My boy was the first grandchild. Now there’s another grandson and one day, there will surely be more babies in our family. But once upon a time, all of the merriment and consumerism of Christmas in my family swaddled my son.
He was only a few months old during his first holiday season. We stuck him in a stocking, propped a Santa cap upon his sweet sort-of tiny head. I changed him several times a day just to be sure each seasonal onesie, pair of candy-can striped footy jammies and bow-tie and argyle sweater set got its turn.
We were blissful with this yuletide child. Until Christmas Day.
Surrounded by piles of presents and shredded wrapping paper and flashing camera lights and cooing family members, my child was screaming his head off. His dad and I wanted to give him one of those crazy plastic arches with dangling toys for the baby to grab, teeth on and gaze at happily. But the one we chose in our new-parent stupidity played music and vibrated and could have danced and dispensed non-alcoholic beer for all I knew back then.
At first, my boy smiled, wide-eyed at the new plastic universe around him. Then his dad hit the giant orange button on top and the circus sent the child into a flurry. Which sent us into a tornado of rocking and singing and tucking everything in sight away.
The baby stopped crying. For a bit. But he was rattled, unsettled and overstimulated because our own circus hadn’t yet stopped. The second act to Santa was Grandma. And her act was bigger than the big top. It was over the top.
There was an overfilled stocking four times the size of the infant in my arms. There was toy after toy after book after outfit after something she just could not resist. It was all out of love, of course. It was just a lot. WAY a lot.
Perhaps I was extra sensitive that year because we were broke, our budget bottomed out by birth and baby costs and me being a stay-at-home-mom after a long stint of being out of work. We made it all OK, but I am sure my mom’s lavishness stung a bit because all of my first-Christmas hopes were pinned on the giant plastic arch failure.
The next year, even with a bit more of a budget and a bigger child who could handle vibrating, singing, non-alcoholic beer-spewing toys without sobbing hysterically, Grandma went nuts. I told myself again it was out of pure intention, a big heart, a lot of love. Still, it felt like a Christmas circus.
I had to step into the center of it, grab the mic, throw down the top hat and proclaim, “GRANDMA CANNOT TRUMP SANTA!”
The words had actually come to me from a mom-friend who had been in a similar situation even though they celebrated inside a big family home with seemingly plenty of resources. Their rules, as parents giving presents, were very different from how the grandparents defined holiday giving. They made a new rule — no matter how much or little Santa bestows, the grandparents cannot outdo him.
Fair enough, right? It broke my mom’s heart a little, I think. And it still does every year. To maintain the peace, I tell my parents (and also my son’s dad, who now celebrates with him in his own home a few miles away) what big gifts I’ve planned and those on the way from the North Pole. I offer this list along with a comprehensive list of top toys for the year, and we talk it out — ideas she has, gifts she’s already picked up throughout the year and brainstorm other fun, educational, surprising presents she can wow him with. Without outdoing the big fella.
This will be my boy’s eighth holiday season. I am just as blissful and anxious about my favorite day of the year with him as I was when he was fresh unto this world. But I have a calmer heart and kid, knowing no one will be overstimulated by one-upping Santa. We’re all in the same crazy ring of this Christmas circus.
To recap, for all you new parents or those drowning in grandparent packages:
1. Grandma (or Uncle McNutters or Cousin Creditdebt) can’t trump Santa.
2. Make sure small children stuffed into stockings have a proper airhole for breathing during their meltdowns.
3. Skip the vibrating plastic arch. For the love of the wise men, skip it.
4. Share your own lists and others of great gifts for your even better kid.
5. Keep it simple. And on budget. You’re the only one who will remember how much you spent which year.
6. Once more for clarity: NO ONE TRUMPS SANTA.
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