As frost gently blankets the ground and the twinkle of red and green lights begin to dot the landscape, I am once again faced with the dilemma this Christmas of what to give boys — turned men.
I know I am not alone. Every mother of grown sons understands. My two twenty-somethings reside a big slice of the year away at college. As their universe has widened, so have their interests. I no longer have a pulse on their likes.
Coming from that blind spot, I have two choices: plod down the well-traveled road of boring sweaters and shirts or veer off the beaten path in the hope of discovering a guy gadget with that elusive X factor.
I sometimes lament that it was easier when they were young, but not always! When one of my sons was about four, he taught me that lesson. Although he had been bombarded by commercials flaunting all the must-have toys that season, he remained resolute: “Whatever Santa thinks!”
I naively thought, well this will be easy and proceeded to fill Santa’s bag with surprises. But my gift-giving confidence was shattered to smithereens on Christmas Eve. Hopping into bed, he grinned with anticipation, “I can’t wait to get my Tower Crane!” Tower Crane? Tower Crane? I tried to stay calm. “When did you ask for a tower crane?” “When I talked to Santa.” My heart began to race and my voice began to rise. “But you have to tell me!”
He stared at me with utter disbelief at daring to question the jolly old fellow’s commitment, “Why? Santa is the one that brings it.”
Dashing from the room, not a second to spare, I drove like a heat-seeking missile to the store where he had spotted it. As the holiday weary clerks were locking up, I raced toward the door, hands flailing, begging for five minutes inside. Long story short, the 3-foot high, battery-powered bright yellow crane, complete with its flashing lights and hazard warnings, was waiting under the tree on Christmas morning. As my son gleefully bounced down the stairs, he shrieked, “See mom, I told you Santa would bring it!”
Well this Christmas, I am clueless once again. Last year I tried the direct approach, asking for a detailed list that included sizes, colors and brand names. Their responses reflected the ambiguity that shrouds many young men who have hopped on the treadmill of adult life: “I don’t know. Time-off, whatever you think, surprise me!”
And it’s that last phrase that drives a mother’s imagination like no other. We all love surprises. But what does it take to surprise a 20-something guy? Super Bowl tickets? A Porsche Carrera? At a minimum something with four wheels and an engine. Sorry, boys.
But as mothers, we try. Awash in a sea of possibilities, you will find me in the trenches again this season, shoulder to shoulder with a legion of moms, wives and girlfriends rummaging the shirt racks, drilling through sweaters and reeking from the lingering aftermath of a half dozen cologne fragrances. I may even take a walk on the wilder side and wander the mystery maze of hardware, software, terabytes and flash drives.
I have already enlisted my keyboard on the hunt, Googling “best gifts for young men” and a wasteland of rogue items popped up: Personalized beer holster, world’s largest gummy bear, gift card for an oil change, Tabasco by the gallon, “Go Away” doormat, Wine-Opoly board game, bobble heads, Dinner of the Month Club. OK, maybe the last one.
Seems like boys turned men deserve better. So my search for that unique something, that X factor continues. Whatever it is, it will be beautifully wrapped in the sports page.
Deb Svoboda is a freelance writer.