Action Figures Sold Separately

I have scattered memories of Christmas as a child. My family isn't religious, so I don't have those rituals to remember. What I recall is going out to the Emporium, a big department store in San Francisco, to see Santa. At Christmas they set up rides on the roof of the store, and after we saw Santa we'd go out and ride the roller coaster. I remember caroling when we lived in Bolinas. I remember opening presents on Christmas Eve when my great-grandmother was alive because that's how she did things. I remember it as a happy time, over the years. But after I grew up and before my son was born, I was pretty bored and fed up with Christmas. It was too commerical, too pressured, and without any really significant relationships in my life, it seemed like more of an annoyance than anything else. I remember my mom telling me that when I had a child Christmas would come to life again, and would be fun and exciting. Well, yes and no, Mom.

I guess the problems are compounded by my continuing to be a student, long after the age when such things should be over and done with. This means, of course, that the weeks leading up to Christmas are full of exams, papers, and lots of last minute scrambling that usually leaves me exhausted and not much in the mood to celebrate. Add to that the inevitable difficulties of raising a five year old alone, and Christmas shopping can begin to take on a torturous edge.

It's hard to shop for a child. My son wants everything, every superhero, every game, every over-sugared cereal and candy that he sees or hears about. He can't understand that what he sees on commercials may be an exaggeration of a toy's real properties, and that the actual toy may be much less high-powered than it appears on TV. And of course on Christmas morning, there is an orgy of present opening, where ribbons are torn, paper is ripped, a "Wow" is issued, and then he looks around for more. It's hard to fight the tide of commercialism that's so prevalent this time of year. I don't even let him watch TV commercials -- sometimes it seems that he absorbs their messages out of the air. I want to give him educational toys, things made out of wood, things that require imagination. He wants the latest Mighty Max or X-Man. And, of course, he wants Power Rangers, which I refuse to get for him. Last year he wanted fancy Lego sets, castles and pirate ships. I got them, I spent a lot of time putting them together, and he lost interest pretty quickly. Eventually, though, after they'd fallen apart, he became interested again, and started building his own cities and spaceships and constructions with the pieces. Which made me feel good. This year I'm getting him a Creepy Crawler maker, which I think is semi-creative. I know he'll enjoy filling the house with rubbery bugs and spiders. If he enjoys his gifts, I'm happy. The only thing that's troublesome is the greed, the sight of him in the midst of a toy store's worth of presents, looking around saying "Is that all?"

It's difficult for him to grasp the spirit of Christmas. When we're supposed to be shopping for other people, he begins a litany of "Mom, can we look at the toys, please Mom, can we? Please, just for a minute, Mom? Please? I'll only look, I promise. I won't ask you to buy anything. Please Mom, please?" And of course if I comply, he ends up finding something, some cyber-infra-red-motorized-shape-shifting- power figure, one of a set of 60 or 70, that he MUST have. Trying to explain that we're in the store to get things for other people is futile. He is fixated.

But he does love the idea of Christmas, and when he can let go of his own desire for things, he loves to choose things for other people. He's a loving, generous child, and Christmas is a thrilling time for him. This is a letter he wrote to Santa, in October...

Santa, we left you some cookies. We'll miss you on Christmas Day. And we know you like cookies. Santa, could you bring us even more presents? And we miss you when it's not winter. Santa, you could hang up your coat where the closet is if you want. We know your beard is not for real. Dear Santa, we hope you'll take the list home. We'll build a snowman and you will see it on winter.

Christmas has become a jumble of contradictions. I'm tired and burned out from school, feel antisocial and overtaxed. I want my child to have everything he desires, yet I resent that he desires so much. I love watching him open his gifts, yet I feel that I've never done enough for him. I want him to see Christmas as a time for thinking about other people, for sharing and giving. I want his memories of Christmas to be good ones. Sometimes I want to chuck the whole thing and pretend there's no such thing as Christmas. But I think that if he learns some of the good lessons, it will all be worth it somehow.

--Sarah Maupin Wenk

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