By the time I was fourteen, I had yet to convince my parents to allow me to have a video game console. Yes, they had caved on the Game Boy years earlier, but a full system was another order of expenditure altogether. So during the Christmas season of 1996, just after the Nintendo 64 launched, my brother and I hatched a scheme to acquire this new piece of technology: we would pay for it ourselves, but as part of the bargain, we had to convince our parents to pay for a few games. We took this proposal to our father, who worked in plastics engineering and had a very systematic approach to these kinds of things, and he made us go back and put together a more formal presentation. In other words, we needed spreadsheets.
This is convincing, right?
So my brother and I hopped on the computer and put together a spreadsheet breaking down how much a Nintendo 64 cost, what each of us would contribute, and how much each of the games would cost. We also needed to affirm that the family’s household video game rules would remain in force (no gaming on school nights), but my father was quick to insert a dispensation for himself, allowing him to play when he liked (a privilege I only recall him exercising once). My parents relented and we were allowed to purchase the system.
The experience of being asked to develop a more professional (for a 14 year-old) approach to making a Christmas gift request has ruined my ability to ask for expensive gifts. Part of me thinks this is a good thing; my parents didn’t want their children to grow up thinking that pricey gifts were a standard part of Christmas. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if their approach was too effective, because I can’t help feeling that it’s somehow wrong to ask for nice things, particularly electronics.
So it was with great fear and trembling that I sent my mother-in-law an email a couple of weeks ago, not long after the Nintendo Wii U pricing announcement in New York.
As you may or may not know Nintendo is releasing a new console in November. The cost is $350, which I know is a sizable sum, but I’m interested in trying to get one for Christmas. There are few points on this that I’d like to mention. First, I can trade in our original Wii (that you gave me a few years back) for a $50 discount at GameStop; our Wii has served us well and still works perfectly. Second, I’d like to make the purchase myself today or tomorrow–with these kinds of product launches, supplies are limited and preordering is often necessary to guarantee getting a unit. So, if you and some other family members are interested, let me know. I would also be happy to put forward some money as well. I’m not very good at asking for big ticket items, so sorry if this sounds like a business proposal.
Notice the ridiculous enumeration of “points”? What an idiot. But in my stage of life (still working on a PhD in literature), the only way a new console comes into my life is either years after its debut or with the help of others. I think that I try to handle my anxiety that this is asking for too much by making the request sound more like a business proposal. But its got to be the most transparent veneer of all time for a straight-up Christmas present request.
My in-laws are wonderfully generous folks, and they said this was fine. But I won’t deny that a sense of guilt or maybe just presumption lingers. Where is the line between asking for something out of a genuine belief in someone’s generosity and a presumption of generosity that preys on others? While I’m delighted to have generous family members, I never want to slip into a pattern of presuming that my desires should be met out of others’ generosity. In some ways, then, perhaps my dad’s insistence on spreadsheets helped to attenuate that tendency. Although it may be a bit early to be writing posts on Christmas, perhaps the spreadsheets have helped to remind me that the generosity of gift-giving is only meant to point us to the infinite generosity represented in the Christmas story.