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Give grandchildren a gift from the heart

t's that time. You know, the scratch-your-head, try-to-figure-it-out, love-'em-but-what-do-you-get-'em holiday gift-buying time for the grandchildren.

Whether you're near or far, thinking of just the right present can be taxing. You want to give something they'll like, something they can use, even something they will appreciate. But what? And if you've got a bunch of grandchildren, worries about the costs multiply.

Some of you reach for the phone to ask your own children — the parents — for advice. That can work, but even they seem stymied some years, especially as that darling kid becomes a teenager who spends every waking hour with something plugged into her ears. A teen's secret world can be difficult to penetrate for all of us.

Persuasive advertising may lure you into the toy canyons of big-box stores. Before long you're ready to throw up your hands trying to figure out if your little lovey can read well enough to enjoy the hottest board game or if slugger-boy needs a new baseball mitt. Gift cards become more and more attractive. (Nothing wrong with these, or the ever-popular cash, but keep thinking if you want to leave an impression.)

As you consider the options this year, don't lose sight of the most important gift you have to offer: a lifetime of memories. Those may come in the form of old photos, vintage books and even jewelry. Don't be charmed by the latest gadgets; let Mom and Dad worry about those. You have something unique to give and today we're here to help you figure out exactly what that is.

Hopefully our suggestions will take the pressure off and result in a memorymaker. Don't feel bad if the gift is something that is appreciated more by the parent or if it'll take a few years before your grandchildren understand the meaning.

Thoughtfulness is welcome at any time, any age.

Keeping it in the family. Give a gift that connects the generations with a treasured book of your own passed on with a new inscription, funny school stuff of Dad's (that old letterman's jacket), a cookbook that Grandma and Mom used together or a framed photo of Mom or Dad (or even you) at your grandchild's age. How about old hats? Military medals or trophies?

We know of an 82-year-old grandmother who recently sent her 13-year-old grandson the hole-in-one golf trophy she won in 1979. He got a big kick out of it and displays it on his dresser. Plus, Grandma was able to cull more stuff.

Spending time together. If finances allow, consider a cruise over the winter holiday or spring break. You could go with just the grandchildren or help plan a trip for the extended family. For faraway grandchildren, buy a plane ticket for them to come visit you — a gift for parents, too!

Elderhostel has programs for grandparents traveling with grandchildren all around the world. Wouldn't that dinosaur-loving grandson love to hunt the prehistoric creatures in southern Utah with Grandpa at his side? For more information and to request a catalog, call toll-free 1-800-454-5768 or go to www.elderhostel.com.

Less extravagantly, and if you live nearby, buy theater or concert tickets. (With earplugs, anyone can survive the screaming hoards at a Miley Cyrus concert.) Engineer a standing date for a local tea room or the movies. Go bowling. A shopping trip to the mall, lunch included. Take in a professional sporting event or the next Disney ice show; plan a trip to a spring training baseball game.

Seems like Florida kids never tire of theme parks. How about passes to Disney attractions or Busch Gardens?

They are growing up. What was once good for a 10-year-old is not so hot for a teenager. To a grandchild, there may be nothing more cool than a grandparent who recognizes that a kid is becoming an adult. Consider a AAA card or a contribution toward car insurance for a new driver. Driving lessons may be welcomed by a 15-year-old.

Look into lessons of all sorts: dance, cooking, art, music, sports, scuba diving or windsurfing.

For girls. You mostly can't miss with jewelry. Make it special by getting something engraved. Or put a photo in a locket. Start her a charm bracelet and send charms for special events during the year.

Better yet, go through your own jewelry box, keeping an eye out for pieces that, while maybe not the most expensive, have lots of meaning. Or maybe it's just a necklace that she always liked. Give it away now and watch her smile.

For boys. Boys are more problematic than girls because, stereotypically speaking, jewelry and clothes don't impress them. For every boy who is interested in sports, you'll know one who is wild about music and another who is big on gadgetry. One size does not fit all. Your best bet here is to do a little digging. What are his interests? Some ideas once you find out: a real helmet from his favorite college football team, a gift certificate for a customized skateboard, a guitar, an apron and a Bobby Flay cookbook, fishing gear, camping equipment, a pocket knife, art supplies. These ideas will also be appropriate for many girls.

For toddlers/babies. Don't fret too much about gifts for this age group. They are mostly for parents anyway. Something special can be put in their memory boxes and everything else should be cute clothes or a sweet little toy. Watch the age suggestions on the packaging.

From faraway. Movie passes and gift cards transcend the miles, but so do magazine subscriptions. Take a trip to the local bookstore and check out the magazine racks. Be careful not to get one that's too babyish to them. For instance, Teen People would be of interest to a pop-culture-loving 11-year-old. Likewise there is a Sports Illustrated Kids, but the adult version would be just as welcome by a young sports aficionado. From fashion to science, you'll find something in this category.

Give a 12-month gift from book-of-the-month and craft-of-the-month clubs. Many of these programs can be found on the Internet. If you're not online, find a friend who is. A Google search of "book of the month for kids" or "craft of the month club for kids" will turn up many options. Most do not take phone orders.

Communication between grandparents and parents can be an important element in coming up with gift ideas for grandchildren. But that is fraught with peril sometimes. Be open with one another to start, and consider each other's feelings and limitations. Here are some tips to make the experience pleasant and fruitful.

For grandparents

• Don't expect your kids to be excited about you sending money and asking them to buy and wrap gifts for your grandchildren. Your to-do list should not become theirs. If they are willing, that's fine, but ask first.

• Ask "What is she/he interested in these days?" rather than "What does she/he want?" The former question provides information that you can use to come up with gift ideas. The latter puts the responsibility on the parents and they can be struggling for ideas, too.

• Watch the noisemakers. In a house full of kids, loud toys are the last thing the adults want to deal with. If you buy a toy with sound, make sure it has a mute button.

• Be frivolous if that's in your nature. Let the folks get them the "must-haves" while you opt for the fun stuff.

• Relax and hope they remember it's the thought that counts.

For parents

• Ask your kids for wish lists in anticipation of questions from grandparents. Be ready to help those who are far away and don't see the kids a lot. Know sizes.

• Be open with your parents about what you'll be able to accomplish for them. Reassure them that the kids will like whatever they give, especially if it comes from the heart.

• Say "thank you." A lot. And get your kids to do the same, in writing if possible. This is the time to teach your children to be appreciative and kind, even if the gift wasn't exactly what they wanted.

Give grandchildren a gift from the heart 11/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 3:30am]

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