Finding the Perfect Gift by
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This catalog item was a winner

When my kids were young, they eagerly anticipated the Toys R Us holiday gift catalog every November. They could pour over the wide array of mostly junky toys and point out those they hoped to receive. Following this, I schlepped to the nearest mall with a Toys R Us, hoping I was in time to purchase some of these holiday gifts that were still in stock. While I was there, I looked for toys I hoped their cousins by the dozens would enjoy. After wrapping these treasures, I took half of them to the post office to mail to the Detroit cousins. The whole process left me in a pretty grinchy mood.

When my kids were young, they eagerly anticipated the Toys R Us holiday gift catalog every November.

By the 1980s, the array of catalogs started to grow far beyond Toys R Us and good old Sears. And by the time my first grandkids arrived in 2003, I was inundated with catalogs. Because I now ordered from them for holiday gifts, they metastasized into a huge pile and I often received several from the same company. No matter how many times I identified myself as someone who did not want these anymore, they came back after a very short absence. Still, they were useful in helping to create happy kids at holiday celebrations.

I finally found the perfect solution to ending the avalanche of seasonal catalogs. I moved. Now, I receive only a handful, which is much better. They are fun to look at just to see the possible things I could have but do not need. Do I want DVDs of The Crown or The British Baking Show, weird socks, or a Corgi mug? I think I’ll take a pass and recycle that catalog.

Yet, while my grandkids have grown to the age where they would prefer gift cards over surprises, I still have 12 young great nieces and nephews who delight in receiving toys for the holidays. As with most families, they no longer live close to me, so these gifts must be mailed. Catalogs can be helpful as a starting point.

Sadly, I must confess that I would not be able to accomplish this annual shopping spree without the evil empire we all love to hate, Amazon. After I look through children’s gift offerings in a couple of catalogs, I go onto Amazon to order my selections. Instead of taking hours to order these things and mail them to all of these kiddos, I send 15 minutes sending out all of the gifts. Plus, Amazon lets their parents return the gifts if the children already have them or don’t like them. Easy Peasy. I vow to avoid Amazon as much as I can for the rest of the year, but since the pandemic I have broken this vow every week.

I can’t end this trip down catalog memory lane without my favorite Sears Catalog story. We had a Sears outlet near our home where we could pick up things we ordered that needed assembly. It was our older daughter’s fourth birthday and we ordered a play kitchen. When the box arrived, my husband checked its contents in the store to be sure all of the parts and hardware were included. I found this very embarrassing at the time, but in retrospect he was right because there were often missing parts. We took it home and tried to assemble it after she went to bed. My father and youngest brother were there because it was also Thanksgiving. My father stalked away in anger and frustration after 10 minutes, but thanks to my patient husband and brother, that catalog yielded a toy that we eventually passed down to my brother’s children.

Not my kids but dressed in clothing from that era

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are good and kind to still send gifts to so many relatives, Laurie. I confess, I gave up long ago and switched to the money envelope (and even that ended when the kids got too old). I agree, Amazon is a necessary evil. I remember when they were merely book vendors. Now they are the supermarket for everything! It is disconcerting, but we somehow can’t avoid them. I was thrilled to see some brick and mortar book stores re-establish themselves in our neighbor recently.

    I love your story about the play kitchen (assembly required) purchased from Sears. It was smart to check the box to make sure all the parts were there and I am CERTAIN that it gave years of pleasure. My little boys enjoyed a plastic one (I believe from Fisher Price, probably purchased from a brick and mortar Toys ‘R Us) for years, so I can really relate.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    So many great, recurrent themes this week! Not surrpisingly, the “avalanche” of catalogues is among them. I may just suggest to my wife your solution of moving to get us out from under all of our daily “snow.” Though it does seem a bit like the tail wagging the dog to move solely for that reason.

    And, yes, I, too confessed to being an Amazon junkie. And, to its credit, having ordered online from other retailers, I am often reminded about how (relatively) easy and intuitive Amazon is to use. So, when I’m in charge of everything, maybe I let Bezos keep a billion or two.

    Also, these are some great pictures of some very happy kids. I sincerely hope that they were not all reduced to tears moments later, as is often the case in these fraught situations.

    And, finally, congrats to your brilliant husband. Do you ever let him loose in Ikea?

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Hi John. I don’t think my previous response posted so I am testing this to see if things have improved. Like you, moving was the only thing that helped. I tried signing up for websites that promised no more junk mail, but that never worked. Those kiddo pics were from the no-tears moments. And to answer your question, Ikea gives him an anxiety attack.

  3. Marian says:

    The catalog pictures are rich and wonderful, Laurie. And despite not liking Amazon’s dominance, it’s saved my bacon so many times that I keep using it. Glad that you ordered all those gifts so efficiently and have a husband who can put things together.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      He can sort of put things together, but lately not so much without hurting his back. That said, we don’t buy much these days. You are right about Amazon. It’s been life saving (maybe literally) in these pandemic times.

  4. Thanx Laurie, your sweet story of the gifts you’ve gotten over the years for your kids and grandkids reminded me that when my son was very young he asked for a toy stove – which he loved for years and called his “toy stove and oven”.

    And to this day – unlike his parents! – he’s a creative and passionate foodie and cook, so go figure! So glad we got him that toy stove and oven!

  5. That sweet story at the end provided quite a nice balm for an ending. I feared, as the paragraph began, a story of disaster–which it would have been if I were playing the role of “husband.” Thank God you picked the right guy.
    As for the rest, the photos of happy grandkids, nieces, etc., were worth 1000 words each!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Dale. I have felt your pain the last few weeks with the comments and hope the website will be kinder to all of us going forward. I admire your dedication in trying to do a work around to comment on stories. I’m afraid I lack the patience.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I echo Dale—the pictures were wonderful! And I empathize with the difficulties trying to provide presents at a distance for relatives. That has waned over time, but sometimes there are themes (everyone gets socks…or food etc) to make it easier.. And kudos to your persistent husband and brother.

  7. I can related to the avalance of catalogs, as my mother has a list of subscriptions. I finally have her agreeing to throw away the previous season’s catalogs (or at least the previous YEAR’S) as the new ones arrive, so the stacks have gotten much smaller!

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