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Nephew's bold move ends up making me look like bad guy

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In the spirit of Christmas and one of my few annual visits to church, I'd like to make a confession: I like holiday shopping. I like it so much I went to Target after Thanksgiving dinner.

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In my defense, this is what you get when you make a lifelong bachelor who normally eats around 8 p.m., sit down for dinner with three families at 4. You need something to do after all of that, and the best way to blow off steam without offending loved ones is to take it out shopping.

My plan may have backfired. While I accomplished my shopping goal unscathed, I fear my adventure awoke the dark side of Christmas shopping buried under mounds of potato and turkey deep inside my nephews.

Adults have years of experience dealing with shopping drama, long lines and dashed expectations. Children don't, so the consumerist Christmas spirit can overpower them faster than Gollum at a jewelry store.

I offered to take my nephews, ages 14, 11 and 6 out on Black Friday so they could spend quality time with their favorite uncle and their parents could have an afternoon free to, well, whatever parents do when kids aren't around.

The plan was to get lunch, then a matinee of "Wreck it Ralph" with maybe a visit to a book store along the way. But it became obvious halfway through Chipotle burritos that shopping was the main attraction.

The oldest, Henry, kept suggesting he wanted to buy gifts but wouldn't confide who or what items he was shopping for. The middle child, Frankie, was even cagier, but thankfully the youngest was crystal clear in his intentions.

"Will you buy me something?" Joey asked.

"No. Now eat your quesadilla," I muttered into my burrito.

Saying I took them shopping means strictly that I drove them to where they could shop. I didn't buy anything for them because kids are indecisive, irrational when they do make decisions, they ultimately lean toward the most expensive and irrational option. Plus they already got lunch, a movie and a day away from chores, so how much more could they expect?

We made it to Target with some minor issues, namely the 11-year-old doesn't like wearing his winter jacket because he feels it makes him look "puffy."

Inside, they trolled the toy aisles separately, forcing me to watchfully pace like a prison guard.

When I went to check on the middle child, I found him holding a plastic version of Thor's hammer. I also noticed that his jacket, now draped over one arm, indeed looked puffy, or rather, bulky.

He asked if his younger brother would like it, and I confirmed that it was on his Christmas wish list.

"Cool," he said, sliding it under his coat.

My alarm went off faster than a car alarm on mall cop's Segway and probably twice as forceful.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"What? I don't want him to know I'm getting it for him," he replied, no doubt curious how I got my face so red so fast.

"You can't put stuff under your coat! There are people looking for shoplifters and they'll throw you in jail!"

Now I was being the irrational one as I imagined my sister's Christmas Letter Yet to Come.

"It was a memorable holiday season for the Steinhauers, but it just doesn't feel like Christmas without Frankie, doing five years hard time for a misunderstanding his flustered uncle couldn't explain. Still, we'll make do. Henry has already claimed his younger brother's share of cookies, and Joey is graciously accepting presents intended for Frankie. We trust Frankie is learning harmonica and we just hope his prison tattoos are tasteful."

My scared-straight talk worked, but maybe too well. I told him he had a whole month to shop for gifts and that he could do it with his parents when the recipients weren't around.

So instead, he bought himself a gift, which didn't go over so well when he showed it to his mother, who asked why he didn't get a present for somebody else.

"I tried," he explained. "But Uncle John wouldn't let me."

I am the Grinch who stole Christmas shopping.

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