This time of year people call me Scrooge, because when they ask me what my kids need for Christmas I always answer that they need someone to come and haul away three-quarters of the useless junk they already have. But it annoys me to be compared to Scrooge, because the spirit of giving at Christmas is about giving to people who actually need something (which I am all for), not about giving a bunch of crap to my spoiled kids.
I asked J to help me pick out gifts for a child we sponsor, showing him a catalog with things like vaccines, wells, mosquito netting, map puzzles, jump ropes and backpacks. He looked unimpressed by the selection and said, “How about if we give her some Star Wars DVDs instead?”
“That’s not a good choice,” I said, “because she doesn’t even have a TV to watch them on.”
“Well,“ his eyes leapt out of their sockets, “I think we should send her a TV then!”
So I explained that people don’t need TVs. “People need love, healthy food, clean water, medicine, shelter from the elements and peace,” I said, “That’s all anybody needs.”
Don’t take that to mean I don’t have or want anything I don’t need, but I am definitely a minimalist in the “stuff” department. I don't relate to the "retail therapy" phenomenon, and I don’t feel emotionally attached to any “thing,” with one exception. I have essays, stories, poems, half-finished novels and notes I’ve jotted to use in stories I might someday write. These are as important to me as my kids’ baby pictures, because I’ll never forget how gorgeous and perfect and delicious my babies were, but I couldn’t possibly re-create the hundreds of thousands of words that I’ve written over the last twenty years. And those words are important to me, even if nobody else ever reads them.
With that in mind, I’ve transferred much of my hand-written material into my laptop for posterity, and then saved everything on a memory stick in case my laptop is lost, stolen or destroyed. I carry this memory stick with me always, so naturally, I’ve lost it many times. On several occasions my kids have helped me frantically search the car, my handbag, the lost & found at their schools, grocery store parking lots and so on, while I ranted and wept that my life’s work is just floating around somewhere. They’ve subsequently witnessed my whoop for joy when the memory stick has finally turned up.
Recently I was telling J a story about the time I met four or five children who were living alone in a cardboard box by the side of the street in Thailand. They were beautiful with big smiles and they said hello to me.
“What did you do with them?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I shrugged, admitting, “Unfortunately, there’s nothing Mama can do about that.” So I explained that I did what any Catholic girl would do, “I just gave them some dollars and said a prayer to the Blessed Mother for their safety.”
His clear dissatisfaction with my answer gave me a smug sense of pride.
As I’ve mentioned before, J is really enamored of ghosts and since he was two or three years old his favorite Christmas story has been A Christmas Carol. I assumed after all the times we’d read and discussed it, he surely understands the meaning of the story. So this year I took him to see a fantastic production of it at Portland Center Stage. A week later we were reading the story at bedtime and on the first page of our book Scrooge is sitting in front of a huge pile of gold coins. J said, “Mama, he has a lot of money.”
“Yes – he does,” I said, “But poor Scrooge doesn't have something that’s much more important and valuable than too much money. Do you know what it is?”
And he said, “A memory stick?”
Laughing, I had to admit that, no, he probably didn't have a memory stick, as I kissed my smug-sense-of-pride goodbye.