This year, she’s telling them her favorite gift was “the stuff that grows in the bathtub.”
The funny part is that she’s telling the truth. Indeed, last year, she received a Diego Animal Rescuer-style play-kit that had some rubber snakes in it. And this year, in her stocking, she found those Magic Grow Capsules… you know, the animal-shaped sponges that pop out of the little capsules when you put them in warm water.
She doesn’t mention the handmade (albeit hand-me-down) dollhouse we outfitted with kitschy 1970s furniture that I paid way too much for. It said right on the kitchen set box: Not for Children Under 12. I didn’t believe that. Now I do, since the door has already been ripped off the oh-so-adorable antique refrigerator, and the kitchen island drawers have already gone to the place all items smaller than a quarter mysteriously go when you live with young children. Dropped into the heat register? Sunk into the soil of a houseplant? I haven’t a clue.
She doesn’t mention the La-La-Loopsy doll either. Yes, she got one of those, in spite of my earlier column revealing my misgivings about these so-called “Best of 2011” dolls. It came from my mom, who bought it from a “scalper,” because the stores were all out of the “Silly Hair” style, which my mom had read were the best. (Gotta love Grandma for at least doing her research.) We all agree this doll is dumb, as far as plastic dolls with huge bobbly heads and locks like Medusa goes.
Nor does Elle mention the wee-little Squinkies she found wrapped up under the tree. Yes, she got those too. Even though I vowed that those choking-hazard size figurines were also too ridiculous to pay money for, even if a daughter begs and pleads for them…those came from me. When I discovered you can put them in their own camper-van that comes with a surfboard rack, I immediately warmed up to these small squishy figurines. Yet only weeks after their debut, many of those too have disappeared into the vortex all miniature figurines get sucked into at our house. Into the vacuum cleaner? Down the drain? Again, I’m stumped.
So like the rest of American families this Christmas, our already overstuffed toy box received its obligatory influx of shiny new Best of Whatever toys. And all my 4-year-old considers worthy of note is “the stuff that grows in the bathtub.”
I have this seesaw battle with myself every gift-giving occasion. My logical brain tells me that we need more toys like we need a case of the chicken pox. Unfortunately, no vaccine exists that will prevent parents from being convinced that they need to buy more crap for their kids on Christmas. And so I buy more crap for them. And all that crap gets scattered across the living room like irksome little scabs, only to be lost, broken or shoved into a dusty corner and forgotten about. Except, oddly, the rubber snakes and stuff that grows in the bathtub.
I spoke with a girlfriend after Christmas, and had been lamenting to her the disordered state of affairs at my house following the gift-opening gluttony.
“I know – we didn’t even get gifts for our kids, and our house still seemed like a disaster,” she said.
Um, excuse me? Did I hear that right? You didn’t get gifts for your kids on Christmas? Is that possible? Is there some addendum to the all-powerful Bylaws of Parenting that I didn’t know about, that allows one to simply eschew this loathsome institution?
She explained that yes, indeed, it is possible to opt-out of the thoughtless toy buying and gift-giving. Even the Best of Whatever toys? I asked her. Especially the Best of Whatever toys, she assured me.
“We just explained to them that Christmas is about being together, with your family and the people you love,” my friend said. “So instead of opening presents, we asked the kids what they wanted to do, as a family, on Christmas.”
So as a gift to their children, my girlfriend and her husband spent the day doing only what their kids wanted to do with them. Sledding. Eating popcorn. Watching movies. Together, with the people they love. As a family.
I hung up the phone, awed and intrigued. And a little bit afraid. This no-gift-giving thing… could it be real? And more importantly, could I do it? Could I resist the all-powerful Christmas consumer authority, sponsored by the Best of Whatever, imposing its bank account-draining rules on my family holiday after holiday?
I, thankfully, have 12 months to figure that out.