I learned how to holiday shop from one of my brothers. Yes, the single guy who has no kids. See, I used to fret and worry about keeping everything equal and balanced, over-thinking what I got this person the year before and that person for their birthday just a few months ago. It felt like a task, an errand I needed to run and get over with. Then my brother came to visit.
He told each of my kids that they could pick anything in the toy store within a certain budget. He didn’t care about the aisle or the toy or whether it was big or small. The focus was on them picking out whatever it was that made them smile. I stood back and watched them look at the store not as a collection of organized groupings of brands and types of toys, but as a place full of opportunities to be happy in different ways. Which happy would they choose?
They dashed up and down aisles, tried out a few things each, and eventually placed their final decisions in my brother’s hands. The toys weren’t what I expected, or of equal expense, but they weighed the same in my kids’ hearts, and both of them walked out of there feeling like it was a very special day. So now when I go holiday shopping, I look back at that day and put myself in my brother’s shoes, thinking more about making shopping as fun as it can possibly be for the recipient rather than trying to get it “right.” Sure, it’s not always a delight to slog through sloppy weather or wrangle my way through a clog of puffy coats gathered by a store’s entrance, but I know that the end goal is simply to make the people I love happy in whatever unique way suits each of them.
Here are some other things I know about holiday shopping, and all the stuff that can come before I hand over all that happiness:
1. Your kids’ wish lists are precisely 412 items long every year.
2. Your mom’s wish list is just a note that says, “Spending time with my grandchildren is gift enough.”
3. Gift guides are a beautiful thing and you cherish those who take the time to curate them.
4. But there is no gift guide in existence that will accurately describe a gift your husband hasn’t already bought for himself.
5. Every time you show patience and compassion to a completely green seasonal help cashier, you earn karma points toward finding everything you’re shopping for in stock and possibly even on sale.
6. You might be the coolest cat in town, but you still make silly sound effects and play with random stuff on shelves each time you go to a toy store without the kids.
8. Nothing is cuter than watching your kids write up their own shopping lists for what they want to get everyone for the holidays. (Except maybe watching them pick it all out at the store.)
9. Plotting your entire adult career based solely on selecting one that gives you the freedom to not have to shop during crowded weekends in December seems like a completely reasonable decision.
10. Shopping malls only have one thermostat setting during the holiday season: late summer in Death Valley. You will not remember this until you’ve already made the half-mile trek from your parking spot while in full winter gear.
11. The more bags you’re precariously balancing, the more of your offspring will plead, “HOLD DIS MAMA” while handing over some large, random (possibly moist) object.
12. You’d gladly pay a shopping convenience fee for packaging that does not require pliers, brute strength, and a flame thrower to get it open in order to eventually wrap it.
13. There is an unspoken rule that if your kid is in school you have to buy at least something from the holiday fair and wrap it like it’s an absolute treasure (yes, even the 30-cent plastic rings).
14. The older your kids get, the smaller their gifts get. Oh—not the price. The size. Don’t be silly!
15. Nobody ever said that the “Bonus Gift” given at department store cosmetics counters as something extra for the recipient of the main purchase can’t go to the one making the purchase, instead. (Trust me: I checked the fine print.)
16. Despite not keeping an actual Naughty or Nice list, your selections do reflect at least a tiny bit where your friends and family fell that year.
17. One of the most fun things about being a parent is buying newer versions of the toys you had as a kid, but for your own kids.
18. You have actually clapped your hands with glee when finding the perfect gift for someone on your list.
19. You have actually bitten your fist in frustration when being unable to find a gift for that one last person on your list.
20. Online shopping is your friend.
21. Online shopping with free shipping is your best friend.