Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Joys and Perils of 'Being Santa'

Recent conversations between friends have brought up how little anyone who has never 'been Santa' actually realizes what truly goes into Christmas morning. Here is a little timeline about how Christmas pans out in our house with 2 primary school aged children:


Both my children have finally experienced their long awaited summer birthdays and are overjoyed with their gifts. They immediately start telling me what they want for Christmas.

Daughter 1 informs me that she absolutely must have a Super Hero High Lego set from Santa. I casually mention this to my friend Julia (Lego expert) who tells me 'You know they are going to retire that set soon?'. I instantly panic and start searching online. I find a sale, order it and then watch the front door like a hawk for a delivery truck so I can sneak it into the house before the kids notice. Never Christmas shop while your children are still on summer holidays, it's too risky!

Being August, Costco is selling Halloween costumes. Daughter 2 sees a Harley Quinn costume and goes crazy. "I want it from Santa!" she tells me. Despite the fact I could just buy it for her for Halloween and be done with it, I know we already have plenty of costumes that fit her so using it as one of her Santa gifts means one less toy coming in and not having to buy her a costume next year.

Being Costco, I'm terrified all the costumes will be sold out by Labor day, so I sneak back there with my friend Alana at 8 pm and buy it, then sneak it into the house while my husband is getting them ready for bed. Thank goodness I did, because they were sold out of her size a week later.


Daughter 1 tells me that she wants a hat to make her look like Finn from Adventure Time. I look into it and realize that they only come with a limited edition DVD from several years ago. Luckily my friend Trish makes hats so I google a bunch of pictures and send them to her for inspiration.

Now is the time to start looking for stuff for stockings! While out for lunch with my friend Priscilla we stop in the toy section of Walmart and I score some tiny Karate outfits for their dolls. The same week I also manage to find packages of Mr. Sketch markers in the marked down school supplies and half price apple sauce pouches. I'm on fire!

Daughter 2 had informed me that she absolutely must have a Poison Ivy doll from Santa this year and Toys R Us has them on half price! I arrive at the store a few minutes before it opens to find a 100 people in line waiting for a video game release. They make me wait in the line in case I'm lying and am really there for a Nintendo DS, not a glorified Barbie doll. After waiting in the line, the sale yields nothing but an entire shelf of Wonder Woman and Bumblebee dolls. Julia informs me that Amazon matches their sales with products they also carry. I go to order her one but can't find anything else to bring it up to free shipping. Julia orders it for me instead because she wanted a lifetime supply of Oatmeal raisin crisp, which apparently can only be found on Amazon these days. I now have 'I owe Julia $15' going through my head repeatedly.


Daughter 2 is going as Rosetta for Halloween this year and Toys R Us is having a half price sale on fairy dolls. Alana and I decide to check it out to see if I can get one. This is my 3rd time in 2 years trying to find a Rosetta on sale so I don't have much hope, especially since Amazon doesn't carry it anyway. But it's a miracle! They actually have one hiding in with all the Tinkerbell dolls. While we are there I run into Julia with a cart full of Lego. Oh yeah. I owe Julia $15... I owe Julia $15...

Daughter 2 won't stop telling me that she wants a pink remote control car from Santa. I search the stores, I search the internet and find nothing. I try to tell her that no such thing exists, but 'Santa can make everything'. I google spray paints and $400 cars from Korea but it all just looks way too complicated and I consider just buying her a blue one and letting her be disappointed.

Costco has the Lego roller coaster set! I waffle for a week and then buy it for daughter 1 before they sell out. It's amazing! Oh my god it's expensive. A week later we're shopping and I casually stop in front of the display so she will see it. She looks at it with disinterest, even when I point it out. I die a little inside.

Julia and I plan to go swimming and out to lunch after, then I can pay for lunch to pay her back. We swim, but then her toddler needs a nap and she goes home for lunch instead. 'I still owe Julia $15...'


