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War Wife Weekly: The $20 Christmas and a Wish

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For the first time all season, I was feeling like Christmas. I'd received word that my husband was coming home from Afghanistan for the holidays. This gave me impetus to finally go down to the basement and drag out a little plastic Christmas mouse that lights up. Amid the visual cacophony of the neighbors' powerful light displays, I put Mousey Claus on the front step. I also set up the nativity scene –Christmas isn't complete without it. Gradually feeling a bit more festive, I went shopping five days before Christmas at one of the local stores. My list was small, as our needs were few. Shopping was quick.

Christmas TreeI stood in an aisle surrounded by candy and magazines, waiting in line to check out. The mother behind me was dressed in a pair of blue jeans. She had on a t-shirt that was a little too small, and carried a slightly dinged up handbag. But she also had an innocent yet weary smile, the kind that invited one to talk. We spoke as her baby, dressed in pink, gnawed on a new bottle still in the box. I looked in her cart. There was a shirt and pants, some New Year's Eve hats, two pairs of gloves and a baby bottle.

Our conversation centered on the economy. We agreed money was scant. Indeed, most people ahead of us were buying practical things: shampoo, toilet paper, or a pair of shoes. I learned that she had three children, and each was getting a piece of clothing and a toy. The shirt and pants were for a son, the gloves for a teenage daughter, and the baby was getting the new bottle. The New Year's Eve hats were for everyone – a bit of fun for the day. They'd gotten free toys from the toy drive, where coincidentally, my daughter and her friends from the Boys and Girls Club worked this past Saturday.

The mother explained she only had $20 to spend for Christmas. She wasn't sure if the $20 would cover everything since there's always tax. The best I could offer sounded like a greeting card platitude: as long as the family was together, presents mattered very little. But that's an adult speaking. In our society, presents mean a lot to children. And to a parent, being able to give a child a gift means even more.

I looked at the contents of my cart. I'd followed my daughter's request for new clothes. Even though I'd shopped in the sales racks, comparatively she was getting a lot. Ironically, out in the car I had three bags of old clothing of hers to give to the charities. The point was driven into my heart like a stake: we have so much. For a moment, I considered putting stuff back, but truthfully, the one sweater, two shirts, underwear, camisole, knit cap and three pairs of socks were things she would use. Though I kept everything, I was very aware when the total came up that it was much more than the woman behind me had in her purse.

When her time came to check out, I lingered. If the total didn't come under $20, I was prepared to make up the difference. There was no way I was going to watch her put a single item back. So I dug through my purse, looked at the stuff in my wallet, within earshot of the young mother. Finally, the clerk hit total. The woman had done a good job at estimating the costs. It came out to $17.58. There was even change.

I pushed my cart outside. I hoped they had money for a tree, and that her teenage daughter would find not only a pair of gloves, but a hat as well. Chances are, she will not. I grasped onto what had been a quickly uttered platitude and turned it into a wish.  I wished their family peace, and the kind of love that is more enduring than any gift bought from a store.

About Kanani

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    What’s really sad is that materialism has been driven so far into this holiday that when a parent can’t get her family any gifts they feel terrible. Especially this year ,with how the economy is, we should be celebrating all that we already have and focus on the people who don’t have food or even homes. Unless you’re celebrating Christmas for the birth of Jesus(which I have no belief in whatsoever) then taking care of the needy should be a year long process not just around the time of year where everyone gets emotionally kidnapped by all these greedy corporate pigs.

    Honestly, I understand that Christmas is also a great time to be with family but we need to find a way to break this shallow, materialistic ideology of the importance of gifts… It really sickens me!

  • http://kitchendispatch.blogspot.com kanani

    Regardless of a holiday or not, parents do like to provide for their kids.

    Christmas is a special time for families to get together. But the best time seems to be had when little emphasis is put on gifts –which causes stress, than on simply being together.

