Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Got a Rock

Remember the holiday special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? I always felt so sorry for Charlie Brown in that show. Every Peanuts special was filled with his failures and social belittlement, but the Halloween special was the worst of all. Remember how he went trick-or-treating—the most delightfully anticipated kid event of the fall season—and got a mean trick instead of a treat at every single house? Each of the other kids got candy and apples and money, but after every door Charlie Brown would say, “I got a rock.”

I know it seems a little out of season, but I think of that TV show every year around this time for my own private reasons. You see, “I got a rock” is the refrain that haunts me as I remember my biggest holiday gift-giving failure ever.

Let me explain.

My older son was born just five days before Christmas, a surprise tax deduction and holiday-plan-changer, since he was not supposed to make an entrance until the end of January. He was fine (if a little pumpkin-colored), but his early entrance meant that he would forever have to share his birthday with the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year.

I’ve always made a big deal about his birthday, with a party and friends and a firm commitment to never have him hear the dreaded words, “happy-birthday-merry-Christmas” as we hand him a two-fer Christmas/birthday gift in one.

When he was younger, I considered celebrating his half birthday instead, but for a number of reasons—including having a cousin born on his first birthday—that never really appealed to him. So that means he gets every gift he’ll receive all year within a five-day period in late December. That can present challenges when you’re trying to think of ideas for a child who already has way too much.

When he was in about fifth grade (I think), he really wanted Guitar Hero for Christmas. That was his entire list. I bought it early and had it waiting to put under the tree. Unfortunately, there was still that other gift-giving occasion to shop for, so I got…well…creative. And while creativity is great if you’re selling napkin rings on Etsy.com, it’s met with just a dash more scorn when you’re cobbling together a “surprise” for an eleven-year-old.

His class had done a unit on rocks and minerals that year, and he had expressed a real interest in collecting his own specimens. He was particularly taken with crystals, and showed me several in books that were especially pretty. So I decided to get him an extra-nice rock collection—including various crystals, geodes, some petrified dinosaur poop, and a professional-grade rock tumbler—as his birthday present. (I know. You can see the problem already, but I was delusional.)

So there we all were on his birthday, gathered around Austin, whose eyes sparkled with anticipation for the Guitar Hero he thought would be in that big box on the table. The paper was torn away, and there it was, stamped clearly across his face as he tried to give me a grateful smile: “I got a rock.”

It’s a beautiful set. Honest! It still sits in its place of shame next to the never-used rock tumbler on a high shelf in the back of his closet, taunting me when I have to reach into those dark recesses to put away something old or unwanted or outgrown. 

An excellent fake smile, whipped out later for the photo op.

These are the lessons I learned from my ill-fated foray into the world of rock hounds:

1.   If two gifts will eventually be given, always start with the video game.
2.   Educational gifts are best left to the grandparents.
3.   Creativity is best for gifts intended for the really old or the really young.

The search is on for two non-geological gifts for this year. Suggestions will be gratefully considered. Good grief!


  1. It is a nice rock collection. Really!

  2. Ooh...lesson learned. I have an aspiring scientist, so I need to heed your advice. :-)

  3. Hey, I've made some great contributions to that collection over the years, including a big .piece of uncut jade from Inle Lake in Myanmar! Hmm, I guess that proves it; the rock collection is really for the grandparents. But Austin really does love it. It just wasn't the hot gift that year; or any year for that matter.

  4. Well, you never know how kids will react...but it is always good to go with the video game first rule. And no suggestions on gifts for this year because I really have no idea of what are good boys presents. Now girl stuff I could go on for ages about...and none of it involves rocks. ;D


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