Managing the Gimmes During the Holidays

This article first appeared in BlogHer.

It’s that time of year again when the wants far exceed the needs. The Greek chorus of  “gimme, gimme, gimme,” swirls around the house drowning out the muzak of Christmas carols that began long before Thanksgiving. “I want a car,” sings my soon-to-be sixteen year old. “Well, I want a new laptop,” trills his thirteen year old sister. “I want an iPod,” chants their ten year old brother. In unison, all together now: “But all my friends have one!” Uh, huh.

Mmmm…well, let’s see. I want world peace, a cure for AIDS, the troops to come home, and if I am really greedy maybe I’ll even ask to lose the last five pounds of baby fat (even if the last baby is over a decade old). Guess I won’t be getting my wishes either.

How is it the Gimmes keep getting bigger every year? At three, the Gimme was a stuffed bear. At five, it was Thomas the Tank engine. At eight, a new bike. At ten? Well, see above. Clearly I have failed as a parent. I wanted children that spent hours hand-crafting special gifts for the ones they love. Children who get more pleasure in giving than in receiving. Children who actually stop to ask, “Hey Mom, what do you want for Christmas?” Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

My father warned me about this.  I think I was sixteen or so, asking for a car no doubt, when he said, “Just wait until you have children of your own. I hope for your sake they aren’t Gimme Kids like you and your brother.” It must be inherited like blue eyes or a crooked nose.

And then it dawns on me. The Gimmes are a disease, a pandemic far worse than any flu, swine or avian. They are the product of a society drunk on the idea that we are defined not by who we are but what we have. My kids aren’t any more greedy then the next lot, they simply the reflection of a society built around crass Commercialism and it’s twin sister, Materialism (let’s just ignore their mother Capitalism for the moment). My children live in a society where commercials make up half of any television program, where product placement has wormed its way into movies, where the most important question the day after Christmas isn’t whatdcha do but whatdcha get. A society where the cost of privilege is the ability to ignore those in need and worry most about what you want.

I had fantasized the downturn in the economy would stop fueling the Gimmes but the pandemic is hard to control. Despite a continued spike in job losses, a concurrent rise in  welfare recipients, and a trend in foreclosures that has yet to peak, we are still bombarded with messages that engender material lust. Buy this. Lease that. Even presidents tell us to shop more; its our civic duty!

I can wash my hands and try to wear a mask but the Gimmes still seep under the door jam and into our home. Perhaps it’s time to stop the madness and fall back on that old cliche, the buck stops here. A recent article in The New York Times science section revealed that we have an innate desire to help. Another article highlighted the healing aspects of giving. Finally, I read research the links materialism to self-esteem. It was time for a talk.

So, we had a family conference the other night. I asked the kids what they could do for others. “Let’s volunteer in a soup kitchen,” one suggested. “Let’s adopt a soldier for the holidays,” said another. “I’ll use my allowance to fund a need at my school,” the third chimed in. “By the way Mom, what do you want for Christmas?” they asked. No worries angels, I just got my gift.
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