    Interestingly, many of the major groups such as toys for tots and other community groups that run toy drives for the poor, had to dip into their own coffers to pay for the toys. Meaning –people haven’t been giving to charities. And maybe that’s something one can do to step outside of the flow of commercialism. Give to charities first, buy any gifts second.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Or,maybe, people can stop putting such emphasis on Holidays as being a special time and focusing on everyday as being special and that toys & gifts are just band-aids for a problem that no one knows how to fix.

    But, you’re right, the kids are very important and if we would stop marketing all this crap to them and start focusing their minds on more important topics then we could build a new generation.

  • http://kitchendispatch.blogspot.com Kanani

    Well, I think you’re speaking in very idealized terms.
    Christmas is a special time of the year, it signifies the birth of Christ. It is also a focus point for all of us to regroup, focus, and count as what is important in our lives.
    However we can celebrate the time of the year by reducing stress and doing so without judgment would seem to be a preferred change. I won’t say don’t give gifts, because to some the giving gives them pleasure. As far as problems, yes we need to constantly be working toward a better world. This can be just one of those times.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “However we can celebrate the time of the year by reducing stress and doing so without judgment would seem to be a preferred change”

    It sounds to me that you are speaking in very idealized terms or you haven’t driven to your local Grocery Store or Mall in the past few months, have you. I think you need to peak your head out the door a little more often.

    To be completely honest, I don’t think I’m dreaming of an ideal world. I really feel that if people would stop being concerned with self gratification whether it be the giving or receiving of gifts and actually gave that time & money to the people in this country who need it just to get by then we could pass those values onto our kids and we could stop the materialism. Because,let’s face it, no one celebrates Jesus’ birth anymore and prayers don’t solve a freakin thing.

    Let us stop believing in fantasy and get with reality!

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Kanani,

    I could leave comments about how Christmas was really an attempt to compete with pagan winter holidays, but that is not the point of this article at all.

    The point is how damned hard it is for a poor person to get by – but how G-d granted this poor woman’s unspoken prayer – that she appear with honor before G-d and those who saw her. Her children will get small gifts this Christmas, and they will appreciate the gifts they get. And she will appear with honor before them and be beloved, as she appeared with honor before you – and she will stand honored before her Creator.

    The question you raise is one you should raise every time you get up and before you go to bed – “can I help this world be a better, more charitable place?” If you set yourself a vision that this is what you will do, you will do this, as unconsciously, you will follow that vision.

    What I suggest does not require religious belief – just faith in the concept that setting a vision will lead you to it. The articles you write here suggest you have already done this to a degree.

    Merry Christmas

  • http://kitchendispatch.blogspot.com Kanani

    Thanks for the insult Brian. Really, next time you want to make a point about materialism why don’t you write your own article instead of bombing mine?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    That mom could have saved her money and just stolen the music online like Brian does

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well, Kanani, this website is called Blogcritics for a reason – You write a blog,I get to criticize it and the website gets traffic. Second, I believe I was speaking in general and, even though, I was commenting on your article and your last response, I wasn’t attacking anyone directly. I was stating my belief that holidays(more specifically this one) have become an excuse for excessive materialism,self gratification & a foundation for memories of suffering if you don’t get fancy/trendy gifts. My thoughts on the religious slant is for another time.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Ya know, Bicho, you make it sound like I’m the only one doin it. Now, don’t lie, I know you couldn’t pump out all the shitty reviews that you do if you went about it legitimately, could ya?!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Not at all. I just like giving you the business because you don’t think it’s stealing.

    In terms of all my shitty reviews, you are wrong. Just about everything I publish here has been given to me by a PR person, although there have been occasions where I pay for my own movie or concert tix and review them anyway, but that’s rare. For 2009, you have to go back to January to find one. And that’s just this site.

