One of the great mercies of being the mother of a large family is you know one thing for sure: This can’t all be your fault. How could it be? You have raised at least some of your children more or less the same way, at the same time, using the same parenting techniques and the same amount of money in the same house, being the same person the whole time, and yet they all turn out so very different.
If ever I feel sorry for parents of one child, it’s because they might think all their child’s virtues and flaws are the result of their parenting. They’re not. Some are, to be sure, but some is pure witless genetics, and some is environment beyond family, and some of it is luck, some is miscellaneous, and a lot of it is meaningful but completely mysterious, known only to God himself, and he’s not telling.
Let’s take a look at my own kids. Let’s take a look at them on Christmas morning after Midnight Mass, when they’re opening presents, and the secrets that lurk in the hearts of Fishers are revealed. I have tried to teach all my children generosity and gratitude, thrift and any number of other salutary virtues that I think will serve them well in life. How’s that worked out?
Well, one of them will be sitting in a pile of wrapping paper and random things her siblings grabbed off the rack at the dollar store, every single time she opens a present, she will shout, “It’s just what I wanted!” and she will mean it, too.
What a grateful and generous heart, you will think! Yes, up to a point. But that same kid will have carefully wrapped either a 50-cent Walmart cake or a 50-cent Walmart pie for everyone she knows, because it was the cheapest thing she could think of. She figured out long ago that this method allowed her to pocket a good half of her allowance, while the rest of those suckers were blowing the whole thing. But also, she is so extremely delighted with her cleverness, and that delight is so contagious, that everyone who opens a present from her is delighted, too, and we eventually all begin chanting, “Cake or pie? Cake or pie?” as each person opens up yet another tiny, squashy box from her, only to cheer uproariously when it turns out to be either a cake or a pie. And so it became a tradition. The “cake or pie” chant is now my favorite part of Christmas morning.
One of my less favorite parts is when one kid invariably manages to convince themselves that all their carefully curated presents are disappointing, not anywhere near what they wanted, and probably a sign that nobody really knows them or loves them, and then retreats guiltily to their room with their stocking to sulk, and also feel embarrassed about sulking. It’s not the same kid every year, mind you, just to keep us on our toes. Next year, that same kid will spend November earnestly begging us to donate their present budget to the food pantry, because they already have everything they need…Read the rest of my latest for Our Sunday Visitor.