Posted by: laughs4dads | December 1, 2010

Presents of Mind

With Hanukah beginning tonight, and the holiday shopping season in full swing for everyone else, today’s post will come in very handy to all of you who might have to buy a gift for a toddler.

Allow me to describe the perfect present.

(Note: The present about to be described may, in fact, not be perfect as far as the child is concerned, but that is of little consequence, as the child will only play with the box anyway.  Rather, the following describes the perfect present from the child’s parents’ point of view.)

The perfect present is not apparel.  It is virtually impossible for an outsider (definition: anyone who is not the mother) to purchase the correct size clothing for a child.  While you are at the cash register paying for the overalls that you believe to be two sizes too big (so the kid will grow into it, you think), at the very moment you are handing over your money, the child in question is growing by three sizes, specifically in order to be too large for your gift.  Another frequent faux pas is to buy the right size for the wrong season.  If you buy a winter coat in the correct size, but give it during the summer, it will no longer be the right size by the winter. 

Forgetting about sizes for a second, you should know that parents have very particular feelings about what looks good on their child, and you can rest assured that their feelings do not match what you were going to buy.

If you insist on giving clothing, the mother will smile graciously and say, “How cute!” in a high-pitched voice, but she will be thinking, “Oh God, what an idiot.  It’s much too small and the color’s all wrong.  This person is very, very stupid.”  She will hate you because, invariably, she will end up having to return the clothing, and anyone who has ever stood on line with a two-year old in the adjustments department of a store will know that most people would sooner use the article of clothing to start the barbecue than try to return it.

Okay, then, so what else can you get the little darling? Well, there’s always money.  This is, of course, boring for the child, whose only use for cash is in making confetti.  The boredom can be overcome by putting the cash in a large box with lots of gift-wrap.  However, you may still think cash is crass.  Maybe so, but it is hardly ever brought back for a refund.  On the other hand, maybe you go in for the disgustingly Norman Rockwellian gift of a savings bond, thus making your contribution to the child’s future and locking in the lowest possible interest rates.  Bonds are always looked upon as cheap gifts, because people know you paid less than the face value.  There is this feeling that you only got it because of the discount. There are gift cards, of course, but they have all the drawbacks of cash, and none of the flexibility. Also, they are much harder for the kid to shred.

So, no clothes, no cash.  That leaves toys.

There is one important distinguishing characteristic that separates the bad toy from the good toy.  One trait that makes the perfect gift shine out in the crowd.

You may think I’m about to recommend that the toy not come from China, a country that is obviously trying to kill our children with poisonous playthings. Or maybe you think I’m going to tell you to purchase something educational. “Peh!” I say to your academic activities. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, he’s a creative person, he thinks we should buy something creative.” No way. Creative things are messy things, and you don’t want to get blamed when “My Little Potter’s Wheel” starts spitting wet clay all over the place.

Here’s the one and only attribute that matters: the toy should be one piece.

Believe me, I have looked on with dismay as my daughter tore open the wrapping on a 49-piece miniature dinnerware set.  I knew, even as I watched her eyes light up, that there would soon not be a room in the house, not a nook or a cranny, not a crevice or a corner, that did not contain a dish, teacup or ladle.  You are better off giving a gift of a few dozen common ants; at least nobody will cry when they are disposed of, and they don’t spread as rapidly.

That’s why a doll is nice.  Or a truck.  One piece.  Simple.  And if the kid doesn’t like it, so what?  The kid didn’t invite you over, the parents did.  Do you like the parents?  If you do, give something simple.

If you don’t like the parents, I highly recommend a set of 64 permanent, unwashable, colored markers.

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