Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? Long heralded as an appropriate story for children, it features a child who sounds a call to action too many times and is eventually undone by the social anesthetic properties of his boorish behavior. The lesson generally culled from this is that the child is at fault, and his fate (death at the claws of a vicious beast) is justified by his actions (occasional fibbing). The logical converse view would be that the child was simply having fun and that his naughty behavior was a cry for help. I don’t concern myself really about either of those, I concern myself with the village, and the parents, who cannot spare even a second to check on the whole “is there actually a wolf there” thing. I’m not saying you should all rush to arms and whatnot, but somebody could go take a peek, see if there are huge pawprints, that sort of thing. That’s just me though, I’m apparently not a reactionary. This brings me to Christmas with my family.
Each holiday season, my parents will grind and moan on about how poor they are and how Christmas might just not have a whole lot going on. I’m an idiot, apparently, because each year I believe them to one degree or another, and dial back my gift plans for them to a level that I would consider modest.
Each year they, in turn, give me a present that costs roughly 10 times “modest”. I suppose I should know by now but, honestly, they have the ability to, time and time again, push all the right buttons. This produces a few problems.
First off, there’s “non-reciprocal-value gift syndrome”. Which is to say that I feel guilty every time. This is not that big of a deal, I try to be a good son and I always try to treat them to things in the rest of the year. I try not to step on their charity when I’m doing well by myself. Whatever, this is something that sucks from about December 25th until about January 12th, when I either stop caring or take them out to a nice dinner.
The real problem, however, is the fact that the at-minimum-overstatement-and-possibly-outright-fabrication of their financial woes causes me sleepless nights and intestinal distress over the course of months. They sometimes begin this banter in late summer, and almost certainly by October, a litany of tiny distress beacons they let slip, like mentions of credit card debt accrued, or tales of poor sales in their business, repairs to the house or vehicles left undone because it’s just too expensive. This year, they have outdone themselves, mentioning a month ago that the financial tidal wave that would soon be arriving may require them to move in with me in my tiny rental house, sweeping away their home even as it destroys their livelihood. I lay awake chewing Tums for a week after that little bombshell, imagining the horror of three grown men and a woman sharing a single, tiny bathroom. The other concerns, such as whether or not the foundation of the house could support our combined weight, as crapulent as it is, or where precisely any of our “stuff” would go just left me staring off into space at work, jaw clenched, as I willed business to pick up for them. I looked over my finances to see if I could give them any money to help make ends meet, I thought of things I own that I could sell, I thought of a second job, part time, to help even out the Good Ship Walker.
So my reaction upon receiving the gift of a dishwasher this Christmas morning, not two weeks after the last night spent detailing my finances and thoughts of setting aside money to fund my parents retirement, was mixed to say the least. I am happy, because I like clean dishes, and this will no doubt help to that end. But I do not like the idea of getting an ulcer brought on because I spent too much time as a child worried about that idiotic boy being molested by a wolf because his family and friends are incapable cursory investigation and cannot conceptualize “due diligence”.