Family life

When kids test the Santa hypothesis

Tracy Chappell finds it a little more difficult than usual to come up with gift ideas for her kids this holiday season.

1KidsSanta-November2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

It used to be so easy: When December rolled around, I’d wander to my secret closet and open the door. Inside would be boxes and bags with toys, books, stickers, bath crayons, knick-knacks, games, socks, and what have you, picked up in sale bins and on clearance racks over the previous 12 months. We try not to go overboard on the kids at Christmas, so I’d sort through to find them an equal number of gifts that I know they’d love, and separate some out for the other kids we buy for. Voila. Done and done.

I don’t tend to take my kids shopping (to save my sanity), and until recently, they didn’t watch TV with commercials (CBC Kids, FTW), and I think that’s why we’ve been lucky to sidestep a lot of  “I want that!” (Because, believe me, when they do see commercials, they want it all.) So, for a long time, Christmas gifts were really up to us, except for the occasional request. And except for the letter to Santa.

I tell my girls they can ask Santa for one gift. That’s mostly because I think one is enough, but also because I want them to think hard about something that will really make them happy, instead of choosing something that tickles their fancy in some fleeting moment. They write letters to Santa (except the year Anna refused, saying “I already told him in person, what’s the point?”), and Santa usually delivers. Even when they ask for odd things, like when Anna was three and, a couple of days before Christmas, she told a Christmas-party Santa that all she wanted was a fire truck — which is something she hadn’t mentioned to her poor parents. Or the year that all Avery wanted was a reindeer head on a stick (like a hobby horse) that she saw at Shopper’s Drug Mart.

This year, I told them that a few people had asked me if they had anything in mind for Christmas, so they should each come up with three things to put on their wish list. I thought this would be a relatively easy task. But now that they’re five and seven, things like this get complicated. And my secret closet stash isn’t quite as robust as it once was.

First up was Avery. “But I don’t want to make a list,” she whined. I asked her why. “Gifts are supposed to be a surprise. It’s no fun if you know what you’re getting.” (Love this girl.) I thought I might get more direction when a Target toy guide arrived in the mail, with clever little “love this” stickers included for kids to mark their favourite things. I placed it in front of her and she squealed with delight. But then she went on to put stickers on pretty much everything. “Are there any things that you like most of all?” I asked her. “I like everything!” she exclaimed. Argh.

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Then there’s Anna. “I know my three things,” she told me, a coy smile on her face. “Lego, Lego, and I can’t tell you the other one.” I asked her why not. “I’m just going to tell Santa.”

Oh, yes she did! Do you know what the most intriguing thing about her comment is? I did the exact same thing to my parents when I was young, though I think I was older than seven. I vividly remember coming up with the simple, brilliant plan that if I asked Santa for something they had no idea I wanted, and mailed the letter myself, I would know for sure what was really going on. My mom remembers this too and, lucky for her, I had two older sisters she enlisted to suss out the secret item.

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So now I have to think of some stealth-yet- casual way to do the same thing, so Anna is sufficiently delighted (and her curiosity satisfied) on Christmas morning. Not that she wouldn’t be, anyway. I am grateful that my kids are pretty grateful for everything they receive. But this comes hot on the heels of a conversation about whether parents are really the Tooth Fairy, and I just don’t want that stuff to be over yet. (And I don’t think I can find the energy to join the Elf on the Shelf ranks; bless you, moms and dads.) And I have to figure out what will thrill Miss Avery, though that shouldn’t be nearly as difficult.

How do you handle your kids’ wish lists and any other curve balls they throw your way?