Contemplating Christmas without the crocodile

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I was over visiting Ms MPB today, reading her latest post, and it got me to thinking about gifts. She was pondering the changes that a baby would bring to her life, and one of the questions she asked was, “Will adoption make the rest of our lives messy?” Further down, in the comments, she commented on how much she dreaded having toys, especially plastic ones, all over the house.

After I’d done laughing, shaking my head, and murmuring, “Oh, honey, you have no idea how messy your life will become!” I found myself pondering the the stuff and clutter in my own life, and gifts given and received over the years, and which ones worked and why. It’s getting to be that time of year, people – Christmas is 101 days away, according to a nifty little countdown I have on my phone, and pretty soon the Crocodile of Christmas Present will jump up and grab you. We’ll need to have our wits about us to hold back the flood of cluttering Stuff – because if you don’t, it will suck you under, roll you over, and rip up the decomposing remains of your life just like a crocodile with its prey.

Well, you don’t have to be crocodile food or retail fodder. You can choose to break the cycle.

The thing about gifts for kids is, we’re always tempted by the Latest Shiny Thing – and the kids in our lives want it too. Oh boy, how they want it! They don’t just want it – they neeeeeed it to give meaning and fulfillment to their lives … right up until the day after Christmas. Or maybe it’ll last into the new year, if you’re lucky. But, guaranteed, the day they learn what their friends got, they’ll be dazzled and smitten by the Next Shiny Thing.

I rarely had much spare money when I was raising the Girl Child. Except for a few short years before the bank took it back, we didn’t ever live in a house we owned, and space was always limited. When she was very young she played mostly with the contents of my lower kitchen cupboards – pots and pans (delightful to thump with a spoon), plastic containers (they stack! They nest! You can put things in them and pour!), canned goods (they make towers and then they fall down and roll all over the floor, and sometimes make Mommy scream!) She had other people who loved her, though, so she accumulated some good stuff. She learned at an early age to entertain herself … and I learned, when I wanted to sleep late, to do so in a bed full of Lego.

But mostly I gave her intangibles. There was her own special china cup as soon as she graduated from a sippy cup, and for her third birthday her very first pillow in a bright yellow cover. (When I gave it to her, after several months of nagging, she exclaimed, “Oh! My pillow!” and hugged it tight. Some 20 years later I restuffed it with down off wild ducks Himself had shot, and she told me during her recent visit that she still had it, although it’s now a dog bed.) I know a cup and a pillow are tangible objects, but the real gift was the “You’re old enough for this now”. That’s a gift that lasts, because it’s not about the thing, it’s about the moment and the memory.

When she turned four I had a business trip that coincided with her birthday, so I gave her her first airplane trip, and she stayed with a friend while I was working. And the year she got her first bike, we packaged it in an enormous box. When we called her into the living room to open her gift she ripped off the paper then stopped, stared, and exclaimed, “A BOX!” because what could be better to play house in?

Best Christmas gift EVAH!

I got a robot instead of a baby. Perfect!

Himself and I have become pretty casual about gifts over the years. Last year I went all Fifties Housewife on him and requested a vacuum cleaner. This year it’s a replacement for my sick and sorry laptop. In both cases, I said, “Honey, what I’d really like for Christmas is…” and he ordered it a couple days later. The man has no self-control – he can no more wait for Christmas or a birthday to roll around than ignore that thumping noise in the left rear car tire.

He has surprised me only twice. When I married him there was no money for a diamond ring, so I told him that if I put up with him for 10 years he could give me diamonds then. Instead, he gave me a doberman. And then there was the birthday (I forget which, but it was one that made me grumpy and sorry for myself) that he kept asking, “Would you like your present now?” and I kept growling that no, I was busy. Eventually, near bedtime, I pulled myself together and mopily said I was ready. It was actually gift wrapped! I took off the wrap, and it was a beautiful jewelry box! “How lovely!” I exclaimed, while privately wondering why he’d give a jewelry box to someone who owned only junk jewelry. I opened it and … the box contained a string of pearls. No one had ever before given me anything so completely impractical and pretty. I am not someone who wears pearls. I don’t live a lifestyle, or in a place, that ever calls for pearls. But oh, how I love them! I wear them under my tees and sweatshirts while cleaning up after horses and dogs, and they’re like a secret between me and my skin.

By contrast, I love surprises, and although I’m hopeless at keeping secrets I’ve managed to surprise Himself a couple times. There was the year that he was grumpy the whole day of his birthday. I told him I’d give him his present when he came to bed (no, it’s okay, this is not where I over-share!) and he kept me waiting 45 minutes while he poked around reading the news online before finally stomping upstairs, to find me passed out and wearing nothing but a Stetson. (Oh calm down! The gift was the Stetson! This is not that kind of blog!)

