It’s my birthday in a couple of days.
I don’t mention it because it’s a big milestone or anything. It’s 53, who cares? Fifty-three is like 19 or 26 or 44. Ho freakin’ hum.
And I’m not fishing for good wishes, cards or gifts either, although I am registered at Target, Williams-Sonoma and Victoria’s Secret.
Just kidding. But, come to think of it, that might be the best idea I’ve ever unwittingly hatched. Why? Because when it comes to the art of gift shopping, men and kids — you should excuse the expression — suck eggs.
Unfortunately, my birthday coincides with the biggest gift-giving season of the year. (Fellow December babies, I know you feel my pain.) This means I must answer the same two questions, annually, from every family member: “What do you want for your birthday?” and “And then, Greedy Gus, what do you want for Christmas?”
(Of course, in today’s economy, it’s more like: “What do you want that I can afford within the confines of my greatly reduced budget which is 40 percent less than last year, give or take, depending on today’s Dow?”)
Fielding these questions is tricky business.
The first impulse, of course, is to be blunt and precise, the most effective strategy with husbands and kids: “I want an 18-inch necklace from that little import store downtown. It’s on the second black velvet display from the left on the upper shelf in the front window. Three strands of multi-colored beads and a silver clasp, no pendant — that’s the other one right, next to it — so don’t get confused. That pendant’s garish.”
But, that approach seems so — I don’t know — bossy. And, besides, it takes the mystery completely out of the gift-opening ritual. There’s no wide-eyed, package-rattling, “What can it be?” anticipation. What’s fun about that?
On the other hand, if I’m too vague (“Let’s see, a necklace would be nice”), I’m liable to get the one with the hideous pendant, at best, or, at worst, a Grateful Dead CD. (“But Mom, you used to LOVE those guys! How can you say they were painfully out of tune?”)
The second problem is you have to keep track of which suggestion you gave to whom.
For example, let’s say your hypothetical 27-year-old son asks you what you want for your birthday. Forget that it’s 5:30 p.m. on the actual day and he’s calling from Target where he hopes whatever you want will be on sale, and that his credit card will be accepted, because something was clearly wrong with the stupid scanners at Kohls.
Now, you have to ask yourself, “Did I ask my daughter for gloves? Or was that Mom? No, I asked her for a scarf. Or, was it a wallet? What am I going to do with two wallets? Of course, one can never have too many scarves…”
Finally, you heave a sigh in frustration and say, “Just get me a Grateful Dead CD. ‘Greatest Hits’ will be fine.”
That’s why a personal gift registry is such an utterly brilliant idea! Why should brides and mothers-to-be have all the perks?
It’s too late this year, but one month before my 54th birthday, I’m going to register my wants at all of my favorite retailers. I’ll sort my desired selections by order of preference and price range, as a courtesy to family and friends.
Or, better yet, maybe I’ll set up a Web page — yeah, that’s it! — featuring my master wish list with price, preference, store locations with driving directions, and links to online ordering and shipping. I’ll get a Web wonk to program it so my generous loved ones can see what each has selected but hide their purchases from me, ensuring the birthday girl an eye-popping surprise with each gift unwrapped. It’s genius, I tell you!
Oh, dear. Suddenly, I feel really guilty. My friends and family will read this, after all. What if they think I don’t appreciate their thoughtfulness? What if I’ve insulted their sense of taste and style? What if they feel devalued and taken for granted?
Worse yet, what if they get mad and decide to retaliate with dozens of gaily wrapped boxes of …. aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! … Grateful Dead CDs?