For the holidays, shopping for my kids is easy. Daring us to furnish him with another reason to ignore us, Benjamin, age 8, requests a Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy program for his Game Boy. Breaking away from his brother's long shadow, Jacob, 5, has his eyes on a "super fast" new bike. Ari, 2, hankers for a ball. Judging by the way he grabs everything round off the store shelves before we can catch him, he'd rather have his own sporting goods shop.
My wife pines to go to a spa - with or without me. She doesn't even care if it's a cheap motel with a "spa-like" bathtub. Just anyplace where she can have a decent night's sleep.
And me? I'm a little harder to please …
- OK, Daddy, Microchip - Not to be confused with the "You're Right, Honey" transmorgraphier that makes everything you say or do perfectly acceptable to your spouse, this handy device is painlessly inserted into your kid's brain while he sleeps and turns every "no" your child speaks into a cheerful "yes." You'll never have to repeat your requests for your son to come to dinner on time. Forget about hearing your daughter refuse to finish her homework on schedule. Kiss those moments of tantruming goodbye.
- A Real "Father Ship" - IfThe Jetsons have taught us anything, it's that we'll all be buzzing about in personal aircraft rather than these common terrestrial machines. I would like to be the first dad with an airborne minivan. How cool would that be? Say I'm taking the kids to school and traffic gets gnarly. I would just tell the kids to hold on tight, hit a button, and skim over all the cranky drivers below me. I could zip home from work in a few minutes, allowing me to get home to play more catch with my kids. Then there's the beauty of flying up the coast in a fraction of the time, even before a brotherly fight breaks out.
- Magic Toilet - Changing diapers is a novelty in the first few months of parenthood, but it loses its charm once that first one leaks on your best slacks. Potty training is a terrific opportunity to take a child through a significant milestone, yet pride gives way to daily cursing fits when you're cleaning pee off the walls. A simple visit to the Magic Toilet and voila everything goes poof. The best feature is that the Magic Toilet is portable, collapsing into the size of a sippy cup, and available for use at stadiums, amusement parks and roadside rest stops.
- For Old Times' Sake - When I was 8 years old, I got a Schwinn Sting-Ray bike with a banana-shaped seat. It was greenish gold with hot-rod style handlebars. I rode that bicycle around the hills of my neighborhood in the days when kids could roam the streets for hours without supervision. My family must have donated it decades ago, but I wish I could have it back. I'd take it for a few spins, though my knees would probably bang against my chest, reliving those carefree times. Then I'd give it to my kids and never let it out of my family again.
- Presence of Mind - I admit to feeling relief when my three cyclones of neediness and activity go to sleep. But that's soon followed by a "parental Chinese food reaction." As is the case with Chinese cuisine, which leaves you feeling hungry an hour after you've eaten it, I return to my children's bedrooms to stare at their sleeping faces, looking forward to the minute they awaken to make everything beautifully crazy again. In this case, what I'm wishing for is greater presence of mind. I want to hold back whatever fractures my attention while I'm with my sons. I'd give up every toy I have and could have for the ability to live, heartbeat by heartbeat, in the moments of my children's highs and lows. Even if I fail repeatedly to tie it all up with a neat ribbon and bow, it's the one gift this parent really wants.