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Stand back! Auntie's got some overthinking to do. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Stand back! Auntie's got some overthinking to do. [Dec. 18th, 2010|05:23 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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As many of you know, I'm an only child; when I refer to my brother, I'm talking about the one I went out and got for myself in my late teens, not one who was parentally provided. And he is a very fine brother and all one could ask for in a brother...and does not affect my only child brain processes in the slightest. He is very much loved, but as for how my brain works by default, it's all in only child mode.

This got to be a problem this Christmas, because I have several sets of small child siblings to buy for. Very small child siblings. I am, I flatter myself, good at buying presents for little kids. I know about various picture books with dinosaurs and pirates and knufflebunnies; I keep track of where to buy toys that come with spaceships and toys that roll into little magnetic balls and toys that build a million different things that aren't pictured on the box. I even found some soap in the shape of Hello Kitty this year for a little extra, making me officially awesome in the eyes of my Hello Kitty-obsessed goddaughter.

But when the gifts are going to siblings, it's not the same as buying for a kid and then buying for another kid. I have learned--oh how I have learned. There are times when it's okay to buy one kid books and the other toys, for example, and times when it is not. (Buying the older, more mature kid who freely and joyfully admits to reading on his own a toy, and then his younger, supposedly pre-literate sister books? Not so much.) And then there are all the things it's awesome to buy for an 18-month-old...that you already bought for an 18-month-old last time they had an 18-month-old, and you have no reason to think they've thrown the thing in the garbage since. So then you have to come up with something else. That won't be too redundant. And it can't be something somewhat too old for the littler kid that they can grow into, because if you do that, you've de facto given the older sibling two presents and the littler one zero. If it's too directly age-appropriate, they'll grow out of it in five seconds flat; if it's not limitedly age-appropriate enough, you risk the older, bigger kid sidling up and taking it over.

("I don't think that's a big problem," said markgritter, himself an oldest. Hah. I watched it happen.)

And if you have opposite-sex siblings to give gifts to, and you look and say, "Well, what don't they have around the house already?", the answer is often highly gendered. And you really don't want the message to be, "Big sib is the oldest, so they get the cool stuff: the telescopes, the building toys, the best books. And you get the really gendery Girl/Boy stuff, which frankly kind of sucks." Even if they will not, before they are out of preschool, see the suckage--that's kind of the point. They won't. But I will.

This will all be so much easier in just a few years, when the younger siblings in question can say, "Auntie Mris, I want a--", or their parents can say, "You know, he/she is really into--" and then I can go off and get that sort of thing, or something tangentially related to it. Four-year-olds--contrary to our culture's common beliefs--have opinions and interests. Eighteen-month-olds do, too, they're just not as good at expressing them in advance. Moral of the story is not to get too attached to them adoring any given present, I guess; I have that one down for all the kids. I just...I think it comes down to not being comfortable with intrafamily conflict over presents. It alarms me. Probably if I'd given some other kid a good whack to make them let me have my Ewok Village back, I'd feel more comfortable about this, but I didn't, so I don't.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2010-12-18 11:52 pm (UTC)
I agree with Mark.

However, since I see your point as well, I would like to mention that toys like LEGO, DUPLO, Lincoln Logs and the such are toys that can be combined to great effect. They encourage creative and cooperative play.

