In the beginning, it was fun.
Shopping for Christmas presents for the first grandchild resurrected a world I'd long forgotten — a universe populated by Fisher-Price, Playskool, Mattel, Lego, Barbie; names long ago eclipsed on my holiday gift lists by brands appealing to teenagers and, then, adults.
But December 1992 found me in the toy department at Kmart, stroking and hugging stuffed animals while weighing whether to buy the fluffy beige lion or the sparkly pink pig.
For someone confronting the fact that she was old enough to have a grandchild, there was a certain comfort in finding that stuffed animals were still soft and warm and that more than a few toys hadn't changed much at all since I last purchased any.
The Lincoln Logs and the Tinkertoys and the Play-Doh seemed much the same as when I'd wrapped versions of them and tucked them under a fragrant Christmas tree so very long ago.
The familiarity, however, also resurrected a discomforting issue that has plagued my gift selections for eons — even in this modern age of electronic wish lists and links to Web sites and Web pages that include specific buying instructions including size, style and color preferences.
It boils down to this:
I'm a woman of definite and unusual tastes who is easily distracted by the colorful and shiny. I also find it difficult to take direction or follow instructions.
So — more often than not — what I buy is not what anyone wants.
That was true in the old days when my kids — who were and remain polite if not easily impressed — would feign appreciation and thanks and then hide the stuff I gave them.
That remains true today.
But at that moment in Kmart 16 years ago, it was a new world. Surely that first grandkid — who was soon joined by a sibling and three cousins — would appreciate the sparkly pink pig.
Did he? I don't remember, but I doubt it since I do recall coming out of that first Christmas with waning enthusiasm.
As the gift-giving grew exponentially to include three kids, three in-law kids and the aforementioned five grandchildren, my gift gaffes became more plentiful and more expensive. The entire exercise lost any vestige of fun.
As the holidays drew near I'd get caught up in the "I know it's impossible but I have to try to please them anyway" mentality that afflicts so many of us during the season of giving.
Did he say American Eagle shirts or Pac Sun?
Are they still into Pokemon? Transformers?
What about Beanie Babies? Or Webkinz? Is it Bratz she wants or Barbies?
Is that electronic game thing they have a Nintendo Wii or an Xbox?
Will the baby love the incredibly overpriced Garnet Hill ballerina dress, the cheap little red Target cowboy boots or neither?
I finally gave up and started taking the easy way out.
Two words: gift cards.
Sure makes the holidays far less stressful than trying to figure out what to buy for four teenagers and a toddler.
Less personal, maybe. But less stressful.
Less stress is good.
Besides, the kids really don't care what I give them or if I give them anything at all besides my love and my time.
The only person who cared was me.
Freelance writer Judy Hill lives in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.