Around Halloween, I announced to my kids that the 2 Christmases (one in each of their two homes) that they’ve known the last three years wasn’t going to happen this year. I can’t afford it and they don’t need a massive haul or even a minor one at both houses. I told them I am rethinking how I do Christmas in the “off years”; those years where they are at their other parent’s house for the holiday and I get them for New Year’s. In the same breath I also mentioned I wasn’t even going to decorate this year for the holidays. “After all, I explained, you will all be at your dad’s and it is just going to be me.”
Number 2 piped up sarcastically with, “Yeah, because Christmas can’t happen if there are no presents!”
Out of the mouths of babes, I guess. Her comment stopped me cold. She wasn’t saying she was unhappy about the no presents deal at our house this year. That surprised me. She was basically expressing distaste at my perspective that if we can’t do “presents” then let’s just scrap Christmas altogether. She nailed me, and rightly so.
I could have hugged her on the spot. Even now, the thought that a sixteen-year-old young lady (who really loves getting presents as much as the next person) can have the insight to see that the holidays are about so much more than the stuff brings tears to my eyes. The fact that she was also more disappointed about not decorating than not getting presents also impressed me.
I’ve worked hard the last three years and I’ve plowed through a mountain of debt, that by all rights wasn’t mine, in order to avoid bankruptcy and have a more financially secure and debt-free life. The journey in many ways completely sucks, but the lessons, are valuable. I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned how much of my former existence was based on appearances and image instead of what really matters. While living my former existence, I knew this was true and I hated it at the time. What I didn’t realize was how deeply ingrained the obsession with image for image’s sake was in my life and how deeply stuck I was in it all. From my views on money to what’s important in parenting and in relationships, I’ve had to scrutinize my thinking and real beliefs about it all. I’ve experienced so many occasions where I’ve been knocked flat on my figurative seat in the last three years: emotionally, financially, relationally. I’ve found myself in places I NEVER thought I’d ever be. Places where in my former life I looked down my nose at people in the very situations I now found myself. It was more than humbling. At each of these times, I’ve had to do some serious soul searching and remind myself of what was really important. I’ve been shocked and horrified on many occasions to learn how really shallow my thinking has been. This recent episode with my daughter was another such moment of truth.
I am now once again rethinking The Holidays and my approach toward them.
For a number of years now, it has bothered me that my children can spend Christmas Day at one parent’s house and get a big haul of presents then go to the other parent’s house after Christmas for a second Christmas Day that year. I’ve hated the temptation to give in to that desire to “compete” with the other parent in the gift giving arena, even though I’ve been completely unable to. This inability, instead of creating angst for me, ended up providing freedom and relief. Because I don’t have it to spend and everyone knows it (meaning the kids), the expectation for my participation in these areas is lowered. That’s okay by me. I have debt to pay off and I am doing it. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so far it hasn’t been an oncoming train. I need to maintain my resolve and stay focused. I just can’t continue doing what I’ve always done at The Holidays where gifts are concerned. If can’t pay cash, it can’t be purchased. Simple as that.
My daughter’s words struck a chord in me. In the end, she’s totally spot on. Christmas is about celebrating love and the people we invest our love in. It is about hope, joy, peace and all good things. It’s about being with the people you love not out giving the the people you no longer live with. Kids understand about what is real and what is genuine. None of this has anything to do with getting and there are gifts that can be given that don’t come done up in ribbons and bows with a bill attached. I needed to be reminded of this.
This weekend, two days after Thanksgiving and a good three weeks before I usually can muster the energy or the spirit, we decorated our entire house for Christmas. In fact, I was in the back room typing a blog post while Number 2, was out in the garage, climbing ladders and pulling down the infamous plastic red Rubbermaid boxes. She pulled out the Christmas tree with the help of her brother (Number 3) and together she and Number 3 and Number 4 began putting the tree together. I came in just in time to help shape the fake tree. I really didn’t do much except instruct and that, only occasionally. They got out the decorations and put them on the tree, set up the stocking hangers with stockings, and arranged all our other decorations. They had a blast doing it and by dinnertime we had a house that in spite of it’s diminutive size looked festive and cheerful. Number 1 even had a couple of her friends over and the lot of us listened to Christmas music, played board games and ate pizza by the fire. It was a cozy, warm and happy time and it cost me nothing but a few minutes of my time and a few dollars for pizza delivery (something I never ever do). It created a wonderful happy and positive memory for my children and I. I could be wrong, but I think it kind of says something when a college child chooses to bring her boyfriend to our little home instead of going out somewhere for the evening. I couldn’t have done that at her age. I’m pleased that this is the kind of home we’ve built. I’m pleased that my daughter got on my case and called me out this time. I’m glad the decorations are up and we have over a month to enjoy them.
So in an effort to reinvent a more sane lifestyle, where competition with the ex’s and buckling to human greed isn’t the driving force and resisting the feeling that I am what I can purchase, I am rethinking things. I want to work on creating more memories like this Thanksgiving weekend. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea on the years that the kids are with me for Christmas to have the traditional (though modest) celebration with gifts and on the off years, get one gift for all the kids to share…like a computer or a Wii, or whatever we come up with together? During the off times, those times when the children aren’t residing with me, I’m playing with an idea, a dream really of hosting a party for single parents who are without their children for the holidays. Maybe we could meet together at my place, go caroling, donate money or canned goods to a local charity and then afterward come back to my place for eggnog, wassail and games. I don’t know. It’s a dream. But I’m wondering about it. This just might be the year to make that happen since I will, after all, be alone for The Holidays.
I’m thinking, especially after this Thanksgiving Weekend, where my kids had their friends over for games and food and had a great time, that maybe that’s the kind of memory I should work on creating more and more rather than stressing about gifts. It will cost me in terms of energy and time, but not in terms of money. It’s something I want to do.
After all, The Holidays are what we make them not what our budget makes them or what the presents under the tree make them.
What great ideas do you have for celebrating on a shoestring and making the season less about the stuff and more about the people you love?
P.S. After reading this post to Number 2, she has asked me if she can have a Christmas party here. In her words, “I’m so excited to have a Christmas party!” Yeah! Stay tuned!