To gift or not to gift?

Ian travels for work. A lot. And his girls have come to expect presents from the road. What's a dad to do?

Credit: arimoore

Last year, I spent 150 days on the road travelling for work — a number that would rival the busiest flight attendant.
With all of the travel that I do, a lot of people ask me, “Do you buy your kids a gift every time you go away on a trip?”
Trying to buy your kids a gift on the road can be a very stressful experience. Sometimes we stay at a hotel that is in the middle of nowhere, so there’s not really a place to buy them a souvenir. And when you try the high-end gift shop inside the hotel, the only things available for under $200 are a jade sculpture of Venus De Milo and a tacky silk scarf. Seriously, who buys these things on a whim at a hotel gift shop?
So when that happens, I’m forced to hit a convenience store on the way home from the airport, because I couldn’t find anything on the road.
“Hey kids, Daddy bought you some special Fun Dip from Boston,” I announce, even though it’s from the Esso around the corner from our house.
When I first started travelling extensively with this job, we only had one daughter. So every time I went away on a trip, I was sure to buy her something significant. Heck, when you only have one daughter — and she’s 18 months old — you’re tempted to buy something for her each time you go to the grocery store to pick up some milk.
So back then, I would come home with a souvenir from every trip, whether it was a penguin from Pittsburgh or a shark from San Jose.
I distinctly remember going into the gift shop inside the St. Louis Blues arena a few years ago and buying a small stuffed animal for Elissa right before a broadcast. There were times where I was on the air as a reporter and unbeknownst to the viewer at home, I had a tiny stuffed leopard in my pocket.
Once our second daughter, Lily, was born, suddenly the price of this souvenir-on-the-road tradition doubled. So for a while, I stopped the whole process because it became a very costly endeavour. Buying two stuffed leopards really has a way of cutting into a person’s per diem.
But lately I’ve fallen back into the habit of buying them something small on every trip. These aren’t big gifts by any stretch of the imagination; a colouring book, some kids’ jewellery or a neat pen are usually the items of choice. I’ll toss in a pack of Skittles and suddenly, I’ve created the perfect little gift basket for the kids. I’ll usually leave the gifts out front of their bedroom doors, so that they have a surprise when they wake up in the morning.
However, Lily is starting to get a little too excited about my trips these days. Last week, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and asked, “Daddy, when are you going away again?”
It wasn’t said in the tone of, “Oh no Daddy, please don’t go because I am going to miss you.”
It was more like “Hey big guy, when are you leaving so I can get my hands on a sticker book and some M&Ms?”
So now I’m starting to re-think this whole gift-on-every-trip philosophy. Yes, I want to let my kids know that I’m thinking about them on the road, so that’s why I buy them a little treat.
But I certainly don’t want them to be pushing me out the door so they can start getting excited about their next gift.

Photo by arimoore via Flickr