In the midst of a manic shopping spree last week, I found myself panicking. You see, this year I failed in my holiday duties miserably.
All my five year old son asked Santa for was a dinosaur tent. As tradition dictates, I frantically raced from store to store looking for it — to no avail. (When I finally checked online back at home, they said it had been discontinued. Argh.) I found myself shouting like a rabid chipmunk over the phone to my cool-as-a-cucumber husband, who was unmoved by the lack of dino tents in North America.
“You don’t understand. He asked Santa for that tent, it’s the only thing he wants. EVERYTHING rests on the importance of finding that thing!!” (I’ve sanitized this for the blog, but I am fairly certain there were a few curse words thrown in there, too. ) Joe, ever the reasonable person, said, “Then we’ll get him something else. He’ll be happy — it’s Christmas, kids love getting presents, no matter what. Relax.” I sat there, flummoxed by his logic before finally muttering, “I think I need to talk to someone else about this.” So I called a few mom friends of mine who were also going crazy trying to find the right thing for their kids. (That helped.)
But here’s the thing that we all know, yet fall prey to every year: even though running around from store to store like a maniac, or getting stressed about hanging lights up or sending out the perfect holiday card really doesn’t have much to do with the meaning of the season, most of us do some version of it anyhow.
I love what Parent Blogger Annita Woz says in her blog for EP this week about finding the one thing about the holidays that you enjoy and focusing on that. For Annita, it’s setting up the house and decorating the Christmas tree. I would say that ranks pretty high on my list, too. (Sweating in the aisles of Toys R Us, conversely, is on my anti-holiday list.)
So I tried to create a new tradition this year with my son by finding a child in need in our community, and choosing and buying presents for him. (All this boy wanted was a winter coat, a pair of jeans and a soccer ball. Talk about learning a lesson.) So Alex and I went out, and let me tell you, I was feeling very smug and happy that I was teaching my son about the “real meaning of Christmas”. Well, fast forward to the two of us arguing in the store because my son wanted to get every toy he saw for himself. I held my ground until we got to the dreaded gumball machine phalanx near the doors of Target.
“No, you can’t get a skull tattoo with roses growing out of the eye sockets from the machine. Today we’re shopping for someone else, and besides, those things are yucky.” That is when my 5 year old son, for the first time in his life, swore at me very perfectly and precisely: “You are giving me a pain in my a–,” he said. People stopped in their tracks and looked at us. A baby cried. As for me, I thought the top of my head was going to explode, Heat Miser style, but I held it together — just.
“Get. In. The. Car. NOW!!!”
I really wanted to throttle him, but I somehow managed to keep control of my temper. (Thinking of an adult Alex relating my holiday explosion to a therapist helped immeasurably.) So we sat in the cold car, snow falling on the windshield, while I did some deep breathing and gave Alex the silent treatment, trying to gather my thoughts and think of the right thing to do. Finally I said, “You made Mommy very angry, and now there are going to be consequences. Was that worth it?” (Even though I was shaking, I marveled at how calm I sounded, kind of like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.)
Alex thought for a moment. I waited for his cheeky response, but to my surprise, he burst into tears. “No, no, it wasn’t worth it,” he sobbed. We pulled out of the parking lot with him crying and hiccuping, and me on the edge of tears and feeling terrible. So much for starting a holiday tradition.
When we got home, I quietly started wrapping the presents for the child we’d shopped for. I cut the paper, taped corners, stuck on bows, and tried not to think about what a failure the day had been. As I worked, out of the corner of my eye I saw a small body inching ever closer to me. And then a still, small voice whispered, “I’ll wrap the soccer ball.” When he finished, Alex ran to his room to get his piggy bank.
“How much is $12.00? I want to buy him the soccer ball. This is going to be from me,” he proclaimed proudly.
In the end, hope and peace reigned in our house that night, our version of a Christmas miracle. (And maybe, just maybe, a new holiday tradition was born.)
PS The next day, we set up a “cursing jar” in our kitchen. We have all contributed in the past week. Ahem.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.