Present politics

That Jesus seemed like a great guy.  With his heavy facial hair and strong attachment to his mother, he could just as easily have been Sri Lankan as Israeli. Whatever his ethnic origin, his golden rules of Do Unto Others and Love Thy Neighbour etc seem like outstanding principles to live one’s life by. And he gets bonus points for being able to articulate a new religion in two catchy phrases, unlike Hinduism which has 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads and I forget how many Puranas.

It seems to me that Jesus spent his life giving love, advice and bread to people in need. He was not tearing his luxurious beard out over the Toys R Us catalogue, and I think we should learn something from this.

‘Tis the season to be jolly worried about buying presents. Our children have been told that they will get three presents this year (not three hundred):  one from Mummy and Daddy, and one from each set of grandparents.

Prima has already made a list of everything she wants (usually 6 – 8 items). She then convinces her unsuspecting brother Secundo, that he wants half the things on her list. It is only on Christmas Day that he wonders why he wanted a Polly Pocket beach house in the first place, poor child. She also convinces her grandmothers that her two youngest brothers want other items from her list. They are powerless to resist her and of course believe that Tercero (aged 2 and only interested in trucks) actually needs a Nintendo DS. The whole process is Machiavellian and I am both appalled and curious to see if she ends up in politics. At the very least she ends up with everything she wants.

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t buy Christmas presents at all. Yes, you heard me.  I’ve tried running the “We’re Hindu, no presents please” argument but then I just sound like the pagan that wants to destroy Christmas and deprive children. So instead, I would prefer to lecture the children on the spiritual significance of the birth of Christ, how it has shaped the geopolitics of the last two millenia and if they want to celebrate Christmas they can donate their presents and their time to the Salvation Army.

If the children knew all of that, they’d probably put “New Mummy” on their list to Santa.

When Prima was born, my mother-in-law decided that every day was Christmas and every single time she visited us she came armed with toys. I tried explaining to her that I wanted the children to appreciate what they had, understand and respect its value, and reflect on the lives of children who didn’t have anything. I recognise that this might be a bit much to expect of a newborn but it is never too early to start indoctrinating them. I think my mother-in-law thought I was experiencing my own special form of post-natal depression.

I then tried the “She [Prima] simply can’t have everything she wants” approach, to which my mother-in-law responded with an “Of course she can.” In the end, I used to just frisk my poor mother-in-law at the door – she’d get a full body pat down and then I’d search her bags. Any illegal toys were sent back to the boot of the car which resembled a mobile toy store.

And then there is my mother – she would come to London once a year, armed with an entire suitcase of gifts. Not a little carry-on, we are talking about a jumbo Samsonite that is bigger than her, filled to bursting, with presents. Most of these were for Prima, her first grandchild, and the Sun around which she (and every toy store in Australia) revolves.

I sympathise with my mother’s need to buy her grandchildren’s love with gifts. She used to see them only once a year and she was competing against the Uber Grandma, my loving and fun-loving mother-in-law.

My Amma would promise me that she wouldn’t give the children everything at once, she would try to pace the gift-giving over her month-long stay. By Day 2 her resolve would be broken and desperate for love, she’d have given the keys to the Samsonite to the children, hoping it was the key to their hearts.

In London, for the children’s birthdays, I used to request that instead of presents, the mummies made a GBP5 contribution to Room to Read, a wonderful charity that helps children in the developing world to read. I think the mummies also thought I was experiencing my own special form of post-natal depression but they humoured me. It just didn’t make sense.  We went to parties where the gift bags we received (which used to be just lolly bags when I was a child) cost more than the present we gave.  And all of those children, including mine, had everything they needed and wanted.

I know it’s politically incorrect but for this Christmas, I was thinking that we could all put a tenner into a family kitty and then delegate to our most organised cousin the task of buying all the children in our family something small (possibly even useful).  Or we could all put into a kitty and buy food for a family that won’t be having tandoori turkey with curried potatoes this Christmas.

When we were little, my father used to tell us how he and his brothers would walk several miles to school, to save on the bus fare so they could buy a glass of faloodah (a sugary, rose syrup and milk drink), which they would then share amongst themselves. My brother and I would roll our eyes and laugh at Appa. When he takes us to the local Sri Lankan food bar now, he always orders me a faloodah and I drink it with pride at how far he has come; and fear of Type 2 diabetes.

I do buy my children gifts, I am not a monster. I love buying gifts for them, my cousins and my friends. And of course I enjoy receiving gifts. For our recent 10th wedding anniversary, my one stipulation was “no jewellery” not because I have eschewed materialism for a more meaningful life, but because all I’ve ever wanted in life is an overpriced house in the lower north shore, a home loan and an original Millenium Falcon model. Check.

I just resent and rail against the expectation that our children are entitled to many great presents.  When my father was a child I don’t think he expected any.  I’d like to know when in human history, Christmas became less of a time when we were grateful for what we had, and more of a time when we wanted and expected more. When Santa was invented, who decided his elves should be making toys for children around the world?  Why aren’t they cooking a chicken curry and dhal for the world’s hungry or mass producing vaccines for preventable diseases?

I think that the gifts our children seem to enjoy the most are the toiletries we steal from hotels, and empty tissue boxes and toilet rolls sticky taped to make the Millenium Falcon (because no one is allowed to touch my original Millenium Falcon model). They don’t play with the Dora doll’s house we bought them on eBay, they make their own house out of sofa cushions and bedsheets, and they lose themselves, playing for hours, sometimes days, in an imaginary world that doesn’t need many actual toys.

And I worry that if we give them too much, they won’t realise how much they have or how little others have. I know what my mother and mother-in-law are both thinking – no, it’s not my own special form of post-natal depression and bah humbug.

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About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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4 Responses to Present politics

  1. AAR says:

    My thoughts exactly….but it is hard sometimes not to get caught up in gift extravaganza.
    And btw never put a vito on jewelry as a gift!!

  2. Jn says:

    Damn!! You have an original Millenium Falcon model? I’m terribly impressed.

    Also I feel the same way of the gift giving but alas since I see my niece and nephew only a few times a year, I feel compelled to buy gifts and to out-buy the in-laws. Is it petty and competitive? Um, yes.

    Their playroom look like Toys R Us, so much so that a gift that was given 15 minutes ago could easily be swallowed into the playroom, never to be seen again.

  3. duckformationfamily says:

    Sounds like their playroom looks like ours!

  4. Pingback: The Gift That Keeps On Giving | Duck Formation's Blog

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