GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Dollar Store Surprises

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Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

As a mom, one of my main goals at the holidays is to help my kids see how much more fun it is to give than to receive. We have a tradition that started back when we were a young family and had very little money for gifts. It was so fun that the kids asked to do it every year, even this year, when the oldest is almost 22.

We have four kids and this year we’ll have one of our ‘extra’ kids, a young man who was our neighbor when we lived in New York and spent so much time with our family that he became one of us. Once I get all 5 of my kids together, I’ll have them draw names. Sometimes we even throw in mom and dad’s names.

Then we pile in the Suburban and head to a very large dollar store that has just about every item imaginable. Each kid has to roam the store and find the best, coolest, most appropriate gift for the person they drew. Each year we’ve found that the hunt is as much fun as the opening of gifts. The kids are all in silly moods and find endless ways to joke around with all of the unique items they find in that store.

In the end they each make their purchase, with the dollar and a quarter I’ve given them. Once we are home they get busy wrapping their treasure in newspaper and decorating it as they see fit.

The unwrapping party can involve fun food but definitely needs jazzy Christmas music. Each gift is unwrapped individually and sometimes there are laughs all around and sometimes there are high fives. It’s an amazing way to challenge my kids to think about another person, what they like, what they might find useful and interesting. One year the teenage brother received a new screwdriver, because little brother noticed how it drove  him crazy when he couldn’t find one when he was working on his bike. Another year big brother bought a small tub of Play-Doh for little brother, so he could have something to hold his Legos in place when he makes stop action movies. Their imaginations and perceptiveness amazes me every year.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve found some of these dollar store gifts in my children’s rooms months later, still perched on top of their dressers, mixed in with their most prized possessions. The memories that come with the item mean as much to my children as the item itself. My husband still has a tacky plastic robot that our oldest purchased for him fifteen years ago. I can still hear his little five year old voice, explaining so carefully to his dad that he just knew dad loved robots because he always had fun playing robots with them. Tacky robot currently resides in hubby’s sock drawer and brings a smile to my face every time I put away the laundry.

As a side note, many dollar stores carry a nice variety of lovely ornaments, a great item for young ones to pick out for all of the special people in their lives: like babysitters, teachers, bus drivers, and scout leaders. Make sure you let them pick the one they feel is most appropriate, once again making them think beyond themselves and their own holiday gift list.

Teaching kids to learn to love giving to others is a great way to keep the priorities of the holiday exactly where they need to be.

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