My son’s birthday is coming up. They get so big so fast. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday. There. Now that I got those statements out of the way, we can focus on the real task at hand. What the heck do I buy this kid?
Being non-verbal, Lucas doesn’t ask me for anything. He doesn’t whine for Hatchimals or slime-making glue. There are no subtle hints or commercials to entice him. Everything he wants, he has. Even those things you can trade in for his treasured iPad and he’d be happy.
Simply put, Lucas is the easiest kid to shop for and the hardest kid to shop for. He’s a walking paradox of present panic and it’s enough to bring on an anxiety attack in the Lego aisle of Target.
When he gets a gift, there is never any expectation, at least on my part, for him to like it initially. There’s no interest in wrapping paper, cards, gift bags, or bows. Even if I force him to stand in place as I “help him” tear it open, he politely stands with indifference and runs off as soon as he thinks the coast is clear. It leaves me, kneeling on the floor next to a confused family member or friend, and holding a farm-sounds puzzle that I specifically put on his Amazon wish list. My initial fear is always, “Oh no. They’re going to think I wanted this for myself or something.”
I didn’t. I swear. I put it on the list for him. In fact, I put it on because his teacher specifically told me that he liked this exact one that they bought. Now it’s here, it’s unwrapped, and he’s running off to play the same $2 Elmo iPad app that I bought him in 2014.
He has almost never liked any gift right from the start. The closest we’ve ever gotten to it was last year when we gave him a giant blow-up canoe bed thing I discovered online. Resembling a huge green microfiber hotdog bun, it was highly recommended for children with Autism and would hug him as soon as he crawled inside. I hauled it into den and, despite being seven feet long, it weighed next to nothing. I remember feeling pretty strong in that moment.
Not Lucas, though. He was pretty tired in that moment. As soon as it was placed on the floor, he walked over and climbed in. Everyone let out an “aww” and he promptly fell asleep inside. It was adorable. We wrote it off as a win.
Truth be told, though, he would have fallen asleep on a rusty Bunsen burner at that point. It was late, he was wearing nice clothes, and wanted nothing more than pass out. Since that day, he hasn’t used the hot dog canoe all that much, further driving home the fact that his initial reactions – good or bad – don’t always tell you how he feels overall. We use it more than he does.
As usual, I envy my boy for being able to tune out all the social norm nonsense that I get caught up in myself. Opening gifts can sometimes give me anxiety. You’re stared at as you awkwardly peel away the paper and comment about “not wanting to ruin such a pretty bow.” Then, the moment you get your first glimpse of what is hiding beneath, you’re immediately analyzed for the slightest micro expression that proves you’re unhappy with it. You know you’ve failed when the gift-giver says, “If you don’t like it, I have the receipt.” Damn. They’re on to me.
No. No. I love it.
Are you sure?
Yeah, I do. I love it. I really needed one of these things. I saw it on TV and was like, “I, uh, really need one of those things.”
It doesn’t matter what “those things” are. They can be garbage, but no one tells a grinning gifter that. You sell the excitement like a champ before you even know what it is. Once they’re satisfied with your manufactured enthusiasm, you have to do the awkward shuffle over discarded wrapping paper for a one-armed thank you hug. Even thinking about it now makes me cringe a bit.
Not Lucas. That kid has no worries whatsoever. His apathy is palpable. He won’t even look in the direction of whatever new item he’s received. Once it’s out of the wrap, I will hold it in front of him and say, “Look, Lucas. This is for you.” At that point, if you’re lucky, he’ll tap it twice as if to say, “Yeah. Toy. That’s what it is. Great.” Then he’ll give you a deadpan expression straight from a snarky comedy skit and return to his business.
The irony? He might end up loving that same toy a week later. He did it with his flying Grover doll and his talking Scout Dog. Initially, he might treat it like a cold bag of sick. Days later, though, when the decorations have come down, we’ll hear the faint sounds of his talking toy from the other room and come in to see him playing with it. It’s like he make them pledge his toy box fraternity before accepting them into his circle.
The next time we see the person who gave the gift, we’ll say, “Lucas really loves that present you gave him.” That’s when they give that same deadpan expression that he had given them when he first got it. It’s usually obvious that they think we’re just being polite. If I was them, I would think the same thing.
Because of all this, it makes shopping for my son’s gifts almost like getting one myself. It allows me to search around and use my discretion to guess at what he would like best. There are no constraints on what he can receive and, even though I’m wrong about 90% of the time, that remaining ten makes me prouder than anything. You have to earn his appreciation and, although it might not show itself until week or months later, it makes me feel prouder than any false smiles from anxiety unwrappers like me.
OK. Now that I got all of that out of the way, I’m still stuck with the real task at hand. What the heck do I buy this kid?