December 2006


By Suzanne Strazza

It’s that time of the year again — time to exchange gifts that no one has any interest in whatsoever.

Our season begins in November with my husband, Tom’s, birthday. Last night, he opened his father’s gift only to have the children swoop in like vultures scooping up all the trinkets. And trinkets they were: a mini tool kit and a “four-dimensional wolf puzzle” (what exactly is four-dimensional?). There was also a DVD about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Ninety excruciating minutes of a man trudging through the woods with a heavy backpack. Step by exhilarating step.

Thing is, Tom’s dad tries. He aspires to find stuff that we’re interested in, but our world is as foreign to him as Mars is to us, so he tends to miss the mark.

Each birthday, each holiday, we find ourselves in the same quandary: what to get for the people we’re obligated to get something for, yet really don’t know very well so have no idea of what they would really want.

You must remember the dreaded package from the weird uncle who lived halfway around the world. Before you opened it, you knew that it would be something wholly unrelated to your life and you would have to spend time writing an artificially appreciative thank-you note for it.

I’d like to be the cool aunt that always gets it right, but. . .

Not off to a rip-roaring start. I already am the bad-mother-gift-buyer for my kids’ friends’ birthdays. Years ago, we attended a little girls’ party. This put me totally out of my shopping realm since at the time, I only knew trucks and trains. Refusing to buy into the pink plastic Wal-Mart thing, I searched high and low for something “appropriate.” Finally, I came up with a paint-it-yourself birdhouse. The girl took one look and tossed it aside. She wanted pink plastic.

Oh, the humiliation of being the kid who gives the loser present.

Yesterday, my boys went to another birthday party (years later, same scene). The host received cars, dirtbike accoutrements and a book. Guess which present I bought?

Soon, my boys will refuse to let me shop for their friends.

But I’m still in charge of holidays for family. Here we are, coming up on buying for nieces and nephews that live on the East Coast whom I’ve only met once (eight years ago). I also have a niece and nephew in California who play golf. They’re all older than my kids, creating yet another shopper’s handicap. Working at a high school gives me no guidance with the teenaged cousins; chances are the kids at the alternative school in Montezuma County are into different things than East Coast prep kids.

So, at a total loss, I try to be creative. Over the years we’ve done books, we’ve done gift certificates from bigbox chain stores accessible to anyone anywhere in the country that I loathe supporting. I have sent jewelry from the Southwest and fossils. Clothes are a nono for so many reasons. Have you ever heard an 8-year-old squeal with delight, “Look, Aunt Suz sent me new socks!”?

Admirably, there are the gifts that keep on giving; cows, llamas, chickens for people living in remote villages in countries no one can locate on a map. Adults like these; I love knowing that there is a cow in Namibia named Suzanne. But again, think of the 8-yearold: “Oh, Mommy, Aunt Suz gave some other kid a cow!”

Fortunately, there are relatives and friends we do know well, who are easy to accommodate and who make the entire gift-giving experience fun. Tom’s sister’s girls are a breeze – they camp, hike, get dirty and read books. Plus, they’re the same ages as my boys. I enjoy birthdays and Christmas for them. I also love to do special things for our best friends, Asa and Simon. I know how to avoid what will make their eyes roll. Usually anything I do for my boys works for them. This balances out the horror of buying for the unknown relatives.

I would love to live in a commercial-free world that puts no significance on giving and getting. But, I don’t. And we’re talking children here. I could skip the presents and just start a therapy fund to help with their pain from being neglected by their aunt.

So, here I am, geared up to spend the bulk of my November paycheck on items that will be thrown aside, forgotten. I will stress out (needlessly) about what to buy for the 19-year-old college girl or the golf player in sunny California. I will refuse to compromise my values, and insist on supporting local businesses, so they will all end up with T-shirts that say “Mancos – Where the West Still Lives” that no one who lives outside of the Four Corners would ever slip over their heads.

I will wrap and box these various sundries and groan at the cost of shipping under-appreciated items across the country. Then I myself will grimace as I receive thank-yous from the children who don’t even know me, those who whined and moaned over the obligation of writing these notes. I will watch my children open their gifts from the parents of these children, who I know have suffered the same stresses that I have, who will also grimace when they receive Everett’s and Bowen’s thank-you’s.

Tom and I will complain about the whole gift obligation thing, the commercialism of the holidays and the pain of being too poor to visit these relatives so that we actually get to know them. We will say that next time will be different, that we have time to come up with better gift ideas. We will wonder if Meagan and Justin are old enough to receive a llama certificate.

Then the next birthday will come around and if I remember it, which is a 50/50 thing in and of itself, I will be late, rushed, with all of my good intentions flying straight out the window in the face of last-minute shopping.

Nothing like a gift that you hate from the weird aunt in Colorado – late.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos.