On the Eighth Day, God Created Yoga Panties

There's no more difficult time to fight stupid consumerism than Christmas

I was in Victoria’s Secret with my teenage daughter and I saw a display and table of “yoga panties.” I could only tap her arm and point, I was so stunned. We went a foot deeper into the store and saw an even larger display of “sleep panties.” What’s next? Pizza panties? (Hold on: Let me change my underwear.)

Look, I’m not going to pretend. I am pretty much a standard-issue American consumer. I am stupid over Christmas in every way, from the decorations to the songs to the food and yes, to the gifts, but where does that get any of us?

When my daughters were young, they were never that into Barbies, but well-intentioned friends and relatives made that assumption, of course, and bought them dolls and clothes and accessories. I remember having to use the $20 gift cards they were also given to buy Barbie cases and Barbie wardrobe boxes. All of this stuff sat dutifully in a corner of the living room, got played with for about 20 minutes when other little girls were over, and that was that. (I’ll admit I was into Barbies as a child. I owned the Dreamhouse and the pink Cadillic and the effing Winnebago. The thing is, I also had a brother who had a G. I. Joe and another who “used up” his Six Million Dollar Man dolls so frequently they needed to be replaced every few months. The knees would wear out in his (the doll’s) orange jumpsuit. My Barbie went on adventures and solved crimes, always wearing, of course, the perfect outfit to do so.)

But back to Christmas 2011. My friend Rachel is modifying some advice she saw on Design Mom. For her husband and 15-month-old daughter, she is buying three gifts: one to wear, one to read, and one to play with; she’s adding one to listen to because Daddy is a sound engineer. They will all get mightily packed stockings as well.

When I told my own children of Rachel’s plan, they were aghast. Four gifts? Four gifts for CHRISTMAS? My 18-year-old daughter said, “Does Rachel plan on doing this to Catherine her WHOLE LIFE?” I love her use of the phrase “doing this to” to indicate the torture.

My kids are used to getting too much, and of course that’s no one’s fault but my own. I have actually bought things a day or two before Christmas for their sheer size. (Oh, look, the $49 chocolate fountain comes in a BIG BOX! And, don’t we need another basketball?) I have been grateful that plastic sleds break. New ones look so cute under the tree.

As kids get older, of course, the size of their desired gifts get smaller yet more costly. Think cell phones, iPods and the like. A few years ago, I was sickened by all of this—their gluttony, my enabling it. I actually went down to our basement and walked around the game and toy shelves and what we call the “gift shelf”—where we put items I buy throughout the year to have on hand for “emergency gifts.”

I found some items the kids had received the previous Christmas and never bothered with. I re-wrapped them and put them under the tree. My adult friends thought me a hero. My children, even though there were also new gifts, thought me sadistic.

Now, maybe I had made a mistake in the first place by buying Amazon rainforest tree frog note cards for Allison. (I know. Note cards?) But, one of the ignored presents was an HP photo printer. Guess what? The second year they opened it, they used it.

Rewrapping old presents might be a tad too pedagogical for Christmas morning, and maybe wrapping Tampons and Suave shampoo is a bit too thrifty (true story), and maybe giving your 12-year-old son a box of condoms is just fucked up (true story, but the friend it happened to has to write about it, not me) and maybe the rule of three is a bit too minimalistic, but here is to finding a middle ground.