We Are Both Right

Who’s Keeping Score When Buying Holiday Gifts for Kids?


One thing I’m learning as a parent is that no matter how hard you try to be fair, there’s always something your children will throw back at you when they are adults. 

Case in point: the family grudge match I heard about this Thanksgiving where a grown woman whined to her mom that her brother always got more Twinkies than she did when they were kids.  Twinkies!  I mean, really?  If I was their mom, I would ask: “Is that the best you can do?”

Maybe if one baby got the hand-me-down crib and a twin sibling got a new one, you might have to make it up with a new car in sixteen years.  But Twinkies?

It leads me to think that as much as I strive to teach my children about being grateful for what they get and not to keep score, there might be some value in rethinking my strategy on buying Christmas gifts for my kids this year.  Either that, or I’ll have to hear in 2030 that the reason they won’t eat a holiday meal together is because she only got a scooter the year he got a basketball hoop. 

Up until now, we haven’t found the need to add up the value of their Christmas presents (although it might have helped the budget).  We never were compelled to scrounge up whatever we could find in the half of a toy aisle in the supermarket on Christmas Eve because we realized at the last minute that one child had two more wrapped presents than the other.  (Granted, we were parents to an only child for five years and it’s now only our daughter’s fourth Christmas — really the first for which she is fully aware and, most importantly, able to count).  

The more I think about what this balancing act entails, buying gifts for kids seems to be getting more complicated by the minute.  Not only do I have to select and hide special Santa wrapping paper, but now I have to be calculated enough to know exactly how many gifts and the value of each of the gifts for my kids prior to Christmas Eve?!  Before the stores close?

And exactly which formula is a parent supposed to use?

Quantity?  Split it right down the middle, even-steven.  He has eight, she has eight.  Easy enough — especially for my friends who observe Hanukkah and give one gift for each night. But then I guess you have to give some consideration to matching values since each and every Hanukkah gift gets a whole night’s worth of attention.

Which leads me to my next consideration… price.  I would think that this is the least effective method of balancing out gifts for kids on the holidays.  What five-year-old girl knows or cares that her older brother’s XBox plus one game equals 18.5 Barbie dolls.   I guess it just has to appear even, so maybe a little background on the gift might be helpful, possibly along the lines of “Santa gave you one big gift because it took a lot of elves to work on making that air hockey table, while your little brother only wanted a few small things, so he got a game and a remote-control car that cost, um, I mean, took the same amount of time to make.”

Or if I’m getting really desperate maybe I’ll take the approach we use when pumpkin picking.  All you can carry, so Santa had to pick wisely.  Better yet, we’ll tell them that even Santa falls under TSA rules now, so his toy tote had to be under the specified weight and dimension for carry-on bags.  Your choice, one big gift or twenty smaller presents — no liquids please.    

My last ditch effort in keeping everything fair might be to run a three-by-three square on each side of the tree in blue painter’s tape.  That would make a good lesson in volume, if nothing else. 

All I know is that time’s ticking and I better get to work — got any other ideas?

Buying Christmas Gifts–I Didn’t Know There Would Be Math

Ready for a math puzzle? Pay attention and be sure to check your work because I don’t know the answer and I’m counting on you to get it right!

If on Christmas Eve, Amanda has three kids, ages 10, 7 and 19 months and the 10-year-old asks Santa Claus for assortment of nine gifts that total $243 and the 7-year-old wants $316 worth of presents that are 16 in number and the toddler just smiles a lot and says “Ho! Ho! Ho!” every time he sees someone wearing red, please solve if a = size of the boxes that hold the gifts, b = age of the child, c = price and x is where the fruit cake intersects d, which represents how many boxes there are, what’s the probability that I’m going to need a lot of Christmas “cheer” and a really big calculator to get me through the shopping season?

Bonus question for extra credit: Will 270 square feet of special Santa Claus wrapping paper be enough?

 © We Are Both Right

© We Are Both Right

How is it that the simple act of buying Christmas presents for my children — something that is supposed to be joyful and, I might add, something I should be pretty well-versed in by now mind you — can cause me to have a stress-induced breakdown?

