So I’m at Target today doing a little Santa shopping for my four-year-old, Elby (luckily she’s not one of those super advanced four-year-olds you hear people brag about who can already read – otherwise I couldn’t even write this column) when it occurred to me that… horrors… I would have to buy gifts from Santa for my one-year-old twins as well.I hadn’t actually accounted for that because, after all, they’re ONE and don’t need or understand the concept of presents. But as I was grabbing a few things from Elby’s letter to Santa – a recorder, a book where you find the Disney fairy, a dream catcher (which, even though I found one at Barnes and Noble, I put back because, come on – it’s not the sixties) – I pictured her waking up Christmas morning, finding her presents and then wondering why Santa didn’t bring the babies anything.
“Were they bad this year?” she might wonder. “Am I more special?” “Do Mommy and Daddy love me more?” And the answer to all of those questions is of course, sort of. But that would require way too much explaining.
Preschoolers have an innate sense of fairness. They are acutely aware of another child getting something they didn’t get as well as if they are favored over another child. So, I realized, I’m screwed. I now have three kids to buy for and we’re on a budget.
After coming home and enjoying a little post shopping egg nog (made with low-fat egg nog mix), I calmed down quite a bit. I realized that with a couple of years behind me in the kid gift giving biz, I have a bit of knowledge. And as you know, knowledge is power. Not only that, but knowledge can prevent too much crying which is always a time and sanity saver.
There are politics involved in gift giving and the best thing you can do is have a plan and then follow it no matter how many things you see that would be “just perfect!” for your adorable angel. Here are a few rules I am following that can help you get through most gift giving that involves the under preschool set:
1. At least for my daughter (and no, she’s not spoiled – she’s four) quantity over quality is best for both of us.
If presented with a choice between a $45 dollar magic wand from a cool kid’s boutique that specializes in a one of a kind wand which is an artistic treasure certain to “enchant any child’s imagination” or five crappy magic wands from the 99 Cents store – I’m going to happily save over 40 bucks. Plus, either way, the thing is going to have lost its newness after a few days anyway and land in a toy chest never to be seen again. Or at least until it’s discovered by another child who wants to play with it at which point it will suddenly be “My special wand!”
2. Kids don’t like surprises.
This makes shopping a lot easier. I sat Elby down and we wrote her letter to Santa where she let Santa know that she would like. I gently reminded her that this is to help Santa decide but that he probably won’t be able to get everything. She said she understood. But she did want to remind him that we are baking him cookies and if he wants that tradition to continue he should be sure to read her list very carefully. A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that kids like surprises and end up spending money on things their kid will never touch when a five dollar Barbie could have brought hours of fun and gratitude. Which brings me to my next rule…
3. Any gifts that are not from Santa or parents are best left to be opened after the giver has left the premises.
The aunt or uncle or neighbor or family friend will beg and cajole but chance are, they if you do let your child open the gift, the giver will end up getting their feelings hurt. Kids, no matter how well trained in manners, are famous for their honestly and even if they say “thank you” because they don’t want a time-out, their face will be saying “Have you ever met a four-year-old? Why would possibly give you the idea I would give two craps about a puzzle with a kitten on it? Watch a few cartoons on the Disney Channel and make sure you sit through the commercials, cuz that’s what I want.” This also goes for presents given by other children. First off, if it’s a holiday party or especially a birthday party, the last thing you want is a child opening gifts in front of other children they are not related to. It’s torture for the gift giver to part with a toy and it’s impossible for the gift receiver to spend enough time oohing and aahing to satisfy the person who bought the toy. Best let your kid tear through the gifts later and try to send a card.
4. When it comes to kids and gifts – always give a gift receipt.
They are used more often than you’d like to think. Better yet, maybe just give cash.
Ho ho ho.