Ugh. Worst family activity night! The store was so big that it was hard to keep track of everyone. The selection was so big (and the prices) that it was difficult for our littles to stay within their modest budget. They needed a lot of help from mom and dad. And the kicker--the coupons that we brought to use had all either expired the day before, or were not valid until the next day. We had confused the dates as we looked at them before leaving the house, so this was a check-stand discovery. Andy was fuming, mostly about the coupons, but also over the frustration of the shopping trip. Everyone else was ornery, and I suddenly remembered a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
Had I really made the same mistake as the Grinch? Had I really become so selfish that I couldn't see my children's gifts to me for what they were? All they wanted was to share in the joy of giving, and to see a smile on my face when they gave me a heart-felt gift. And, at least for a few years, I had been more focused on the gift than on the giver. I was embarrassed over this new discovery. And with everyone else's unhappiness over the "fun" family activity we had just (not) enjoyed, I asked some questions.
"Did anyone have fun tonight?" (The answers were mixed, but there was definitely whining involved.) "Was it more fun tonight? Or was it more fun when we used to go to the dollar store? I don't ever remember coming away from the dollar store with this feeling."
Everyone agreed. We had spent more money and time, and had less fun. Andy had considered taking everything back and using the coupon to re-purchase, but I had a different idea.
"We used to have fun doing this activity. What if we take back all the stuff, and re-do our Christmas shopping at the dollar store?" There was some disappointment, because these girls had worked hard to pick nice gifts. But instead of having to draw names and buy for just one sibling, they would be able to buy for everyone. And the fun we used to have with this activity would return. The feeling in the van changed. Everyone calmed down.
A few days later, we went to the dollar store. The girls wandered around, dropping hints about what they would like as they worked to pick the perfect gifts for their family members and stay out of sight. Everything in the store fit into their budget. They all got their own money to take and pay by themselves. No coupons were involved. And it was a small enough place that they could wander freely without getting lost. The fun was back. I got a puzzle, a dishtowel, a fancy bar of soap, and some floral patterned pens. And a truly fun family memory.