December 23, 2016

The Greed of Giving. (Yes, Giving.)

It’s that time of year again where we tie ourselves up in knots made of ribbons and bows, where we fall into the trap of the greed of giving.

I was four years old, living in a time where middle class America was actually middle class. Santa came during the night and left little ole me—who’d gone to bed ashamed and wondering if he’d come at all, hoping to ward off the threats I’d heard all year that he wouldn’t come if I wasn’t good—a living room full of adventure.

“I must be good enough!” I thought. And that thought was where the miracle laid for me. The sight was magical as I pulled a sheet off the top of a wooden kitchen set just my size, but magic wasn’t what I was after. What I really wanted was to be good. That alone felt like a miracle. Some strange man who watched me from above found me—who felt bad, and wrong, and confused—to be good enough to shower with magic!

I’ve never quite pulled off the same sense of miracle I experienced that morning as a mother myself.

I can’t say for sure I haven’t, especially because my 10-year-old daughter, each year of her life, has merely said she wanted “Christmas joy” for Christmas, so I suppose anything she saw under the tree was an additive to the spirit she already conjured up about the meaning of Christmas. But each year, especially in the years of single motherhood, I found myself more and more disappointed in what I couldn’t give my children than excitement for what I could. Not once in my 13 years of motherhood have my children walked down to what might feel like an amusement park’s worth of exploration in our living room after questioning their value for 364 days, only to wake up reassured that they are good enough.

I wasn’t only in competition with my own sense of childhood wonderment on Christmas morning. I was now in competition with other parents who, by all accounts, had given at minimum four times more than I did. No matter how I looked at it, I was tied up in red ribbon, stressed out to the max, piss poor, and trying my best to keep them from wondering why they weren’t good enough to get an iPad like their friend did, or a trip to Aruba like their friend did, or why they were more worthy than the friend who only got socks and a warm meal. There was no in-between to suit my sense of humanity, the lessons I sought to teach, and the lessons I was (and am) willing to learn from my children.

As I grew, and the middle class shrunk—or maybe it was only a matter of age, or perspective—the miracle of Christmas morning with a wonderland of gifts became more sparse. I got more hungry, and less fulfilled, and I tallied up each present to determine my worth based on Santa’s beliefs and my worth based on my parents’ view of me. Each year, I felt less and less worthy. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but calculate I did—and with each year bringing less and less gifts, I became hungrier and hungrier for validation.

Fast forward 28 years.

I recognize the competition to provide my children with the morning my parents provided me at four, the disappointment of competing with my children’s father and myself and every other family on the block just to keep my kids feeling like they are “worth” a certain amount of gifts, has seriously gotten in the way of my capacity to feel the spirit of Christmas my daughter asks for. Still, I see presents as an unconscious tally of worth and care, and beat myself up about not being the giver of an amusement park. Thoughts of “I must not be working hard enough, they will think their father loves them more, I’m ashamed to not be where I want to be to provide what I know they deserve,” wrench my guts in the weeks leading to Christmas.

I have mustered up a greed for giving, and a disappointment that my greed is unrequited.

There is a part of me that bugs out the second someone says they are buying my kid a toy, because I’m so damn tired to tripping over useless sh*t that only makes a mess, gets looked at twice and ends up in the donation pile. The accumulation of stuff repulses me, and still I live in a society that compels me to engage my children in the magic of Christmas by making sure they’ve gotten more wants under the tree than they need, which leaves me wanting to give more and ultimately feeling like less.

Bah, humbug.

When our insides say, “Stop accumulating stuff! Stop equating stuff to worth and validation! Stop teaching our children that anything outside of what they have to give on the inside matters!” but our outsides preach, “Buy this Samsung and you’ll make your kid super happy,” it creates a cognitive dissonance that feels like the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Scrooge gets inside of us making us second guess ourselves and, rather than being the grateful dad of Tiny Tim, we get all greedy about what we can give so we can feel better about ourselves as givers, and to make those we’re giving to feel loved through a temporary box (hopefully non-plastic) that will one day be dust. What will remain when all the presents under the tree are gone is the presence we’ve shared while singing, while laughing, while wanting and hugging, and crying and being together. The presents themselves may even distract us from the presence my 10-year-old daughter truly seeks. The spirit of Christmas—and Jesus, or not—teaches us to “be” ourselves, together, in oneness.

This year, regardless of presents under the tree, tell your children that they are enough. Wrap yourself up a one-sentence love letter and put it out to open on Christmas morning: I am enough. Keep it with you throughout the year to keep the spirit of Christmas alive because we can’t give what we don’t have. If we think we are not enough, we’ll never aim to get what we would be blessed to give.

I vow this year to spend less money and give more time. To b*tch at my children less and see more. To speak less and listen more. To sing, not because I’m good at singing but because I can. To hug even when it feels overly vulnerable.

And I vow not to apologize for what I don’t have to give, but to approach each gift with a “you’re welcome,” because the older I get, the more I realize that the most miraculous Christmas of my life wasn’t because of the insane amount of presents I got—it was because of a silent hum wrapped up in the essence of those gifts, and that hum said, “You are enough.”


Author: Stacy Hoch

Image: Queen Bee of Beverly Hills/Flickr

Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Emily Bartran

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