<%-- Page Title--%> Slice Of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 152 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 30, 2004

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The Perfect Present

Richa Jha

We go through unusual lengths and efforts to prepare that perfect gift for those we are fond of. If there is such a thing as the perfect gift, I have never managed to find it for others. But certainly not for want of sincere efforts from my side to scout around town. It is just that it is often not possible to locate tangibles that replicate the precise intangibles we had in mind before venturing out for the most befitting gift for a person. With children, I've heard many parents say, it is straightforward. All toys, board games and books now come with their age specifications/recommendations duly in place, which makes buying a birthday present for a child not so difficult after all. But again, I am not so sure.

As long as the present is in sync with the child's basic area of interest, children are happy with whatever you give them. I've been observing my little one when he expectantly tears open his gifts. The excitement value of uncovering a tiny car on wheels (even if a mere pencil sharpener on wheels) is equal to receiving a slightly bigger Hot Wheels, equal to a big car with flashing lights and sirens. Unfortunately, we all go overboard in buying presents for children.

By stuffing their toy boxes with remote controlled cars and dolls that breathe, dance and nurse, we have left little to our child's imagination. Kids, with their overactive imagination, have the ability to impersonate life as they see and experience around them, and replicate these life-like situations with their toys. They can conjure up mountains and rivers where there are none, castles underneath a dining table, let a cushion suffice for their chariot, and apply crayons on their lips to get mom's lip shade! Place a remote control in their hands, and their entire will gets concentrated on steering their vehicles without a bang. And there, we've killed their imagination. We give them prefabricated roads, bridges and tunnels. I know it's thrilling, but where is the dexterity of having car races down the straight bars on the floor tiles?

But despite being aware of its shortcomings, I make the same mistake: a conscious mistake, of buying these fancy toys as gifts for other children. Call it social conditioning. Blame it on the embarrassment of carrying a simple present for a child. Blame it also on the unavailability of simple toys in the bigger stores.

Much as I would stick to presenting them with books, I have seen my book being tossed aside by the young eager recipient only to make it a landing base for the helicopter he'd just received. The plus side, that was pretty imaginative! I have given books to kids who were happier breaking the limbs of their dolls or wheels of their cars. The plight of the books only confirmed my worst fears. On the other hand, I have given cars to children who consider books their best friends. Perhaps a brief call to the parents before buying a present for the child would have helped me make better buys, more suited to the child's tastes. But that may not be possible all the time.

I've had my fair share of goof-ups too. I once took fancy bubble gums for a young girl, only to be told in veiled terms by the parents that gums are on a banned list for the child. Like it as I do to play Father Christmas to little kids in the neighbourhood, the exercise has backfired a couple of times. Christmas over, I've seen the kids making the lives of the parents miserable for the next few mornings for more visits from Santa. Only, these parents have been too polite to complain.

The one time a parent was not all that polite was when upon opening some presents for her seven month old daughter, she sermonised: "didn't you know you shouldn't bring stuffed toys for children under 10 years of age? They trap dust, which leads to asthma and a lifelong assortment of allergies". My good lord, I honestly hadn't seen 50 years in the future while buying a little teddy for her.

Moreover, we stuff our present bags with toffees and candies knowing well that they are harmful for our children. I've seen parents steal unhappy, but helpless glances when I am offering toffees to kids; but then, so have I squirmed at the sight of my child licking on candies which have just been presented to him by his favourite uncle and aunt.

Buying presents for children is hardly child's play. There have been occasions when several exchanges have been made at a toy shop for that one birthday present. Today has been one such day. There's a birthday bash in less than an hour's time, and I am still wondering what to buy for that little young man! But, as The Hubby says, you should buy what you think is best suited to that child's needs and interests. Leave the rest to the child. He's the best judge.





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