My inner child typically goes wild during the holidays: perusing the many catalogues that come to the house pointing to each item (or circling) the ones I want the way I did when I was a kid. Now, instead of Easy Bake Ovens or Barbie accessories, I’m eyeballing whatever takes my fancy and trying to justify buying it.*
Yet, this time of year also brings with it the anxiety of gift buying that grows more intractable every year. Worry about buying a commensurate gift or any gift for an unexpected kindness makes me want to avoid people.** Trust me, when I say “You shouldn’t have!” I really mean it. The Big Bang Theory’s neurotically lovable character, Sheldon, said it best: “You didn’t get me a gift, you got me an obligation.”
But I understand, there is a joy in sharing and caring for the ones you love. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to do it with tangible, pricey exchanges—beautiful bows, notwithstanding.
This brings up today’s quandary. I have looked up from November’s hole of self-absorption to realize Christmas is barely two weeks away. I have not strung the house with any kind of decoration. I have not written any cards. I have baked no cookies. I have purchased no gifts, no boomwhackers or fandoozles. In short, I have been the Grinch who Ignored Christmas.
My son, however, has finally noticed the holiday comes around every year. He has started dragging me to the toy aisle to point out the extremely expensive plastic monstrosity which is this year’s IT toy:
Now, I try not to be a Scrooge when it comes to my kid. But there is a history here that wars with my better nature. Maybe it is because he is autistic, but in the past my son has insisted on one toy in particular. He will drag me or run to the toy department to make me follow him. He will try to get me to buy it…or, failing that, will try to tuck it under his arm and walk out with it. It takes the skills of a ninja for me to sneak out, buy the item, wrap it and hide it where he can’t find it, and keep it secret until December 26th.
Then, when the holiday rolls around, and I wait to see his excitement as he opens his present, I am floored by the total disinterest the toy produces when it is actually removed from the many trip wires they use to entrap parents into never returning the item for fear they would have to repackage it. It’s as if, the minute it is out of the box, it loses whatever magic it possessed in the store when I refused to buy it for him.
So I sat down with my son and pulled up several much-cheaper options online which he willingly clicked on and watched the video ads that promoted them. Over, and over, and over. Afterwards, I type out my questions on the iPad and wait for his painstakingly slow replies:
Me: “Why do you want the garage toy?
Son: “It is wider.”
Me: “It is very expensive. Let’s see if we can find a cheaper toy you like.”
[interlude with several nearly identical v-tech toys.]
Me: “Will you like this toy instead?”
Me: “Is there anything else you would like for Christmas?”
Me: “Okay, anything else?”
Son: “I would like you to teach me to talk.”
It took me a few seconds to remember how to breathe, that’s how much the sentence hurt. I typed a few more sentences about how well he is doing and how much I now know about him because of the iPad…but he is done for the night. He runs off to play and I get a glass of wine and try not to cry.
It is entirely tempting to just order the
damned prized toy to make up for all of the things my child doesn’t have. It is a constant measure of guilt that underscores many of the decisions I make as a parent. It is a trap of desperation: “If only I can make him happy it will make up for him being a non-verbal child with autism.” But I have been down this very expensive road before and, though it is a scenic route full of enticing detours, I stick to my pecuniary path. I order a VTech Ultimate Amazement Play Park car set that will make him happy for at least an hour at half the price.
Do we as parents say “No!” to the overpriced toys and the overpriced holidays since we know that it isn’t worth the cost? On the other hand, do we really want to face disappointing our child and the associated guilt? This is my continual quandary.
I would really like to know, where do you all come down on this issue? Do you cave and buy the exorbitant junk or do you grit your teeth bear the price of impecunious, parental perspicacity?***
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*I am impulse consumerism personified.
**Let’s be honest, people make me want to avoid people.
***Because I like alliteration, so there.