This post originally appeared on December 10, 2008 on DC Metro Moms
Reduce = Relief
Two years ago, when the grandkid total on my side of the family reached seven (thanks to yours truly), we decided to draw names for Secret Santas. If I wasn’t trying to be all green about things, I might have been the tiniest bit annoyed that this started after I’d been giving individual gifts to six nieces and nephews for thirteen years. But honestly, things are better this way. When I hear other people complaining about having to buy things for every in-law — or, in one case, fulfill the in-laws’ expectations of THREE gifts per person! — I’m glad we started the Reduce Train before the recession officially got its name.
So now, the grandkids draw names — with one family having a sibling-to-sibling secret to keep since I’ve yet to produce enough offspring to equalize the numbers. My parents are on another level, getting individual gifts or something big from all of us seven adults – siblings and spouses – who draw each other’s names. The idea is supposed to be that we each put some thought into just one gift, and we enjoy just as much as the getting the act of writing a poem about ourselves to make the person guess who the giver was. And then enjoy the guessing.
With all that time spent reading and head-scratching, who could notice they’re getting only one gift?
After some pretty obvious inequality in cost and appropriateness for the 2006 and 2007 Poetry/Gift Slams, change was a-comin.’ And with the 2008 developments of one sister’s family doing a home renovation and another sending the dad to West Africa for a volunteer mission, money was clearly tight. Then, as with everyone else, it just got tighter. So we decided to cap the limit this time (though I suspect that $10 will inch up to $15.)
After inventorying the still-unopened and only-just-now-age-appropriate puzzles I bought at Lakeshore during their great Back-to-School sale this summer, I decided that my little Boy Wonder wasn’t going to cost me another penny. Really, I came to this conclusion only after I got the Recession Talk from my husband and had looked hard at the cluttered floor of my small and decidedly not renovated home… and after I’d suggested to some other folks at my friends preschool that we go in together on an order from A Toy Garden so we could hit the promise of “Free Shipping on Orders over $200!”
I didn’t want to let down either the local buying-club troops or my own inner consumer, so I got my shopping fix for my kiddo by posting a list of items I’d like for the him to have on a blog to allow my tech-challenged mom to simply click on links and pick what she liked and tell me over the phone. Costs were provided directly on the blog for easy reference and addition. She liked knowing that my picky wood-toy-loving self wouldn’t have a hard time taking any of these choices home with me. Mom got to pick what she liked without being tech-ed to tears (though I took so long to reply to two phone messages, the woman actually wrote her order in an email!). Now all she has to do is write me a check and watch our little cherub delight in his wooden blocks and teapot. (Don’t tell him. He already told his dad he’s getting a watch — half-off from Amazon and emailed as a link directly to me under the subject heading “Watch I like.” I might have spent more than on last year’s underwear and flannel pj’s, but the hope is that the watch will be more fulfilling. So to speak.)
My parents have decided to keep with their (higher but I’m not telling) per-person allowance this year, admitting it might be the last chance. They’ve given up on pleasing the adults and so just hand over cash. For me, usually that money just goes into the ether –- it gets spent on the 10-hour drive home or at a coffeeshop or who knows where, exactly. But this year, now that we’re paying serious attention, I will use it for its rightful purpose –- to splurge on something I would otherwise feel was indulgent. Or at least I will keep track of where it goes and try to be celebratory about it, even if it’s just some nice kitchen stuff from Sur La Table.
My husband’s side is a different story, seeing as his brother’s wife is far crunchier – and much craftier – than I am. Last year they gave us a “Solstice Mix” with music from Megan Haas and Elizabeth Mitchell, which at first made me feel like I didn’t own enough Ecuadorian wool sweaters. But I soon found myself bopping around like I was back teaching environmental education on the beach in Maine when my son was -13 years old. This year our two families are actually going to be together at the MIL’s for Christmas, and I flat-out asked what the gift-exchange plan of action was. It came as no surprise (and with no small amount of fine motor skill envy) when my sister-in-law reported that she’s making our gifts herself. Her kids will get small wooden toys I got on sale at the Green Festival. The hope is that the tots will just remember the holiday as special for the time they spent playing with each other, like my son thinks Halloween is just about parades and kitty ears.
This year it’s a more natural fit to comply with the Keep It Simple mantra, especially since we’re gathering in person with the family that makes mine look as tech-dependent as the Jetsons. I’m still decidedly suburban, but this economy is making it easier for me to put my money where my mouth is and not contribute to a consumer culture I claim to disrespect. I don’t expect to get off the grid anytime soon or make the land my life like the homesteaders in Brain,Child Magazine’s recent Radical Homemaking/”Eco-Housewives” article. But I do kind of expect that eventually those folks will be laughing at the rest of us.