December 27th, 2010

While Jesus may be the Reason for the Season, in most families with small children, Christmas morning is all about the presents. Mountains of them. Since we became parents, Josh and I have tried to be very conscious about the amount of “stuff” our children accumulate, mindful to the fact that many kids in this country have way way way WAAAAY more toys than they need, or can even play with. We want our kids to really cherish the toys that they have and we simply refuse to have our home look like Santa’s workshop on steroids.

This philosophy was easy to maintain when Miss Mouse was small. While there is plenty of cute baby gear to choose from, it’s not too hard to practice restraint in Christmas shopping for your newborn. This year, Little Bear’s gifts from us were a pair of Robeez shoes, Llama Llama Red Pajama (great book series, by the way), and a new dangle toy for his car seat.

It’s harder as Miss Mouse gets older, though. There are about a million Awesome Things for Pre-Schoolers to Play With on the market. In an effort to combat the siren song of children’s marketing, Josh and I decided to institute a “three gift” policy for the kids at Christmas. We will buy each of them three presents: a need, a want, and a book. If you want to get theological about it, the three gifts correspond to the Gifts of the Magi laid before the infant Christ. This year, we bought our Christmas mouseling a play shopping cart, the Once Upon a Potty book, and a big box of big-girl underpants. (The latter weren’t even bought, actually, they were made with love by a friend of my mother’s.)

Miss Mouse also had a stocking present, from Santa. It was a Fisher Price Little People Animal Alphabet Zoo. Twenty-six wee animals, each with a letter painted on its chest (A for Alligator, L for Lion, etc.) and a fun play mat for them to frolic upon.

In theory, this model of giving should have resulted in a modest pile of presents under the tree. Somehow, it didn’t. The biggest reason was presents from other people. Josh’s parents and aunt had presents for the kids (and us). My aunts sent gifts. And we decided early on not to try to limit my parents to the “three gift” rule. Though I must say that they are very supportive of our desire for simplicity and were remarkably restrained this year. At least when it came to the kids — they always spoil Josh and me terribly! I think that next year, we may do our presents at a separate time from those from extended family. This will spread out the fun and also help eliminate “present fatigue” caused by small people opening so many gifts.

But no matter how big the mountain of gifts, I insist on opening them one at a time. That has always been the rule in my family and I think it’s really important. I don’t care if it takes three hours (which it almost did), presents are to be enjoyed and savored, not ripped through in a frenzy. You open a gift. You thank the giver, if present. You wait your turn while someone else opens a present. Repeat. Miss Mouse was allowed to play with her new toys while other people opened their boxes because she is, after all, only two. I firmly believe that this structure helps to keep the present-opening from becoming too overwhelming and helps to instill a sense of gratitude and appreciation in kids.

At the end of the day, Miss Mouse had enough new toys to keep her rapturously entertained for quite a while, but not so many that her eyes glazed over. I think it was a good balance. And Little Bear? Well, he was asleep in his swing, clutching his new giraffe dangle toy.

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