by Lara Krupicka
I’m making leftover turkey sandwiches – pieces of toast spread with mayonnaise and topped with thin slices of turkey and globs of homemade stuffing. The phone rings and I quickly lick my fingers, savoring the zip of sage, before grabbing the receiver.
It’s my mother-in-law, calling with her annual day-after-Thanksgiving request. She’s not asking me to go shopping. Instead she’s calling with another question: what do my children want for Christmas?
Pretty soon there will be others e-mailing and phoning to find out the same thing. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents will all want to know what my children would like for Christmas.
I glance at my three girls, scattered around our kitchen setting out food and plates, preparing for our lunch. I know what their answer will be. It’s the same every year. They won’t want much, not yet at least. But they will soon enough, once I start prodding them.
The irony of the situation slaps me like a linebacker hitting his opponent. The words of gratitude, the remembrances of all the plenty we enjoy, have barely died on our lips. The leftovers of our Thanksgiving dinner have yet to be relished. And now I have to ask my girls what they want. What possibly could they want? The rods in their closets are crammed with filled hangers. Bins of Polly Pockets, Legos, and American Girl doll accessories cover the toy shelves in our house. Our two-car garage can only fit one car beside the bikes and outdoor toys. They have all they need and much of what they hadn’t even thought to want.
Every year the question of what my kids want for Christmas leads me to using tactics that would make a telemarketer blush. First I ask for their lists. But rarely are those lists long enough to match the number of people shopping for them. So I shove toy catalogs and store wish books into their hands. I remind them of things they’ve noticed on shopping outings. I urge them to think of something more, some object they think they’ll enjoy.
I do these things in the name of pleasing others – pleasing those who love my daughters and want to show it by bestowing well-liked gifts. I do it to please my girls, however momentarily, in the receiving of those gifts. I do it to please everyone but myself.
Each year when I badger my children for their wish lists, I feel a bit of myself slipping away. That part of me that says to “let them be.” The part that says they can enjoy Christmas without so much stuff. Am I selling us out, myself and my children? Am I bowing to consumerism to blot out gratitude so quickly?
What if we made no wish lists? Would we continue to be thankful for what we already have?
And my biggest question: how do I cultivate gratitude in my family amidst a consumer culture that has made an art of creating wish lists? How do I sustain the thankful spirit for more than 24 hours?
My biggest wish this year is for a holiday from the holiday rush. I wish for Thanksgiving to extend beyond one parade-and-turkey-and-football-filled day. I wish that Christmas would move back to its place (at least back to December) and stop stealing the show from Thanksgiving.
I’m thankful for leftover turkey sandwiches. I’m thankful for three grinning girls sitting around my counter eating them. And I’m thankful for grandmas who faithfully call each year to find out what these children would enjoy receiving. The only thing I still need on this day after Thanksgiving is a little more time to enjoy how fortunate we are.
My grip on the phone receiver relaxes as I turn away from my children and gaze at the Thanksgiving decorations on the fireplace mantle in the next room.
“Can I get back to you on that?” I say to my mother-in-law.
I breathe a sigh of gratitude as she agrees to let it go for today, because today I plan to continue making a list of what we have to be thankful for. And that’s the list I need most right now.
Lara Krupicka is a parenting journalist who’s fortunate to have a terrific husband and three very lucky girls. She’s grateful for the abundance that her family enjoys and the people who enjoy bestowing it on them.