Christmas This Year

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Guys, I realized that I had a huge problem in my house. It got really out of hand when Kenneth was around. Only recently have I slammed on the brakes and realized that I need to do something about it.

Christmas is coming up. I usually do my shopping in, like, August, but this year I didn’t. (Super out of character, but don’t worry–I’m mostly finished already!) But this isn’t about my shopping.

And it kind of is everything about my shopping.

You see, my kids have too much crap. I’ve been spoiling them rotten since they were born, and a lot of this was their father’s fault, because he adored them and never wanted to say no. Then, when he died, I felt the need to spoil them even more. You know, to compensate for the lack of father.

But I’m worried that this is going to cause irreparable damage and somehow all of their future life problems will be traced back to me in therapy, and it will all be linked to the excessive amount of crap I’ve paid for.

I’m talking so much crap that they don’t know what they have. Crap that spills out of boxes and closets and drawers and oozes like lava and sometimes it feels like their crap somehow magically multiplies while we are asleep at night.

Crap I battle every single freaking day. I’m kind of crazy about clutter, and I do not allow toys strewn all over my house. At all. You can imagine how a pile of toys left in the middle of the hallway would be enough to send me into a tailspin.

We have cleaning people that come every week. I swear, they must spend hours just organizing my kids’ crap. I could be getting other things in my house deep-cleaned instead of having toys organized, but nope. And there’s absolutely no method to the kids’ clutter. You’ll find underwear and dolls and books and my hairbrush and whatever else the 3 little tornadoes suck up as they comb through my house and spit back out wherever they happen to pause for a split second before moving on to more destruction. Basically, Peter Jack is responsible for the majority of the chaos. But the other two do their fair share of crap-piling on their bedroom floors.

I just don’t understand people who leave things on the floors. Whhhhhhhyyyy? I’m telling you, clutter hurts me. You’re probably wondering how I lived with Kenneth for 9 years. I don’t have a good answer to that question, other than telling you not very easily. I’m definitely my father’s daughter.

The real kicker came when I bought Ethan a costume in August (trying to be a super efficient mom who checks things off the to-do list early), but by October HE COULDN’T FIND IT. I was so pissed. After Halloween passed, we found it. Of course. That’s how those things work. It had been stuffed in an obscure box with a bunch of stuff on top. The cleaners did it, and Ethan was quick to blame them.

“No,” I said, irritated. “You can’t blame them for trying to put away your crap that wouldn’t have been an issue if you put it away to begin with.”

He lowered his head. Nodded.

Yeah, they always do that. Act like they know what I’m talking about. Acting remorseful. Like they’ll never do it again.

And 5 minutes later, they’re throwing their crap on the floor again.

I started to think about Christmas on the horizon. I need more crap in my house like I need a hole in my head.

It’s more than just my clutter-phobia. There’s a more important issue that I have been mulling over in my head.

I had the realization that I was ruining my children.

Part of this is my parents’ fault. My parents never bought a toy for me, just because. There wasn’t a single time that we were strolling through Target and I said “Oh I reallllllly want that doll!” and they bought it for me. Never, ever happened. And at Christmas, I can’t think of a single time when I got something from them that was actually off of my wishlist. It was usually my single aunts and uncles who bought me the toys I wanted, like the Secret Sender that all aspiring Nancy Drews wanted (thanks, Uncle Ramon, you were good for something in life) or the designer Cabbage Patch Doll (thanks, Aunt Lulu!).

Anyway, if I hadn’t have been so deprived, I wouldn’t be overcompensating right now, lavishing my children with everything they want, spoiling them with the things I didn’t have. Kenneth had a similar background, and had similar urges to want to overcompensate. Our combined childhoods were the perfect recipe for over-indulging our children.

Except my kids aren’t going to blame Grandpa and Teta when they’re in therapy for the problems that will surely be linked back to me. I know they’re going to miss that part of the story. Grandparents always get a free card when it comes to blame. It’s going to be all my fault, so I better just own up to the fact that I spoil my kids too much.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Marshmallow Test. Basically, children were given a marshmallow and then given two options: 1) they could eat it immediately, or 2) they could wait, and then get another marshmallow to eat.

Here is a cute video of the test recreated. I could totally see Peter Jack popping a marshmallow into his mouth before you even told him the rules.

The study looked at delayed gratification and found that the children who opted to wait to eat their marshmallow, who were able to wait longer for a reward, had better life outcomes.

Here I am, giving my kids whatever they want, like I’m almost poisoning them with toys and sabotaging their ability to develop delayed gratification. What’s wrong with me???!!

Intuitively, I knew that it wasn’t going to help them in life. It had to stop. I’ve got a marshmallow test here that tells me that my children need delayed gratification. I also have 3 demanding children that want, want, want. They seem to have insatiable appetites for new things. But I want them to have healthy, successful, financially secure lives.

I knew I needed to fix the damage.

The other day we were at Target buying a present for Ethan’s friend. Eloise saw a toy ice cream truck that had a bunch of little cones and candy and stuff to pretend to operate her own ice cream truck business. She desperately wanted it. I tried to talk rationally with her.

“I don’t know, Eloise,” I said, scratching my head. “That’s a lot of Tiny Crap.”

“It’s so cool. I can have an ice cream store. I really love it, Mama,” she told me in her soft, dainty little voice.

“Yeah, but Ellie, babe. That Tiny Crap is gonna be all over the house, won’t it?”

She shakes her head.

I’ve seen that head shake before.

“I really, reallllllly want it,” she said, pushing herself up on her tiptoes to examine the toy better.

I felt that ridiculous urge to buy it right then and there, just to make her happy. Part of me could envision her sitting on the zebra print rug in her room, setting up a store, and selling pretend cones to us. The other part of me saw Peter charging in there like Toddlerzilla.

