An honest take on life and parenthood


on January 16, 2013
Christmas Mountain #2

Christmas Mountain #2


That is the only word I can use to describe my feeling when I confronted the first mountain of Christmas gifts for the Pooh under my in-law’s tree. After opening several, she just wanted to play with her new toys, and wasn’t interested in any more shiny packages with bows. Who can blame her? She isn’t even three yet, and Santa had already visited her house that morning.

A few days later, when we arrived at my mom’s house for Christmas number two, my sister rubbed her hands together in glee and said, “Look at that!” as she pointed to the second mountain – and I do mean mountain – of presents, just for one little girl.

My heart sank.

I certainly didn’t want to burst the Christmas bubble. I knew that everyone had purchased gifts for the Pooh with the greatest of love and best of intentions. Both sides of the family are loving and generous, so we are blessed in that regard. But the mountains of gifts troubled me on a number of levels.

First, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, I don’t have the space to store all of these toys. She is fortunate enough to have a playroom, which happens to look like Toys R Us already. She loves her toys, but she doesn’t need any more.

Next, she doesn’t have the attention span to get through a huge pile of gifts. After a while, her eyes start to glaze over and she stops seeing what is in front of her. If her attention drifts, then it is a good indication that she is over her gift limit.

The most important issue, however, is the formation of her character and values. I don’t want her to equate material things with love, or to become a tiny representative of conspicuous consumption. I don’t want her to expect piles of presents at every holiday or birthday.

I would like her to appreciate the good fortune she has, and to love the playthings she uses.  I believe that a child who grows up with excess will grow up to be an adult who needs excess, and there is little happiness to be found that way. And I want her to be happy, above all.

I know she is little, but the excess is already working its malicious tentacles into her brain. Here were two cringe-worthy moments during this recent holiday:

A couple of days after Christmas, we visited the Pooh’s godmother. Diane knows kids very well, and she gave just the right amount and right mix of presents, all thoughtfully chosen. The Pooh finished opening six bright packages and then said to me, “Where’s the rest?”

Earth, swallow me up.

I explained to her that her presents were all there, and she should open one of the toys and play. She understood, but I was incredibly embarrassed.

When we arrived at my mother’s, we opened presents from the aforementioned mountain. After the Pooh opened several gifts, my sister presented her with a pretty bag.  The child proceeded to open the bag and just toss the contents of each item over her shoulder without looking at it, with zero appreciation for what was being given. In fairness, she had already reached her present limit by then, so she was not paying attention anymore, but the gift of the pretty doll with two outfits was wasted on her. She didn’t appreciate it, and my sister did not get the joyful reaction she wanted from the Pooh. A lose-lose situation on both sides.

My husband and I held a powwow after Christmas. We agreed to clear out and donate or give away her excess toys. We went through the playroom with the Pooh, and she agreed to give them to other kids. I later slipped in and removed many of the toys she no longer plays with, and gave those away too.

Then, we each talked to our respective families about scaling back on the number of gifts, for all of the reasons above, illustrated with the embarrassing anecdotes I just shared. At future events, if it seemed that there were too many gifts, we agreed to set aside the excess.

The Pooh’s birthday is next month. To test whether the message is truly transmitting, I suggested that she receive one gift per family. My husband balked and said that five was more reasonable.

Let’s just say that we have a long way to go.

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