Joy, health, love, and capitalism

Christmas is in the rear-view mirror at last, and we’ve managed to vacuum most of the glitter out of the floorboards. Reader, I hope you are recovering from your capitalism hangover.

Ours gets a little more intense every year. It’s not like we set out to raise a child obsessed with brands and gadgets. I don’t know what happened. Don’t nine-year-olds want wholesome things, like bicycles and teddy bears? Not my kid. Here’s what she wants: an Xbox One and two controllers. It’s been her daily mantra since October.

Flashback to a couple of weeks ago: We’re down to the Christmas wire, and she’s working me over like a K Street lobbyist. I try to prod her into expanding her Christmas list, but she’s got a script and she’s sticking to it. “I want an Xbox. And two controllers. And DanTDM,” she says, helpfully tacking a real live human YouTube star onto her list, just in case I can order him from Amazon or something. Okay there, Veruca Salt.


I don’t think much of giving her yet another excuse to deep-fry her brain in a hot vat of computer games, and she knows it. “Why don’t you write a letter to Santa?” I ask innocently.

“Santa doesn’t make Xboxes,” Ruby says. Nine years old and she’s already nailed the withering eye-roll. “He makes toys, mama.”

Ruby is a die-hard Santa fan, but she’s dubious of his reliability on the big-ticket items. It’s probably our fault. We have generally relegated Santa to a supporting role in the glittery present orgy. His job is to fill the stockings, and maybe leave a couple of little things under the tree. Mainly because I don’t want my kid to have this conversation at school on January 2:

SAD DICKENSIAN URCHIN: What’d you get for Christmas?

RUBY: Santa got me an Xbox!

SAD DICKENSIAN URCHIN: Dang. Santa got me socks. Again.

RUBY: Santa likes me better.

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. It’s definitely possible my child is trolling me. Nine is a little old for fundamentalist Santaism. I think she’s waiting to see when I’ll crack and admit that it was us who left all those gummy robots.

Santa may not have caved on the Xbox, but the mamas eventually did. Plus Minecraft, a nice kid-friendly game in which you wander around hitting pigs with swords and watching them explode into disturbing little pixelated fountains of pork chops. “Moooooommm,” she groans, whenever I object to some genocidal atrocity she’s perpetrating on the simple people of Minecraft World. “They’re not people, they’re villagers.”

I roll my eyes at my kid’s shameless worship upon the altar of Mammon, but I’m just as bad, probably. My wife spoiled me rotten this year. The best things in life are free, but this stupidly gorgeous antique icebox that cost her I don’t want to know how much is pretty clutch.

I think we can all agree that the real joy of Christmas is spending time with the important people in your life. People like Jan the Xbox tech support specialist. Jan and I got a lot of quality time in this Christmas. I am still not entirely sure we managed to properly link the redemption codes for the game expansion pack with the correct console user account, but Jan was very supportive, even when I started to go emotionally off the rails near the two-hour mark.

The whole experience was a little rough on my Gen X ego. I’m good at this tech stuff, damn it. It’s a rude awakening, realizing that your solid VCR programming skills have not equipped you for life in an increasingly Kafkaesque maze of intellectual property.

One day, I hope to enjoy Christmas as much as Hector does. Unlike me, my child, and the rest of America, Hector is a pure soul uncorrupted by capitalism. This may be because he takes great pleasure in the simple things in life, like breakfast, and a nice hot woodstove, but it is probably because he is a cat. Anyway, it’s good to have Hector around to remind us all that Christmas isn’t about money.

Hector has one materialist vice: he likes to knock the magnetic letters off the fridge. He finds them absolutely irresistible. And so, every year on Christmas Eve around midnight, when the last present has been wrapped and the last piece of forensic evidence has been carefully placed on Santa’s cookie plate, Santa remembers Hector. “Crap,” says Santa, possibly with a few choicer expletives, “we forgot the pet stockings.” And then Santa fetches a chopstick and begins fishing around under the fridge for all the letters Hector has batted under there over the course of the year, so that he will have something for his stocking.

Of course he loved them again this year. It never gets old. By the time we got halfway through opening presents, he had already lost the X, the D and the 7.

That’s all right. Santa will find them next year.