Before I get to the main topic du jour, just an observation about American culture. While free trade to a degree but mainly automation have killed American manufacturing, there is one thing we continue to manufacture at levels unseen anywhere in the world: Stress. No country on earth can compete with us, for we are always finding new and unexpected ways to add it to any and every situation. Case in point: The Holidays, in theory a time of enjoying family and friends. In actuality, a time of enjoying very little because of all the things we think we need to do and buy and also the fact apparently a lot of people don't actually like their family and very many of their friends. I've seen so many "handling holiday stress" stories on TV and magazine covers, I'm starting to think that if I don't feel stressed at the holidays, I'm doing something wrong.
Now that that general observation is out of the way, let's turn to one of the things we Americans get very worked up about, gifts. What to give people who already have whole houses full of crap and have zero capacity for delayed gratification, which is pretty much every American to some degree. And what to give to those tiniest and most spoiled of Americans? Well, I'm here to help. I've not got a clue what you should buy your children/grandchildren/other spoiled small humans in your life. But I'm going to give you some general guidelines about what NOT to get them. The main thing to think of when choosing a kid's gift is What effect will it have on the mother of that child? Will it ease her burden or add to her insanity? Unless you do not like the mother in question, or if you are the mother in question and live with an abiding self-hatred, you want to avoid gifts that will result in a trip to the psychiatric ward.
More specifically, when choosing a gift, ask yourself the following questions, and if you answer YES to any of them, PUT DOWN THE GIFT AND WALK AWAY. Do NOT buy it. Do NOT.
Does the item make spontaneous noises that cannot be turned off? Noises are OK in general, especially if they feature in a toy that will actually engross children long enough for mom go to the bathroom, to include thorough butt-wiping (I don't know about you, but there have been many unfortunate instances when I had to rush off to do the Heimlich maneuver on a child without adequately tending to that task). In addition, most noises are easily drowned out by children fighting over them (I think Pokemon Go has sound, but I've never heard it), or valuable items crashing to the floor, or hordes of feet stomping around or anxiety-ridden dogs freaking out over any of those other things. But there are some toys the noises of which give the distinct impression of demon-possession, and that's not going to be good for anyone's mental health. They turn on without warning or provocation, like Kanye West at a charity telethon. You are just walking through a room, and suddenly, you hear a chipper voice say something creepy like, "I love you, hee hee." It startles you enough to send you fleeing, barefoot, over a field of legos, which you will then spend the next several days dislodging with tweezers (and perhaps then reassembling into an x-wing fighter). Or, you will be drifting off to sleep, safe in your bed, only to be roused by the random, mocking chirps of a Zhou Zhou pet in the other room because a faint, molecular disturbance has mistakenly alerted him that someone wants to play or his hamster wheel is in the vicinity. My friends, battery-operated toys require an on-and-off switch. So do tweeting Presidents-elect, but we ain't getting that, so please choose your Christmas gifts more wisely than you do your government officials.
Does the child need assistance with the gift? And I do mean ANY assistance. If the child can't grab it off the shelf, know what to do with it within 5 seconds, and operate its every feature completely alone while mom is passed out on the sofa, do not buy that toy. In a similar vein, consider age appropriateness. Yes, your 3 year-old nephew is a genius who needs intellectual challenge, but let's face it, he is not going to be able to dissolve insect carcasses in homemade hydrochloric acid all by himself. In fact, science experiment sets in general are a big NO unless the child is old enough to have no interest in them anymore. As are most crafting sets. My 5 year old will not be able to sew a sock puppy unless I sew the sock puppy. The sock puppy is really for me to make, if we are being honest. And guess what, I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE A SOCK PUPPY!!! I also don't want to make a mosaic stepping stone, excavate dinosaur bones from a block of cement, or weave a bunch of rubber bands together to make fine jewelry. I want to read a book while my children do things that don't involve me.
