Here we were, 5:00 on Christmas morning, and I was almost 100% sure I knew how this was going to go down. I knew for a fact that my boys would see all the bounty under the tree, and that even before they would start opening their presents, that my eldest would cry about something being unfair.
I was not wrong. There were three little boys opening presents on Christmas morning: my two ungrateful scalawags and their little cousin, who is three. So, let’s recap here, a three year-old, an almost five year-old and a six year-old. It was the six year-old who made the most noise before the opening even began.
We had all carefully tried to create gift-opening silos…each little boy with his own section to open. I had put everyone’s names on the gifts they were to receive from us, so as to avoid confusion.
Nonetheless, the eldest saw that his little brother appeared to have two bigger sized gifts while he had no bigger sized gift and he started crying, pointing out the injustice. I told him, “look at the names.” He was so upset that he couldn’t look at the names. He finally came to realize that one of the two bigger ones was in his silo.
He just had to go looking for something that wasn’t perfectly fair, even if it was only imaginary.
My youngest ended up getting a gift (from his Aunt Poppy!) that became the object of covetousness by both his brother and his little cousin. And from there, the table was set for a really pretty darn miserable day for everyone.
In spite of the beautifully furoshiki-wrapped (which did cut down on the wastefulness this year, yay me), and carefully calculated gifts, things only went from bad to worse. Because later in the day, my sister-in-law arrived with gifts. My husband’s Aunt and Uncle and cousin arrived with more gifts. More reasons for dissatisfaction.
I looked at all this stuff, which had barely been acknowledged yet, and wished that over the course of the next twelve months, we could have given them just one of these gifts each month. It would have been joy, spread out. Not this jockeying for more, this nauseating overabundance.
I love my children, but I hate giving them gifts. I hate it when other people give them gifts.
I don’t want gifts to be something they desire. I don’t want them to estimate their own value based on the desirability of a gift. I don’t want them to look forward to seeing their distant family only because it means they will get a gift. I don’t want to have to interact with them on the subject of gifts.
I hate gifts. I hate assembling Playmobil vehicles under the impatient slavemastering of my children, particularly when they have mixed up four different vehicles and the components and accessories for them. I categorically refuse to assemble Legos, but I nonetheless hate their pestering about them. I hate toys.
If this is what parenting is about, then NO THANK YOU. I’d rather not be a parent at all.
However, somehow, I ended up a parent, and I can’t seem to shake these children. Parenting, therefore, is part and parcel of my life, and will have to find its place in my Ideal Life, too. In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- trusts my kids to do the right thing
- has a healthy, open, honest relationship with my progeny
- doesn’t second guess my parenting decisions
- seeks out moments of genuine connection with my boys
- takes responsibility for my errors
- isn’t easily offended by honesty
- speaks my children’s love languages
- is in awe of who my kids become
- doesn’t look to my children to fulfill my needs
- listens carefully to everything they say, no matter how crazy
- knows how to discipline effectively
Where are you coming from?
Obviously, I am not coming from a very good place. It seems counter-intuitive to be saying, “I’m angry because my children received too many gifts at Christmas,” but, here we are. I should, perhaps, instead have a more grateful attitude, myself: there are a lot of generous people who love my children and want to give them gifts, and I am grateful for those people.
Instead, I’m over here moping and whining that my small children are ungrateful and jealous coveters. But was there anything good this year?
There were glimmers of good.
There was the moment I saw my youngest, whose tendency to be unpredictable and overly brutish with his body had been on several occasions a subject of discussion between his teacher and myself, playing with a delicate little girl from his class who seemed to be half his size. They were running around chasing each other, and I saw him adjust his speed and abruptness so that he would not cause her to tumble over…I actually watched him withhold his power so that he would not hurt her, not just once, but several times. This touched me to my core. He knows his strength. He is trustworthy. And what was more heart-wrenchingly important to me: that little girl isn’t afraid of him and wants to play with him.
There was the moment in the kitchen, during the first day at his grandparents’ house when my eldest burst in to say to his grandmother (in French), “Mamie, thank you, thank you, thank you for the superhero trading cards. Did you know I have been collecting them? I’m so excited! Thank you thank you thank you!”
My MIL was astounded at the sincerity of his propos, and honestly, so was I. No one had put him up to thanking her like that, especially not for the little freebie superhero trading cards that were being given out at the grocery store with every purchase. (He didn’t thank anyone for his eventual Christmas gifts the way he thanked his grandmother for those free trading cards. More proof that Christmas gifts are a useless expense.)
Another glimmer was when I had to take my boys to get a PCR test earlier this year. It was not something anyone was looking forward to, but my eldest managed to get over his initial fear and decided to set the example for them both. He was a brave champion that day, sitting back and letting the lab tech do his work. His little brother, then, did exactly the same. Sitting down, putting his head back and waiting patiently. The lab tech actually commented on it, saying, “Wow, if every kid who came in here took this as well as these two did, my life would be a lot simpler.”
My boys are becoming brave, capable, grateful, resourceful, gentle, intelligent fellas. It’s just killing me in the process.
Where are you going?
Forgive me while I get another Kleenex. There. I’m back.
I wish I could feel like parenting wasn’t killing me. I wish I could just not care so much. I wish I could speak positively about my life as a parent and not feel like I was dying inside when my children were around.
One thing I need to do is somehow unhook my self-worth from my children’s behavior. This is not doing me any good, neither physically nor mentally. I am not a filthy rotten failure because my children get caught up in a dopamine loop of more more and more on Christmas day.
I need to double-down on speaking their love languages and boosting moments of connection, because the glimmers of good I witnessed this year were heavily influenced by how fluently we speak each other’s love language and how we connect.
I wish I could stop seeing them as an inconvenience and start seeing them as people with a destiny. Somehow, in the next year, I need to figure this out. After six years, I need to figure out how to finally and irrevocably make space for these little people who were never part of how I imagined my Ideal Life. For as much as I wanted them, I have never made space for them in my heart.
So where am I going this year? Well, I guess I need to start taking pieces of myself to the dump–start decluttering my heart to make room for these little boys who seem to have moved in and decided to be permanent fixtures. Maybe with less of me there will be more room for them.
Sorry. Have to get more Kleenex.
In my Ideal Life, I am in awe of who my children become.