The Frenetic Season of Gifting

With the holiday season now in frenzy gear, we are plagued with ads for gifts, especially the new toys that are guaranteed, the ads say, to light up the passion in our grandchildren’s eyes and endear them to us for at least 10 minutes (more realistically, 10 seconds) on Christmas morning.

The dilemma for many of us is finding the age-appropriate gift that the grandchild will think is cool, will impress her parents and we won’t have to dip into our line of credit to afford.

I have always tended to go overboard with gifts at this time of year, a tendency I regret when the bills come in January. It’s taken many decades to hold back my urge to shower my children and grandkids with exciting, often over-the-top gifts.  Even with impressive gifts, I don’t always see my popularity rise. One summer, I bought my grandson Jack a kayak for his birthday. My ulterior motive of course, was to induce him to continue to come to my cottage, especially since his mom and dad had just installed a new backyard pool that spring. While shopping around for kayaks, I noted the shiny, colorful fiberglass ones, but I opted to buy a used one, made of well constructed wood and genuinely appropriate for flat water kayaking. It had a hole in one end, but I knew I could patch it. Even used, it cost $500, more than I could afford, but the anticipation of seeing his eyes light up when he saw his very own ‘water vehicle’ perched  on the dock was worth the debt. I even wrote his initials in waterproof ink on the craft.

The gift was a flop. I knew immediately he was not impressed with this old green patched kayak. A jazzy new synthetic one would have been a better choice.  Jack and his dad took the kayak out for its maiden voyage that first weekend. He has not used it since.

Certainly I haven’t always failed in the gifting department. As a pre-teen, Jack was into baking and making sweets like brownies and cookies when he came home from school. One Christmas, I bought him an ice cream maker -a huge success. I think it has since gone out in a charity box, but for one season at least, I basked in his delight.

Does everyone err in the gift-buying department? Do we all tend to buy a toy we think our grandchild should have or that we loved as a child, one of those traditional, well-made toys that fired our imaginations?

Caroline of Perth Ontario made that mistake. “I bought my granddaughter a set of sock puppets similar to the ones I had enjoyed as a child. They were a newer version of course, but I couldn’t wait to see her open my present,” she says. “But the faces on the puppets frightened her and she refused to play with them. I was devastated and it took me several days to realize I wasn’t buying the puppets for my granddaughter. I was buying them for me.”

We tend to get stuck on our own nostalgia without considering a child’s age, personality and interests.  The fact is, as hard as it is to accept, they want electronic toys or the toys their friends have, not the creative toys we think they should have. Although I must admit, stores such as Mastermind serve both purposes: kids love the products and the toys are educational and based on creativity.

Another mistake we often make is buying a toy that isn’t age appropriate. There’s a reason most toys have age suggestions on the box. If we buy one recommended for an older age, a grandchild will be frustrated in not being able to play with it. She isn’t ready, developmentally, for the toy.

Chris and Marion of Moose Jaw bought their one-year-old grandson a motorized car for Christmas last year. “He was simply too young,” Marion says. “He couldn’t even reach the pedals, as a matter of fact. This year, I hope he will be old enough to enjoy it.”

A friend sent a group email this week, encouraging all of us to support Canadian manufacturers and small businesses rather than racking up our credit cards on gizmos made in other countries. Buying gift certificates to local businesses and supporting Canadian craftspeople supports our own communities and helps our own economy.

I’ve learned since the kayak episode to leave the impressive gifts to his parents. I will stick to sturdy socks, warm mitts and funky sweatshirts from whatever current retailer Jack thinks is cool. I hope Roots is on his list.

-Bonnie Baker Cowan