Every day a new toy catalog comes in the mail and I quickly hide it before my children can see it and change their minds about what they are asking Santa for. An American doll catalog and a Lego one slip past my radar and reach my kids. I diffuse the situation with daughter 2 by telling her that the doll catalog is a 'magazine' about her doll Chloe and all her friends. She takes the bait. I am not so lucky with daughter 1, who is older and wiser. She informs me that she's changed her mind and wants Santa to bring her a Lego death star instead of a Super Hero high set. When I tell her this is too much, she reminds me that Santa is magical. I inform her that magic or no, he has to be fair to all the kids and not give them anything that costs more than $100. Luckily she buys this answer. Phew!

While out shopping I find some Mario toys that Julia's kids might like. Because I live in the dark ages, I can't just text her and ask, so I bury them under some stuffed poo emoji clips and run home to ask her. She says yes so I run back and buy them. Now I have the less intrusive 'I owe Julia $2' racing through my head. A week later I find some Luigi happy meal toys she hasn't been able to track down everywhere and get some for her kids and no longer owe her any money. Finally close that tab in my head.

There is now a pink remote control Barbie car on the market! Her new dolls can ride around in it! I catch wind of a friends and family sale at Toys R Us and snag an invite from a neighbor. I sneak out of the house and drive there, waiting in front of the store with all the mad shoppers. This is amazing! I show daughter 1 what her sister is getting from her father and I (because we were worried Santa might not be able to find one) and I ask her what she wants us to get her. 'Can you afford a Lego roller coaster?' she asks? My faith is restored.

I start the inventory list in my day planner and notice that while daughter 1 has expensive gifts, daughter 2 has many more in number. Start to panic about how to solve this and post a question in a moms group online. Receive 45 different answers of completely conflicting advice. Do nothing.

It's Black Friday and the Barbie car is now on sale half price! I get Alana to babysit so I can sneak over there and get them to refund me the difference without the kids noticing what I'm doing. I just saved $23 more!

December is coming up and that means a choice of Elf on the Shelf or advent calendars. As I would rather have my house infested with termites than have that creepy thing in my house, I pick advent calendar. And as my children become raving lunatics when they ingest sugar a chocolate calendar is out of the question. I think for a moment about what kind of trinkety shit would cause the least damage to the clutter situation. I briefly consider stickers but remember what happens to our furniture when stickers end up in their hands.

Instead I buy a jigsaw puzzle, divide the pieces up between the boxes and I'm good to go.


We need a tree. We drive a Honda Civic. I start asking friends with vans to go get me a tree from IKEA and bring it to my house in exchange for my soul. Alana says she's going there anyway so brings one for me. 'I owe you one' I tell her.

We get out the bins of Christmas stuff and the kids go wild decorating. I hand them all the ugliest of our ornaments from my mother in law that we can't actually give away and smile inside every time I heard one shatter on the floor. I hang all the special ones at the top of the tree where they can't reach.

Crap! It's getting close and I haven't wrapped anything. I realize our only roll of Christmas paper has been outed from storage again and can't be used on any gifts from Santa, so I start asking friends to trade rolls. My husband takes the children out for brunch and I race to Alana's house down the road to grab her roll and have her write their names on the gift tags in handwriting that isn't mine.

I run home in the rain trying to keep the paper dry, then drag some gifts out of storage and start wrapping. Looking at the clock I start to worry and send my husband a Facebook message and 2 voice mails telling him to call and warn me when they are on their way home. When there is no response I get nervous and jump every time I hear a neighbor's car door slam shut, running to the window to check if it's them. They come home with no warning and I come to the door trying to signal with my eyes to my husband that our house is a land mine. I finally hiss it under my breath and he tries wildly to restrain them from running upstairs. I notice the 'Santa' paper still on the floor in plain sight and quickly hide it. Disaster averted!

