The holidays are full of booby traps. There is family; there are in-laws; and there are expectations. To negotiate the holiday minefield, many families have rules. Some are verbalized, some are implied and some are simply made up on the spot out of necessity. The one thing all of these rules have in common is that they’re never followed. Especially by grandmothers.

I learned this lesson the tiring way. Although there are many redeeming parts of the holidays – time dedicated to gratitude and family, watching Will Ferrel in Elf and calorie-laden Kahlua and eggnog — the part of the holidays I loathe is the commercialism and consumerism.

So, logically, I made a rule. And I have been fighting to impose it every year. I limited the amount of presents grandma (my mother-in-law) is allowed to buy for my two children. If you just laughed, you are either a grandma or a daughter-in-law who has tried to limit any rights applicable to grandma jurisdiction such as giving presents. And you know, it simply doesn’t work.

Moms make rules. Grandmas listen, nod, even engage in discussion, and agree to the terms. Then they go and do whatever they want. You ask: “Is she delusional?” “Did she forget?” “Or, is she just exercising the grandma clause — a clause that has never actually been stated, but can be interpreted as: Grandma can do whatever she damn well pleases especially if she regularly babysits your children and takes them for overnights?” You suspect it’s the latter.

So this year, aware of the booby traps and non-binding rules, I have officially given up and given in to the holidays. As proof, I have already passed the first test, which came at Thanksgiving. While we were visiting in Arizona, the girls’ grandma wanted to take them to the Outlet Mall. My eldest daughter started listing everything she wanted and the youngest imitated her mispronouncing the now essential items she too wanted that she hardly knew existed minutes before — jeans, a Christmas dress, shoes, maybe a baby…..

“Hold on,” Grandma said to the girls. “We have to ask your mom about the rules as to what we can and cannot buy.” Everyone stopped in anticipation of the rule ritual, all eyes on me. I began taking inventory of what the girls already had (everything) and what they actually needed (nothing) before enumerating the restrictions. But when I opened my mouth, I simply stated, “No rules.” There was an audible silence—I think my husband even held his breath. I added, “Get whatever you want. I don’t care.”

Amazingly, the truth was, I actually didn’t care.

What had changed? Had I suddenly changed my opinion about the value of useless plastic toys and t-shirts manufactured in developing countries at the total neglect of environmental regulation or child labor laws? About things we neither needed nor had room for in our little house? No. Had I become smarter and realized I was never going to win this battle? Highly unlikely, I’m pretty hard headed. So what was it?

As I approach forty, I finally realized that I was the only one who would follow my rules. Grandma would buy the kids lots of presents, but I didn’t have to. And we could keep them all at her house.

So this year, instead of making rules, I’m following them. The first is to give in to the holiday season. The second has to do with eggnog.


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