  • http://kitchendispatch.blogspot.com kanani

    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
    and I guess pirating music is one way to get around the crass materialism of the season, isn’t it? ;0)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well, it’s only stealing to people like you who side,in the US, with the massive Time Warner conglomerate. But, for tons of independent & international underground acts, Sharing(as I put it) actually helps these bands/artists reach more people and drive more revenue. I think it’s been shown that music d/l’s have no bearing on record sales or not as much as the RIAA witch hunt would make it out to be.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I read this article and was going to leave the first pleasant comment to kanani. Then I read her snotty controlling comments and changed my mind.

    Look Brian, try not to see anything the way you see it, would ya?

    P.S. I get lots of great movies with Bit torrent. Practically the minute they are put on DVD. Free! Stealing shmealing.

    I don’t agree with a society where people who make music get to make so much more than anyone else. If they lose revenues–too bad. Perhaps they will have to supplement their pop star income with a job at WalMart.

    Merry Christmas…

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Merry X-mas, Kanani,
    Merry X-mas, Cindy.

  • STM

    Merry Christmas Seppos and Poms. It’s Lunchtime Christmas Day here and Santa’s already visited Down Under (third stop for the sleigh after the Pacific islands and New Zealand).

    I love Christmas commercialism, despite the fact the wife and youngest daughter have literally cleaned out the bank account and also made decent inroads into the credit cards. But I’ll take a shop-bought CD or a download iTunes card or a DVD over a freebie anyday.

    Especially at Chrissie time.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “Look Brian, try not to see anything the way you see it, would ya?”

    Umm..I’m gonna take that as try seeing things from a different perspective…I think.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    It was meant as sarcasm, Brian. The implication being that you are perfectly justified in expressing what you think. Regardless of what anyone expects from you. How else can a person think but by bringing themselves and their views and style forward.

    I appreciated your comments. And there was a time in my life when I was devastated–felt less than a human being and more an utter failure–because I could not afford to buy my infant niece some cheap article of clothing is some cheap department store.

    That we create a world where people feel worthless because they can’t afford things is something to think about. I think your point was in service of considering that.

    Why should there be poor people. It almost validates the system that oppresses them to feel sorry. Don’t feel sorry for people. Don’t simply hand money to the poor and ‘rescue’ them. Join with them in changing the world so there don’t have to be poor people.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Empower people by not tolerating the world that tolerates poverty.

  • http://kitchendispatch.blogspot.com Kanani

    I’m aware that many of us here do give monthly to various organizations, as well as volunteer. We don’t just “rescue” people by handing them money, we put our money and time where our beliefs lie.

    We work on many levels: local, state, nationwide and international to address the issues of poverty –which are many. Many here have done this for many years and articulate well the root causes of it.

    We work in the world that tolerates poverty because we if we didn’t, we’d be turning our back on it. We empower people in many ways: education, jobs, health care, counseling and when needed, cold hard cash.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Then, Cindy… Thank You! You clearly stated all the things that I feel and I’m sorry for you and millions of others that had to go through the pain & suffering because of the 1-5% of the population that can celebrate this Holiday the way that the other 95% can only watch on a TV commercial!!

    I always seem to receive the “acceptable” personal attack because of my unpopular views. Case in point was El Bicho’s attempt at discrediting me. Which is fine and all and I usually enjoy the verbal jousting but if he would actually comment on the point instead then I would have an opportunity to understand his point of view.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Holy Christmas, Brian. I agree with you about something!

    Happy Holidays, all.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    A very heart-touching, human interest story, Kanani. I really don’t understand why people would wish to go off on a tangent to make ideologically-driven comments about the economy, the state of the nation, and social injustice on the basis of such simple, understandable sentiments as you’ve expressed.

    Merry X-mas everyone.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Humbug…this thread is starting to annoy me.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Sorry, your highness.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Happy Christmas, Roger.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Happy Christmas, Cindy. Do you have a tree?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    No, Roger, not for almost 30 years. But we are heading to my sister’s shortly. She still does that. Do you have a tree?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I used to when with the family. Not this year. Have a great time.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Thanks, Roger. I will pop by later in the evening. If you are around we can have a Christmas toast. :-) xxoo