Slingshots and Underwear

{Disclaimer:  In my home, Christmas is about Christ first, presents second.  But this post addresses a more secular aspect of Christmas because it’s what’s bugging me right now.  I’m adding this disclaimer so that all of you who know me out there won’t be wondering why I’ve written a purported Christmas post without talking about Christ.}

pile-of-giftsCruising through Facebook the other day, I read a little blurb suggesting that parents should use caution in how many gifts they leave under the tree from Santa, because what if their child goes rushing outside with stories of all the amazing loot Santa gave them and little Johnny next door, whose dad was laid off last year, wonders why Santa only left him a slingshot and a package of underwear.  Hadn’t he been good enough?  Was he a BAD BOY?  Or did Santa just like your Suzy better?

The best scenario, this post suggested, might be for everyone to give their child one single gift from Santa and all the rest of the gifts from the parents themselves.  That way, everyone would be equal, no one would feel slighted, and the children of the world would understand that the children with a lot of loot got it from their wealthier (or more indulgent) parents, not from an unkind, unfair, maybe even biased Santa.

I admit, when I first read that, I bought into it.  I hadn’t ever looked at it that way, to be honest.  I mean, yikes, who wants to be that parent, the one who causes little Johnny to have self-esteem issues for the rest of his life?

But literally the next day I saw a blog post warning parents against posting pictures on Facebook of their children sitting in front of their Christmas loot for all the world to see.  There were numerous reasons for this warning, one of which was that it was just tacky to brag about all the crap you bought your kid, but another was that other children might see the pictures and … you guessed it.  Wonder why Santa gave your child so much loot and they only got a slingshot and a package of underwear.  Bam.  Self-image problems.  Santa doesn’t love me as much as little Suzy.  Or … wait for it … Life’s Not Fair.

Now hang on.  Is this seriously a problem? toddler on computer

First off, if the kid is young enough to believe in Santa, what’s she doing in front of a computer looking at Facebook?

But more important than that, have we really raised a generation of children who can’t possibly bear up under the pressure of other children getting more toys than they do on Christmas?  Have we created a generation so fragile that their heads explode when faced with any of life’s inherent inequalities?

When my two boys were growing up, we lived in a small resort area.  There was, at the time, one elementary school.  That meant that my kids went to school with the children of the (very) wealthy people who had the huge houses on the lake.

Now, I’m fairly certain Santa brought those children a heck of a lot more presents than he brought my kids.  And the presents were a lot more expensive.  Think Atari and Nintendo (this was a lonnnggg time ago, guys) as opposed to The Game of Life and, of course, underwear.  Even the kids who lived next door and were in our same socioeconomic class got more/better presents.  Their parents went overboard (in my humble opinion) every year.  Crazy overboard.

But I don’t recall even one time either of my boys being ticked off/hurt/turned into a serial killer because Santa liked Lisa and Joey next door, or the rich kids on the lake, better than he liked them.  (They did spend a lot of time next door playing with Joey’s cool toys, though.)

The same is true for my own childhood.  We lived in a very middle class neighborhood.  Everyone was pretty much in the same financial boat.  We all came pouring out of our houses on Christmas showing off whatever it was that Santa brought us – sometimes it was super cool, like a new bike or a sled or roller skates.  Sometimes it was less cool (and not something we could take outside) like a new desk.

Then there was Ralphie.  Yes, his name was really Ralphie.  He was the grandson of an older couple who lived down the street, and his parents had done substantially better, financially, than most of our parents.  So when he came over to his grandparents’ house on Christmas, he always brought a carload of the latest greatest things that none of us ever dreamed of getting from Santa.  Where we got bikes, he got ten-speed bikes.  Where we got sleds, he got uber-sleds that had gears and steering wheels.  You get it.

And the thing about Ralphie was, he was sooooo smug.  He strutted his stuff.  He had nappy red hair that looked like a Brillo pad on his head, and when he got braces we were all jealous – this was well before braces were de rigueur for every middle schooler.  And he just bragged about all the stuff Santa left him every year.

But never once, not one single time, did any of us whine about Santa being unfair.  Or loving Ralphie more than he loved us.  (We knew that couldn’t be true!)  It just never occurred to any of us to blame Santa — for anything.  Sometimes we didn’t get what was on our lists, but our parents always had an explanation on Santa’s behalf, and we learned that sometimes you just had to deal with a little disappointment.  We didn’t end up in therapy over it.

When did we decide that everything always had to be equal or it was going to ruin our children?  When did we decide that we had to protect our children from ever facing any disappointment in life?  When did we decide that every child in our child’s world should get only that which our child gets, and nothing more?

Come on, people, we are way overthinking this.  I challenge you to think back on your own childhood and come up with a time when you were just crushed because Santa was more generous to someone else than he was to you.  I don’t mean that time he brought you and your sister both dolls, and your sister got the bride doll and you just got the bridesmaid doll, and you were all pouty-faced because you wanted the bride doll (okay, that was just a random example and not necessarily anything that ever really happened to anyone who is writing this blog post).  I mean a time when Johnny next door got 87 gazillion gifts and you got a slingshot and underwear.

Kids aren’t that fragile.  Kids get it.  If they don’t, it’s because we’ve taught them, wrongly, that life somehow owes them something.  Yes, there are circumstances that break our hearts, where families have fallen on really hard times and can’t afford Christmas presents at all.  Okay, let’s step in and help those folks!

But let’s not turn Santa into some kind of utopian experiment in equality, because, you know, where does it stop?  At first, it’ll be, okay, everyone gets one gift from Santa.  Oh, but wait!  Johnny got the latest Playstation (is that even cool anymore?) and I only got a slingshot!  No fair!  So pretty soon everyone has to get the same gift from Santa?  You know where that will end, right?

Everyone will just get underwear.


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