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Little Spouse On The Prairie: The Advent Of Unadulterated Greed

Valerie Brown-Kuchera

I didn’t become a mother until I was into my 30s. One might think I’d be wiser for having a few extra years on me before tackling the awesome responsibility of parenthood. However, when it came to establishing meaningful, yet reasonable, holiday traditions, this did not prove the case.

When my oldest daughter was a small child, I decided it would be fabulous to distribute small gifts each day of December. I had received a lovely wooden Advent calendar as a gift the Christmas before, and I was eager to fill the little drawers with treasures. With only one child, I had not yet learned how little treasures turn rather quickly into piles of junk that end up in the landfill.

Nevertheless, my youthful ignorance was bliss, and I carefully shopped for trinkets. I ran into a problem early on, because the drawers on the advent calendar were so small, they would only hold perhaps a piece of candy. Little did I know that the manufacturers of said drawers had gamely tried to save me. They had made a calculated decision to make the drawers so tiny so that overenthusiastic first-time parents wouldn’t get carried away. Nevertheless, I did! I did get carried away.

When an item wouldn’t fit in the drawer, I tied one end of a string to the gift and the other to the knob on the drawer. I sent my first-born on hunts around the house for bubble bath, yoyos, silly putty, reindeer antlers, Christmas socks, full-sized candy bars, books, tops, stuffed toys, and other baubles. I even set out Christmas pajamas one day. Pinterest-worthy parenting, I tell you.

Then along came my son, Dashiell. I was determined to keep the Advent gravy train on the tracks. Far be it from me to ignore my precious second-born. I was eager to include him in the Advent calendar tradition, and I bought Matchbox cars, miniature Lego sets, bouncy balls, nutcrackers, playing cards, Rubik’s cubes, trains, and model kits.

A few years into this extravagance, I started to feel a bit of, shall we say, discomfort.

One morning, each child got a candy cane, and one said, “Yesterday, we got a toy, and today, all we got was this dumb candy cane.”

I realized at that moment that my attempts to set the mood for Christmas had indeed prepared my children for Advent: the advent of uncontrolled avarice. My children were, apparently, rolling around in a steaming pile of materialism, the likes of which the world hadn’t seen since Ebenezer Scrooge denied Bob Cratchit a Christmas bonus. I began to dread the morning ritual of checking the calendar almost as much as the kids looked forward to it.

About that time, a new Christmas phenomenon came out: Elf on a Shelf. Other mom-friends hailed the arrival of the mischievous little sprite as a way to keep the Christmas spirit alive without plummeting into a free-for-all gluttony. All a parent had to do was position the elf in a creative way every morning. Kids would delight in discovering what the silly little guy was up to.

My friends on social media posted pictures of their elves having drinks with Barbie, using a shoe as a sleeping bag, playing tic-tac-toe with stuffed animals, and being swarmed by Lego minifigures.

I thought about using the Elf on a Shelf as an out. But the more photos I saw of the strange pixie, the more creeped out I got. His eyes seemed a bit possessed. Not only that, but I didn’t want to come up with some asinine place to hide the dumb thing every day for 25 days.

Instead, one Christmas, I forgot to get our Advent calendar out. December arrived, and I simply went about my daily business, pretending that our family had never gotten sucked into those tiny drawers. About mid-December, one of my kids asked why we hadn’t done the Advent calendar that year.

“Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed. “I wasn’t able to find it!” And that was that. That thing never did show up, even ten years later, when my late-in-life baby Clementine came along. My older kids think I’m a mean ol’ mom to Clem, but she’s none the wiser. I just have to make sure she doesn’t hear this broadcast!

Host of Little Spouse on the Prairie, a regional comedy feature that airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. during Weekend Edition.