When my kids were small, I rather enjoyed Christmas shopping. I didn't mind the crowds or the lines or the rabid consumerism that seemed to have so many folks foaming at the wallet. I kinda liked the hustle if not the actual bustle. Heck, I even got a kick out of the Black Friday Feeding Frenzy (gave a few, too).
Back then, it was simple: 'Gymboree' for matching holiday ensembles, 'Migraines *reverse R* Us' for toys, 'Pretzelmaker' and 'Mrs. Fields' for the worthy shopper. Done.
Of course, I was shopping for Believers, and that made a difference, though admittedly it meant doing a lot of shopping after nine p.m. and having to smuggle in the occasional Barbie Motor Home under my hoodie. (Finally I just got fat. That way, I was Barbie Motor Home-shaped all year long.)
And shopping for little ones could be CHEAP! Or so I've heard. I always held to the view that Christmas was primarily a time for burying your kids in 63,000 stuffed animals and action figures and then taking lots of pictures of them. Whereupon the animals and action figures would be rejected in favor of eating the boxes they came in, which of course led to the sacred holiday tradition of trekking to the ER for the annual 'Ninja Turtle Nunchuck'-ectomy. Yep, those were good times...
These days, the shopping is a little more complicated. The Believers have changed religions, and now worship at the Altar of Jaded Cynicism and Miscellaneous Electronics. The magic of Christmas having been ripped from their adolescent souls - against their will and much to their annoyance - they tend to their wounded childhoods by making their gift requests with the mercenary ruthlessness of 18th century pirates.
Gone are the days of "Dear Santa...", and were the kids now to write to the shopper and wrapper and CREATOR of their Christmases, it would likely start with, "Dear...wait, we did NOT mean 'dear'. We meant...umm...hang on...what?... heck no, I'm not calling her that...cuz I like sleeping indoors that's why...then do it yourself, dork...yeah, I said dork...ooo, I'm really scared now - hey! stop it, that hurts!..."
It can be assumed the letter would get grumpier from there. Purple Nurples have that effect.
Replacing the wishes for teddy bears and gumdrops - and I confess my children never really asked for either, unless you consider Rafael the Ninja Turtle wrapped in the Dishtowel of Disembowelment a 'teddy bear' - are requests for items that in your saner moments would not be permitted within eight light years of your house.
For example, what normal person gives their kid the video game "Rock Band"? Seriously. Where were the alarm bells warning you that you were voluntarily paying $300 to be driven not-quickly-enough into madness by a 13 year-old shrieking "Walk this waaaaeeeeey!" into a karaoke mic while his 'band mates' fantasized of becoming international music studs once their skin cleared up and they grew chests? Did you not take the hint that, before you even reached the cash register, you were already developing an eye twitch and that vein over your temple was negotiating land deals to annex your entire frontal lobe?
In short, what the hello aunt nellie were you thinking???
I'll tell you what you were thinking: You were thinking, "My child really wants this game. And in his heart he believes I took a flame thrower to the whole North Pole operation. If I give him this gift as an apology for having personally assassinated Santa, he'll love me forever and forget all about the homeless elves and reindeer jerky."
Of course the "Rock Band" star who swipes your credit card and bags up the game for you and wishes you a "Merry Targety Christmas" is smirking to himself because he knows that he and his crew of Clearasil Buccaneers have scored another victory on the high seas of parental guilt.
However, not even a walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Digital Lunacy holds the terrors which await shoppers in that most hated of all departments:
You know who the "Juniors" are, right? They are that species of human female age twelve to hope-she-lives-past-Thursday that slips into your beautiful little girl's room one night and hijacks her hormones. Jekyll and Hyde? Amateurs. The "Junior" living under your roof will give you some idea of what you'd get if Mary Poppins had a love child with a Rottweiler. ("Just a spoonful of sugar distracts you while I rip your throat out and beat you over the head with your own spleen and then bawl all night because you just don't listen!!")
And you get to buy jeans for her.
However, this could be a short trip if you play your cards right. First, ask your daughter what size jeans she wears. And then duck. The rest is simple math: Take the number she gives you, multiply it by the fantasy factor, divide by the self-esteem variable (which, as the name implies, varies), add up how many girls in the store are currently wearing the jeans you are considering purchasing, take a second look at how low that 'rise' is, note that the SpongeBob Underoos you tossed in the cart for her might clear that so-called waistband by a good nine inches, and subtract yourself from the Juniors' Jeans department.
Whew! That was close! Time for Pretzelmaker!
Not really, of course. Eventually you're going to have to buy her something. But there's no need to worry. No matter what you get, no matter how close it comes to meeting her EXACT specifications ("It has to be a skinny jean but it can't make my legs look all disproportionate and when I walk it can't wrinkle here but should look like it's wrinkled all the time right there and they should be dark but not too dark and..."), no matter if you are in fact buying a jean crafted by the Denim Gods themselves with designs submitted by your daughter in those dreams where she's dating sparkly vampires -- in short, regardless of whether you have found the perfect, celestial, eternal companion jean -- on Christmas morning your Junior will have them on and off and declared unfit for human wearing in less time than it takes to say "Barbie Motor Home".
Don't cry, mom. Grab your keys and come on over to my house. Last night, on Christmas Eve, just before they locked the doors and booted all the Santa murderers out into the street, I dropped in on Mrs. Fields.
You're worthy of a cookie or two, and I'm a little concerned about that eye twitch...