The Playroom: $300 Christmas presents

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

Once upon a time in my children’s life, I was the most powerful person on Earth. I fed them and changed their diapers and controlled when they got to watch Thomas or Teletubbies. When it came time for Christmas I bought them stuffed Pooh bears and adorable, soft, fluffy polar bears, dolls and trains, play kitchens and plastic food. The toys were cute and predictable, and they made me happy; they made my kids happy.

What do the kids want for Christmas this year?

Xbox, iPhone, iPad, iTouch, North Face jackets, Ugg boots, eight reindeer and a flying sleigh and anything else you can think of that costs $300. Since I’m not buying anything for my kids that costs $300, there is nothing they want unless they are 5 years old, and then they want clothes that come from the Disney store and are covered in sparkly glitter. And those also cost $300 because you end up walking out with the shoes, the tiara, the DVD and some laser-light Tinker Bell spinny thing you didn’t even want to buy, but it kept the 5-year-old from throwing a complete tantrum so you bought it anyway.

We don’t need any more cute predictable toys, teddy bears, blocks, Legos, dolls, doll clothes, doll strollers, plastic food or kitchen sets. They no longer play with most of the toys in the playroom, and even the age-appropriate board games end up all over the house. Currently the candlestick is in the kitchen and I’m told, “Board games are boring anyway.”

I try to throw away some of the excess toys they never play with when nobody is watching me. But my kids have some freaky sixth sense that tells them what I’ve done. Some toy they haven’t played with in months that I find buried under their bed will all of a sudden come into their frontal lobes as I am asked, “Mom, have you seen my green zombie eyeball thing?”

Of the toys they do play with, I am tired of all of them. I am not buying any more Nerf gun darts and I’m not getting on a ladder to pull them out of the ceiling fan. I feed the Barbies to the dog after the kids go to school and act surprised when my daughter hands me a gnawed-up, headless torso. “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, it looks like the dog found another Barbie. I guess if you would pick them up and put them away, this wouldn’t happen.”

We have too many toys and my kids don’t need more. But there is an expectation at Christmas that there will be presents under the tree, and I have no good ideas on what to put there. I find myself buying a handheld laser thing because the saleslady said my kid would love it. But even as I was buying it I was thinking, “Yeah, but he doesn’t even know it exists, he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t need it, and he’ll play with it for a week, figure out some way to use it inappropriately, I’ll take it away, and then it will end up somewhere in the house with all the other toys my kids don’t play with anymore.”

Then there is the guilt, because there are millions of children in our country who will not get a handheld laser thingy so they can torment their sister. So I am struggling with Christmas. It used to be fun: buying my kids new books and toys, all those teddy bears and dolls, stocking the playroom kitchen with pretend food and being blissfully ignorant of just how many Nerf gun darts can be shot at a sleeping dog or end up in the ceiling fans.

Now that my kids are older, I’ve lost some of my “most powerful person on Earth” status. They’ve figured out I can’t work the Wii and discovered they can’t watch YouTube on my phone because I don’t have the app, “Really Mom?” Buying Christmas presents for my kids isn’t fun anymore.

I have a friend who doesn’t buy her children Christmas presents. When her children wake up on Christmas morning there are no presents under the tree. The reasoning is that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about the presents. I like the idea in the abstract, but I’m not so sure her kids aren’t going to grow up to go bonkers over Christmas for their own kids, citing all their childhood Christmases where, “My parents never bought us any presents.”

But maybe not, maybe her children will look back on Christmas with fond memories of church and family and the simple joy of a single candy cane on their dinner plate, reminding them to be grateful. Too bad for me, my kids don’t like candy canes, unless they cost $300.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at