My family is expanding. My ninth grandchild arrived two weeks ago, breaking the tie between boys and girls. The girls now have the advantage, 5-4, which isn’t like a Supreme Court split decision, since they sit together at the kids’ table on holidays and vote in a block. The last vote they took, at Thanksgiving, was to “get nonno” on the trampoline after dinner. It was unanimous, including two who have become part of our blended family, which, I am proud to say, brings the grandchild total to eleven. Apparently, I am the only family member who will wrestle with them and allow himself to get clobbered.
This makes gift-giving nearly impossible, especially at Christmas. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. This year, I didn’t want to add to the considerable stockpile of consumer goods these kids already have only to have my gift end up in a recycling bin before the new year. So, I ruled out any item that was plastic and made noise, but that limited my search to nurseries and junk yards, which would not do. So, I decided to allow one but not both. That is, I could buy a gift that was either plastic or made noise, but even then the noise had to be natural and not from something you plugged in like a keyboard. This included harmonicas and drums but not drum sets, which actually turned up under the tree one year along with a keyboard. It was a big tree.
We decided years ago that we would make a list of the adults in the family and then pair them up so that each adult would have to buy only one gift, not including the children. Simple enough. I found a long-range, monocular telescope with a smart phone adapter for my son-in-law. How could he not love that? Even if he doesn’t like it, I’ll buy another for myself. It’s plastic but doesn’t make noise. Then for the kids I went to Michael’s and bought puzzles and Lego-type construction sets that hurled things like arrows and boulders and rockets with red glare. I did not buy the whirling thingumajig that lights up and comes back to you when you throw it: a boomerang, Jedi training sphere or some such thing. I did all of that in under an hour.
It’s not necessarily shopping that is frustrating (although I wouldn’t go to Michael’s more than once a year) but deciding on the right gift and figuring how and when to get it. Maybe that is shopping, but you can’t just buy something in bulk and hand it out unless it’s little candies or pieces of fudge or airline liquor bottles. You’ve got to make each gift mean something to the person you’re giving it to. For instance, I told one grandson that pumpkin spice Cheerios were the best (see Frost on the ‘Punkin’) but since General Mills in its managerial foolhardiness discontinued them, chocolate Cheerios were the ones to buy. He listened intently and agreed. I can be very convincing. So, what did he find under the tree from nonno? A box of chocolate Cheerios wrapped with a bow. Talk about sentimental.
Then there are my daughters. I can’t get a present just for my son-in-law because I drew his name. Fatherhood is till my death do us part. But I had the brilliant idea of combining my fatherly duty with celebrating the reason for the season. I bought hand-crafted Christmas cards with icons of the Nativity and gave one to each of my three daughters. Inside, I included a coupon for “Dinner with Dad” and reminded them of the coupons they would give me for taking out the garbage, washing the car, or mowing the lawn. “But unlike those, these coupons have no expiration date,” I told them.
As for me, I no longer answer the question of what I want for Christmas, which I find even more frustrating than shopping. I figure if you have to ask, it’s not worth answering. I am content with anything from iPads to doughnuts, although I’ve noticed that underwear, socks, and t-shirts no longer show up in my stocking. Maybe I’m supposed to have a partner for that. Then again, why should I ask for something I could just as well buy? Christmas isn’t supposed to be about want or even need. It’s about salvation.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind a trip to France.
Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” for Christmas (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. Image credits: Jeremy Bishop (feature). NB: Came up with a great name for a hearing aid company: WHAT?