The Present Dilemma

Confusion surrounds Elizabeth Reed’s search for her children’s particular requests as she reminisces about the simple Christmas gifts of her past

“I can only find the Fairy Ballet Doll.  Is that different to the Fairy Sparkles Ballet doll?” I hear myself ask my sister-in-law over the phone, whilst in a toy aisle at a large department store   “Different,” she says with authority, “Don’t worry, I saw it on-line for $35.”  “But I just looked it up too.  They don’t do toys on-line for that shop.” I say, feeling more confused by the minute.  “Oh!” says she, now with less authority, “I’m looking at the US Web-site.”  “OK, I’ll keep looking.  So is Sparkles the name of that Monkey?  Or her horse?”  And so our conversation continues.  It’s as though we are desperately trying to master a whole new language about toys and their brands and the enormous, confusing range now available to children.

When I was a child (and don’t we love starting sentences like that?)  you were thrilled to receive any doll.  Yes, I admit there was one popular brand, but you didn’t quibble over which colour, size, whether it sparkled or not, or spoke, or danced or changed its outfit at the press of a button.  In short, Santa didn’t have to run around to six different department stores looking for a very specific type of a very specific toy only to find that when it is finally located the specific colour of the specific type of the specific toy is all sold out.  With my children now all at school, I realise (as does my husband) that my time could be spent on more worthwhile pursuits.

I’m one of six children and I know my mother certainly did not have the time to traipse around department stores for hours.  She had to act quickly, thoughtfully and all within a budget stricter than mine, as she loves to tell me.  Yet I never felt I missed out on anything.  I remember her asking me one Christmas where I hoped Santa might leave some presents for me and being completely taken aback!  Was she serious?  It was Christmas and Santa was coming!  That was fantastic enough.  Santa could put my presents wherever he felt like!

Simple gifts brought enormous pleasure to me.

Mum tells the story of the little girl next door visiting one Christmas morning and saying “Gee, you didn’t get much did you?’  I don’t remember that, but I do remember I got a Jinty Annual that year.  Jinty was a comic Dad bought for me every week which I adored reading.  So to get an entire book full of my favourite comics was just exactly what I wanted!  I had seen it in a newsagency weeks earlier and could not believe one had ended up in my Santa bag.  The girl next door never did share my love of reading.

I made no lists nor had particular requests for presents, but roller-skates, basketballs and bikes always seemed to appear just when I needed them.  I do remember one birthday when I suddenly realised the day before that I would love a tennis racquet.  Why had I not thought to mention this to anyone?  That night I crept out to the kitchen table where my wrapped presents lay nestled.  Nope.  Nothing shaped like a tennis racquet there.  Maybe next year I thought.  Not to worry.  But by morning, when we all gathered to watch me open presents, miraculously, a tennis racquet shaped parcel had appeared!  Who knew?

But as the song goes “you can’t always get what you want”.  And probably this is something my children could learn.  Material possessions do seem to come easily to them and their peers, and I hope that they appreciate this, and don’t just take it for granted.  We did have an awkward moment with Santa in a department store a couple of years ago, when we received a lecture about how “the kids of today want so much and have everything.  It used to be that the boy got a cricket bat and the girl got a doll and that was that.  Now they are so greedy!”  Someone needed a hug I thought, and was perhaps in the wrong job.  None the less, he did have a point.  It would certainly save my sanity a little if I was not chasing specific toys all the time, desperate to get it right.  Instead of perhaps giving my children more credit and believing they will cope gracefully if the perfect gift does not always arrive.

And the Fairy Ballet Sparkles doll?  I did order one on-line from a different department store, only to find half an aisle of them the following week in the original store – and half price!  The doll arrived by post the day I found a letter from my daughter which read “Dear Santa, I hope you have a great Christmas.  Just get me whatever you like, love Sarah.”