What Do You Want for Christmas?

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“What do you want for Christmas?”

It seemed like a simple question, but neither of my children had an answer.

The interrogations started more than a month in advance. I asked, my mother asked, my sister asked, all three of us eager to get our seasonal shopping over and done with. Each time, however, we were met with blank expressions and shrugged shoulders. Somehow, my kids made it past Thanksgiving without giving any consideration to their Christmas lists.

I don’t credit myself for this phenomenon; I’m as baffled by it as anyone. I did everything I could to avoid it. What’s the point of letting them watch cartoons if they don’t come away knowing which crappy toys they have to have?

Personally, maintaining my online wish list is a year-round hobby. It’s where I put the books and CDs (those are music files that exist in three dimensions, kids) and shoes that never go far enough below retail price for me to buy myself. Lately, I’ve made an effort to pad the list with locally made products that support Memphis artists and wouldn’t require shipping, but I have no illusions that this effort makes it better to keep an ever-expanding list of stuff I want. I don’t expect to get everything on it, of course, but there’s still something comforting about the process. It’s like window-shopping in windows filled specifically for me. Looking at that lily-of-the-valley pendant necklace is, like, 17 percent as nice as actually wearing it.

I’ve tried putting the big toy catalogs that arrives with the Sunday newspaper in front of my kids and letting them get ideas from there, but that ends up being pretty useless. My daughter flips through the pages aimlessly and my son shouts, “I want that!” at everything from Beyblades to rechargeable batteries. At the end of the process, I’m still nowhere closer to practical gift ideas, but I’m a little more bitter about never having owned a Barbie RV.

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After a week of cajoling, my son finally came up with something: a toothbrush that plays music. By my math, that’s two small steps above a lump of coal. I’m not sure if that’s his humility or guilt talking, but even on my meanest mommy days, I don’t think I could give my kid a toothbrush for Christmas.

I’m a planner and a deal-hunter, so I’ve been at the brink of aggravation over this whole gift mystery, even with four weeks to go. Then this morning, as we were listening to the radio during my daughter’s commute to school, I heard the WRVR deejays broadcasting from the Porter Leath toy drive. They were reading the wish list of a four-year-old boy. His top items? Socks and underwear. My heart broke, of course, as it was intended to do. But after that, it was filled with gratitude. Not only because my kids and I have so much, but because, at least right now, they seem to understand that.

There’s still plenty of time for the ghost of Christmas Spending to visit my children this season, haunting their dreams with Furbys and gajillion-piece Lego sets. It’s inevitable, really. But it’s a gift to know that, at this moment, they’re happy with what they have.

The WRVR Toy Truck will be parked at Bud Davis Cadillac at 5433 Poplar Ave. to accept new, unwrapped toys from 6am – 7pm through Nov. 30. Cash donations will be matched by their own Secret Santas and can be given in person or at porterleath.org. (I have no affiliation with any of these people, but since this is the organization that made me tear up most recently, it’s the one I’ll point out. Feel free to find your own.)

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