Each year, after the last of the Christmas decorations have been put away - which is to say, around mid-January - my wife and I sit down and evaluate our gift-giving performance. It's our little way of extending tacky consumerism and misguided priorities well into the New Year.
There are important issues to consider: Did we buy each child enough presents? Too many? Did we spend enough money on my family? Did we spend enough money on my wife's family? Did we devote enough time to each side of the family? Is that why my in-laws aren't speaking to me?
This year, even more so than in the past, we reached some eye-opening conclusions. I just hope we can remember them 10 months from now.
For one thing, we've realized that our two younger children have way too many toys. (Duh.) I concluded as much while helping them clean out their playroom on New Year's Eve. We were trying to find places for this year's haul, without much success. The shelves were already stocked like Toys-R-Us the day after Thanksgiving.
I'm the one who did most of the cleaning. The boys spent their time playing with last year's toys, an activity to which I could hardly object. It's only the third time those toys have ever been played with - and the first time since Dec. 26, 2006.
A few days later, I happened to notice my youngest son playing outside. And what do you think he was playing with? His basketball goal? His bike? His remote control airplane?
Of course not. He was playing with a bow his older brother had fashioned from a stick and an old shoe lace, using bamboo shoots for arrows. I can't claim there wasn't any Christmas connection, though, as his quiver was one of those long, cardboard wrapping-paper cylinders that had been colored with brown crayon.
Based on these observations, my wife and I have decided next year, we won't get the boys quite as many expensive toys they're not really interested in. Of course their grandparents will spoil them, and Santa Claus will probably bring them something large, overpriced, and well-advertised. There's no controlling that jolly old rascal.
But from their parents, our children will receive gifts that are more practical and take up less space. And no, I'm not just talking about underwear and socks. I mean things that will provide the requisite Christmas joy but that still have some discernable benefit and/or can be used throughout the year.
Like gift cards. They're small and portable and, unlike underwear, don't chafe. It's true that the younger boys might not be as excited as their older siblings about Gap or Target, but there are plenty of other gift card possibilities: movie theatres, book stores, video rentals, fast food restaurants and so on.
And of course, for the youngest, there's always Bamboo Shoots-R-Us.
E-mail Rob Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.