Keeping it Even

Ok…It is December and I have started Christmas Shopping.  I know that I promised to try and be a little more upbeat here, but seriously…Christmas shopping is STRESSFUL.

When I start shopping I always worry about my children first.  There was a time before children…long ago – before the inception of “Black Friday” that my husband and I would go shopping the day after Thanksgiving and buy everyone’s present in one day.  (I fear that my sister-in-law will never forgive us for that black velvet painting that we bought her from the kiosk in the middle of the mall, but I digress) Once the kids came along and our budget got tighter we decided to make their Christmas special first, and then worry about the rest of them.  We don’t “do” a lot during the year and it was fun to see their faces light up when they came down the stairs on Christmas morningImage

My real problem with Christmas shopping is keeping it even.  I have always prided myself on the fact that I try to treat each of our three equally.  I am sure that they will disagree with this point, but trust me – it has always been my intent to do this, or to die trying.

When they were little it was easy.  Three games, three calendars, three CD’s, etc., etc. When we handed out the presents there were always an even number and I always spent around the same amount of money. Stockings were the same – toothbrush, chap stick, chocolate orange. It was always interesting to see who was done first because the contents were virtually identical.

The older my girls got it became harder and harder to make Christmas “fair”. The main thing that they desired each year was CLOTHES.  Any mother of teenaged girls knows that her own fashion sense decreases as her daughter’s age. We are simply incapable of knowing what is cool and what is lame.

A few years back I developed the plan of “pre-shopping”. Please understand that this was a two-day operation – the closest shopping mall that has the stores they are interested in is 40 minutes away, so one entire weekend was devoted to the project.  I would take them to the mall and follow them around with a pen and paper, writing down item descriptions, store locations and prices. They tried on things in every store and developed a long list of wishes…to keep the element of surprise. They then ranked the items in order of “want most” and I got to work.

My next step was to compile a spreadsheet. Really.  A spreadsheet. Hey, I am an accountant, what do you expect? Items would be added to the list, and the list would be totaled. Each list would contain the same number of presents for approximately the same amount of cash. Even. When I finished I was armed with a detailed plan of where and when I would shop the next day.

As they got older they wanted to shop in the most popular stores…you know, the ones that everyone shops in…and the problem developed into an “out-of-stock” situation.  In order to avoid disappointment (and extreme frustration on my part), I streamlined my trip in to a one day thing.  We would pre-shop in the morning, and I would send them away, go to the food court and organize my list (no spreadsheet this time), then go back to all of the stores alone.  By the time I finished I was exhausted and VERY cranky.

I now shop online.

The newest problem is that my children are all at separate stages in their lives.  One wants housewares, and one still wants clothes, and the youngest really doesn’t “want” anything. Since anything that they really need is much pricier, we have pared down our Christmas.  It is far too expensive to ship things to our children in England, so their presents arrive on their doorstep from British merchandisers, unwrapped, directly from the store.

It is now nearly impossible to keep things even. I know that they don’t expect it anymore and we all know that Christmas isn’t really about the presents, but the obsessive/compulsive side of my personality makes it hard for me to keep from trying. I still use my spreadsheets and make myself nearly crazy trying to coordinate my lists.

I think that next year we should all just rent a beach house and enjoy each other’s company.  No presents, no lists, just time together. I know that this dream is a bit like a Norman Rockwell painting.  My idyllic beach vacation would require more logistics than the dreaded spreadsheets, but hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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