub. As my daughter grew, I received more from generous neighbors. This was the genesis of my cluttered home.
A few years and another little girl later, my life had become a panicky exercise in inventory control. As the girls grew, so did my fear of Christmas, Valentine’s day and birthdays.
The Christmas Crush
Jesus did not encounter Santa Claus but my children did, very early in life. Once they became aware of the gift giving ritual that accompanied Christmas, they looked forward to it with a lot of excitement and maybe later, a sense of entitlement.
Their expectations about the latest toy already honed through television advertisements, they scramble down the stairs on Christmas morning and unwrap their presents: a dog that barks, a baby that wets its diaper, a mermaid that swims, and Barbie styling heads. Most things are played with over the Christmas break and forgotten as they get busy with school, leaving me to whine, “When we were young, we didn’t have any of this…” I am waiting for the day when they will turn around and say, ”And whose fault is that?”
Come Christmas day, I wonder (a tad bitterly) what Jesus might have played with on his birthday. Did his parents have to navigate huge malls? Were they embarrassed into purchasing an unanticipated pacifier by a tantrum thrown at the checkout stand after being slowly mesmerized by hours of peppy holiday music? Did they have to make tough decisions on whether to buy a Tinker Bell sheet set or a Disney fairy toothbrush and towel on a one time only holiday discount?
Freedom from Choice
Every summer, my daughters willingly and eagerly accompany me on my marathon journey to India. There are few things for them to play with at their grandparents’ house. And yet, they never grumble.
Maybe they too feel a sense of freedom from their possessions. Although they are too young to articulate this, maybe they too are oppressed by the variety and choices they have to make.
Growing up, I used to be able to eat one flavor of ice cream as a special treat – Vanilla, and mostly had two kinds of drink – water and homemade lemonade, and was none the worse for it. I wore a school uniform and looked neat on a good day and dishevelled on a bad day. In contrast, we are now burdened with constant decision making. What kind of ice cream will you have (a choice of 32 flavors)? What kind of drink? What color of room? What kind of backpack – Little Mermaid or Hello Kitty?
In our perpetual endeavor to create new markets, we seem to have lost sight of what we are doing to our children and ourselves. The blame does not lie with them, but with the adults who knowingly or unknowingly subvert them. We have become the sum of all our parts – Clickits, Legos, magnets, Polly Pockets – and now we must spend our precious time putting them away.