If you ask my 3 year old daughter, Pixie Pie, what Christmas means the answer will likely be an excited Will-Ferrell-as-Elf-like diatribe about Santa and candy canes and presents and Santa and toys and stockings and candy canes and presents!!! I knew this would happen. "And baby Jesus' birthday!" I remind her for the hundredth time. "But where's his cake?" she asks. Maybe next year, I guess. For now, it's all about the candy canes. The candy canes and the presents. I am not going to deny my children the joy of candy canes and presents so for the past few years, I have not only begun to play the traditional Santa but have witnessed the unexpected birth of a new brand of Santa. A competitive Santa. I call him Grand-Santa and his generosity takes Christmas morning to a whole new level. With his extra-large capacity sack, he has unwittingly stolen the thunder of regular Santa. I'm talking about my children's grandparents, of the baby-boomer generation, who have indeed raised the bar on Christmas gifts for children. Because not only do my children wake up in their own home with gifts under the tree purportedly left there during the night while they were sleeping by a jolly old fellow but the same old red suited fat man has left mountains and mountains of wrapped gifts under the trees of both sets of grandparents. Bonus rounds!
Husband and I remember our childhood Christmases with our own grandparents. We both come from large, close-knit families. We would visit our grandparents homes after the morning's emotionally exhausting Santa frenzy with our spoils in tow to entertain us. All of our cousins would be there. We would have a dinner with the whole family and our grandparents would ask us if we had behaved in church. They would hand us envelopes filled with cash--each grandchild receiving exactly the same amount. Husband's grandmother would not write on the decorative bank envelopes; she would collect them after her grandchildren had pocketed the money and reuse them the next year. They did the same thing every year. "Greatest Generation" indeed.
This year was our fourth Christmas as parents. In anticipation of Grand Santa's arrival, we hinted to our families that our home was simply too small and cluttered to contain another onslaught of Fisher Price toys. It was becoming polluted, if you will, from years of unregulated regalia. I secretly considered a Cap and Trade-like approach to controlling the problem. That is, to provide an incentive for Grand Santa to reduce his emission of kiddie clutter into our home. There has to be a cap on the amount of toys that a child and his home can handle but no one seems to know where it is; today's parents, many like me who were children of the excessive 80s, have been unable to grasp the concept of enough. Furthermore, there is no precedent for the amount of stuff had by children today. At any rate, pollution will eventually ruin us and children can become spoiled and so Grand Santa, one of society's biggest emitters, is going to be required to trade emissions permits from lesser polluters--the poorer would-be Santas--in the form of charitable deeds. Sounds like a wonderful, market-based solution that will take care of itself. And it is, after all, in the true spirit of Christmas. The problem is, come to find out on Christmas Day before announcing my new pinko policy that Grand Santa has already traded enough permits to clutter my home every year until the kids leave for college. He has given to Toys for Tots, He has purchased secret Grand Santa toys from the Giving Tree, he has written check upon check to various charities at home and abroad, he has donated, he put large bills in the collection at Christmas Eve mass, he has stimulated the economy. So to comply with my own new law, I have no choice but to top off regular Santa's contribution in the interest of the yet-to-be-determined cap and let Grand Santa run his smokestack.
When Husband and I returned from Grand Santa's home on Christmas, our trunk was bursting full of new toys. Not only were they busting out of the trunk but they were shoved into the back seat, almost burying the children in their car seats. Before unloading, we looked around and took stock of our home and all of the current toys cluttering almost every square inch of it. I suddenly realized that in the four years since we have been parents, we have not given away a single toy. We are now toy hoarders, I thought. And why? Pixie Pie has long since outgrown or ignored for good certain toys and Busy Boy has too or is just not interested. So what are they doing cluttering our home, infringing on any scrap of adult space left? I began to think that perhaps the toy pollution is not solely due to Grand Santa's yearly arrival. Perhaps, some of the responsibility lies on the consumer as it were. In this case, us the parents. Apparently, we have been unable to properly dispose of our clutter and are creating a mentally and physically hazardous condition with too many toys vying for the attention of children who still have the attention span of a sand flea. Something clicked and we were on a mission. I found a half dozen large cardboard boxes and a roll of big plastic bags. I asked Pixie to go through her playroom and put any of the toys that she no longer wanted on the couch. I explained to her that she would not see the toys again and would be giving them up for good. I reminded her of the episode where Caillou did the same for the neighborhood yard sale. I expected an ear-splitting, hysterical tantrum and a battle of the wills but there was none. With an almost Buddhist sense of detachment she set aside more than half of her toys. I second-guessed her a few times: "Max and Ruby? I thought you loved them? And your Fisher Price piggy bank? You picked that out yourself at the Children's Orchard!" But she wasn't bothered. "Out with the old, in with the new!" her actions seemed to say. I followed suit and continued where she left off, knowing that she would not miss any one of these mostly barely touched toys. Sometimes we have a lot to learn from our children. We filled all of the boxes and stacked them in the corner where they currently occupy a six foot square area that reaches the ceiling. The donation truck is scheduled for Thursday.
So what I learned this Christmas is that those who can afford it, will, but with the lowest negative cost to society we hope. Today's baby boomer grandparents practically invented social responsibility so it is not surprising that their generosity transcends putting a smile on the precious little faces of their own grandchildren. Many of them, despite this most current recession, have a disposable income the likes of which their own parents could never have dreamed. And they intend to use it. Grand Santa may have bought the show but he can have my credits. After all, it is our responsibility to put a cap on the toy pollution clutter, once we decide where it is.