journalism that swims
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The 'Blended Family' Bonanza

Family trees with divorce in them shower gifts on the lucky kids below. I should know.

Scott Deveau 24 Dec
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[Last in a three-part series on giving]

My niece and nephew, Sena and Damon, make off like bandits over the holidays. They must see Christmas coming like a giant toy truck backing up to their house and unloading everything they ever wanted and more right into the living room.

That's what you get when, somewhere up there higher in the family tree, branches have been split by a divorce or two or even more.

I know this from some experience. When my parents' marriage exploded all over my 13-year old existence, they couldn't have timed it better. Completely insecure, going into my first year of high school, and Mom and Dad decide it a fine moment to lay waste to all consistency in my life.

The upside (for a while): Christmas and birthdays. They were great, as I watched my parents trying to outdo each other with cooler, bigger gifts. Unfortunately, in time the gravy train left the station. And even when it was chugging along for me, I knew nothing like the largesse bestowed on my niece and nephew who are a mere four and five years old respectively.

The gift multiplier

Try to follow, because it's going to get a bit complicated. Both my parents remarried and so my niece and nephew were born into a stable family with two sets of maternal grandparents to buy them presents. Then, to richen the pot, my mother got divorced again, and because the kids are so damned cute, her ex-husband still treats them like they're his grandchildren. Add one more present each. 

My grandmother is also crazy about them, so another present each.

On my sister's partner's side (they never got married for reasons that are becoming abundantly clear), his parents are separated, creating two new sets of paternal grandparents and two more presents each.

Here's where broken homes begin to look little like hitting the holiday jackpot.

My sister's partner was raised by another couple, who subsequently went through a divorce, creating two more sets of grandparents and two more presents.

Of course there is also my sister's partner's brother, my step-brother and step-sister, and the various aunts, uncles, and babysitters who have also succumbed to the kids' charm.

Not to mention myself, who lives four provinces away and harbours a major guilt complex for not being there to watch them grow up. This of course translates into two more presents.

In total, there is a guarantee that at least three uncles, one aunt, eight grandparents, and Santa Claus will be bringing them a present this year.

Throw in Hanukah

Don't get me wrong. These kids are angels and I'm not just saying that.  They really are. They're the most polite, well-mannered kids I've ever met. (They're also the smartest, most beautiful, talented and charming in the world, said the proud uncle.) But because we all are so mad about them, we turn their birthdays and Christmas into this gift-giving bonanza.

The mere mention of an interest and the kids are inundated. Last year, Sena was into ponies. For Christmas and her birthday she got rocking horses, a half dozen stuffed horses, horse books, horse shirts, horse socks, and horse shoes.  If there is any other thing you can stick a horse on, she has it. 

The same thing happened with Damon's obsession with bugs.

My sister does an amazing job of navigating this sea of presents and the gifts they get are seldom duplicated.

My cousin's kids have it even better than my niece and nephew.

Not only do they have a similar situation with their grandparents, but they are also half-Jewish and celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas. That's eight more gifts from everyone, followed by a Christmas bash.

The mounting bill

I'm just waiting for the Christmas when these kids figure out they can get money instead of gifts for Christmas. They're going to be rolling in it.  They'll probably make off with tens times the amount that I go into debt every year buying presents for everyone.

I may start hitting them up for loans after the holidays because of all the people I have to buy for now.

The more people my family bring into my life, the more broke I get each Christmas. 

Thankfully, I'm single and I don't have to worry about buying a present for a girlfriend this year.  A few Christmases ago, however, I was with someone and buying presents got ridiculous. In one year, I bought presents for my girlfriend, her parents, my parents, their husband and wife, my grandmother, my sister, her partner, and their two kids. I also bought for my step-sister's daughter, because she's so damned cute herself and the rest of the cast of characters that I was obligated to buy for.

Now, it's common knowledge that journalists don't earn much and being a reporter at The Tyee sure won't ever make me a millionaire. That makes it all the more pressing that I devise some way of allocating resources rationally when it comes to buying presents for everyone in our divorce-riddled tree.

Each according to need

So here's my formula. Start with the fact that I'm in my twenties, single, with no responsibilities save making rent and paying my bar bill. And so my piddly salary gets divided into social events.

One-hundred dollars is dinner and drinks with someone special, which is a very important thing for someone my age to do, so long as the relationship doesn't progress to the point that I have to buy someone else a present.

Twenty dollars is bottle of wine. Fifty dollars is a piss-up over pints with my buddies, but not the kind where I wake up the next morning not knowing where I am, what I've done, and with a tongue like sandpaper; that's a $75 event. 

So the way I see Christmas is that depending on how much I love someone or how long they've been in my life they are allocated the equivalent of one of these events and therefore I have a tangible idea of the sacrifices I'm making for the ones I love.

The kids, which I'm trying to buy love from, get a dinner and drink date.  My father, mother, sister, her partner, my step-mother and grandmother get somewhere between a piss-up with a buddy or a sandpaper tongue. Everyone else gets a bottle of wine, figuratively or literally.

For someone who doesn't make a lot of money, that's a lot of social events out of my life.

Playing catch-up

When I was in university, I tried getting away with the "I don't have enough money for presents" shtick.

But then I felt bad when I came home and spent Christmas morning guiltily opening presents from everyone with a hangover from spending my entire holiday and bank account in a bar.  In my pea-sized university mind, I hoped no one would notice that I had enough money to go out every night, but not enough to buy them presents.

I admit it, in the past I've been a real shit. But this year, everyone gets a present. I've spent the last few months carefully carving up my social calendar to make that possible.

My sister tells me my niece and nephew have both started playing hockey this year. I hope they like the Team Canada hockey jerseys I got them, because if it doesn't buy their love, then I'm going to be really pissed I sacrificed a couple nights out on the town.

The real plan though is to eventually meet someone, have some kids of my own and really stick it to the rest of my family. And while I'm navigating the sea of presents that are coming to my kids, I may throw in a couple of things for myself, you know, to kinda balance things off and to sort of get that gravy train backing into the right station again.

Scott Deveau is a staff writer for The Tyee.
Wednesday: Charity: What Gives? British Columbians are Scrooges when it comes to charity. But science says giving makes us happy.

Yesterday: 'A Lot of Need Here'  B.C. health pros who give of themselves in Guatemala face persistent poverty and doubts about 'medical tourism.'  [Tyee]

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