From one moment to the next, my 5-year-old became obsessed with turtles. She decided that what our family needed was not a dishwasher that scrubbed dishes or a garden with live plants. No, we needed a turtle. When she couldn’t spur her parents into action, she did what any smart kid does: She picked up the phone and called her grandmother.
When the answering machine beeped, she began to plead her case.
“I just wanted to say one thing: I love you. And if you can get us a turtle and a turtle cage, that would be great. We’ll send you money to get it because I know it’s not your job, but we just want it for Chanukah.”
She added a few more thoughts about how my mother-in-law should get the turtle from New York to California and concluded with the final thought, “If you do that, we’ll send you a card.”
I had completely forgotten about the whole turtle obsession, obviously on purpose, until I sat down for a hot dog lunch with my 5-year-old. We had just been on a shopping trip to Costco and my holiday stress levels were higher than a kite in a tornado. Every year on Dec. 1 , I head into major anxiety about ‘getting it all done’ and ‘making it perfect.’ First comes Chanukah at our house and then Christmas with my family. The present list gets to be a bit overwhelming. I don’t think I can handle it this year. I asked my daughter what she thought I should do.
“Well you can’t give up presents. I just want two presents and a turtle.”
“What are the two presents?”
“I don’t know. But I will give you lots of cards.”
I couldn’t stop laughing — or should I be crying? A package is barely unwrapped before I am whipping out a blank card demanding my kids write a thank you note to so-and-so for the lovely such-and-such. For a while, I had an in-tray specifically devoted to the cards that needed to go out. By enforcing the return of signed paper, have I completely robbed my kids of the spirit of giving and receiving? Is a present worth only a card and not an expression of warm sentiment towards others?
I consulted my 6-year-old for her thoughts on the matter. She looked at me with a blank stare, not sure what I was after. So I changed my angle.
“What do you think the holidays are about besides presents?” Another blank stare came my way. I obviously needed to renew my membership to the Bad Mommy Club. My 5-year-old piped in.
“The best thing is that Santa Claus buys the presents for us so Mommy and Daddy don’t have to spend their money.”
My 6-year-old nodded in agreement. A discussion followed of whether Santa wears a seat belt, and my chance for a parenting moment was lost.
I reflected more on my own present list for the holidays. What I really wanted was a day without whining, crying or fighting, and a year with no trips to the emergency room. Those things can’t be bought with money or thank you notes.
As I watched my daughters deconstruct Santa’s transportation system, I realized that a turtle might be just the present for teaching my kids that gifts are alive and carry a sentiment with them. That is until the turtle needs feeding or walking or whatever one has to do to parent a turtle.