People often express sympathy about my twins’ December birthday. They say, “Oh, the poor things. Their birthday is too close to Christmas!” When my daughters arrived at only 26 weeks, before the winter solstice instead of closer to the spring equinox, the fact that it was close to Christmas was the least of our worries related to their extremely premature birth. Six years later, though, it’s our only one (thankfully!).
In households like ours, ones that have twins and also celebrate Christmas, December can be a challenging month. First, each twin feels cheated out of having her own special day. Second, like many other Sagittarians and Capricorns, they often receive combined birthday/Christmas presents, which tends to result in both days producing fewer total gifts than expected. Third, because they are twins, many gift-givers expect them to share whatever presents they receive. It’s unseemly to complain about sharing a limited number of gifts, particularly when so many families live in poverty, but it’s unfair to expect young children to change their behavior in response to a subject they hardly grasp.*
We don’t want to “cheat” our children out of presents, but allowing them to have too many presents all at once is a problem, too. Last year, in Two Types of Christmas, I described my twins’ reactions to their gifts, which ranged from disappointment (due to the books!) to delight. As this time of year approaches again, I find myself longing for the days when my daughters loved the wrapping paper and the cardboard boxes more than the objects inside. Wrapping paper became clothes and capes, the tubes became instruments, and boxes became hats, homes, and boats.
And sometimes these transformations still happen.
My children haven’t lost their interest in imaginative play; however, they are more interested in playing with the same toys their classmates have. We limit our daughters’ exposure to overt advertising (by streaming videos, for example, rather than watching cable), but those messages are as contagious as the latest cold virus. My twins are well aware of the so-called “hottest things.” When I was a kid in the ‘80s, that list included cabbage patch dolls, Rainbow Bright, My little Pony, and Transformers. Now, the list still contains Transformers and ponies, but I don’t recognize anything else on there. (My husband has concluded Nickelodeon is conspiring against the English language by giving shows names like “Power Rangers Super Megaforce,” a title which includes three superlatives. He says, “For the next season, will they merely add Ultimate, or will they jump on the Literally bandwagon?”)
To celebrate simpler, more imaginative activities, I read Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box with my daughters. It’s a sparsely worded and illustrated book about a creative little rabbit who does not sit in, stand on, or wear a box. Rather, in his mind, he’s driving a car, standing at the peak of a mountain, and being a robot. All three of my children enjoyed this book and identified with the rabbit. As M. announced gleefully, “A box can be anything you imagine!”
For example, it can be a boat that’s sprung a leak in crocodile infested waters:
Z (middle): “Oh no! Oh no!”
M (right): “I’ll take care of the crocodile!”
S (left): “Go away crocodile! We have to fix the leak!”
S. subsequently led an expedition into the thick forests of the kitchen in search of masking tape.
It’s important to remember that a cardboard box can be even better than a new toy.** It’s a lesson not only for children, but also for well-meaning parents who feel pressured to buy everything their children want.
*As I mentioned in From Glaciers to Icebergs, when my daughters see a dilapidated house, they “don’t yet understand what [it] probably means for the family that lives or used to live there. As far as they know, it is as sad as the bare tree [in our front yard], even though our magnolia will bloom again, while the houses we pass on our way to Center City will only fall further into disrepair.”
**This theme reminds me of The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell. It is a clever and touching book that I highly recommend (see my post, A Gift for Children Who Feel Entitled To Everything).