The best magic of receiving a gift comes from being understood. I think this is even true for little people who express delight at every small new thing. Just the right gift brings on that look: I can hardly believe my luck to have this. How did you know?
As Mama, I’m in (or at least tied for) the number one position to make that look flash up on their faces. Of anyone, I’m the closest to knowing the deepest desires of their little hearts. I strapped on the Santa Shopping suit with fear, though, and here’s why. I’m pretty sure that what each of my girls wants the most? Is to have exactly what her sister has, preferably at the exact moment that she has it.
I confess I’m surprised that a three year old and a one year old have so many common interests. In the days before Iris learned to express herself, I thought we’d have toddler toys and preschooler toys and not much confusion over who played with what. But…no. Right now, the two of them mostly want to be doing, wearing, holding, or playing with exactly the same thing.
We work on peaceful ways out of this many times a day—sometimes many times an hour—often using the great conflict resolution process taught at the girls’ school. Both girls are getting better at knowing we can find a solution. Sometimes they even spontaneously trade toys without screaming (much).
But I’m here to say that, as Santa, I am going out of my way to avoid that kind of conflict this Christmas. The potential for heartbreak and mayhem is too great.
As much as we wring our hands about giving kids too much at Christmas, we also expect an awful lot of them at this time: Don’t complain, even if you don’t like it. Apply all those things we’ve been working on about sharing and taking turns, only do it on a day when you’re overtired, hyped on sugar, overwrought with excitement, and pumped up with grandparental spoiling. And say thank you. And try to keep the simultaneous shrieking down, because some of the grownups like to think of Christmas as a peaceful time.
Asking them for politeness, over and over, on the most high-strung day of the year, while opening package after package of Things There Are Only One Of? It just doesn’t sound like the spirit of Christmas to me.
So, the sweet little baby-in-a-peapod I found that I knew Iris would love? I got a similar one (different shape, different color) for Ingrid, even though I’d never have chosen it for her alone. The train cars I know Ingrid is dreaming of? I bought one for Iris to open, too, though I know her interest is mainly sisterly. They both need warm socks for skating, and fortunately striped Smartwools come in both size 10 and size 5. I did get one thing for them to share, and one thing each that doesn’t match (Ingrid needs art supplies, Iris a lunch bag).
Is it just a little over the top? Yes. Four big-ish gifts apiece is more than I planned on and more than they need. Are we in a period of widespread economic instability and personal employment insecurity? Why, yes, we are. But for a little more peace—even though imperfect—on Christmas morning, and a little less likelihood of heartbreak? We can swing it, and it’s what we’re doing. In another year, they’ll be better equipped to navigate it all, but for now I’m counting this as part of knowing them: they get a little bit of joy out of being, in some ways, just alike.