Does the gift have more than 3 pieces? Let me tell you what children do with toys that have parts. They take the toy apart. They scatter the pieces all through the house as if they are venturing into an enchanted forest and will need a way to get back out without being eaten by a witch. They take pieces into the car. They take other pieces over to someone's house and leave them there. They bury some pieces in the sandbox. They eat pieces, poop them out, and flush the toilet. They use their evil child magic to vanish the pieces into thin air. And then they cry because they cannot find the pieces to their toy and it is now ruined and they can't possibly sleep until all the pieces of the toy can be located and the toy is placed whole again in the their bed where it will ward off all the other evil toys that tried to dismember it so they could then come and feast on the child in the night. Nor can they shoot those evil toys with their nerf gun because all the foam bullets have eloped with some very essential legos.
And now, A Very Special Word About Legos. Legos are the Thomas Jefferson of toys. Brilliant, creative, inventive, and generally a force for good in the world. Until they go and own some slaves--or in the case of legos, have one million billion tiny pieces that do not stay assembled--and ruin everything. Parents keep buying legos because they are cool and because parents themselves love legos, but then like that awesome guy you dated in college who turned out to be a serial killer, legos come for your sanity and they do not rest until they have crushed it into a million lego-sized pieces that they then mix in and get vacuumed up with. Last Christmas, my children convinced me to buy them a 6 million piece rendition of the Ewouk village from Return of the Jedi. It wasn't a hard sell, because Oh My Dear Aunt Jemima IT'S FREAKING STAR WARS. And if I had been on the fence, one glance at the teeny tiny Ewouk figures would have finished me. Those things are the cutest. I bought the set, and I then had an absolute blast assembling it (not joking, it was really, really fun), with minimal help from my largely uninterested children. When it was done, they were thrilled. They immediately seized upon it and began playing. One piece fell off, two, three, 23, 53...I frantically tried to reassemble it in real time. I was like Kellyanne Conway trailing Donald Trump with a pooper scooper. After giving up on that, I tried to grab the pieces and at least put them in a separate container so I could fix the set at a later date. That later date never arrived, and my kids found the container and dumped in in with all their other billions of legos which they then scattered to the four corners of the earth as if they are blowing dandelion seeds all over creation. The set now sits a sad ruin of its former self, a testament to a proud past of mommy accomplishment that will never be revisited. Maybe I should have just bought a lego set of the Parthenon and made that, then you wouldn't be able to tell when it was wrecked.
So, will I ever buy another massive lego set again? Yes, yes, I will. I now have my eye on the Millennium Falcon. But I have also since bought lego glue (yes, it exists), and I'm going to build that thing to withstand Hurricane Katrina. You just wait.
Does the gift have any glitter of any kind anywhere on it? Glitter is of the devil and should not exist among any species that hopes to outlive cockroaches. Glitter may even kill the cockroaches, I wouldn't underestimate it. In fact, the only thing I could imagine worse than a nuclear bombing would be if the bomb was laced with glitter. If anyone survived the initial explosion, radiation poisoning would be the kinder way to die slowly.
Does the gift make any kind of mess whatsoever that a dog/raccoon cannot ingest? Messes are like noises, some amount is tolerable if it buys parents some free time. But it has to be proportional. If the activity lasts 5 minutes and results in a mess that takes 3 hours to clean up (I'm looking at you, silly string), that is obviously unacceptable. Unless it's edible, then send in the wild beasts. Or even if it's not edible but won't kill anyone. Maybe the silly string is OK in that case.
Is it harder to get into the packaging than it is to get into Hamilton? Oooh I really want to see Hamilton. Anything that makes American History cool and annoys Donald Trump is what I'm about. But you can't get in, not without a million dollars. Much like toy packaging these days, except that all the money in the world won't save you. I'm waiting for someone to actually die from opening toy packaging. That hard, sharp plastic could easily sever an artery, and you would definitely bleed to death because everyone would be so preoccupied by the children having seizures at the time it is taking for their toy to be liberated that no one would even notice your life ebbing away.
Does the gift NOT come with Hamilton tickets, a gift card for spa treatments, prescription psychiatric drugs, or offers of free babysitting? Ideally, all children's gifts should come with adult accompaniments, because even if you have meticulously gone through this list and have tried your best to pick an unobjectionable toy, you will probably fail. Children excel at making even the best things in life a form of torture (see legos), and whatever you give them, the adults in their lives will probably live to regret it. So just preempt the lawsuits by slipping in something special for Mom and Dad. Maybe a lego set of some vegetables or something children are afraid of.
Good luck with your holiday shopping everybody!!!!