Cards and school photos are sent, and after just 43 shopping trips the gifts for the children, my 4 nieces, my husband and myself are bought, wrapped and hidden in various parts of our basement storage room.

School holidays are soon! I need to get gifts for the teachers! Both children are in French immersion so they have both English and French teachers. Daughter 1 has autism so she has 4 educational assistants that she works with. Daughter 2 is in kindergarten and has teachers as well as early childhood educators. They also have karate and swimming coaches. I realize I need to buy or make 19 gifts! I can't afford that! I will bake them something.

Gingerbread! I'll bake and frost some cute gingerbread man and give them each a few cookies. But the dough is sticky and lumpy and not rolling out. This is a disaster. I form it into some lumps and stick green and red M & M's in them. The teachers and coaches are getting elf boobs!

It's finally Christmas Eve! Once they fall asleep I can lay out all the presents! I'm feeling so excited!

I'm so tired. Why won't they go to sleep?

They are sleeping. Go down to the basement and quietly start pulling things out of their hiding spaces. Wait a minute, what's all this extra stuff? When did I buy these beach towels and goggles? I forgot about these extra Lego sets! Why won't everything fit in the stockings? Oh no! Daughter 2 has more presents than Daughter 1 now and they are also more expensive! Why won't the cat stop laying on the wrapping paper! Move cat! Move!

Now everything is under the tree and the stockings are laid out. I can relax. Ah crap, milk and cookies! I'm still full from dinner, I don't want an elf boob. I definitely don't want a raw carrot. I'm sure as hell not drinking that lukewarm glass of milk. I make a show of crumbs and hide the rest of the food in the trash or down the sink.

I'm done for real this time! I can sleep!

Christmas morning is a glorious flurry of ripping paper and excited exclamations that is over in less than 20 minutes. I feel a little let down. After 5 months of hard work, it's over so soon? Then I start to think about the beach towels in my basement and what to do with them and just like that, planning the Easter baskets has begun.

(Feel free to leave comments about how your child has transcended greed and receives just 2 twigs and an orange for Christmas. I'm sure you're a blast).

Friday, May 26, 2017

The storage tote on my porch: A Buy Nothing Project story

I passed a woman on the street this morning, each of us carrying random items in old grocery bags, our names written on them in sharpie. I had never met her, but we gave each other a friendly look and nod, knowing we were both up to the same thing. We had just taken something off of someone's porch, someone we quite possibly had never laid eyes on.

Two and a half years ago a friend sent me an invitation to a local Facebook group called Buy Nothing (our neighborhood name) and while I belonged to several local buy/sell groups, I had never heard of this before. The premise is that you post your unwanted items for offer to other neighbors in the group, people comment on them if they want them, and then you pick a recipient. You can also ask for items that you want, and if someone has one they don't need, they might offer it to you. After that, arrangements are made to pick up the item, either face to face, or often from a bin on their porch.

I was already several months into an ongoing massive purge of our belongings, in order to avoid the expensive prospect of upgrading to a larger house. I started posting items to give almost right away, and commenting on things I needed.

The group quickly spread like wildfire, everyone in love with the idea. While my basement slowly emptied of dusty items we hadn't touched in years, finding new love in other homes, I was being given countless items we wanted or needed without having to spend a cent. With me working part time our budget is always tight, but after joining Buy Nothing it started to seem a little less imposing, with so many items suddenly falling into our hands for free. Hand me down clothing and shoes for our children, partially finished bags of pull ups, excess garden produce, bedding, ice skates, soccer cleats, toys and books were available from sources reaching much farther than our inner circle. The more I received from Buy Nothing, the more money it left in our budget for the other things we needed to purchase.

