Once, many years and several children ago, I was given some advice about babies and Christmas. I was struggling with my Norman Rockwell expectations for my two-year-old’s holiday. My neighbor, a veteran parent with two kids in middle school, shared some hard fought wisdom. Babies and toddlers, she explained, will never remember these first few Christmases. Relax, she told me. Wrap up a box of Cheerios and a box of Band-Aids and call it a day. The baby gets a snack and something fun to stick all over herself and you get to skip a trip to the mall to battle it out over a toy that your daughter knows nothing about. Embrace the simplicity and the magic of those early holidays, before they get old enough to make lists. It was great advice that I promptly ignored. I smiled and nodded, and then went on my merry way to buy gifts that my daughter cared little about, and that also became quite creepy as their batteries drained (I’m looking at you, TMX Elmo!)
Two years later, I was given another chance to reclaim the simple magic of the holiday when my second daughter was about 17 months old. I caved again, as the lure of Melissa and Doug was too great. Not only did my daughter become annoyed about 2 presents in; she insisted on sitting in her high chair to eat, what else? - Cheerios- and watch us open her gifts instead.
Now I am given my final shot. Here I sit, reading Amazon reviews about blocks, toys made from recycled materials and activity centers needing 8 batteries. Meanwhile, my 11-month-old son is smashing the TV remote, eating a leaf off of the ground, and trying to sneak away to hang out in his favorite place- the dog bowl. According to the internet, the thing that will make him happiest involves primary colors, lights, and a switch to make it speak in Spanish. According to my son, the thing that will make him happiest is 30 seconds alone with a roll of toilet paper. How do I reconcile his special first holiday with the now deeply ingrained knowledge that this gift grab is ridiculous? If I don’t get him Big Hugs Elmo, what do I get him instead? So here are a few simple things I have come up with, because we already have a full box of Cheerios in the cabinet.
1. Gerber Puffs
I am pretty sure my baby would slap me in the face with his tiny, chubby fists until I gave up these goods. Puffs are definitely on his list.
One, it’s a delicious stocking stuffer. Two, it is edible finger paint. He can go to town “painting” and I don’t have to battle his need to shove everything in his mouth. When he’s done, I can just hose him off. If you are feeling adventurous, there are instructions available on making various colors.
3. A box of tissues
Something about a box of tissues makes a baby soooo happy. Look at the soft, fluffy mess! Don’t spring for the aloe, as these tissues will never actually be used to blow a nose. If you want to go a little more earth friendly, fill an empty tissue box with scraps of sturdier material for the baby to pull out and stuff back in.
4. A container full of buttons
Fill it, dump it, and fill it again. Sort it, shake it, and roll it under the couch. Not for babies that will eat the buttons. See: my child.
5. A basket full of treasure
Walk around your house and fill a basket with an old hairbrush, hair bows not being used by older siblings, an eggbeater, a seashell, a glove and a few scraps from old T-shirts. Call it a “sensory basket” and feel very creative and smart inside.
6. Box fort
You can use a combination of the boxes from retailers that will come when you ignore my advice, and free boxes from Lowe’s. Basically, you build a baby and toddler maze. That’s the gift that keeps on giving. What’s the old saying- Kids this age prefer the box to the present? Damn straight.
Good luck, parents of little ones! And remember to relax and enjoy these first holidays, because someday your child might hand you a list that includes a jet pack and a grappling hook. Or maybe they will sleep with the American Girl Doll catalogue under their pillow, opened to the page with the $300 doll car. Either way, you are going to miss those Cheerio days!