With three kids, it’s rare for a week to go by without an out-of-the-ordinary expense popping up. In fact, out-of-the-ordinary expense is a complete oxymoron. Take Mary alone, for instance: Sometimes the expenses are big, the kind you prepare for long in advance, like school clothes in the fall… and other times they’re small ones that sneak up on you, like a donation to the PTA for some kind of upcoming school event. No matter what the nature of the expense, whether it’s Book Fairs, field trips, fundraisers, school pictures, class parties, a dress for a recital, birthday gifts for friends… every child has their own steady stream of output. And you can bet that for every week Mary won’t need something, Matthew will and you can also bet that a lot of the time the biggest and the sneakiest ones will ruthlessly overlap. Not to mention that for every family outing or holiday, our expenses are multiplied that many times a pop. Dinners. Activities. Day trips. Costumes at Halloween. Baskets on Easter. And oh yes, gifts at Christmas.
With so many needs having to be met all throughout the year, wants are just a back-burner kind of a thing in this family. Basically, they don’t get met until they become a need themselves -- like at Christmas.
That being said:
You know when you were like five and you asked your mom or dad what they wanted for Christmas, and they tried to convince you that you enjoying the holiday was all they could ever want. And you were like, yeah right. Well, yeah. They were right. A thousand times over. My parents were miracle workers in their heyday. MIRACLE workers. Still, every Christmas I’ve had since I’ve become a mom has topped every Christmas I’ve had as a child put together, tenfold. --Fortyfold. There’s just nothing like it in the world. I know that they’ll never believe it until they experience it for themselves, but telling my kids no will never be any more disappointing to them as it is to me. And the truth is, we don’t do it solely out of necessity, either. Spencer and I make it a high priority to live well within our means, and even at our penny-pinchin’est the biggest percentage of our paycheck that we could scrounge was put into savings. We do it to teach them about priorities and moderation and other things that are just not always a whole lot of fun for kids to learn, but that they need to. And whether they believe it or not, it isn’t the most fun part of parenting either.
So on Christmas, I get to GO. NUTS. And you better believe that I do, and that I eat up every minute of it. Materialism be damned. I finally get to spoil my kids, and I’m the worst of all offenders when the holiday season comes rolling around. Now I don’t spend recklessly. I have rules and I have boundaries just like I do the rest of the year that keep us from overindulging. I make sure, for one, that the things that we buy are things that will last the test of physical abuse as well as the test of fast-fleeting trends (especially the ones of a pre-teen girl -- you know, the kind named MARY STUCKY. The kind who beg you to buy their entire school wardrobe in hot pink, only to spend the second half of that same year crying in front of her closet because she can’t be caught DEAD wearing PINK in front of her friends at school. THAT KIND.) Also, Spencer and I don’t buy anything for each other. We both believe strongly that any money we’ve set aside for the holidays is better spent on our kids than on anything that could be spent on two full-grown adults who’ve, quite frankly, had their turn. Finally, I don’t spend more than we have, but I do definitely milk every penny that we’ve set aside for all the mind-blowing reaction and years of enjoyment that it’s worth. And you wouldn’t believe how much a gasp and a squeal from your kid on Christmas morning can be worth until you’ve been the one to make it happen.
It’s more than just giving them what they want. It’s getting the chance to really think about who they’ve become and how much they’ve grown since years passed. It’s matching these wonderful little just-for-the-freakin-fun-of-it non-necessities, the ones you’ve unyieldingly said no to all year, to their specific personalities. It’s looking through isles and isles of toys and clothes and games and books and being drawn to that one awesome thing that just has your kid’s name written all over it, and it’s measuring out in your mind how much their brains are going to explode all over the Christmas tree when they unwrap it.
Christmas, especially for young Christian families like ours, is filled to the brim with lessons. Lessons in relation to what the holiday is about; why we celebrate it in the first place, and where these wonderful traditions originated. This year is the first that Matthew is learning not just about Santa Clause, but also about Jesus and about what the prayers he’s been reciting with us every night at bedtime actually mean. This year is one in which Mary, who no longer believes in Santa Clause, is learning tough lessons about how Christmas gifts aren’t just magically created; they’re worked very, very hard to earn money to purchase all year long and that the budget for them is one that she will need to share with two siblings for the rest of her childhood. An enormous part of the magic of Christmas for me is having the opportunity once a year to remind my children that being a kid isn’t just about learning lessons. Sometimes it’s just about crazy, just-cause-you’re-a-kid-and-you-can FUN. And I love teaching them to live it up with as much enthusiasm and discipline as I teach them everything else, all year long.