Sunday, December 25, 2005


The laws of physics say that one cannot stuff umpteen articles in a refrigerator built to hold a normal amount, but I did it. Yesirree, I just balanced the cake on top of the salad and the salad on top of the veggie tray. The olives may have spilled into the baked beans, but may have added extra flavor, who knows? And the important thing is, I once again survived Christmas, and did it without forgetting a single soul.

I say this because of my run-in with Dayton. Dayton is a little boy, four years old, with beautiful dark eyes and a sober mein. Dayton takes life seriously. No flagrant tomfoolery for him. He studies life and makes his decisions without humor. Life is a heavy burden for Dayton.

Last year, at Christmas time, I forgot to buy a gift for Dayton. Naturally, he came to visit me, at the same time other children were visiting, opening the gifts I had bought for them. Dayton watched this proceedings somberly, then looked at me squarely and said, "Where's mine?"

Panic struck me! Dear God, I had forgotten Dayton! How could I!! What to do? One can't give a three year old a check! Money doesn't even mean much to a three year old. Nor could I wrap up a lamp or a bedspread or some oddball magazine to double as a gift. So, in a miracle of quick thinking, I remembered that I had a gift bag, one of those decorated sacks with handles that make gift wrapping unnecessary. Man, I love those things! No trying to wrap triangular things with squared off corners. No wrestling with ribbons and bows.

I found a pile of Legos and poured them into the gift bag, closed it up and gave it to Dayton, who studied it for about five minutes. Then he looked at me coolly and said, "These are old!"

"Not old, Dayton!" I babbled. "Antique. People collect Legos like this and sell them for a lot of money!"

Dayton looked unconvinced. Finally, I remembered that I kept a stack of games in a nearby closet. I opened the door.

"They're all yours," I said. "Enjoy them!"

So Dayton went home with about fifteen board games, happy as a meadowlark on a summer morning, even though none of them were intended for his age group. I pitied his parents having to pick up the various pieces, but at least I was off the hook. And, who knows? Some three-year-olds play Chess and Scrabble and Backgammon, even though the Monopoly might be a little beyond them. Dayton might grow up to be the Omar Shariff of his time!

So, I did a lot of thinking about this episode and realized that, as far as Christmas and children are concerned, we really turn Christmas into a huge guilt trip. I can remember buying an expensive watch for one of my children. Then I worried about him getting this small insignificent package while the other children opened their huge gifts, even though the watch cost far more than the other selections.

I know a neighbor who went shopping for a toy because one of her three children only had nine gifts, while the others had ten. She wanted to even things out.

We go out shopping, spend every penny we have, then worry because we can't afford to spend more. We have evolved from giving gifts of self-knitted socks and mittens to laying away hundreds of dollars of gifts and even using credit cards to pay for our purchases.

Christmas has become an insane exchange of gifts, sometimes consisting of things that are unneeded, unwanted and unnecessary. How many colognes can a man use? And remember Bill Cosby complaining about the number of Soaps on a Rope he received as gifts? Or nightgowns. My friend has a collection of about twenty nightgowns given her at Christmas time. This would be great, but she hates nightgowns. She wears pajamas.

Years ago, I mentioned that I liked John Wayne in one of his first big movies, Stagecoach. That did it. For years, I received John Wayne movies, posters, dresser scarves, wall hangings, t-shirts, and statuary. I received a complete set of early John Wayne oaters as miserable to watch as the Elvis Presley wimpy movies. All of this tells me that my children have as much trouble buying gifts for me as I do for them. It's a yearly struggle.

My mother-in-law was a good, loving woman, but she did not believe in generous gifts. Each birthday, my boys received a check for a dollar and a half. At Christmas, I remember one of my sons receiving a screwdriver.

A friend of mine received a washcloth and a bar of soap from her mother-in-law. Then the next year, she received a package of various colored remnants of cloth and a pattern for a quilt. The trouble is, she had no sewing machine and does not sew.

So some people avoid the guilt trip. They give frugally and do not worry about consequences, whereas I always wonder if what I have given is the right choice, the right color, the right expense, the right selection.

We all talk about going back to an "old-fashioned Christmas", but we never do it. We just can't envision giving a child that handmade scarf and mittens when they are expecting the Star Wars Combustible Explosive Rocket Ranger...or Barbie's Bridal Finery complete with Wedding Guests, Cake and Rice for Tossing. Year after year, we get caught up in the lights, the music, the shopping. It's great fun, if you toss that credit card, probably harmless, and it does keep the economy moving along. But the guilt can grab you and carry you away.

Never forget a three-year-old. The guilt never goes away. It eats at you, year after year, until it is like a canker that won't heal. And if Dayton grows up without self-esteem, feeling neglected and unwanted, I may have contributed to the problem. Even a scarf and mittens would have been better than that!

I compensate by always buying that spare gift. It sits, waiting for my memory to fail me, waiting to be given to that forgotten, neglected soul, that boy or girl like Dayton, who knows that a steady dark gaze and a somber question like "Where's mine?" will send me into fits of sheer panic and fill me with agonies of Christmas guilt.