You read that headline right: I’ve never bought my kid a Christmas present. Nor, for that matter, have I bought him a birthday present. They’re basically the same day anyway; he was born at 4 a.m. on Dec. 26. My son turns four this week, and it will be the third Christmas-birthday for which I have bought him…nothing. And I’m absolutely cool with that.
Yes, other people have bought him some stuff, there’s no denying that — but it’s not much. And to be honest, I didn’t really buy him anything the rest of the year either. Socks, I think? Yeah, I remember buying those.
It’s no secret that stuff gives me anxiety. I wouldn’t call myself minimalist per se (I mean, I live in a four-bedroom house and I only rent out one of those rooms, gasp!) but I definitely make a quasi-obsessive point of prioritizing quality over quantity. And that tendency did not change when my son was born. If anything, it went into overdrive.
I’m not someone who’s always looked forward to motherhood; I was kind of on the fence about having kids, and my pregnancy was absolutely awful (two words: hyperemesis gravidarum). So I was too busy barfing and whining to stockpile cute onesies or hit the bookstore to carefully curate a library for my unborn fetus. I didn’t have a baby shower, either. Of course, I recognized that I’d probably have to buy a few brand-new newborn “necessities” for the baby to exist, right? Nope. Stroller, car seat, crib, rocking chair, carrier, every size of clothes from newborn to (so far) 5T — we’ve scrounged them all up secondhand for free.
I didn’t do anything the Christmas my son was born — anything except have contractions, drink wine and watch Transparent, that is — and the following December, we up and went to Mexico and ignored all holidays entirely. This, by the way, was definitely something of a “gift” in my mind but somehow didn’t make the cut for the many folks who continuously ask, appalled, “You’re getting him nothing for Christmas or his birthday? Again??”
The same happened in the years that followed when I “gifted” my son with trips to Morocco, Iceland, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Cuba…or this year, when my son got to spend the day ecstatically “driving” the fire trucks at the department where my brother works. My son and I have hiked mountains together, we’ve salsa-danced together in Old Havana, we’ve waded off the west coast of Africa. He loves these experiences, and raves about them to his classmates. But you name it, it’s never enough of a “gift” to appease the commenters of the internet (who, by the way, are pretty consistently angry that I dare to write about my life/family at all — never mind that this is my full-time job and the only way I can afford to feed my son, let alone buy him “gifts.” Oh, the irony.)
Let’s just take a look at the statistics. According to RetailMeNot, parents spend an average of $482 per year on all holiday gifts, $330 of which goes toward their own kids. That’s right; our partners, our own parents, our siblings and our friends get a total of $150 for all their gifts combined, while a kid — who probably already has a bunch of crap from a baby shower or birthdays or just being a cute human whom adults shop for — gets $330 of presents in one month every year.
I spent most of the holiday seasons of my kid’s life with nobody but close family members and the folks who happened to be chilling at Roosevelt Hospital in 2015. And those were some amazing Christmases. This year, we’re getting back in the holiday game and hanging with the rest of our families. But that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want to come back from our holiday travels with more stuff. It also doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want my son growing up with the misconception that holidays are about buying — or the expectation that people will buy him things when he already has plenty.
I’ve written about this — my attempts at secondhand, quasi-minimalist non-shopping as a parent — plenty in the past, and it’s amazing how much vitriol it inspires from both sides. There are the parents who insist I’m depriving my child by putting him in $2 Vans (Vans! Such deprivation!) from Goodwill or by not buying him three different types of swinging chairs/play gyms or that he’ll be developmentally behind because he never had an “activity center.” Then there are the parents who call me a materialistic fake minimalist because I had the gall to acquire an entire secondhand wardrobe, stroller, car seat, crib and carrier for my baby (honestly, I tried to get away without a car seat and just take the subway home; the hospital wouldn’t let me).
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So yes, angry parents of the internet, you’ve got me. Because both complaints are true. I’m not a minimalist; my son has plenty of things that he could “survive without” — all of his books, for example, and five pairs of secondhand/free shoes instead of just one. And yes, I’ve also “deprived” my child of brand-new expensive things that I truly believe he doesn’t need. But guess what? He seems to be doing just fine.
Actually, no, I take that back. This is a kid who walked at 8 months, talked at 10 and at 2 years old knew all the words to both Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones. He’s been in full-day school since he was 2, and now that he’s about to turn 4, he’s so emotionally intelligent. Case in point: When I was just learning the ropes as a single mom, I got the flu. It was my first bout of real sickness in my new hometown, with no family or partner to ask to watch the kid for a few hours. And what did my barely 3-year-old son say to me, with such earnestness and love in his solemn little blue eyes?
“Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll take care of you.”
“No!” I said, ashamed and appalled that he would feel such responsibility. “I’m the mom! I take care of you.”
“Okay then,” he grinned, “we can take care of each other.”
I may be, according to the internet trolls, a “lazy mom” who “deprived” my kid, never bought him anything and in general only “half-assedly” planned for his entire existence — but this kid is here now, and he’s my whole life. And he’s way, way better than “just fine.” Oh, and he’s not getting shit from his mom this Christmas.
A version of this story was originally published in December 2017.