Since I’m going to be a grandmother next year, even if it is long distance, I’ve started reading some of the mommy blogs like the one on The Today Show Moms blog just to see how things have changed since my childhood or my son’s. Last week they were talking about spoiled kids at Christmas. A couple of the moms commented about their children saying, “Is that all?” after opening the presents. One mother talked about immediately punishing the child and letting her know her attitude was not appreciated and sending her to her room. I tried to add a comment but I couldn’t get signed in so I let it go, but it brought back memories.
I have very few recollections of Christmas and opening presents while I was still at my father’s home. I remember my aunt complaining about having to decorate the tree by herself. She never once in my memory invited me to join her or try to make it a festive time of sharing. One year she just talked about how lazy I was not to help. It was her “chore” and she resented it. I didn’t know it was something I was allowed to do. If she had smiled and invited me to help her, I would have joined in willingly. Most years she did it when I wasn’t around. It was just suddenly, “I’m tired of doing this all by myself. You do it.” But at the same time, I could never hang the single strands of tinsel to her satisfaction. Dad’s job was to bring home the tree. There was never an invitation to help pick out the “best one”. It just appeared. It was stuck in the corner of the room next to the couch. Christmas in our home was just a time to do and not a time to share.
The opening of the presents was fairly joyless as well. I do have a memory of a couple of years running downstairs to see what Santa had brought, but that stopped when I was still pretty young. Showing excitement was only barely tolerated in my memory. Exchanging presents was just something we did. There was no oohing and ahhing or prolonged and excited thanks.
I am unable to remember exactly what year the big transgression took place. I’m assuming it was some time in between seventh and tenth grade. I seem to remember my sister was still at home. One by one my sister or I doled out the presents. The wrapping paper was strewn around. I was on the floor close to the tree. My father was seated across from me sitting on a dining room chair. My sister was on the couch and my aunt was in the chair.
The passing out of gifts had stopped and all presents seem to have been opened, but I wasn’t sure. Since the tree was in the corner, it was easy to miss presents behind the tree. I uttered the most grievous words I could have said all day. It was either “Is that everything?” or maybe “Is that all?” I simply meant have all the presents been passed out, should we start picking up the paper…something along that line. I did NOT mean to infer I thought I didn’t get enough and that I wanted more.
My father did not interpret what I said that way. He very seldom even recognized when I was in the room with him. We just didn’t talk with each other. Suddenly he simply erupted! He must have ranted for five minutes about how selfish I was and how ungrateful and how I should be glad for what I did get. He even turned red in the face. In the meantime, if I could have dug a hole in the floor to escape into the basement, I gladly would have. My cheeks were positively burning with chagrin. I couldn’t move. I just sat there and took the blows. I couldn’t even defend myself. One thing I don’t remember doing is crying. I refused to cry in front of my father.
My father ran out of steam and the room became silent. I started collecting the wrapping paper to give myself something to do. In those days we opened the presents carefully and folded the paper so that it might be used again the next year. I have no idea what happened after that. I guess we all went our separate ways in the house. The memory fades.
I wanted to yell at the mother in the blog who talked of immediately punishing her child for her “attitude”. She knows her child better than I. Perhaps the child was being a brat. But on the outside chance that the child simply meant, “Are we done with this activity?” or something similar, he or she should at least be questioned before the parent goes into such an action. It’s only fair.
Do I remember what I got for Christmas that year? No way. Do I remember the chastisement? You bet I do…like it was last year. I have pretty much blocked out any memories of Christmas at our house. It was not a time for joy. That episode made Christmas something even less to be thankful for.
Parents, give yourself and your child a break. Question them calmly before acting. It may save a lot of lingering bitterness. You may never know. Namaste Attic Annie