Shopping Daze

December is always a rough month. The days get colder and shorter. Key people take off work for holidays at conflicting times. And then there's my own holiday preparation, from shopping to wrapping to decorating, although my folks tend to take care of that last one. Still, I'll do what I can when I can, especially since this time last year is when my old man lugged in a giant potted pine tree by his lonesome when no one was around, subsequently aggravating a cyst in his shoulder which became infected and landed him in a hospital and then a nursing home until February. Those were interesting times I'd not repeat any time soon.

My company's holiday party is less than a week away. My layout skills were called upon for a special secret party favor that I was about to write about until I remembered someone from my job might read this. I got the printed sample today of the secret project and I'm happy with it. I'm also happy to have another side project out of the way. This week has been increasingly difficult as my twelve hours of partying this weekend took their toll. I figured my sore throat was just me being run down, and the Airborne tablet my friend gave me seemed to make me feel better, whether or not it was that product, my own psychological perception, or the ailment moving its natural course. On Wednesday the sore throat was gone, which is my least bearable cold symptom, but now I'm a bit congested and stuffiness turned into sneezing by the evening. I'd suggest anyone I had lunch with on Wednesday wash their hands with antibacterial soap if you have not already. Sorry.

I was not feeling up to running my usual six miles on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I probably could have managed, but it might have made me worse. Besides, it would be inconsiderate to handle the equipment if this is a full-blown cold. Another day away from the gym wouldn't be so bad. Looking at my work calendar, I realized a very sobering fact: Christmas is next week. How did that happen? Seriously, where did this month go? Wasn't it just my Thanksgiving staycation not that long ago? I felt good a few weeks ago when I already picked up a card and a music CD for my parents. But I had a lot more presents to buy for both of them, not to mention my cousin's children.

Last year we issued a “kids only” rule for my mom's side of the family. We stopped exchanging with my dad's side years ago, which helps a lot since he has four sisters, three of whom are/were married, two of whom have sons. Of my three cousins, one never married, one has four sons, and another has two daughters and a son. So that could add up. My mom has two brothers, one of whom never married and another who has one son, with two children. With the kids-only rule, I now had to buy presents for four people instead of eight. But then my uncle as well as my cousin and his wife surprised me with gifts, counting me as a kid. Yes I still live with my parents, and yes I'm still single, but I'm 35. And yes, spending most of our visit with them last year playing Wii with the kids probably doesn't help that argument. In any case, I should probably be prepared with gifts anyway, even if it's just gift cards.

I wish I'd thought of the gift card idea earlier. With the realization that Christmas was so close and the decision to skip the gym again, I decided to hit Target after work. I had a lot of success going late on a weeknight last year, finding both great gifts and avoiding crowds. This year, a lot of folks had the same idea but I'm sure it has been worse on weekends. People are so rude, and are raising their kids the same way. I overheard some brats tell their mom they didn't want to get anything nice for one uncle because they didn't like what he gave them last year. Then the kid boasted how he was a great gift giver because he knows everything. That's pretty close to verbatim. There's a fine line between confidence and delusion, and there's something to be said for humility and understanding the true holiday spirit.

I wandered for over an hour, avoiding the busier sections like the toy aisles until the crowds there thinned. My cart filled with sweaters, slippers, puzzle books, calendars, tools, snacks and more, and soon I had a satisfactory amount for my folks. The kids were harder to shop for, especially since I forget their ages every year. I had a rough idea, and got the boy an actual LEGO® Star Wars® ship . I know he liked the video game and I'm pretty sure he falls into the 7-12 age range. I didn't get him Darth Vader's Tie Fighter, as tempting as it was, because the odds were greater that he already had it. Yes, you can never have too many spare LEGO® pieces and I wouldn't have balked at a repeat LEGO® item when I was a kid, but I still wanted to get him something he didn't already have. The girl, who's 2 or 3 years older, was harder to shop for. Every time I thought I found a doll or animal or electronic thing that might be good for her, the age on the package said “3+”. I settled on some board game about a mall with girls and pets and batteries not included. It's too bad I don't know what games they have for the Wii, and I'm sure their parents already got them the major releases for this year. Those kids are getting close to the age where I just say “**** it” and give them gift cards and/or socks, and suddenly I understand the shift in presents my extended family got me as I got older.

At the register, I have to say I was pleased and impressed when the cashier shook a box, and suggested it might be empty. It was some little stocking stuffer I got for my dad, these little flashlights that fit on your fingers. They were indeed in there, but I thanked her for checking. It seems people have been taking stuff and resealing boxes, and customers have gone home before realizing they bought an empty box. So kudos, cashier lady, on vigilance and honesty.

I'm definitely in a fog this week and running on autopilot, and wiped after working all day and then getting most of my shopping done. At least I'm pretty sure I got enough for my folks, who I will see on Christmas day. I don't know about the rest of our family, especially with my other uncle now in a nursing home. I probably have a little more time to get the adults those gift cards, and pick up one or two more small things to give the kids. It's tough to get it all done in one shot, even with the number of people I shop for so drastically reduced. It's bad enough I make lists and check them twice for my work assignments throughout the year. I guess I'm where we all are right now. Some of you might be done already, with everything wrapped and tagged with a neat little bow on top. Maybe others are reading this now with the same sense of dread “OHCRAPOHCRAP!” realization that I had on Wednesday afternoon when I looked at my calendar. For those who fall into that latter group, I can only offer sympathy, empathy, and well wishes. May luck be with you in the season of last minute shopping.


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