Children have no clue.
No, no, not about life. Yes, I know, childlike wisdom, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, adult nostalgia, yay. Not what I’m talking about.
Children have no clue about Christmas. Specifically, the bit of Christmas where adults (who in some cases have never actually MET them) stagger through Toys’R’Us trying to find the Correct Gift. The Cuban Missile Crisis got less concentrated thought than whether my sister-in-law’s daughter (Likes dolls and princesses. Does not like Dora the Explorer.) would prefer Disney Princess Snow White or Disney Princess Cinderella. (They did not have Mulan. I was crushed.)
It was my fault. I accidentally proved that I could buy girly gifts by selecting a sparkly fluffy pink stuffed unicorn for the child. James decided that this meant I had the authority to select the princess doll. My argument that I had never actually been a small girl, but was an alien spawn of Alpha Centauri, hatched from slimy egg sacs and delivered at adolescence to the planet as part of an advance invasion force, did not convince him. Damnit, I knew I should never have let him meet my mother. She’s too obviously not an alien. I never plan far enough ahead.
“Maaaaan….! Why couldn’t she like My Little Pony? *I* liked My Little Pony!”
James blinked at me. I think that stunned him rather more than the spawn of Alpha Centauri bit. “That’s… sort of amazing…” he said.
“They and the little plastic animals with the Strawberry Shortcake dolls fought pitched battles. Often with death, torture and disturbing sexual undertones!”*
At last we located the Disney Princess collection, including a number of Disney Princess accessories of questionable countenance.
“Is that a phone?”
“I think so.”
“It has fur on it.”
“If I was a princess, I would demand that all my phones be shaved.”
James began backing towards the Hot Wheels.
Then we had to choose between Cabbage-Patch-Knock-Off Princess or Barbie-Knock-Off Princess. We went for Barbie. There was a real Children of the Corn vibe on t’other one. You got the feeling that if you didn’t brush its hair on time, its too-wide-set eyes would start twirling in opposite directions and you’d be driven to impale yourself on My Little Pitchfork.
The nephew was only somewhay easier. (Likes Hot Wheels and boy stuff.) James, who had already made his escape towards the manly car-related toys, while I related the vaguely-Wagnerian saga of my pony-filled youth, (Brunhilde played by Crepe Suzette, the small purple skunk, Sigfried played by the white pony with the maroon and purple mane and tail, and I think a moon and stars on the butt) was dithering over what exact Hot Wheels his nephew required. I proceeded on the one thing I know–if you buy for twins, get each one a box about the same size–and located something roughly comparable. It was deemed acceptable. (He got a stuffed orangutang as well, to match fluffy pink sparkleunipony.)
“Ooh!” said James. “I could get Max (Max is my brother) an R/C plane! He could fly it upstairs!” (My parents live in a renovated church, “upstairs” of which is the high-ceilinged sanctuary.)
I eyed James warily. “And by that you mean “Tom and I can get hammered and fly the thing around, giggling,” right?”
He got an R/C car instead, reasoning that two dimensions were enough for a six year old to handle. I will spare the reader the agonies of selecting the proper model and color of the R/C car. I can’t even say it’s a guy thing, because I took just as long going “Snow White or Cinderella? Arrgh!”
At last, all the children are presentified. This is a hellish ordeal to go through for gifts that will probably be forgotten in less than a week. I am wracked with guilt over the princess thing, but nevertheless, one buys gifts that kids want, not gifts that One Feels Are Good For Them. They won’t play with the latter anyway, and Christmas is for bringing materialistic glee to small children, not assuaging my lapsed feminist guilt.
The cashier at the front was a singularly wicked looking fellow, grim-faced, greasy-haired, gimlet-eyed, the sort of person that gets listed in the credits of a kung fu movie as “Man with Knife #4.” He rang up our purchases, while we quailed under that hard, back-alley mugging stare. Then he reached the pink fluffy unicorn.
“Aww…” He broke into a broad grin, squishing the sparkly pink hooves together. “This is real cute.”
“Four year old niece,” I said, grinning back.
“She’ll love it.” He made the unicorn nod to James. James decided we were both dangerously insane and went to go wait by the door. We grinned foolishly at each other.
And a merry die natalis solis invicti to all…!
*I’m pretty sure this was normal. Seriously. Kids are freaky little buggers.