Christmas is at Granny’s house this year. Yesterday at the beach house, it was a morning of “where are we going to hide the…” as we began the process of packing the van to head to Renmark. G and I moved like ninjas as we transported unmarked bags to and from the back of the van. Our Christmas plans have been contingent on catheter removal, which meant no pre-planning or online shopping until we knew exactly where were going to be. It was now operation ninja, wrap pack and stack.

Christmas shopping for four children is an exercise in fiscal fairness. My balance sheet moves between dollar values, versus presents to open; I continually confuse myself on who has what, where and when, and how it will all equate.

It’s hideous. I am not a shopper and, well, enough said really. I am not a shopper. I revisited my list a few days ago and realized I’d confused myself, one child had more than the others. In a state of consumer stupidity combined with irrational mother’s guilt, I decided to buy a few more things to “even it out”. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

I stood in a retail comatose state, scanning the toy aisle of Big W yesterday morning. As I perused items that my children did not need, I noticed a mother and her two girls next to me. The eldest girl who was maybe eleven, was explaining to her little sister how the shopping was going to work.

“You can have one cheap thing now, or you can wait until Mum gets paid and have something better next week.”

I cast my eyes straight ahead, trying to do my best at pretending I hadn’t eavesdropped, that I was too preoccupied in my own world. I could feel the mother looking at me.

“Maybe you could have this one, you love this!” said the older girl pointing towards something pink and plastic.

The mother quickly jumped in with a concerned “that’s $55, I can’t do that this week OR next week”.

I put everything I had back on the shelves. We had too much. I needed to be taking things away, not adding. I felt like a fool.

As I made my way through the suburban shopping mall and back to the car, I looked at the faces of the weary. Irate, stressed parents. Couples getting itchy about standing in a busy mall on a Saturday morning, trying to decide on what to buy the brother in law. There was a conversation about Aunty Dot who was driving down from Rocky, who always had something for the kids “we can’t bloody not get her anything” shouted a woman to her husband who had voiced concern that they’d already spent enough.

After three Christmases in Doha I’d forgotten about this. The ads that tell you how many shopping days you have left. The rush and the panic. The way people talk about how good it’s going to be when its over. “After Christmas we’re heading down the coast”.

The little travellers and I need to have a chat. We’ve lost the meaning of Christmas. It’s somehow become a day of presents rather than presence. We’ve been lucky this year, when we got sick we had healthcare. When we got sad, we were able to work it out. When we were faced with a hurdle, we had friends to support us over the bumps. We are all still together, we are stronger, smarter, and maybe a little tougher. On Christmas Day I want them to realize just how lucky we are to have each other.

I love so much of what happens in an Aussie Christmas. Red ribbons tied on trees, Christmas drinks out on the front lawn with neighbours, peeling prawns with old friends, and teaching the kids how to slice a mango. Shorts and t-shirts are worn to the pub for a quick “coldy”. And random displays on the drive home to make you smile.

 I don’t know who you are Mr or Mrs Farmer, but we pulled over on the side of the road to look at your “beary Merry Christmas” and I was unsure of what to take a picture of first, the children’s smiles or your gorgeous bear.

“Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more….”
― Dr. SeussHow the Grinch Stole Christmas

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