I really did it this time. I took a beautiful nugget of parental wisdom, applied it to a situation with great thought and care, and ended up regretting every word.
The onslaught of television toy ads this time of year brings me to the brink of insanity. These ads are specifically designed by evil ad executives who do not have children. They thrust my children into a hypnotic trance, repeating their mantra in thirty second intervals, “I want that, I want that, I want that!” This is how The Preschooler ended up with a Topsy Turvey Tomato Planter for his birthday.
I wish I was kidding.
Second, these ads are not only twenty decibels louder than the annoying childrens’ show you are already tolerating at eardrum-piercing levels, they come accompanied with jingles that you absolutely can’t get out of your head for days on end. “It’s a pillow … ”
See what I mean?
This is why I sat both kids down to discuss ads, commercialism, misleading product placement, and value. Their Christmas lists had become ridiculously long, and included laboriously written-out titles like “Zhu Zhu Kung Zhu Fighting Warrior Pets With Blazing Action Arena” or “Blythe Loves Littlest Pet Shop Sitters Hair Studio, Fabulous Plaid Edition.”
I caught myself lecturing, so I switched gears. You know I’m a Love and Logic fan, and they slam this kind of technique. Or, at least, they sympathize with me when I experience it not working. We all know from experience that lecturing sends kids into automatic shut-down mode, and I saw their eyes glaze over. Instead, I asked if they wanted to know some little-known Christmas list tricks. They did. I explained that “if you put too many things on your list, Santa won’t know which ones you REALLY want. You could end up with a bunch of things you don’t really like that much. And worse, you could end up with none of the stuff you really want!”
They literally ran from me to find and edit their lists. I was thinkin’ I was pretty brilliant.
Sweet Pea’s list was spread across five different pieces of paper, front and back. She looked over the items pensively, and quickly remedied the problem by placing numbers on the list. She had effectively prioritized the items without removing a single one. She pointed out that she could renumber them if she found more stuff to add to the list. Darn.
But the Preschooler was much more astute and methodical. First, he conducted his research. He watched TV more skeptically than before. One commercial advertised some weird floating silver ball that I can’t pronounce and which doesn’t really float, not even on the commercial. Afterwards he remarked, “that’s just dumb.” I’m guessing “gravity-defying mystery ball for only $19.99” is not making the cut. Second, he studied the Christmas Toy Trifecta: The Toys R Us catalog, the Target ad from last Sunday, and the Fred Meyer weekly ad. I’ve never seen my five year-old study, but I can tell you as wild as he is, we’ve finally found his focus. The Preschooler needs to be a toy-book-studier when he grows up.
Finally, he made his choices. He can’t spell yet, so it was a mental list which he didn’t share with me. I forgot to mention anything about sharing these lists with your parents. I was going to have to arrange a tricky maneuver to extract that list from him without raising suspicion.
Lucky for me, we were scheduled to attend a Military Family Event, and while the adults were in various workshops and lectures about TriCare and the G.I. Bill (I actually listened this year), the kids got to see Santa. After it was over, I couldn’t wait to talk to The Preschooler.“What did you tell Santa?” “That I wanted an Ipod.” “What!? Yeah, right. Like Santa’s going to bring you an Ipod.” “Yeah. He said HO HO HO!” “Hmm. Well, did you ask for anything else?” “Uh-huh. A gummy hand with fake blood.” “W-what? With what?” “Fake blood. And candy bones.” “Anything else?” “Nope. That’s it.”
Honestly, this ended the conversation. I felt the weight of Pillow Pets and Legos and Harry Potter paraphernalia coming down on me. I longed for a request for the obnoxiously priced piece of plastic known as the “Star Wars the Clone Wars Battle-Ready Helmet with Internet-Downloadable Mission Adventures.” I couldn’t believe I had actually succeeded in talking my kid into whittling his list down to his most treasured desires and he picked an electronic parental torture device worth more than the sum of all his belongings since birth, and a gruesome limb that doubled as a tasty snack.
After about a week, I finally got up the nerve to ask again. With Christmas fast approaching, I needed to come up with a good third alternative. The Chinese factories that sold gummy hands made my stomach turn as I contemplated what kind of red dye they surely used for fake gummy-appendage blood. I knew there had to be a tertiary backup gift wish, so I finally just brought it up at the dinner table. And I was right, there was a third wish:
I’m reminded of the story where the kid calls his family from the emergency room, telling of how he barely escaped with his life from some harrowing automobile experience, then eventually confesses it was a complete lie designed to soften the blow when he informs his father that he merely scraped the bumper of the family car coming up the driveway. Because in the shadow of Ipod and Hand from Hell, drums don’t look all that bad.
But maybe I’ve lost it. Maybe I’ve failed to see the big picture. Maybe I’ve reached the edge of sanity and taken a nose dive straight into advertising absurdity. But it’s too late to turn back, now. I’ve pulled the trigger. I clicked “buy” and that bad boy is on its way to my home via super-saver shipping.
So after all that lecturing, you notice who actually succumbed to the need to buy a big shiny toy at Christmas rather than focus on the important family events, the religious meaning, or the peace on Earth, goodwill to men?
Me, that’s who.
Especially the peace part.