Last minute shopping for a kid? Here’s a mom’s list of do’s and don’ts

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It’s almost Christmas and many people are in last minute shopping mode. Even the most prepared of holiday shoppers wake up on Christmas Eve only to realize someone has been forgotten.

If that person on your list happens to be a kid, let me offer a list of what NOT to get for the little tyke.

Non-parents and naïve parents of grown children often hit the toy store in search of that special gift that will make them the “cool aunt.” That could mean selecting a toy that will make little Johnny squeal with delight over all those lights and sirens. It could be a craft project for little Suzy packed with tiny beads for oh-so-pretty necklaces. Or maybe it’s a fun project for the whole family! No, no and no.

Here’s a veteran mom’s (I’ve got three of these things ranging in age from 8-13) list of do’s and don’ts this holiday season.

Don’t buy loud toys. For the love of God, don’t buy loud toys. This needs little explanation, but imagine that cute little ditty you were so drawn to in the store playing again and again and again. And again and again and again. Catch my drift?

Remember when Tickle Me Elmo was all the rage and eager moms and dads tackled one another to get their hands on one? Well, in the ‘Elmo is adorable’ craze that followed, there were all sorts of talking Elmos on toy shelves. Shortly after that cute little SOB made his cameo, there was an Easter-themed Elmo released. Our furry red friend was dressed as a chicken. When you pushed his foot he did an adorable little song and dance – “Elmo wants to be a chicken, Elmo wants to be a duck, bock, bock, bock, bock.” Remember?

A friend bought this for my then toddler and it was f-ing adorable. Until it was f-ing annoying and I wanted to haunt her dreams with that damn Elmo. If you care for your friends’ and family’s sanity, don’t things with repetitive noises!

Do include batteries. If your gift for the little guy or gal in your life requires portable electricity (i.e., batteries) make sure to bring them along. Why? Because here’s how this scenario plays out with EVERY SINGLE present those little rascals open:

“Mommy, can you open this?” “Daddy, I want to play with this one!”

When those new toys inevitably get opened, if we don’t have the batteries to turn them on, watch out.

Don’t buy crap that might get stuck in my toes, wind up in my socks or that I might step on. This means nothing too small. That cute little bead set. Nope. Legos? God no! Have you ever stepped on a Lego? Or sat on one? Talk about a bag full of ouch.

Not to mention, little things manage to find their way into our kids’ noses. And ears. Or any other holes they find fascinating that month. It’s not pretty.

Do consider adding little bins to organize toys or games with multiple parts if they aren’t already self-contained. If your top pick for a Christmas gift is a set of Matchbox cars, splurge for the little suitcase. Otherwise your thoughtful gift is going to be useless in all of two weeks because the pieces will be scattered throughout any number of toy boxes.

Don’t buy something because it looks like great family fun. This includes, but is not limited to, crafts that require adult supervision and/or assistance, family games like Mousetrap (see small parts) and Life or nifty science projects.

This makes me sound like the lamest mom ever – like I don’t want to spend time playing with my kids. That’s simply not true. It’s just that I want to play with them on my terms and not have to listen to daily pleads to build that mosaic tile for the yard or erupting volcano or water-powered battery – all things I’ve done with my kids as a result of Christmas gifts.

Here’s what happens. Kids get them and, understandably so, they get excited. That means they fail to acknowledge that mom or dad may not be able to drop everything and they simply don’t understand that when you say, “maybe tonight,” it doesn’t mean tonight is a guarantee. Let the moms and dads pick out these kinds of gifts so we have no one to direct our angst at besides, well, ourselves.

Do offer to take our kids out for ice cream or a movie as a gift. This isn’t necessarily a good idea for the little guys, but kids old enough to appreciate an afternoon out are also old enough to understand that a gift doesn’t necessarily have to be wrapped and under the tree. It’s also a gift to us parents who get an afternoon break to catch up on housework, hit the gym or go to the grocery store.

Don’t give our kids money. One, they’ll lose it. Two, if we take it from them to keep them from losing it, we might lose it or, worse, spend it and forget about it. This includes checks. Picture the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry finds all of his old, un-cashed checks from his grandma, cashes them, overdrafts her checking account and then makes her worry he’s hurting for money. Yeah, that’s what happens.

Do offer to take them shopping. Again, a couple hour break for mom or dad and you look like an awesome friend/family member. If you do this and aren’t experienced with kids in toy stores, be warned. They are indecisive little turds. Give them very clear choices – you can have toy A or toy B, which would you prefer? Done. Do not, I repeat, do not give open-ended options unless you want to spend four hours pining over which Tonka truck is the coolest.

Finally, consider that kids may not even need a Christmas present from you. If you are a family friend or distant relative, that kid at the bottom of your list who you only feel obligated to buy for because they’re a kid may already be getting too much stuff as it is. Think about who else might be purchasing gifts for the child. Is their family well off? Are their parents divorced? Do they have a lot of aunts and uncles? Do they have grandparents who like to spoil them? If the answers to these questions lead you to believe the kid is going to be getting all of Santa’s sleigh, you can probably get off with something very small or just a big hug.

Whatever you do, keep the receipt, let mom and dad know you have it and that you won’t be offended if something needs to go back or get swapped out. Also consider running your possible gift ideas past mom and dad first or asking for a list ahead of time. Keep in mind though, any list you get is probably the same list given to every grandma, grandpa, aunt and uncle, so again, keep that receipt!

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email