I love my kids. They’re cute, funny, happy little tykes who smell good, look up to me, and claim to love me back. But aside from all that, I’ve found an additional reason to cherish them that goes beyond mere emotional bonding, an unexpected advantage to the whole “having kids” thing − buying them things that I want.
When I was a kid, I would get some gifts for birthdays and holidays − mostly toys. Some from my parents who saw it as a way to absolve the guilt they felt for not giving me the little brother I really wanted, others from my grandparents who lived on the opposite side of the country to make up for never coming out to see me, and a few from myself, usually slipped under the tree to make myself feel better during those lean times between when the tree went up and when the first presents would arrive.
As I got older, more and more of my gifts were NOT toys. Then I left home. Then I started my own family − even fewer toys. Now I spend the major holidays watching my children unwrap things that I would’ve given my spleen to play with when I was a kid, while I cling to my uninspiring bounty consisting of a book, a shirt, and something dog-related from my mother.
Where are my toys? Where are my games? Where are the things that make life worth living? Why should my kids get all the cool stuff? I mean come on, they’re four and six years old. Ten years from now, it won’t matter whether we gave them an Anatomically-correct Princess Jasmine doll or an especially sparkly rock! Why get them what THEY want, when I can just as easily get them what I want?
So I’ve begun putting my new philosophy in action. My son, like every other pre-school-aged male in the world, worships the movie, Cars. We don’t own the DVD − relying instead on borrowing it from the library so often they eventually renamed their copy “River Dad’s Cars.” Why spend money for something we can get for free? But, then, about a month prior to his birthday, the two year-old DVD player, now as obsolete as an Apple II+, mysteriously and conveniently died. It had to be replaced. Costco had a Blu-ray player on sale. My very own Blu-ray player. Pretty. Shiny. Blu-ray. But I couldn’t justify or afford going out and repurchasing my entire DVD collection on Blu-ray. I needed an excuse to purchase that first Blu-ray disc.
You see where this is going, don’t you?
So as my son greedily opened his very own Special Collector’s Edition of Cars complete with limited-edition, die-cast Golden Lightning McQueen and Fire Truck Mater figures on his birthday, I prepped the Blu-ray, giddy to finally experience the magic of this fantastic technological leap. Unfortunately, my easily-distracted child was more interested in the Lightning McQueen and Mater figures! The throw-in extras! He didn’t want to watch the movie right then and there, he wanted to play with his TOYS! And I couldn’t just go off and watch Cars − it was HIS movie! How dare he play with his toys! Doesn’t he know I want to play with MY toys!
Another gift I got for my son/myself was a new LEGO set. My wife suggested I pick him up something with lots of pieces so he could build whatever his developing imagination could think up. At the LEGO store, I looked at all the age-appropriate collections: Trucks. Helicopters. Fire engines. Boring.
But on the opposite wall − STAR WARS!!!! Sure, the $300 Death Star (ages 16+) was way out of my price range, and even the $100 Battle of Endor set (ages 9+) complete with station, AT-ST and a gaggle of Ewoks was more than I could afford. But Darth Vader’s TIE-Fighter? Only $30! Ages 7 and up! He’s gonna be four, that’s practically seven! Who cares that he hasn’t seen the movie yet? Unabashed love of Star Wars is hereditary and embedded deep in my family’s DNA. All I have to do is gently draw the obsession out of him, then I can unpack my old Star Wars toys currently boxed up in the attic and we can create some awesome dioramas together. I’ve even got the Millennium Falcon up there!
My new-found joy of gift giving isn’t limited to gifts for my son. My daughter remains a true believer in the Disney Princess. Pixar is owned by Disney. Therefore, I can rationally buy the latest Pixar movies, like Wall-E or Up, and claim they’re for her! Sure, she may not be as into those as she’d be into Barbie and the 12 Dancing Fairy Princesses of Mermadia or whatever, but well − this isn’t about her, remember?
Previous gifts for my children have included fantastic puzzle/ strategy games like Connect 4 and Blokus − games which stimulate the mind just a bit more than Candy Land or Uncle Wiggly. Granted, I generally have to beg my daughter to play (for some reason she’s more into Butterfly Bingo), but on those occasions when she humors her father, it’s worth it. The cool thing is I gave up letting her win long ago − she’s pretty sharp and can generally hold her own. I figure I’ll be able to introduce RISK or Stratego soon enough. After that, I’ve got my eye on a brand new set of clay poker chips. Because my kids deserve the very best.
You may think I’m being cruel and callous, taking advantage of my kids so as to experience a second childhood, but (a) isn’t that what kids are for, and (b) take a second look at what I’m doing. I’m not giving my kids a 13-pound bowling ball or a new power saw, I’m getting them toys and games and movies that we can enjoy together. When my daughter is beating me at Blokus, I’m completely engaged, 100 percent focused on playing with her. When we’re just flipping cards and prancing down the magical candy path towards Gloppy, my mind wanders. Pop in Wall-E and I’m sitting next to my kids on the couch, watching the movie. Pop in Barbie and the Very Pretty Unicorn, and I’m on my computer, writing this very column.
In the end, what I’m getting them is not just something that will entertain them and occupy their time, but something in which I can share, something that will allow me to spend time with my children. Which is, I suppose, yet another gift I’m giving myself.