We Are Both Right

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

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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?

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.