If only there was a person who would magically do this all for me. He would take care of the buying and the wrapping and the delivering. And he’d do it all in one night — in fact, he’d do it all in one night for everyone! And all we’d have to give him in exchange for this monumental effort are a few crumbly cookies and a glass of warm milk. He could wear a special outfit so we would all recognize him and not mistake him for a burglar when he showed up in the middle of the night. There would be logistical issues to consider of course — I mean how would he get around — but I’m sure somebody could figure something out.

I love Christmas shopping for my kids. I love reading their letters to Santa and figuring out what we are going to buy them. And I love choosing things that I think that they’ll love. It’s fun and really gets my holiday spirit going.

But I hate, hate, hate coordinating the process and trying to make everything equal. My kids are still young. And while maybe they should be better at understanding the value of money, right now I don’t think they do. So while we’ve acquiesced this year and decided to get our daughter that iPod she wants, it cost $138. And it’s in a small box. My elder son on the other hand wants a big fire house Lego set  that comes in a ginormous box ($77), the Loopz game ($22) and a new bat for Little League ($50). Roughly the same amount monetarily, not even close in a geometric sense.

Three kids, different genders, ages, interests, wants and needs. Of course their present piles won’t be uniform. But how do you explain the disparity? And do you even need to to a 7-year-old? I think at some point yes, but that it is a conversation that happens after the big Santa Claus reveal. Not that I’m ready to go there either.

For now, I take the coward’s way out and make sure everything is equal. Not in the amount of money that we spend, but in the number of boxes that each child opens. (Even for the littlest guy who would be happy with just a box and some ribbon scraps.) That way on Christmas Day all three are opening the same number. Do they notice amidst the riot of colorful paper and bows and bags and toys? I don’t know. Would they even care if their sibling got one or two more parcels? I tell myself no, and that even if they did we could talk about it and explain why, but still can’t bring myself to do it.

How do you dole out holiday gifts in your house? Do you make it even or is your motto more “you get what you get and you don’t get upset?”

Ghost of Christmas Presents – Mall Holiday Shopping

When my now-husband T. and I were dating, we spent an inordinate amount of our time at shopping malls. We would eat, we would wander — sometimes we would even shop (and, I must add shamefully, spend money without a worry nor care nor child).

These days I try to avoid the mall as much as possible — with three kids it has become less of a fun hangout spot where I might pick up a cute sweater and more of a “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”  were I might lose my marbles.

© RobinUtrac/stock.xchng

© RobinUtrac/stock.xchng

Still, for me, when it comes to picking out Christmas gifts for my loved ones, it’s at the mall or other brick-and-mortar stores where you’ll find me. I know lots of holiday shopping can be done online, but for all my lack of enthusiasm about trying to find a parking spot and the lines and the pushing, I much prefer physically heading out of the house to do my purchasing than sitting in front of my computer to do it.

I think its the idea of holiday shopping at a store that I like so much. The romantic notion of a day spent in and out of stores, dedicating quality time to choosing gifts I know my family and friends will love. (Why yes, I am humming Christmas carols while I type this.)

I like being part of a crowd, especially as it gets closer to Christmas. (When I was in high school and college, my friends and I would purposefully go shopping on Christmas Eve, even if we didn’t have anything to buy just to soak up the atmosphere).  I like the festive decorations and music. I like watching the kids take pictures with Santa Claus. And even though some  of my fellow gatherers are cranky and annoying, there’s a definite undercurrent at the store that you don’t feel when you are clicking the mouse — a building excitement that we are all sharing in together.

Plus, I like being able to pick something up and feeling it in my hands. I like wandering around with lots of different bags from lots of different stores and bustling through the throngs as I figure out what I need to get next. I like rifling through my coupons, trying to figure out where I will get the best buy. And when I’m undecided on a gift, for me, nothing beats browsing (obviously that’s one I do without the children). The best part is when I get home and I sort through the parcels, happily reviewing my conquests.

Now don’t get me wrong, I agree, online shopping is way more convenient. And if you can get free shipping (and I only shop online when I get free shipping), it can be less expensive than driving yourself to the local Target or Kohl’s. But it isn’t the same.

Not when Santa is handing out candy canes.