Christmas used to be simpler. I'm not talking about way back when people roasted chestnuts and used flip phones. I'm talking about a dozen years ago when our three kids were little.
I don't know why I worried about Christmas preparations back then because the kids were thrilled with the smallest things. We'd encourage them to rip the wrapping paper open, and they'd squeal with delight. We'd let them drink hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and stay up later than usual. They had Santa and Elf on the Shelf and Elmo. What more could a kid want?
It didn't even matter what was inside the gifts. They'd stick gift bows on the cat and play inside the empty cardboard boxes anyway. It was so simple. So easy.
Fast forward eight lightning-fast years. Now the kids are 19, 17 and 14, which is plenty old enough to know the difference between a cardboard box and an Xbox. Guess which one they're interested in. (Hint: It's the one that costs about 300 bucks and isn't recyclable.)
Like so many other parents whose kids had the audacity to start growing up, Tom and I are dealing with "Christmas List Inflation." When kids get bigger, so do the price tags on their wish list items. Suddenly kids notice the difference between dollar stores and department stores. Some of their childlike wonder gets replaced by modern-day brand savvy.
I suppose it's not fair to complain since I did the same thing to my parents. In middle school, I became obsessed with getting an electronic keyboard for Christmas. My mother pointed out that we already had an upright piano that I took piano lessons on each week, so the keyboard seemed redundant. I explained how our ancient upright piano was nothing compared to the Casio keyboard of my dreams -- the technological wonder that could simulate 20 different musical instruments and add a rock beat to any melody you played on it.
Keep in mind it was the mid-'80s, and the theme song from the movie "Beverly Hills Cop" was played entirely on an electronic keyboard, which made it as cool as Trapper Keepers and Madonna. Plus, the Casio keyboard came with a space-age silver carrying case, complete with shoulder strap. (In hindsight, I'm not sure why I was so in love with that carrying case. I used it one time to carry the keyboard from the Christmas tree to my bedroom, where it stayed until it eventually met its fate in a garage sale years later.)
Now that I have my own kids and my own mortgage, I know that the ultra-cool Casio keyboard was probably a much bigger ticket item than my parents wanted to buy. The fact that they scraped up enough money to surprise me with it says more about their generosity than it does about my deservedness.
When we're kids, sometimes we think we need specific things to be happy. As we get older, we realize that stuff -- as cool as it may be -- is not what happiness is made of. Far from it.
So perhaps this is the year when wish list meets reality check. I've told the kids that Santa has a budget, and he's got one reindeer in college and two on the way. They have to adjust their caviar dreams accordingly.
It'll still be an incredible holiday -- not because of Casio keyboards or Xboxes or any other longed-for present. It'll be great because we have each other and faith in the ultimate gift that inspired Christmas in the first place. What more could we need?
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.