The Playroom: Christmas dilemma

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

The year my husband sent his secretary to buy my Christmas presents, I called a moratorium on gift-giving. Although the gifts were all on my list, they were not what I wanted. The moratorium worked fine until our first child was born, then we slowly introduced ourselves back into the fray.

Our daughter’s first Christmas we got a sitter, went downtown to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and wandered aimlessly through FAO Schwartz. What should we buy a 6-month-old little girl? Everything on Michigan Avenue seemed so ridiculous and overdone. A 6-month-old dressed in her footie Santa Claus suit pajamas with the matching Santa hat didn’t understand Christmas anyway.

Now it’s 10 years later. I’ve got three kids, and I’ve got nieces and in-laws and it’s that time of year, time for family “Secret Santas” I can no longer deal with and hockey team “Secret Santas” I have to deal with, and Christmas lists I don’t want to make, read or follow.

A few days ago, I received my niece’s list. It was blissfully brief. There were only a few items on her list, primarily video games. She’s 2. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to buy my 2-year-old niece video games. I don’t care if they are educational. I want to buy my niece children’s poetry books she doesn’t want, instead of the video games she’ll play with every day.

The trouble with gift-giving is that for it to be a good gift it’s got to be something someone else wants and not what I want to buy them. My son wants video games. My niece wants video games. The pre-teen wants an iTouch (because I won’t buy her an iPhone) so she can play video games. Even my husband wants video games.

I like to buy the stuff I want to buy, because I am convinced that if I buy them toys I want to buy, my children will enjoy learning the Dewey decimal system by playing with wooden toys made in Vermont, which of course my children don’t want because they read toy catalogues and watch television.

People making wooden toys in Vermont don’t advertise to children. They target moms like me who don’t like toys that go blinky-blinky, explode, evaporate or turn into gelatinous goo that oozes out of plastic zombie skulls and lights up with blue LED lights, like zombie brains do when they are seeping out of their plastic skulls.

As I understand Christmas, it’s supposed to be about giving, about other people, not about me and what I want to do. This season of gift-giving, what will I end up doing? Following other people’s lists and getting them want they want — or will I buy them something I want to give? Will I buy poetry or video games? Because sometimes when I buy my kids the stuff I want to buy them, my children play with the toys I choose and they enjoy them.

Earlier this year, I discovered a children’s poet I had not read before. I ordered his books, and the night they arrived my girls were snuggled up together giggling under the blankets in my older daughter’s bed with a flashlight. It was getting late, and as I closed the door to their room after a final good-night kiss, I called out, “Girls, don’t stay up too late reading poetry!”

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