Best of all, if a kid is too young to really appreciate these sorts of toys, they're not going to remember the age appropriate toy that they grow out of tomorrow, so you can dote on the more enjoyable elder child.
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[User Picture]From: guppiecat
2010-12-18 11:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, and if you've not yet given out this book, you have a lot of backfill to do.
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From: ex_truepenn
2010-12-19 12:22 am (UTC)
Tangential to your actual point, I gave the book with Knufflebunny in it to someone when they were the right age for it, because I read it standing in Borders and loved it to pieces. Which is the great thing about having someone picture-book age to buy gifts for.
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[User Picture]From: finnyb
2010-12-19 01:10 am (UTC)
I love the first two Knufflebunny books (so much that I bought the plushie bunny to go with them). The third one, not so much. (I'm twenty-nine.)
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-12-19 12:24 am (UTC)
You're lucky to get an 18 month old to actually open presents. And if they open one, generally they are not interested in opening another one. So, you know, it's all good. :-)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 01:52 am (UTC)
Rip tear maim destroy! This is a small child's raison d'etre!
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[User Picture]From: buttonlass
2010-12-19 01:11 am (UTC)
I must say what I remember about being a sibling with a sister 18 months younger than me was how many we got. We were very particular about even amounts of everything. Our parents ended up getting us each one of whatever it was appropriate or not.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 01:53 am (UTC)
I have witnessed this behavior in siblings close to me. It is one of the ways in which siblings are baffling.
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[User Picture]From: mamapduck
2010-12-19 02:51 am (UTC)
I have a dreadful time buying for my boyfriends. See, there are four of them, all thoughtfully birthed by my friend Jen (who I named Cupcake after) and I buy them books. However, by the time you hit boy #4 in the same family? You've bought most of the good books. Mo Willems Pigeon books? Done. If you give a blank a blank? Most of them, and you can really only do so many.

This year I'm scrambling- but guppiecat may have solved the baby.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 04:15 am (UTC)
How Do Dinosaurs Something Something Something. Yes. The field of truly outstanding picture books is--well, not as limited as I think, probably, but finding them to look through and verify is another matter.
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[User Picture]From: p_j_cleary
2010-12-19 12:14 pm (UTC)
When I had all nieces (after the nieces and nephew that are older got past the age of being hard to buy for, because they could ask for stuff), I bought nothing but princess dresses for all!

Now I have exactly one nephew in the mix of All Nieces, and so Christmas this year is, Princess Dress, Princess Dress, Princess Dress, Princess Dress, Princess Dress, Princess Dress, Truck.

Though heteronormative standards aren't always the most liberal thing to encourage, I don't really want to buy the nephew a princess dress...until he asks for one.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 01:27 pm (UTC)
Yah, there are some things I'm interested in pushing the envelope on there and some things I'm not. The nieces are getting fairy wings, among other things, and while I would buy dress-up stuff, including fantasy dress-up stuff, if they had been nephews instead, I think I'd have waited for a specific request on the fairy wings also. (I almost bought them an awesome knight dress-up kit. It had a cloak. Everybody likes cloaks. They swirl. You do not have to be a particular sex or age to like cloaks.)

I saw the picture of all the princess dresses on your lj, and they are big enough that one hopes that if Niece X had expressed a dislike for such things, she could have a truck also, or some Lego--this falls into the category of "big enough to express opinions" for sure.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2010-12-19 12:32 pm (UTC)
One strange year when the big kid was micro and pre-verbal someone gave her a bag of mixed cat toys. She was ecstatic - there kept being one more to pull out of the bag, and they could be chewed, rolled, tossed, and lost without hazard. As a bonus, they didn't take up too much space in our tiny house, and could be thrown out with a clean conscience when they became filthy. They could be shared with the (fascinating) larger children present, without having said larger individuals lust after them. They were a nearly perfect present - instantly usable, age appropriate, shareable and (my favorite) an invitation to play.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 01:30 pm (UTC)
Hee. Awesome.

Of the three sets of small-child siblings I buy for, two have at least one cat in the house, and two have a dog in the house, so the confusion of "this pet toy smelling/shaped thing belongs to the little monkey and not to me?" on the part of the animal might be a little hard to navigate. (Or did you have that circumstance and no problem with it?) But for those whose circumstances are not like that, perfect.
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[User Picture]From: cakmpls
2010-12-19 03:00 pm (UTC)
How, I ask, did you get so much smarter about this kid stuff than many parents are?

Four-year-olds--contrary to our culture's common beliefs--have opinions and interests. Eighteen-month-olds do, too, they're just not as good at expressing them in advance.

I think that most parents are aware of this, but a lot of them think it's a bad thing for kids (sometimes even adult ones) to have opinions [that differ from their parents'] and interests [that the parents do not vet and approve]. Ugh.

