Many years ago I was in the position of being newly separated from Husband #1, without gainful employment, and wondering what to do about the holiday season. Specifically, wondering how to make the holiday decent for my children based on my lack of funds.
I wasn’t shooting for a great, or even a good, holiday. I was hoping for decent. Decent was all I could aspire to with my limited child support and large house payment. Nothing will send a parent into a panic like the thought of letting the children down, especially when they were all anticipating Santa’s arrival.
Luckily the grandparents were accommodating and addressed some of their presents “From Santa”. That helped. And I had previously purchased a few gifts throughout the year that I could give Santa credit for delivery.
But how terrible would it be to have no gifts under the tree from Mom? Especially when the kids were too young to recognize the meaning of separation, a pending divorce, and financial hardship of their custodial parent?
Panic set in. I had weeks before Christmas Eve, no money, and no idea how to move forward. It was the equivalent of Christmas quicksand. The more I struggled, the faster I sank into dispair.
My mind went back to memories of my own childhood and the handmade gifts we received. One especially memorable gift was a beautiful, handmade stuffed doll with “real” hair made from a wig. My mother had hand-crafted dolls for all of the girls in the family, some with yarn hair, some with wig hair, some with freckles stitched onto their cheeks and all with a “diamond” ring stud sewn onto their left hand. Each doll was about 18″ tall and came with two outfits. It was quite a feat of sewing done by a woman with 5 kids and very little time or money.
We were too young to realize it at the time but my father, the lone income earner, was on strike and funds were very tight for our family of seven.
Years later I cast my memories back and realized if my mother could crank out a meaningful Christmas present for each child, I could do the same. Granted, I’m not a sewer at all, but I had imagination and scissors. Somehow I would create a decent Christmas for my own little ones.
So I made Kiddie Coupons.
I cut out photos and pasted them to pretty paper and printed tags and sprinkled glitter and applied stickers until I was surrounded by a stack of different ideas that only required my time and attention. I gave the gift of experience.
For the next few months, I brushed hair, splashed in mud puddles, baked cookies, served breakfast in bed, built tents in the living room, and gave backrubs to tiny little people whose greatest joy was spending one on one time with their mom. We attended just about every free event geared towards families, like magic shows, theatrical productions of the “The Dancing Princesses” and free movies in the park.
My oldest and I had a camp-out in the living room, sleeping on the loveseat together after drinking hot chocolate and making popcorn. My youngest was treated to a Swedish massage where he sang as I drummed on his back, making funny noises as he vibrated his way through “You are my Sunshine”. As a family, we ate pizza in the car while watching the sunset and singing songs on the radio. We bundled up in blankets and laid in the grass watching classics like “ET” and “StarWars”.
Basically I was building memories of childhood that might have been overlooked if I would have given traditional toys like Tickle Me Elmo or whatever was the hot item that year.
To this day, my kids and I still sing in the car, especially when Christmas carols dominate the airwaves. My oldest and I watch movies together and talk about things like plot twists and character development.
The point is, our culture pushes us towards the material things. Sometimes the best gifts are a gift of presence or a shared experience. The type of gift that makes a memory is the best present of all.