My pregnancy with Arlo had a bunch of unexpected side effects. There were the usual, should-have-been-expected suspects: heartburn, hemorrhoids, and the amazing superpower of being able to cry three seconds into commercials like this one. But then there also was this other side effect, and its intensity really threw me: the hankering for simple.
I touched on this briefly in my PAIL vlog: after the uncertainty and strain of trying to make a baby for years, after all of the intense stress rolled up in the IVF burrito and the longing for a real, live baby at the end of it all, and then finally holding that tiny creature whose needs were so pure and basic, I deeply longed to excise the excess from my life–material and emotional. It struck me that he needed so very little from me: food, shelter, warmth, a clean booty, cuddles. (Okay, he needed this stuff a sometimes overwhelming amount of ALL THE TIME, but, you know, this really is such a minimal, simple list of life demands.) This made me crave, sometimes desperately, the same kind of minimalism and simplicity in my own needs and wants.
Of course, and let’s be frank, quitting my job abruptly and with zero amounts of preparation shortly after returning from maternity leave also catapulted me into a need for reducing and altering the way we lived. We had savings, but, you know, it was savings. Not to be touched unless there was an emergency. (And it was already somewhat depleted to fund our uninsured IVF cycle.) I was bringing home the bigger paycheck at that time (making $25K more annually than N). To put it palely: subsisting on my husband’s sole income was, um, an adjustment.
Anyway, it was all a wake-up call for intentionality, simplicity, and a discriminating use of my resources (money–yes–but also my time, my energy, and my emotions).
What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, everything. Christmas, for me, changed after Arlo was born.
He was just days old at his first Christmas. We spent that Christmas disbelievingly fixated on the only gift we ever truly wanted, joyfully unwrapping him and re-wrapping him like two eager little kids around the tree. We didn’t open Christmas presents until days afterwards, and they all seemed so dull, unnecessary, and excessive now that he was here. (Not to sound ungrateful.)
Armed with a new appreciation for simplicity and an understanding of how very little kids really need in terms of toys, we adopted a minimal approach to Arlo’s second Christmas: Want/Need/Wear/Read. One gift to fill each category. Sounds limiting to some, I guess, but for us it was a fun challenge to be so discerning and conscientious about what we tucked under the tree for him. It made us seek out the coolest, most worthy goodies.
We did the same this year. And, again, it’s been fun, thoughtful, and easy.
For years, N and I have adopted a family for Christmas instead of shopping for each other. Without fail, though, we’ve always purchased a little something for each other on the sly. This year, we agreed to no secret gifts! pinky swear! for real! and we adopted a 2 year old child (in honor of Arlo’s 2nd birthday) from a local angel tree. Pinky promises were kept; no secret gifts exchanged.
And we extended the simple gifting further this year. Photo books and handmade reindeer ornaments (using Arlo’s hand and stiff brown felt instead of sandpaper) for the grandparents. Simple owl stuffies (made from old sweaters and fabric remnants) for the littlest ones. A few other handmade goodies (a necklace, a pillow, etc.) for sisters. We donated to Heifer International in the names of some of our other family members. And I made tree-shaped ornaments and homemade candy for the rest of the extended family.
Those tree ornaments–they’re what I want to make the spirit of future Christmases about. Several months ago, Arlo’s great-grandmother invited us over for lunch. She is quite the seamstress, and had a ton of fabric she was about to de-stash. She asked me to go through it first to see if I was interested in any of it before she got rid of it all. Between swaths of corduroy (took that) and a stack of different colored felt (took that, too) was a stretch of quilt in massive disrepair. It was obviously hand-stitched, so I asked her who made the quilt. She explained to me that her mother had made it, and that she had tried to salvage it, but it had fallen apart in her hands in her attempts. I took it home with the rest of the fabric I thought I could find a use for.
I cut out the sturdiest parts of the quilt and sewed them into small tree shapes, backed in some of the red corduroy. We gave all the original seamstress’ grandchildren these ornaments for Christmas. I was so proud of them–for their history, for salvaging some of the quilt pieces and reusing them in a more enduring way, for making a meaningful holiday gift for free.
Is it that Christmas has evolved during our lifetimes into creepy excess? Or has it always been that way, and it’s only now that I am a parent that I see how excessive it can be? I can’t tell you how many times, after Christmas, I’ve packed up at least half of the stuff I was gifted–still in its packaging–and donated it all. The gifts were not functional, not us, and/or probably something grabbed from the shelf in an effort to tick us off the shopping list. I’m seriously not trying to sound thankless–but I hate the thought of someone wasting their time and money on something for me, when I would be perfectly happy with a nice letter or a batch of cookies or a promise of experiencing something together–coffee, a movie, whatever.
I don’t get simplicity or intentionality right all the time. I probably get it wrong more than I do right, honestly. I think they’re those kinds of goals that you’re constantly pursuing, but can never be fully achieved. Process, not product, you know?
I started writing this post before Christmas, and I’ve had to go back through it and change all the tenses and delete some of the now-irrelevant paragraphs. Seems I couldn’t be intentional enough to publish it before the holiday. Hah. But, still, it’s a worthy post for me–worthy for me to document that I want more in this one little life I have, and by more…I mean less.