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.