Whoever said money can’t buy happiness doesn’t have teenagers.

This is the last Christmas I’m going to overdo it on presents for my children.

But BOY was it fun this year.

The week before Thanksgiving, when Kim started hinting about how her laptop was slow and it sure would be nice to have a new one so she could do a better job on her homework — and did I need any help around the house? — I warned the kids to recalibrate their expectations because I was going to scale way back in the gift department.

Patrick shrugged and said all he wanted was a video game, and it would be fine with him if I bought a used one.

Kim did not react to my Scrooge-ing with her brother’s indifference, but she managed not to sulk in front of me, which is the best you can hope for with an eighth grader, and that weekend, while I was at the grocery store, she dug out all the Christmas decorations from the scary part of the basement and decked the halls with bows of everything. She even found a picture of Jesus in a drawer and insisted on putting it on display next to the stuffed snowmen, because “Christmas is not just about Santa.”

My thrifty Yuletide was off to such a good start!

Then I got an offer on the minivan, and my good intentions went up in smoke. It’s hard to pinch pennies after someone hands you a wad of hundreds, especially right before Apple’s Black Friday sale.

I drove to the mall (not in the minivan, obviously) and grabbed two laptops.

I hadn’t been this excited for Christmas day to arrive since I was ten, and had the sneaking (and correct) suspicion that my father got the hint about the 13″ black and white TV I wanted but didn’t want to be greedy and ask for. I wrapped the Macs immediately and stashed them in the super-secret hiding place in my closet. For weeks, I played out in my head how I would tell the kids, after they thought everything was opened, that there was one…more…thing.

I worried that the real-life scenario couldn’t possibly turn out as well as the ones I kept tweaking in my imagination. That would require 1) my actually keeping a secret for four weeks, and 2) the kids being happy and grateful before they even got the computers, then afterward, stunned and excited and overflowing with gratitude for the most fabulous mother on the planet.

(Of course, I would explain that the computers were a gift from their father, because I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them like that.)

I’m happy to report that the plan exceeded my expectations to the point that my teenagers let me drag them to a 2:00 movie — I’d always wanted to see what it would be like to see a movie on Christmas day — without complaining. I remarked on what good sports they were being. “Of course we’re being good sports, Mom,” said Patrick cheerfully. “We just got new computers.”

They remained in great spirits for days, too, until Kim came down with a splitting headache that the nurse attributed to “too much screen time.”

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Seeing my children genuinely surprised and thrilled is the most beautiful gift I could have gotten for Christmas, though I will admit that using expensive devices to accomplish that was a bit of a cheat. My goal for 2012 is to cultivate the spirit of the season without maxing out my credit cards.

But I have a whole year to figure out how to do that.



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