I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, “Toys not included.”
– Bernard Manning
The New York Times, that spotter of popular trends, had a news alert last week on children’s holiday shopping – boyish gifts for girls.
Yes, the newspaper reported, Mattel is introducing what I would call Hardhat Barbie with her own construction set, which encourages dads and daughters to play together as America’s favorite doll becomes a forewoman on a work site.
“It’s a combination that not only has Barbie building luxury mansions – they are pink, of course – but Lego promoting a line of pastel construction toys called Friends that is an early Christmas season hit,” the newspaper said.
Will this trend sweep America?
I doubt it.
It misses the point of my experience, which is that Christmas shopping for children goes through three discernible stages, and most of us know what they are.
Stage One: Fun
Beginning parents (or grandparents) find this out quickly. I think it’s because we are reminded again what it is like to be child. Most importantly, we are reminded what it was like to be a child and NOT get what we really wanted.
For this reason, some of us are known to obsess a bit if our little one even hints at wanting some hard-to-get plaything. We use our well-honed adult skills (and financial resources) to make it our mission to achieve acquisition.
It’s actually sort of fun.
Stage Two: What to do?
As the children get older, our Christmas motto becomes “Not so fast.” The requests from one’s young heirs are now tempered by the memories of what happened to the gifts of Christmas past, our more experienced understanding of the family budget and a review of the homeowner association rules on backyard ponies.
We still might shop with a mission in mind, but we also know there are more important things about this special time of year and there are always valuable life lessons in denial.
They want a kitten? They get a stuffed cat toy.
They want a new computer? They get a new computer game.
They want a new bike? They get a lecture on the health benefits of walking.
Stage Three: It’s from me
There is a sort of sadness when the child you buy for reaches a certain age and suspects Santa’s secrets. That secret, of course, is money.
But this is actually good because by now the child has reached the age when you really have no idea what he or she wants. Clothing, while practical, is risky because there’s an excellent chance you don’t know what style is cool. Electronics? Same story.
I suggest you recall the biblical Gift of the Magi. The Three Wise Men did not bring the baby in the manger new swaddling clothes, they brought gold … and perfumes that could be converted into gold.
They were, indeed, wise men.
Now some people think giving money is cold and heartless, but I don’t. I see it as a way to say this to that special young person: “Look, I don’t know what you want, but I do know you. Here’s some money I earned that I hope you will invest in your happiness.”
Then I hand him or her an envelope containing $100 in $20 bills.
It’s a Jackson Five Christmas.