Anne Notations

Sunday, December 17, 2006


What makes a great Christmas gift for a child? I was thinking about my own childhood favorites in response to a newsgroup query today. Two came immediately to mind:

1) The white tripod telescope Santa brought me when I was 7. Astronomy was my passion that year. Dad and I spent many a cloudless, brisk night in the driveway gazing at the moon's craters, Saturn's rings, and Jupiter's moons. The telescope came with us to three different homes in three states. It stood the test of time as a thrilling tool for seeing far beyond the leafy confines of my suburban neighborhoods.

2) My first three-speed English bicycle. It was a Raleigh, a beautiful midnight blue with a tan leather seat. When I was 9 it was the first thing I saw as I descended the stairs on December 25. It was possibly the most-used thing I owned. I rode that Raleigh everywhere, including to Cape Cod and back my senior year of high school. After I graduated from college, someone cut the bike's lock in the basement of my apartment building, and I never saw it again.

Those two gifts far outshone anything else I recall receiving. What made them instant hits and gave them legs? Both were tools for exploration. Both took me outside my usual orbit. They were versatile and never boring; they caused me to be active, not passive. I was able to operate them by myself after some instruction. (Insert "empowering" cliché here.) They were not stereotypically girls' toys; in fact, they were gender-neutral. I never outgrew them.

Think about these qualities and potentials when you shop for the children in your life. Don't reflexively grab for the latest Tickle Me Elmo. (Remember how fast kids got tired of Furbies, the must-have toy some 10 Yules ago.) The most used, most versatile gift we gave our own kids was a double set of sturdy, polished-hardwood wooden blocks. Stored in two plastic milk crates, they were in constant use (as castles, as garages for Matchbox cars, as pens for plastic animals) right up until our kids' teen years. Now they've gone to Leslie, for Caroline.

I reached for a few old photo albums to see if anything else stood out from Christmases past.

When I was around 9, I received this Betsy McCall doll and her pet - a Steiff airedale. The world globe was probably a present, too. Betsy was a sweet and well-made doll, and I spent hours playing with her in my walk-in bedroom closet. I kept her until this past summer, when I sold all my old doll items to a dealer. The globe was another gift that saw constant use. When we started our family in 1991, I made sure to purchase a world globe and keep it in a prominent place in the living room. We still use it now to track current events.

In 1967, at age 16, I didn't look thrilled with this faux-brocade overnight bag. Grandma seemed to approve, though.

Dad's 1973 gift to me - $50 in ones, wrapped in a box - was a hit.

As was Tammy's case of dog food. Note the tongue action. Mmmmm. That is one appreciative mutt.

One shopping week remains until Christmas. Be smart out there.


  • Your box of dollar bills reminds me of my dad -- my mom always said she wanted a "five-pound box of money" for Christas. One year he gave my mother $100 in dollar bills with the note: "Sorry it's not a five-pound box"!

    By Blogger Bozoette, at Mon Dec 18, 08:56:00 AM EST  

  • HAHA, the box of money idea is great! Tammy must've known that food kept her beautiful, what a cutie!

    Santa didn't bring me a telescope until a few years ago, but that's definitely a great present. When I was about 10, I was given a constellation finder. Long after the lightbulb burned out, the little book that came with it helped me find just about every seasonal constellation in the sky, and I go out looking for them to this day, so I'm with you on that one.

    When I was 9 Santa gave me my own boombox, with 6 cassettes I still prize to this day. It's dated, I know, because all the kids grow up with their own music implanted in their head now, but that my family knew what music I liked always blew my mind. I eventually took that boombox with me to record my piano lessons, so I always considered it the year I got music.

    My favorite things were always arts & crafts supplies because I could make things for other people, and being given my own typewriter just started me down all kinds of roads I really ought to stay on, too.

    By Blogger BrideOfPorkins, at Mon Dec 18, 09:30:00 PM EST  

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