At this point I have four nieces that I buy gifts for. One is in her late teens, and she gets makeup sets or jewelry I make or something else that my similarly-aged daughter would like. The other three are under ten; they are my grand-niece and her two sisters in her adoptive family. (Our family tree looks more like a tangle of vines.) I confess that I fall back on gift cards; they live far away, I never get the chance to interact with them, and this way they can pick something they actually want. Their mom says they really like having something they can "spend" on their own choice.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-19 04:56 pm (UTC)
Well, I remember my childhood a lot better than a lot of people do. My first memory that can be independently verified as a memory is when I was 15 months old, and I have very strong recollections of conversations with my folks when I was 3 or 4 years old in which I was...very clearly me, I guess. Personality continuity is very clear for me.

Also I had a bunch of little cousins who were very clearly not the same person pretty early on. And also I didn't start with the assumption that children are not really people. So that helps.

But as for interests--I think that you're right that they are supposed to be parentally vetted. But I also think they are sort of ranked as lesser, as not really counting. If your 5-year-old is really into horses or drawing or soccer, that's cute, but you don't have to take it seriously, it's not like a real person had an interest in those things. And I hate that.
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From: diatryma
2010-12-19 04:44 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what I'd get kids, if I had them to buy for. http://www.amazon.com/Give-Dog-Bone-Steven-Kellogg/dp/1587170019 is my favorite preschool book in the world right now, mostly because of the raptors. The Nerdy Baby stuff, that has to happen. Trains, because every preschooler I have worked with likes trains. Fold-up cardboard blocks and possibly help assembling them, because they are like a miracle toy for anyone able to stack them and knock it down. The rest will have to wait until I have specific children to buy for rather than hypothetical ones.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-12-19 06:38 pm (UTC)
This, as everything you write, is really fascinating. And not something I've ever thought of (being an only) or ever had to think of later (not having little kids in the family circle of buying gifts for).

A four-year-old has her own preferences, but all the ones I married into I don't know well enough to know whether they like princesses, trucks, calculators or mouse balls, being as they live in Philadelphia and neither me nor my husband has ever met them let alone spent significant time with them. I guess that's why we don't send them gifts -- their parents, who are all JD's cousins, don't send us gifts either. But I think I would probably have to fall back on asking the parents what the kid was into.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-12-19 06:38 pm (UTC)

PS about those mouse balls

I mean the thing you put your pet mouse into and have it run around the house ... :D Realised that could use some clarification.
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[User Picture]From: seagrit
2010-12-20 01:59 pm (UTC)
You know, I'm completely with you on this. I've had almost all of those thoughts about the girls presents at some point this month. What can I get Lily that Amber will not automatically usurp? What can I get Lily that we don't already have from two years ago? What can I get Amber that Lily won't rip to shreds or choke on? Can I justify to myself getting fewer presents for the baby, because she can't tell the difference anyway?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-20 03:36 pm (UTC)
Yah, my concern with buying for families with more than one kid is not that getting fewer/smaller/etc. presents for the littler one will be a problem for the littler one right away, because you can tell whether the littler one is big enough to know the difference pretty well. It's whether a) it's setting a precedent and b) the older one is old enough to know the difference. And if so, whether the older one is old enough to have the difference explained to them in a way that makes sense and doesn't come out as preference. Because I think it can be just as damaging for kids to go around thinking that they are Auntie's Favorite as that their sibling is. This is less likely to be a problem with parents because parents are around all the time--if the kid starts showing signs of thinking "Mommy and Daddy love me better than you," the parents can nip that in the bud much more easily than an aunt or godmother who isn't around as much.

I know a couple of people who grew up knowing that they were Grandma or Grandpa's favorite, and it was Really Not Good for them. I mean, it was unpleasant for their siblings/cousins also, but it turned out to be much worse for the kid who thought of themselves as the little king or queen.
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[User Picture]From: sageautumn
2010-12-21 12:33 am (UTC)
Kids under 2 or 2 and a half, I get them diapers. (Yes, it's a present for the parents... they get something to open, and they don't care.)

This MIGHT be different if the kids didn't have an extended network that would be getting them alllllkiiiinds of crap. ... ... Actucally, thinking about that, chances are it wouldn't be different because a parent in that situation would probably REALLY need diapers even more.
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