I’m determined to do this Christmas right. I want presents so awesome that my kids’ heads will explode in amazement.
My friend Kiersten has already finished her holiday shopping. She’s been done for weeks. “You should probably keep quiet about that,” I said when she told me. “If somebody hears you, they’re apt to kill you.”
I’ve definitely thought about shopping and posted a request for gift ideas on Facebook. “What gifts are getting your kids excited as we head into December?” I asked. One friend went deadpan on me: “My kids get the gift of life.” Another said one of the best presents she ever bought her kids was…a stapler. And a hole punch, some envelopes, an eraser, and a pencil.
Maybe my friends were chastising me for being materialistic, but I’m determined to do this Christmas right. I want presents so awesome that my kids’ heads will explode in amazement.
For example, my son is crazy into all things remote control. We used to have an RC helicopter—a $20 thing. One day, out on the back deck, my son pressed a controller lever, and suddenly the shoe-sized flyer was hovering at eye level. Another lever push and the thing rose up and over our neighbour’s roof. I never did climb up there and find it. So this Christmas I’m planning to atone for my laziness by buying my boy the Air Hogs Heli Cage, a remote control–operated chopper with twin roll bars designed to protect it from crashes.
I found it tougher to get excited about my four-year-old daughter’s most-wanted gift: Lego Friends (i.e., Lego for the princess set, replete with pink camper vans and purple horse trailers). At first I hated the idea of Lego Friends—I’m trying to raise a riot grrl here, people!—but then I went to New York and bought my daughter a module as a present. The two of us loved building the camper van. I’ll buy her more pieces for Christmas, because I’m hoping “girl Lego” is a gateway to the sort of imaginative, make-your-own rules play that Lego was originally about.
My antipathy towards the little girls’ princess cult has sold me on Monster High, a clever inversion of the doll universe pioneered by Mattel, which also makes Barbie. Here, rather than the impossibly blond popular crowd, the dolls are based on horror archetypes and cater to the outcasts. My problem? While characters like Draculaura and Frankie Stein ostensibly encourage the children who own them to “be yourself” and “be unique,” all of the dolls remain impossibly slender. I’ll still get one for my daughter, because the rest of their attributes subvert the prettiness-is-everything ethos of every other doll franchise. But I might grit my teeth a bit: Why couldn’t one character have an average body, like many actual outcasts?
Speaking of teeth-gritting…. Look, I realize the gaming-world phenomenon, Skylanders Giants, is a cash-grab. The starter pack comes with a circular disk called a portal, and action-figure “giants.” Hook the portal up to a videogame system, like the Nintendo Wii, place the action figure on the portal, and the giant comes alive inside the videogame, where a player can direct it on a quest, or play shorter games. We’ll get it, because the games are supposed to be super fun. But what’s problematic is the way the game encourages kids to buy more and more Skylanders characters, which, at $10 to $15 a pop, can get expensive.
Anyway, what’s with all these pre-fab universes? Kids should be using their imagination to create their own worlds. That’s where MakeDo’s Make Anything Kits come in. The MakeDo system is less a toy than a set of tools for creation. A plastic saw cuts cardboard, while dozens of plastic circles function as fasteners that enable kids to construct robots, spaceships, whatever. I’m excited about the open-ended imaginative play the MakeDo system will assist my kids in pursuing. In its way, MakeDo is not all that different from a stapler and a hole punch. Take that, Facebook friends!