It would be so easy to screw this all up. It really would. I’m not saying I haven’t, by the way, I think like most parents, I wouldn’t know if I did until I was so far into the morass of troubles that it would be too hard to find the way out.
I thought I was on the wrong track about the holidays until this weekend. I am constantly worried that all I do is harp on what isn’t completed in the house and pushing to eat all their dinner. I tell them they have to have fruit instead of plain processed bought candies. I make desserts because there’s some ingredient in all the bought stuff that literally has my kids climbing the walls when they eat the tiniest bit. I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t plain sugar, I cook with that all the time and the kids are fine.
Every year we sacrificed in order to get my kids the presents and Christmas that we thought we’d had. There were two things wrong with this scenario. First, of course, is that fact that when we got the Christmases we both thought were “typical” in our households we were teenagers, our parents were doing very well, and they owned their own businesses. When our kids are babies or little, they really don’t care. As long as there’s paper to rip and a box to play in, they’re happy, something I’m not sure we ever completely grasped. The other problem was that I could never tell Andrea “no”. Never. I mean, there were things I put my foot down about, sure. I would never stop playing guitar. I wasn’t going to let my wife feed her jealousy and somewhat crazy thoughts that my mother liked my brothers’ wives better than her. (Totally wrong, by the way, and the way they dropped everything they were doing to help us should prove that) But financially, I was a moron when she would ask for things. I wanted to give her the world and I did it quite often at costs I could never have afforded. It was a dangerous thing and I’d never met a woman before or since that had that effect on me.
When Christmas came, we got everything we could afford and then some . . . and then the fat guy in a red suit got all the credit when he brought something bigger. The kids loved Mac and Cheese so they never noticed if that’s what we ate for a month or two regularly.
So you can see my dilemma, at least I hope you can. What message did we send those kids? Now that she’s not here, what happens? I admit, I over-compensated this Christmas. I bought a lot. I sold some old stock from my last job, the last bastions of a bygone era of my life that I figured needed to go because it wasn’t going to earn me much more money anyway. Once everything was wrapped and the “letters to Santa” sent for what he should bring, I was concerned. There were a lot of presents under there. Sure, some were for grandparents, or uncle/aunt. But I was really worried that in a year fraught with tragedy, stress and impossible problems I was making things worse.
I have a son who got into inordinate amounts of trouble at school, and a lot of that is the fact that he sees the world from a different angle. He likes to be the center of attention, and I’m working on that, but he also has a very funny, very skewed view of the world. I didn’t want him to see this as reason to continue acting out or as the way it will be from now on. This is a “good” Christmas, financially, but they won’t all be. They’re going to get sparser and sparser.
I have a daughter who has two days of a month’s grounding because she didn’t do her homework, lied to me about the assignments due and why the grades were so bad and then was in danger of being held back. I can’t get her to do the one chore of unloading/loading the dishwasher. I am constantly on her back to do things because the more I say the less she does. She’s the one child that, when we’re late getting out the door, moves slower as a result. My father once told her if she moved any slower she’d be moving backwards. Even she had to laugh at that.
I look and wonder if the kids are more concerned about the presents. One morning I overheard Noah telling his sister Hannah: “Hannah, you only have 2 presents under there. I have more.” I was worried about it. They always have this insane competitive nature – something they got from their mother. (not pushing that off, it’s true, she was insane about competing for things) I catch them counting every time I peek into the room.
Then this weekend when I thought I was going to have to trim down the gift giving, that same son, the one I thought was competing with presents, came up and asked me something.
“Can I come with you to Target today, Daddy?”
“I want to get Abbi, Hannah and Sam presents. I want to make sure they have some.”
“I put presents under there for them, it’s OK, Noah, they’ll have stuff to open.”
“I know, but I want to get them something. I already have something for you. I put it under the tree already.”
You see, Noah wasn’t competing the presents, he was worried that his brother and sisters wouldn’t have as much. He was trying to ensure the balance was there and was more concerned about giving something. He had even checked prices and asked if we could pay for what he wanted to get them. He was also very worried because there was nothing under the tree for me.
I almost cried.
I guess I had never really thought about that fact, that there was nothing under there for Dad. What do you tell the kids when you’re the only one in charge of Christmas? How do you handle the fact that they’re dealing with a season that is meant to be shared and you have no partner to share it with? I realized right there that I was compensating not for their loss but for mine. I wanted their Christmas to be great, but I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t tell that there was one name that was obviously missing under the tree, too.
I didn’t need the reminder that my kids are amazing, but I got it anyway. It looked like, at least in this instance, I’d done something right to make him worry more about everyone else than himself.
I wish I could just figure out what it was. That way I could make them think this way about their chores. The dishwasher still needs to be unloaded.