Every year, about this time, I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Just hearing the words, “Christmas list” makes my skin crawl. With four kids to shop for, things can get a little dicey, and by dicey, I mean brimming with self-inflicted pain. The first hurdle is deciding on our per-kid budget; this number serves as both a shining beacon and a source of intense disagreement, not to mention a fair amount of makeup sex.
Once we have the per-kid budget set, we pencil in the budget of the relatives who prefer to give us money to do the shopping for them. This assures two things: The children get everything they want, and we get migraines. The internal conflict results from the double-edged sword nature of this arrangement. We’re very lucky to have generous relatives. So what if we do the shopping for them? Easy, right? After all, they do so much for us, all year long. At least, that’s what I say every year when they hand me the money. Then, on December 24, at around second-bottle o’clock, I change my tune. That’s the time when we pull out our tattered list of gifts and gift-givers, which by now looks like a Cowboys defense, littered with numbers and arrows and cross-outs, and begin our final tally of who is getting what from whom. This usually takes place in our custom-designed wrap room (closet), where I’m sitting on the floor, in my pajamas, sobbing. Just kidding. I don’t wear pajamas.
“This is the last year I’m going to do this! Why do I agree to this? Why can’t I just say NO!”
“Because the kids get lots of great stuff that they really want and doesn’t that feel good?”
“Right. I keep forgetting. But I’m going to need another glass of wine, STAT.”
So what happens between the time well-intentioned relatives hand me the money and my Xmess Eve meltdown? A number of things, starting with the timing of the envelope hand-off. If I receive it too soon in advance of the hellidays, I haven’t had any time to get really stressed out, which means I can’t be trusted to make any decisions, about anything. For example, here’s how it goes down on December 1:
Anonymous relative #1: “I’ve got the kids’ money for you.”
Here’s how it goes down on December 24, in my closet, I mean, custom wrap room:
Me: “F-word!” Hiccup.
Husband: “There, there. It’s going to be fine. Pass me your glass.”
The other thing that throws a monkey wrench into the theoretically perfect plan for child satisfaction is the logistics, which includes the math. We spend hours upon hours crunching the numbers.
“$20 for that?”
“But it’s 14.8%” I plead, showing my husband the fine print on the bottle of Zinfandel I’m holding in the wine aisle of the grocery store. “Please?”
“Fine. Put it in the basket.”
What causes the most stress is making not only the children happy, but the gift givers. We want them to feel good about the things we are buying with the money they gave us. Who gets to give the big ticket item? Why is it never us? Then, we try to match up the importance of the giver’s gift to each child. After all, we can’t very well allow aunty to give one of them a new bedspread and another one a flat screen TV, can we? I don’t care if they cost about the same, that’s not fair to the kid or aunty! It’s either got to be all business or all fun, from the same person, for all four. Doesn’t it? And some years, I try to round down the tax, or suggest we absorb it.
“Why would we do that?”
“Because they don’t have jobs and shouldn’t have to pay taxes?”
We all know what happens next: the head tilt, one eyebrow raised.
Speaking of numbers, I never understand them. This confuses my husband, which can make for a little tension. I start re-adding the totals on my original shopping list with the amounts and cross-outs and arithmetic and by now a little blood and probably some wine. For some reason, I always think we’ve missed something. Sometimes we have. I usually find that in the back of the closet in March.
In the final analysis, when the big morning rolls around, and the kids open their presents, relatives sitting nearby, it’s all worth it. That is, until this:
Relative: “Oh, wow! What’s that?”
Kid: “It’s a PlayStation! It plays video games!”
Relative: “Who gave you that?”
Kid: “You did.”
And another Chrismuchtoorushed is on the books.