Sunday, October 12, 2008

Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this

I bought a gift for my 6-year-old son to take to a birthday party last week, and it reminded me of the worst birthday gift I ever presented to a friend. It was a gift my mother insisted would be a good one. Here's the story:

Humor Me: The best gift for a kid is not this

Standing on the patio waiting for my turn to pin the tail on the
donkey, my 8-year-old mind counted down to disaster. Each second
ticked louder as I waited for the humiliation bomb to explode and
doom me to a life inside my bedroom.

They would all laugh, that I knew. But would the events of the
birthday party get back to my school? I cringed at the thought of
such delicate information making its way into the hands of the
third grade's Powers That Be. The powers that had the ability to
turn molehills into mountains, cooties into a devastating social
disease and one kid's upset stomach into a nickname he would never
escape: Barfy.

It all happened so fast, the birthday-party reversal of fortune.
One moment I was looking forward to my friend Lance's party; the
next I was longing for an abandoned refrigerator I could climb
into. I became more nervous as the moment of my demise grew near.

As we started birthday games, I wondered whether the other
kids knew something was wrong. Sure, I looked cool. In fact, I felt
like the height of late '70s fashion. I had Op corduroy shorts on
and tube socks, probably the ones with the green stripes, pulled
up to my knees. But the ticking in my head grew louder.

"I hope you get some good stuff for your birthday," I said to
Lance. (Or at least something close to that.)

"And I hope you get something good from me, too. I really
don't know what I got you. My mom got it."

Playing dumb was my only hope. I had to lay the groundwork for more excuses to come. She got the gift when I was at school, I told Lance. I couldn't emphasize enough that I was not involved in the selection.

Anything electronic that made beeping noises would've been a great gift. Or how about a Star Wars action figure? Lance and I were a little beyond that age, but it still could pass without notice, without the uproarious laughter that was sure to come when Lance opened my gift.

For a moment, I thought that even something from the Barbie collection would be better than my offering. Then Lance's mother announced that it was time to open gifts.

Lance got a video game for his Atari 2600. He also got several electronic games that made lots of beeping noises. And then ... "This one is from Matt," Lance's mother said.

Ticktock. Boom.

"What is it?" Lance asked, pulling off the last bits of wrapping
paper. I shrugged my shoulders, playing the naive strategy into

"It's a pair of moccasin slippers," Lance's mom said, serving as the
opening bell to a four-alarm blaze of laughter.

The laughter started in the front of the room and quickly spread to
the back. It raged all around me. Where was an abandoned refrigerator when you needed it?

Seriously, moccasins as a birthday gift. But it wasn't just a pair of moccasins, it was a craft kit to make a pair of them. Isn't that what every 9-year-old boy wants for his birthday?

I guess my mom thought so, even though I pleaded with her for days to let me pick out a different gift. She insisted that it would make a great gift. Yeah, maybe for Lance's grandmother.

Fortunately, I survived with minimal scars. I also learned a good lesson that I remember each time one of my sons needs to get a birthday gift for a friend. It's very simple, really:

Any kind of toy, yes. Make-your-own-slippers kit, no.

And Lance, if you're reading this, I'm sorry about the lame gift of moccasins. And I'm even more sorry that your mother made you wear them.

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