Childless and buying gifts for kids

I wandered through the toy section, completely bewildered. Thanks to my nephew marrying a woman with two little girls and then having a new baby, this Christmas I found myself shopping for children, but I didn’t have a clue what to buy because I have no experience with children. What do they like? What do they hate? What would make them shriek with delight and send them running to show their gifts to their friends? I don’t know. The toy section of the store is even more foreign to me than the automotive section. I feel like any second I’ll be outed as an imposter. It doesn’t help that I have only met these girls once and I’m sure they have no clue who I am. But their parents know, so I feel obligated. Besides, it could be fun.

I wound up with an odd conglomeration of stuff that reminded me of the crazy gift boxes “Grandma Rachel,” my dad’s childless stepmother, would send us, miscellaneous stuff  she’d picked up over the year. Now I understand that she really didn’t get the mom thing either, but I thought she rocked.

For the baby, I went with clothes, making a wild guess at the size. It’s like buying doll clothes, only more expensive. Everything is so tiny and so cute, and I feel bad that I don’t belong in this section like the other women. At the check stand, the older woman in line in front of me admired my choices and said she bet the baby who’d wear them was just as cute. “Oh, she’s adorable,” I gushed, as if I were a genuine member of the mom/grandma club. Nope.

It wasn’t much different years ago when I was buying gifts for my niece and nephew when they were little. Or for my stepdaughter’s children whom I rarely saw once we moved to Oregon. When you don’t live with children or see them very often, you don’t know what they need or want. Their mothers know. They can shop for children with the expertise I employ shopping for groceries or office supplies. But me, I feel like an idiot.

I won’t be receiving anything from these children in return. And I can’t afford any of the gifts I’m buying this year. So why do it? Because I think I should, because I want a connection with these children, and because I don’t want my sister-in-law saying, “Jeez, she didn’t buy them anything.”

When my brother and I got older, my maternal grandmother sent us $20 every Christmas. That $20 used to buy a lot back then. We loved it. My dad’s father always sent a check, but Grandma Rachel kept sending her packages of odds and ends, books, beads, shells, secondhand jewelry, newspaper clippings, and stuff she picked up at church bazaars and rummage sales, all smelling of the cigarettes she smoked in the kitchen when no one was looking. I loved that, too. The kids are too young for checks. I guess the new nieces are just going to have to deal with crazy Great-Aunt Sue. Crazy is all I’ve got.

How about you? Are you shopping for babies and kids this Christmas? Is it hard? How does it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

Antidotes to the Childless Christmas Blues

So, we’re drowning in Christmas. Even if you’re not Christian, it’s pretty hard to avoid the deluge of holiday music, TV specials, ads telling you to shop, shop, shop, and kids lining up in front of Santa to make their demands. The month is full of obligations. Send out cards; decorate; buy, wrap and send gifts; bake goodies for parties, gift exchanges, and bazaars; and do it all while the weather outside is just as frightful as it says in the song. Here in western Oregon, we’re underwater and getting battered by high winds, but the clock keeps ticking toward Dec. 25 anyway. I don’t know about you, but I just want to be teleported to another planet where it’s sunny and warm, and nobody gives a fig about Christmas.

What does all this have to do with being childless? I don’t know. Maybe that there’s no magic in the season without children, for whom all of this is new and exciting. Instead of a burden, it’s the most magical time of the year. Maybe Christmas shopping would be more fun if you were doing it for a child who will be ecstatic over his gift instead of aging adults who already have all the trinkets they can handle. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Yes, I have the Christmas blues. Too many rejections of my writing. Too many dark windy days with nothing to look forward to but a break in the rain to go outside to clean my gutters and pick up fallen branches. A sister-in-law who wants to stop exchanging gifts between me and her family. A step-great-granddaughter shown on Facebook praying to Santa, folded hands, amen and all, as if Santa were God. I can’t do anything to help her understand that there’s a real God and He isn’t Santa Claus because I have never met the child and probably never will. A wacko new priest who cancelled my singing with the kids at church tonight. The outside Christmas lights I was so proud of putting up not working now and I can’t figure out why. Daily pictures of my cousin with his wife and kids on a sunny beach in Mexico.

Maybe you feel the same way, but we have to find the light somewhere.  There’s this. My church, like many, puts out a holiday giving tree with tags for gifts desired by children and senior citizens who might not otherwise get any Christmas presents. Setting aside the whiny thought that my name should be on that tree because I may not get any presents, I perused the tags and chose an old lady named Gladys. I enjoyed shopping for Gladys yesterday. I avoided the kid tags because I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to buy. But next year, I think I should pick up a handful of them and adopt myself a family of poor children to shower with gifts the way I would my own if I had them. I’m not exactly overflowing with money, but if these children were mine, I would find the funds to make sure they had something good under the Christmas tree.

You can do that, too. Somebody somewhere is seeking gifts for poor families.

I think about my “Gramma” Rachel, who was actually my dad’s stepmother. His real mother died when I was a baby, so I don’t remember her. Rachel, who never had children of her own, was the only Fagalde grandmother I knew. She sent her seven step-grandchildren and four nieces and nephews packages of crazy gifts she had accumulated over the year: a sea shell, a book, a hair ornament, a coin purse, a cassette tape, a newspaper clipping with her favorite passages underlined. Not one thing advertised on TV or sold at Toys R Us, but all chosen with love and very little money. I loved these boxes, and I loved the fact that when she and Grandpa came for dinner on Christmas, Rachel went straight to us kids to see all our presents and talk about what was new in our lives. Mind you, our parents thought she was annoying and a little nuts, but we kids loved her, and I credit her with inspiring a lot of my writing and music today.

Rachel was married three times, but she never gave birth. I don’t know why. I never asked. By the time she married my grandfather, she was probably too old. But I didn’t think much about it because she was my grandma. I didn’t care about anything else.

Of course Rachel didn’t have to compete with a living mother and grandmother. She took over where Grandma Clara left off when she died at 58 of heart disease. But maybe somehow, some way, whether it’s through helping underprivileged people or showering young family members and stepchildren with special gifts, we can make this holiday season easier for them and for us.

There’s a way to make this time of year easier, if we look hard enough.

Okay, I feel better. Maybe I can make a wreath out of those fallen branches. After all, my home is surrounded by real Christmas trees.

How are you faring this holiday season? Please share in the comments.