Like a lot of Mainers, my family experienced fluctuations in our finances when I was growing up – some years, we didn’t have to worry; other years, we had to worry a lot. But I was very, very lucky, because we always had enough for the necessities – just not always for the extras. (The exception was health insurance: For a few years in the early 2000s, my parents went without while my dad was back in school, and we kids were on CHIP.)

No matter their bills, though, my parents always did a good job of making Christmas special. Part of that was my mom’s trick – which she picked up from her mom – of buying Christmas presents months in advance when she saw them on sale, and then squirreling them away around the house. Like a squirrel, she also occasionally forgot where she put them, so while cleaning, we’ve found a few treasure troves of clothes that would have fit us perfectly three years ago.

Every Christmas, one of the presents I looked forward to the most was the bag of books. I knew I would get one, because I got one every year, just like my mom got one every year when she was growing up. It didn’t matter that the books were from used bookstores, or garage sales, or sometimes had bent pages or scuffed covers. They were BOOKS. As soon as we finished with opening gifts on Christmas morning, I would circle back to the bag, pick the one that seemed the most exciting and curl up in my armchair. There are a lot of pictures of a small Victoria with her nose in a book, surrounded by a pile of wrapping paper.

We usually got one “big” present every year – one particularly special or pricy thing – and the rest was smaller stuff (what one might call “stocking stuffers”). In Christmas 1999, when I was 7, all I wanted was Millennium Barbie. I can still remember the thrill of her icy-blond hair and glittering silver and blue dress when I saw her in the toy store aisle. And my parents made it happen. (Like I said, I was a lucky child.)

When I opened that box on Christmas morning – God, I loved that doll. I named her Anya, and a week later I gave her a haircut (which probably gave my mom a heart attack, but I still maintain that she looked better with a bob). The haircut made her fit in a bit better with my other Barbies, which came from Goodwill, like my clothes did.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the gifts I was able to receive as a child, because, well, ’tis the season. Every kid on Santa’s list deserves the joy of shredding wrapping paper and tossing aside tissue paper on Christmas morning (unless their families don’t celebrate Christmas, in which case, they deserve to have the toy joy on whatever gift-giving holiday they do celebrate).

And not all families are as lucky as mine has generally been. Times are tough. Winter is cold, and heating oil is expensive. The opioid epidemic has meant a lot of grandparents coming up to bat to raise their grandkids, stretching retirement funds until they run out of stretch.

I’m donating the paycheck I receive for this week’s column to the Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts (and, for me, in the spirit of my dad, Ross Hugo-Vidal). The words you are reading right now will end up buying a couple of kids some Barbies or books or the newest Paw Patrol … thing. (There are so many Paw Patrol things. When I was young, it was Power Rangers.)

If you have a little extra left over after paying your bills, I encourage you to donate as well. I promise it will make you feel good. And, if you’re struggling to pay your bills and you have kids on Santa’s list, please apply to the toy fund at pressheraldtoyfund.org (or call 791-6672 to get an application by mail). They can help your kids have their own Millennium Barbie moment.

Ultimately, though, what I remember from 20 years ago wasn’t what my parents bought me. It was how much they loved me. So no matter what your financial situation is, if your kids know that you love them, well, they’ll probably turn out just fine.

Or they’ll become newspaper op-ed columnists.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial


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