There is nothing under my Christmas tree this year.
That’s sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? Yes, I’m verklempt, but it’s not because I’ve fallen on hard times or anything like that. I have a great life, a successful business, and I can afford to share a bit of my wealth. The problem is, there is nothing for me to buy for the first time in 20 years.
See, the adults in my family suck at gift exchange. Christmas consists of me shoving gift certificates or cash in clever cards for my parents and brother. They almost always do the same for me. I don’t know if it’s because we’re lazy or not very creative, but we are collectively OK with that. There is no doubt we love each other, and we’re not concerned about expressing that love through material things. We show it in other ways throughout the year.
No, I have never been a thoughtful gift-giver, with one notable exception — my kid. I’ve always loved to surprise him with things he asked for but didn’t really expect me to get him. This year, though, this mom is at a loss.
That “kid” is now 20 years old, and he doesn’t want anything specific for Christmas. I know this because I have asked, more than once. Without his input, I am clueless.
On my first Christmas break from college, I remember going through sort of the same thing with my mother. She asked me what I wanted, and all I could think of was clothes. (Hello? Teen-age girl?) But, I didn’t trust her to buy them for me. As you can imagine, I didn’t want to look like a real estate lady (Mom), and she was not up on the latest fashion at Express. So, I convinced her to just take me shopping, which she did.
After our spree, she made me set aside all my new pretties so she could wrap them. What?? I picked them out myself and had even tried them on, so what was the point of boxing them up and waiting three weeks to wear them? It kind of pissed me off. She said, simply, “You have to have something under the tree.”
OK, Mother, you win. I totally get it now.
I wrote here about being blindsided by how empty the holidays felt without a child at home. I discovered that, while it’s missing a certain amount of joy, it’s not the end of the world. It’s mostly OK — just different, and a cause for adjusted expectations. But even last year, my son had a Christmas list, and each item was gleefully checked off by yours truly.
One thing I should point out is, I am not what you would call a “kid person.”
I love my kid, so it’s his absence I miss at Christmas, not just the innocence of youth in general. In other words, I am not pining for another child or (God help me) grandchildren. I have done my time at parent-teacher conferences, team sporting events, amusement parks and Gattiland, and I do not want to go back to those years. If I never step foot in another toy store, all will be right in my world.
This is not to say that I don't like children. I do. From a distance.
I’m not one of those people who sees a baby in a stroller and has to pinch its cheeks and cuddle it. I’m always sweet and nice to children I meet because there’s no reason to be an asshole. But I don’t care how “many” they are, what grade they’re in or the name of the toy they’re strangling in their sticky little fists. Stay on your side of the park, and I will stay on mine.
Now, I love my best friend’s two children, both of whom are under age 3, like they were my own. I often go over to her house to hang out with her and her kiddos (even on purpose). But I can only take so much. Their constant need for attention and supervision nearly drives me to drink. And these are well-behaved children. I would be drinking if they were hellions.
But I digress.
Anyhoo, I don’t want to buy my son a bunch of crap he doesn’t need or want just because I will feel a void when I can’t bust out the Santa wrapping paper, but my primal mom instincts are screaming, “YOU ARE NOT DOING YOUR JOB IF HE DOESN’T HAVE SOMETHING UNDER THE TREE!”
This is one of those things a friend of mine would file under “white people problems.” An aboriginal tribesman in the Amazon would never sit around whining about this kind of trivial shit. And yet, here I am.
Some perspective is in order.
I’ve had a supremely excellent 2015. I marked three years as a free-lance writer and media consultant on Sept. 1, and I continue to increase my client list and income. I have everything I need, plus I’m paying down debt and taking the occasional trip to the beach.
And speaking seriously about drinking, I celebrated six years of sober living in November. Actually, “celebrate” is too strong a word. There was no fanfare. It would’ve gone completely unnoticed if I hadn’t put it on my calendar.
I know I’m lucky. Drinking is just not a thing anymore. My son left two beers at my house a couple weeks ago, and they sat in my fridge untouched for 10 days, until I finally dumped them out. It never occurred to me to open one and take a pull.
There was a time in my life not too long ago when I was miserable — stuck in a horrible job and an even worse relationship, drowning myself in the bottle to cope with both.
So yeah, in the grand scheme, I have nothing at all to complain about. Life is good.
It turns out that recalibrating my universe when it comes to the holidays is an ongoing process. As my son further evolves into adulthood (and all that that implies) I’m going to have to evolve right along with him.
Christmas list be damned — if I have to, I’ll put gift cards and cash in shirt boxes and wrap them. As long as I see my son that day to get a hug, that's the only present I need.
So, yeah. Under the ol’ tree might look a little barren this year, but my heart sure is full.
And whatever you celebrate, I wish the same for you. Merry, merry, and Target gift cards for all!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.