I couldn't contain my excitement. The birthday present was perfect: a feat of modern engineering; juvenile genius. Any child worth their weight in Hershey's Kisses would love it. The kid's parents were going to erect a shrine in my honor, to be sure. We would have dinner invitations for months.
That's what I tell myself, anyway.
And yet, somehow, amid the chaos of the day's events, the gift gets glossed over. Sure its wrapping paper is ripped away with rapt glee, but the present itself, tossed onto a pile with all the others, seems just another flop.
Am I alone in thinking picking presents for other people is more torturous than deciding on a candidate for a presidential election?
I mean, you can’t just stop in a drugstore on your way to the party, pick out some little novelty item and be on your way. It takes planning. And research. And, sometimes, shipping and handling.
Oh sure, my sister can get OUR kid a battery-operated cheerleading doll that sounds off her inane cheer, mysteriously unaided, in the middle of the night. That’s her job as a sister and aunt: to annoy the bejeepers out of her only sibling while truly engaging the inner wonderment of her niece. After all, what child actually likes the least annoying toy in their collections?
But getting a toy for your kids’ friends is nothing short of a complicated political undertaking.
In fact, the entire parent-parent RELATIONSHIP can come to a grinding halt the moment one shopper lets down their guard and buys the other’s kid a Bratz doll or a Tease-My-Hair Barbie or any other popular plaything one might rather see filling landfills than inhabiting their child’s toy box.
See, when I'm buying a birthday present for Ittybit's playmates, I try and think the way I would if I were electing a new mayor of Toyland. I don't want some creepy-looking plastic talking doll to wreck the party with its battery-guzzling accessories.
No, I try to make sure I'm getting a socially-responsible toy that looks fun and is fun to play with, but that also just screams "Educated Voter!" You know: "Such class, such good taste. ... Such knowledge of what a four-year-old not only really wants in life."
Yet, inevitably, the exercise is like pulling the lever for Nader. No one really gets it, especially the kid who is supposed to play with it.
I might have eschewed China this year and given my nod to Germany and its Playmobile figurines, but parents still scratched their heads: "You gave my child a pirate set? You chose a genre of criminal known for raping and pillaging, not to mention scurvy and drunkenness? And oh, look, it even comes with a bottle of RUM! Niiiiiiiiice."
Not to mention: "You gave my child a Haz-mat set? They are cleaning up NUCLEAR WASTE? How is that fun?"
Not even cute little smiley faces, it seems, can undo the damage of unlike minds.
My husband tries to make me feel better about my blown chances at new coalitions. "Well, you're better off. This just wasn't a coalition of the willing, is all."
He even tries to lighten the load. When he reminds me of a last-minute birthday party we'll have to attend separately – him with the kids, me after work -- he also tries his hand at retail reassurance: "Don’t worry, I’ll get the gift.”
I suppose it shouldn't surprise me in the least when I get to the party, scoop up my children and find out he's managed to top my faux pas in the gift-giving department.
"Mother," Ittybit informs me, "daddy got Luke a Fart Machine at the drugstore. It's gross. I told him you wouldn't like it."
"No, but at least we’re both on the same wavelength, kiddo. We're both giving out toxic waste.”