“Alex, we’re going out to get presents!”
“You’re going to buy presents for Ned and mommy. What are you going to buy for Ned?”
“Buy for Ned.”
“What are you going to buy for mommy?”
“Buy for mommy.” We go through this three times.
I’ve decided that it’s time for Alex to learn how to buy presents: walk to the store, pick out crap for those who mean something to him, walk to the register, take the bills from me, take the bag and collect his change, and leave the store. Then home to wrangle with the Scotch tape, scissors and paper until he has a present to, well, present on one of the waning evenings of Chanukah.
I head out with Alex on the morning of the day after Christmas. He’s silent to my questions as he presses the extra elevator buttons on the way to the ground floor. “What’s Santa going to bring mommy, Alex?”
We go through this a few times. Outside, I decide to start at the beginning. “Alex, to go shopping for presents, we need money first, right?” We head to the ATM. I slide in my card and punch the buttons while Alex studies the blue wall of the bank. “Look, Alex. Cash.” (Way too much in this year, too.) We head to the local all-purpose drug store, which these days means toys and housewares and all sorts of stuff. I steer him into the Christmas aisle, which should be cheap as hell by this time in the calendar, but isn’t. Mommy wants new icicle lights for the window.
“Alex, what does mommy want?”
“What does mommy want?”
He shops like my brother Lee: With just a glance and then a look away, Alex shoots out his hand and pulls out, like a dragoon’s saber, a marked-down roll of Santa wrapping paper. Jill is Jewish. Of all things in this store, nothing screams “Jill Cornfield!” to me less, but this is Alex’s call.
“What do you want for Ned, Alex?” We head to the short toy aisle. Without hesitation he squats to press buttons on the preschool toys that make noise and pull out the detailed plastic farm animals. Apparently Ned wants a goat, a horse and a cow. “No Alex, this is a present for Ned.” Alex counts the plastic animals. “One, two three…”
“Up here, Alex. What would Ned like from here?” From the top shelf, the Nerf Dart refill pack would work, I think, but Alex finds a green plastic truck. Again with the Uncle Lee shopping: shoot out and pull.
“Let’s go pay, Alex.”
At the register, Alex tosses in a red bow that I’ll later examine and determine that he pulled off some display. I don’t think the cashier, with a glance at Alex, charges us for it. I put the twenty in his fingers and he hands it over; I coax him to take his change. Outside the store, he hands me the bag to carry.
I’ve never wrapped wrapping paper for a present. Alex has trouble tearing off the Scotch tape. Pretty soon, though, everything is in its paper, and Alex heads to the living room to watch the iPad. Like often in the holidays after the wrapping’s done, I’m left to think I’ve actually done something.