Illustration by James Callahan
Oh, holidays. Why can't you be spread out just a little more? It seems like we stumble through the candy-and-horror orgy that is Halloween and barely make it to Thanksgiving, a delicious, cozy oasis in the midst of the chaos — and before you know it, Christmas is upon us! And that's when we — OK, I — realize that not only have I not updated my Christmas card list, much less started on the cards, but I also have to find presents for everyone on my list, wheedle out of The Boy which of the umpty-five badrillion toys on his list he actually wants, and which ones he threw on there because he had seen a commercial recently. Then — and this is the really tough one — I need to snap The Boy out of his holiday haze long enough to shepherd him through his shopping list in a way that makes him feel like it's his process, but at the same time steers him away from giving his grandparents Lego sets for Christmas because, hey, who doesn't want a Lego set?
In the early days, I would fan out 10 single-dollar bills and follow him through the dollar store, offering narration: "OK, first Baboo … good, now Bobby … Mommy ... Daddy …" then the cousins. We gave him carte blanche because it's cute to get a blue plastic ninja sword from your 3-year-old grandchild, or a single oven mitt, or a Slinky. With just a dollar at stake, it was easy to step back and let him do the choosing and not worry if the gift was useful, appropriate or downright ludicrous. As he gets older, though, care must be taken. We want to raise a kind and thoughtful giver who spends some time thinking about what would appeal to the giftee.
Fortunately, we have a season of birthdays leading up to Christmas, so we can practice. My mom's is one of the earlier ones. This year, The Boy decided on his own that instead of buying her a gift, he would make her a video. He toiled over a set of cue cards enumerating his 10 favorite things about her.
Unbidden, he ran to his room just before the camera rolled and got the blue necktie he dons — usually under duress — for special occasions. I suggested he add a dress shirt, but no, he wanted to wear it over a tie-dyed shirt. Fair enough. It took us four takes to get it right; he kept missing his cue to hold up the stuffed Domo she made with him for favorite thing No. 8 ("she does art projects with me"). The blooper reel is on my list of 10 favorite things, and my mom loved the finished product, tie-dyed shirt and all.
Using birthdays for practice has helped him get the hang of giving to grownups. It also helps that he was born into an easy-to-please family. Tad will always be happy with a meat-based gift, I will never complain about chocolate, and there is no adult in his life who isn't thrilled by an original work of art or a handwritten poem. We encourage the creative presents, but The Boy is a Soffee to the core. He loves to shop, so store-bought presents always accompany the artwork and poetry.
When it comes to the cousins who are close to his age, though, he has a tougher time separating what he wants from what they might want. This year he is convinced that Girl Cousin wants one of the new femme Nerf rifles, with the pink feather emblems and the lavender darts. "She likes pink," he points out, "and things that are fancy." And while that may be true, her love of things pink and fancy does not extend to projectile weapons. After a little prodding, he decided to give her a gift card to her favorite clothing store, which he was proud to have (mostly) thought of on his own.
Maybe he'd be able to focus on generosity and thoughtfulness more fully if he weren't so utterly consumed by thoughts of what he might be getting Christmas morning. And while I'm sure some readers will cluck their tongues at my greedy little getter, I am happy to spend another Christmas with a starry-eyed, Santa-believing Boy who just wants to rip into those boxes and see what's inside.
Here's wishing you all a happy holiday season. May you all get, and give, whatever your heart desires.