Another time I gave him his gift before I got out of bed. He removed the gift wrap from a small box of shotgun shells, smiled awkwardly, kissed me, and said, “Thank you, honey … only … these won’t work in my shotgun.” I smiled coyly, reached under the sheet, and drew out the fancy new shotgun his best friend had told me to buy. “Well, will they work in this?” I asked.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is, it’s okay to buy stuff and get stuff. Giving and unwrapping presents can be tremendous fun! But let’s not get dragged under by the Jolly Crocodile, okay? I think the worst, most dehumanizing insult the world dishes out to us these days is to call us “consumers”. I don’t know about you, but I am so much more than a consumer! I’m a maker, a doer, a dreamer and a rememberer. I’m a lover, a player of games, a friend, a defender of the vulnerable. a celebrator.

When I give gifts, they’re not just Stuff – they mean something. And if they don’t carry the same meaning to you that I placed in them, then please pass them along. Just remember the receiving of a kindness, an act of friendship. That’s really the best any of us have to give anyone.

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About Belladonna Took

Into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, at constant risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic. A wife, a mom, a daughter and sister, kind of a grandma. Until recently a full-time dog rescuer, now more concerned with rescuing myself. User of dog hair as accessory, decor and garnish. Technical writer, strategic thinker, occasional entrepreneur. Voiceless poet and storyteller. Born again Christ-follower and former missionary schoolteacher chewing on some uncomfortable questions. Ignorer of rules, challenger of assumptions, believer in miracles. Skeptical libertarian, equal opportunity despiser of politicians and assholes. Gonnabe gardener, wannabe beekeeper, Monsanto-hating tree-hugger. Morbidly obese chocaholic, with a horse I don't ride because I might break him, and if not he would probably break me.

12 responses »

  1. First, let me say I’m honoured that I got you thinking today.
    Second, everything about this post made me smile! In regards to gift giving, am like you, very much like you in fact. Mr. MPB and I often use Christmas as an excuse to buy something that we both want that is a bit of a splurge (for example, our most recent camera body or a weekend away). We are just too practical for giving each other silly things that will just end up in the trash.
    And, like you, if I take the time to give someone a gift, it’s going to be straight from my heart. I’m going to search high and low to make it the perfect gift. And whatever the gift might be for me it is actually a tiny symbol of just how much I appreciate the person and our relationship.
    So my pondering about adoption and a messy life was more figurative – for example, will dealing with birth parents make life messier and a bit harder? Will explaining to our child that they are adopted make like harder for everyone, especially our child? But, I also really do dislike a literal mess and I hate plastic toys with every fiber of my being. Yet, I realize that our one day child is going to make my house messy and i am going to have to learn to deal! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello – thank you for stopping by! And yes, I understood that was what you really meant, but then I saw the way the conversation with ABM went and it got me thinking. I’m just very pleased with myself that for once, instead of writing a comment as long as a blog post, I actually wrote a blog post! Thank you, as you do so often, for writing something that got me thinking… 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Both the post on MPB;s comment remind me of the year my father said, about Christmas presents, that he’d given my mother one stereo speaker and she’d given him the other. They both seemed very pleased with the arrangement.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely blog Belladonna – As a mother of two adopted children – now grown adults – it will make your life messy…but it will also add joy unspeakable, and teach you so much about yourself that you didn’t know. The big prize is when they are adults and are glad that you are their mother…and a bit sorry for the crap they put you through! I’m also stepmother to seven others who have added so much to my life. Biggest reward of all? Twenty-eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren….so far. Loved the post on present giving! I begged my mother for years when she would worry what to give me, “Just write something about your life please. That’s what I want.” She never felt that quite good enough, and would get me a gift, – things which I treasure, but I would rather have had a story all about her.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post Belladonna. As a child I loved getting gifts and could not bare it part with them even years later, much to my mother’s dismay. I enjoy giving now much more but yet there’s nothing quite like when someone has chosen the “perfect” for you and you know they put a lot of effort in to it. And I agree, we are much more than just consumers!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tricia – I always welcome your comments! It’s weird how attached we can become to “things”, isn’t it? Several major life changes have forced me, several times to evaluate my possessions and unload a lot of them. Sometimes this process has involved a real pang as I say goodbye to something that represents a significant past period of my life, or a friendship that used to be important.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s exactly it about getting rid of stuff, it hits a real emotional pang! I have a friend who is a professional organizer and she deals with a lot of hoarders who are living very unhealthy lives because they just cannot get rid of stuff. She says it’s all mental as well, especially when it gets to that stage. Jez, I hope I never do. 😉

        I enjoy your comments as well Belladonna, the blogosphere is full of great people!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. “it’s about the moment and the memory…”

    Recently went through “stuff” – majority of which weren’t mine rather things for step kids who, as this generation seems to be, don’t want it! So here I am holding something they really don’t care about!? I am still wrapping my brain around it. Letting it go. There’s something special that happens from the hand to the box for Salvation Army!

    “But oh, how I love them! I wear them under my tees and sweatshirts while cleaning up after horses and dogs, and they’re like a secret between me and my skin.” That “one thing” doesn’t get lost around a bunch of other…soooo special!

    Stetson? I’m a gonna try that! Yes Ma’am! 😀

    Like

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