We have an advent calendar that’s a sort of wooden box with twenty-five little doors that open to reveal whatever I’ve tucked inside. There’s not much room in there, it’s meant for small trinkets and candy. Finding twenty-five days’ worth of surprises for two kids gets challenging, though, so I resort to whatever’s inexpensive and relatively door-sized. The other day I was cramming two stuffed animals in there, a tiny jaguar and a tiger. Their heads poked out, their paws dangled. It was just too much.

It all feels like a little too much sometimes, this time of year. On top of everything else, there’s the pressure of teaching your kids about the True Meaning of Christmas, however that’s defined in your family, and in that I often feel like a complete failure. The seamy underside of the most wonderful time of year: rampant greed, bickering, and a lack of perspective.

We had to devise rules for the advent box: they take turns opening the calendar and choosing which of the two surprises they want. Otherwise they fought and fought and fought about the goddamned thing, every morning, until I fantasized about taking the entire box and smashing it into kindling right in front of them. I could practically taste the brief savage joy of it: swooping it off the shelf, dashing it against a hard surface over and over again while their mouths widened into perfect horrified circles. “This! Is! What! Happens!” I’d shout nonsensically, each word punctuated by another splintering crash.

I didn’t do that, of course. We came up with a solution that allows them to have their early-morning routine — run straight to the calendar, then go looking for the elf — without succumbing to a meltdown, but sometimes I watch them grab whatever it is I’ve taken the time and effort to purchase and stash in there and I can see how they cease to give a shit about it with, oh, ten or twenty seconds. It’s just … taken for granted, and okay, I don’t expect my eight and five-year-old children to stand starry-eyed in front of a couple of foil-wrapped chocolate coins and marvel about the magic of the holidays, but damn.

They obsesses over their wish lists and neither one seems to fully understand that it’s not a to-do list that will end up with every item neatly checked come December 25th. The one truly generous thing my second-grader did this season was help pick out toys to donate (an activity that made the five-year-old cry, because he couldn’t understand why they weren’t for him), but then he wanted to write a letter to Santa about his incredibly selfless act just so Santa was, like, aware, and come on dude, I’m on to you.

There’s so much to love about experiencing Christmas with children, but it isn’t always picture-perfect, is it? Maybe that’s what’s so hard about the less ideal moments, I feel like everything should be soft focus and delighted smiles and sparkly red-nosed unicorns and beautifully-decorated treats — and sometimes it’s more of a tangled web of uncertain lessons and parental self-doubt and sugar cookies made from a mix and bitch-slapped with a tub of high-fructose corn syrup.


62 Responses to “And everyone telling you be of good cheer”

  1. LD's Mom on December 19th, 2013 3:30 pm

    Totally know what you mean. BTW, did your kids ever go back to school after the snowstorm but before Xmas break?

  2. Linda on December 19th, 2013 3:41 pm

    LD’s mom: yes, FINALLY. :) They’ve been in school all week, tomorrow’s the last day before the break.

  3. telegirl on December 19th, 2013 7:53 pm

    Just saw this and, of course, thought of you. http://news.msn.com/pop-culture/tooth-fairy-is-walk-in-park-over-elf-on-the-shelf

    OK, I’m off to google Elf on a Shelf and Tumblr/Instagram…

  4. Meagan on December 20th, 2013 12:42 pm

    Get a Lego set with about 25 pieces. 1-2 pieces per door. Instructions/photo in the last door. Surprise!

    We do this (more or less) to fill up the stocking, but I don’t really know whether it would work as well with an advent calendar. Be a hell of a lot easier though.

  5. Kristen on December 20th, 2013 4:04 pm

    My 4 year old daughter asked to go to the mall to see Santa so she could, “put in her order.” :/ So. yeah.

  6. Corey on December 22nd, 2013 7:48 pm

    We’re doing the avent calendar for the first time this year. I got a lego(?) angry birds one so there’s something to do each day, building towards the final piece.

    We also started trying to do a “Christmas Kindness” each day (which doesn’t really happen as much as I’d like, but most days). You could try something similar or put a few in the calendar. Doesn’t have to cost anything or be anything super big. We donated to the food pantry one day, I donated blood one day, we took muffins to the fire station, etc.

  7. Lisa on December 23rd, 2013 5:48 am

    I have just one kidlet, and at 6 and the only grandchild, she doesn’t posses empathic qualities, even though we try to reinforce them. This kid will never give up a used toy, ever (they are given away without her knowledge). However, this year I told her a story that Santa did not have enough elves this year to make all the toys and he was experiencing a toy shortage. He decided to choose some special and very helpful children by writing them a letter which included a large pretty bag. Each chosen child is supposed to fill up the bag with toys they no longer play with and he will pick them up on Christmas Eve when he drops off gifts. My child fell hard for this. She immediately asked if she would be chosen and started thinking of things to put in the bag if she was. A few weeks later, her letter arrived along with the bag, which she filled halfway that evening. She had to be convinced yesterday to fill it all the way, but she did it. I have tried to instill how helpful she is during this process and to let her know how much other kids will enjoy the toys she has chosen. I am sure she is doing this to impress Santa, but maybe she will learn something else, too.

  8. jen on December 23rd, 2013 9:27 am

    I told my oldest the other day I was not talking to him until he stopped talking about the presents. We get him three gifts plus a stocking and one of the three is a book. And he still complains “Why not 4?” OMFG. Head. Desk. Plus he’s learning how to read and he’s a lawyer at heart so he was arguing with me (the one who WRAPPED AND WROTE on the gifts) about how that one gift I said was his “didn’t have his name on it” and I wanted to throttle him so hard. We were in the car so I couldn’t even SHOW HIM HE WAS WRONG. SO WRONG.

    It all drives me crazy. Our families often do a “grab bag” and the last several years I simply stopped participating. I just couldn’t handle any more sets of lotion I hate the smell of or decor that doesn’t work in my house, etc.

  9. MyFrogs on December 23rd, 2013 10:32 am

    My kids are 13 and 14 so a lot of what is on their lists is getting more expensive and bigger. However, it’s what’s not on their lists that they are asking about. Every year they open their new jammies on Christmas eve to wear that night. This year they’ll be at their dads that night, so they’re worried about when they’ll get to open their jammies. I love that! :)

  10. MyFrogs on December 23rd, 2013 10:42 am

    PS- On the jammies thing, I thought that since they’d be at their dads it wouldn’t matter if that didn’t happen. Guess who’s going out to buy jammies today….

  11. Hanna on December 23rd, 2013 4:25 pm

    We have a similar advent truck (given by G-ma, naturally) that vexes me. I shopshopshop for tiny things (most of which end up in the stocking), which are received with a “Meh” as he tosses them aside. Maybe next year, he’ll get little messages from Santa – reminders to be helpful and kind.

  12. Hanna on December 23rd, 2013 4:26 pm

    Yay for godless heathens!

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