Some of the most amazing things we have been given over the past years have been a wooden doll house, a private swimming lesson, a bicycle, a new mailbox, an IKEA loft bed, a dresser, fresh baked goods and fudge, an 18 inch doll, a hair cut, a Keurig machine, a children's gift basket full of treasures, and basement shelving. Half the toys under our Christmas tree this year came from the group, most of them still new in the package, and twice when families have moved to another city we have received the entire contents of their fridges, freezers and pantries, saving us money for months. Any time I need something, I know I just need to ask and 90% of the time, it will likely appear. Just this week when my fitbit band broke, I put up a request in the group. Within 5 minutes I had an offer for 2 new ones, just a few blocks away.

Knowing such generosity is available to me, it makes it really easy to give as well, and keep this house free of clutter. As soon as my youngest outgrows anything, out the door it goes without the time consuming hassle trying to nickle and dime some money back through consignment stores, selling sites or yard sales. I also don't need to deal with the guilty feeling about how much money might have been spent on it. I'm giving back to a giant communal pot of hand me downs, knowing that whatever I put in will come back to me in some way, and sentimental items are easier to part with knowing that another, younger child will love it the same way my children love the items that are passed to them, and another mom will feel the same ease in her budget when she doesn't need to pay for it.

But really, the very best part of the group have been the amazing friends I've made. When the Konmari method swept through the group (and with it the hilarious volume of clothing and books suddenly being offered) a little group of 6 of us formed to chat privately about it and have since become a tight knit group that talks multiple times a day. Another group formed to work on sewing projects together twice a month, where I work on a quilt made of old pajama scraps and eat treats at a friend's house. One summer we even formed a park tour, where members would meet up at a different local park for a play date each day, until we had visited every park in the entire area. There have been adult coloring nights, crafting nights, pot lucks and outings. One woman opens her house to members every Thursday morning to drop in for coffee, a chat and fresh baked cookies.

There is a dark side as well. I've lent out items that haven't been returned. I've had items sitting on my tiny porch getting destroyed by the rain when people don't show up to pick up, and food rotting and attracting bees when people haven't come to get it. There are people who comment on nearly every single item posted, either hoarding items or selling them for profit. There are people who ask and ask for things but never give back. There are people who dramatically overshare their every woe. There are rules that stifle people, like not being able to give advice, tell people where to find an item for sale cheaply, or banter about something without an admin deleting their comments or giving them a stern talking to.

Over time though you learn who to trust, to lend only what's replaceable, and who is reliable and punctual when it comes to pick things up. I have a long list of people I will no longer give things to, and an even longer list of people who I know will be there within hours of having their name picked. While some people prefer to give their most sought after items through a random number generator, I pick those who I know are going to come quickly. Most times I don't even need to post items anymore, but give them directly to people with daughters just a little younger than mine, the same way another woman gives bags of clothing directly for my oldest now, and another gives my children all her happy meal toys for their collections. We've developed a sort of efficiency for keeping our houses free of clutter, and a cunning at keeping our children provided for at very little cost.

Whenever the group reaches 1000 members, it needs to 'sprout' into two or more groups. The first time it happened, my friends and I were devastated. It was like being put in separate classes! There was a lot of drama and unrest in the group that led to online fighting, unfriending, and even a renegade spin-off group, of which I am still an admin. The group recently sprouted again with little fanfare, because what we learned the first time was that any friends we had already made were ours to keep, and there was still plenty available being given, it was just much easier to pick up now that the geographical boundaries were smaller.

I wish this had been around when my children were first born. While I was lucky to have been given so many hand me downs from my sister in law, many times I would run out to buy an item only to find out a friend or neighbor had just recently donated the same thing and vice versa. Had we been in the group, they would have known I needed it, or I would have known they were getting rid of exactly what I needed. My web was small back then, and now it's very large, and continues to grow.

If you don't already belong to a Buy Nothing group, I would highly advise that you do. You can find yours by typing Buy Nothing (your neighborhood name) in the search bar on Facebook, and most likely one will come up. Some groups are more active than others, but you can expand the membership by inviting nearby friends, the way my friend did years ago with me. Years later I'm still a proud member with a telltale storage tote on my porch to prove it.