Barbie’s Last Stand
Barbie changed my family’s life.
Late one Christmas morning, when my girls were a few years younger, I surveyed
the remains of Hurricane Maryann, a.k.a. Grandma. It was not pretty. The living
room was a sea of empty boxes, bows, shredded wrapping paper and what seemed
like the entire contents of Aisle 2 Pink at Toys R Us.
Something inside me clicked – I
didn’t want my children’s Christmas joy dependent on the quantity of toys they
received. They didn’t need three Barbies each, Barbie’s current boy-toy, her swank
condo with swimming pool, pink jeep and part-time veterinary hospital. I knew
these Barbies soon would be floating in the tub, naked, sporting a new haircut
and missing several appendages. I didn’t tell my wonderful mother-in-law, but
then and there, I decided to substitute our dependence on holiday commercialism
with meaningful traditions.
My happiest memories didn’t center
on toys but on helping my mom put her assortment of homemade cookies –
snickerdoodles, sandies and jelly drops – into red coffee cans lined with green
tissue; opening daily Christmas themed cardboard doors on our Advent calendar,
dizzy with excitement over what treasure I would find; spinning on a tall white
stool in my grandma’s house as I watched my mom, aunts and grandparents laugh,
tease and share their lives with each other while they all helped prepare
Christmas dinner in a kitchen that seemed to sparkle like a Christmas tree.
In “Simple Living With
Kids,” by Elaine St. James, I found good ideas with which to pursue my
plan of reducing the number of gifts our children received, without feeling too
Scrooge like. The author suggests giving only one or two special gifts to each
child, especially if your kids have overzealous grandparents and relatives
adding to their stockpile (that’s us). Convincing Grandma and other relatives
has proven a little difficult, but they have come around by my suggesting
“an entire day alone with grandma” or “lunch and a play with a
A new idea I introduced is teaching
my daughters to make gifts. Seriously short on Martha Stewart’s craft talents,
I purchased a couple of easy candle, soap and ornament making kits, and dusted
off my ancient Betty Crocker cookbook. Even though some of my kids’ teddy
bear-shaped soap creations closely resemble the creature from the Black Lagoon,
and I have doubts whether the crooked candles we make will actually burn, my
daughters enjoy giving something they crafted themselves to the people they
And, as the holidays get closer and
I start to feel the pressure to show my children love by buying them
“things,” or if my kids develop the “I wants,” I reread a
quote from “The Shelter of Each Other,” by Mary Pipher:
“Contrary to the news from the broader culture, most of what children need
money cannot buy. Children need time and space, attention, affection, guidance
and conversation. They need sheltered places where they can be safe as they
learn what they need to know to survive. They need jokes, play and touching.
They need to have stories told to them by adults who know and love them in all
their particularity and who have a real interest in their moral
So, my idea of a perfect holiday now
means fewer shopping days, giving small gifts we have made with love and
spending more time relaxing with my husband, our children and extended family.
Instead of waiting in line at the toy store to buy the latest Barbie, and her
fully equipped RV, my husband and I cuddle in front of the fire with our three
young daughters and reclaim the most important holiday tradition of all –
giving our children all the love, devotion and attention our parents gave us.