I know these things. I couldn’t allow myself to make a rookie mistake.

She still wanted it. Pleaded with me. Gave me the sad, puppy dog eyes.

I said no. I had resolved to save my kids from intensive therapy by teaching them delayed gratification. I had to stick to my guns.

Then I said maybe. Oh crap.

I wanted to slap myself, but in lieu of that I heard myself say “let’s check on Amazon,” which is basically my way of delaying taking action on it.

Then I went back to a firm no. I mean, come on. What does a pretend ice cream truck really do for my kid in the grand scheme of life?

I went back to a maybe.

Gosh, I think the only thing worse than an overly indulgent parent is a waffling parent. Once kids sniff out your Jello boundaries, you’re history. You stand no chance. I had to get my act together.

I caught myself trying to justify to myself why I should buy the ice cream truck for Eloise.

I had to stop myself. Again. It hurt. A lot. I’m still getting used to telling the kids no. But ohhhhhh. It hurts. I want to make them happy. I want them to smile and throw their arms around me and tell me I’m the best mama ever so I won’t feel so bad about being their only parent.

But in my gut I knew exactly what would happen. I’d buy the ice cream truck. She’d love it for 10 minutes, and then the Tiny Crap would get scattered all over the place, and within a few days I’d find it in Peter’s room, Ethan’s room, between couch cushions, on the floor, in the van, partially chewed up by the dog in the backyard, and basically everywhere.

I would buy the ice cream truck if I knew she’d cherish it and take care of it.

But she won’t. And I know she won’t because I’ve seen her do the exact same thing with her Shopkins, with the Doc McStuffins veterinarian cart, with the 2 playhouses she owns, and I could go on and on and on.

I had that annoying Mom Guilt as I walked out of the store, sans ice cream truck. Our instinct is to want to give our children everything. I know logically that I am giving them more in life by teaching them the value of money, how to work for the things that we want, how to be patient, avoid attachment to consumption, to have gratitude, avoid wastefulness, delayed gratification, and all of these important lessons and values. But I also love to see their happy faces aglow with the excitement of getting something that they want, which is what I desperately wanted as a kid. (Thanks again, Mom and Dad. I’m forwarding you the therapy bills.)

There is another issue I’m tackling in my family. I’ve become adamant about us working as a “team.” Before Kenneth died, our children didn’t have to do anything. We lavished them with toys and experiences and did everything around the house while they played or watched Netflix and wanted for nothing in life.

When he died, I quickly realized that I needed them to become self-sufficient. For my survival. Today, on any given day they’re helping with food preparation. Cleaning up after dinner. Ethan sets up toothbrushes. Eloise feeds the dog. It’s a work in progress, but I’m consistent in the message that the more we work together, the more time we’ll have to do the things that we want to do. I refuse to be the family maid. I’ve made it very clear to my kids that I value my time, my interests, and that I have a life too.

How we spend our money is part of the team mentality. It’s a different approach to the traditional family budget. I was never privy to my parents’ budget. That was a big question mark. I want to be generous with my kids within my means, but I also want them to understand that we have family priorities. We like to have parties. We like to travel. The kids also take several classes, which they immensely enjoy, but it adds up.

I’m trying to teach them that if we waste our money on toys that they won’t want to play with tomorrow–disposable enjoyment–we won’t have as much money to do the things that we really love, like travel and learn.

And they seem to sort of get it. Peter is too young to even ask for anything. He’s easy–for now.

Back to Christmas. The kids are getting 2 presents each. This is progress. We’re used to box after box after box after box after box after box of presents to open. I got significant input from the kids about what they wanted. I had them prioritize their wants and take time to think about it. Ironically, there isn’t much that my kids want. That’s how I know overspending and giving in to every passing whim and desire is stupid. At the end of the day, there isn’t anything that they need, and not much that they want.

Eloise has even forgotten about the silly ice cream truck, as I suspected she would.

We’re going to have very simple stockings, and I want to keep the sugar to a minimum in the spirit of healthy living. I don’t want cheap plastic crap from China all over my house. The reasons are environmental, economical, and a touch of OCD-ical. (Take notes, Mom. No piles of junk.)

I have to resist the urge of buying everything cute in sight, which is terribly difficult during the holiday season.There are way too many temptations. I basically need blinders when I go into stores. Today I had to talk myself out of a jar of “gingerbread baby” cookies from Starbucks. They were seriously cute. But no. That would only sabotage my healthy diet and my resolution to stop buying stupid things. Must avoid cute. Stay away from cute. If I keep repeating this, maybe it will stick.

I need deliberate simplification. The excess of the holiday season sort of makes me nauseous.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. Not in a religious sense. It’s just cool to have something to look forward to during the winter, when the days are shorter and colder and it feels like it takes a little extra effort to push through the days. I love Christmas music and decorations, and I have a (slightly embarrassing) penchant for collecting gingerbread men (which I will not indulge in this year!). I enjoy social gatherings. I really love buying gifts and giving them to people.

But I don’t want to feel like I have to overload my kids with more than they need or want. I want deliberateness. Thoughtfulness. Not excessiveness. I want to reclaim the holidays and make my own rules and traditions that are not dependent on overconsumption.

I want more meaningfulness.

One of the things about me that I think has helped me create the fulfilling life that I have, despite unfortunate circumstances, is that I’m not afraid to work hard. I haven’t had everything handed to me. I get offended if somebody wants to give me something, or do something for me. I think I can find middle ground, somewhere between not giving my kids anything, to the opposite end of the spectrum of spoiling them silly. There’s probably a sweet spot. I know this will be the greatest gift that I will bestow upon my kids, so that’s what I need to do.

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