You’ve got precious few days to figure out what to get your family and friends for Xmas, and you’re stressed out. You don’t want to go to a mall. It’s full of Shopping Zombies with poor perspectives on what counts for personal space. In addition, you’ll spend too much time making yourself sick wondering if the giftee will like the sparkly thing you’ve spent a C Note on. You don’t want to go to the shipping store, or the post office. More zombies. I know this, because I had to purchase one gift to wrap, yesterday, and it was bananas in the Best Buy. I’m going to make an appointment with a therapist to work on the PTSD.
Still, you have to finish the shopping. I know. It’s really late, and the idea of competing with the Zombie Hoards for an X-Box is terrifying. But you’ve gotta do the shopping. No, I don’t know why. It’s one of those weird social contract things. Stop trying to reason your way out of it.
But don’t get up. You don’t even have to put on pants. Stay right there, and just click the links. You’re going to give the most thoughtful gifts, ever, right there, on your couch, in the comfort of your pantslessness.
This year, I implore you to get into the holiday spirit by saying “Fuck you!” to the mall, and do your shopping online while supporting science, as the baby Jesus intended.
One of my favorite memories is of the day that my five year-old nephew, Gavin, took my family to the New England Aquarium. I had purchased a family gift membership for my nephew to the New England Aquarium. It came with a membership card in his name and a shark tooth fossil. It was good for a family of six: my nephew, niece, brother, sister-in-law, and a pair of grandparents could all go and enjoy the aquarium for a year.
My brother had to work that day, so I went in his place with my parents and sister-in-law in tow. My nephew was obsessed with the “stinky penguins,” while my niece, who at a year old was little more than a giant head attached to a diaper, was fascinated by the piranha.
There was a jellyfish exhibit, penguin habitat, and a hands-on tidal pool where visitors can hold a starfish or hermit crab, or in the case of my nephew, freak out about the number of legs squirming around under the shell of a horseshoe crab.
An aquarium volunteer asked Gavin to hold onto the edge of an anaconda skin as he unrolled it for the rest of the kids to see. Then he sat on a ledge next to the tank to watch the sharks and sea turtles swim past, while his baby sister focused on the piranha tank. We stayed for hours, checking out the tasty-looking lobsters and laughing at the harbor seals playing in the tank outside. After, Grampy and Grammy took us out for pizza at Faneuil Hall.
When we got home, my Dad said, “That was a great day, Al. Thanks.” I sniffled a little. JUST A LITTLE. Then I made a little scrapbook of the pics I took, and my niece and nephew fell into post-adventure comas. The membership paid for itself on the first visit, and I got to spend a truly awesome day with my family that we’ll remember forever.
Museum, aquarium, and zoo memberships are the finest gifts you can bestow upon a family. When I purchased the aquarium membership for my nephew, it came with a card in his name, a plush shark, and a shark tooth fossil. Plus, my nephew had the pleasure of being able to “take” his family as “his treat” by slapping down his membership card at the front desk. This is always a big honkin’ deal for little kids. It makes ‘em feel great.
Membership was good for a full year, and he could bring any five people he wanted, any time. The membership to the New England Aquarium came with discounts to special events, including a whale watch out in the harbor. It paid for itself after the first visit, and for the price of a half tank of gas and a pizza, my Dad got to spend some quality time with his grandson complaining about how stinky penguins are, and protecting him from the sharks that looked like they were ready to come crashing through the glass for some Little Boy Crunch n’ Munch.
This went down as one of the best gifts, ever, matched only by the day we went to the Children’s Museum on preschooler day, when the exhibits are lowered so little hands can make the sort of messes they ought to make. A few of the exhibits are hands-on water-tables where kids can float sail boats and blast them with air guns to watch them bounce and dance across the water, or trays filled with dish soap to make all sorts of enormous bubbles.
My nephew would run to each hall, and when there was a box full of plastic smocks, he would freeze, hold his arms out, and look up at me with a grin. “Smock me, Auntie.”
How to Buy 'Em
Follow this link to the National Children's Museum, enter the ZIP code for the family you love, and it will give you a list of the art, children’s, and science museums in their area. Then just go to the site of the whichever museum you think they’ll enjoy most, click membership, and for about $150, you’ve purchased a wonderful day for a family of four-six. Of course, if your family is like mine, they’ll use it a couple of times, once to get out of that cooped-up house in the Winter, and again in the Summer when you can get a lemonade and hang out in town to people-watch and run around in the park.
Museum memberships support science and art, and as far as gifts go, they last a whole year. In fact, if there’s a family in your sphere who are having a hard time stretching paychecks right now, this is one of the most awesome gifts you can give; free entertainment that is good for everyone’s meaty brains, and creates lifetime memories that don’t revolve around meltdowns over missing batteries.
Memberships go out in the mail next day, so you’ve still got plenty of time to be the most thoughtful gift-giver, ever. If you’re stuck on the message in the card, just go with, “have a great time with the family, and send me lots of pictures!” Trust me, there will be tears, and you’ll be a hero.
Memberships are also fantastic gifts for retired folks in your world, who don’t need another goddamned jar of bath salts or package of undershirts. Becoming a hoity-toity museum patron takes up no room in a house filled with a lifetime full of crappy knick-knack gifts, and gives them a wonderful day out. They can use them by themselves, with friends, or to take the grandkids for an outing.
Or maybe even you.
It’s a perfect way to start conversations and find common ground with a grandparent who is pissed that you never call. Seriously, call your grandma and take her to a museum for the day. Buy her some lunch and talk about art. You’ll have a great time, I promise.
Zoos are another great gift-membership opportunity, but if the family or friends you’re buying for are in a colder climate, keep in mind they may not be able to get the full benefits until spring/summer.
This year, I sent my mom the National Geographic Genographic Kit. It comes with a DVD explaining the project, as well as the cheek swab, container, and postage-paid mailer to send in the swab for results. It takes about eight weeks to get the results back, but then you get a handy map of your deep ancestry. You can choose mitochondrial DNA (maternal line), or Y Chromosome DNA (paternal line) for testing. Then you can track your ancestor’s migration paths from the time they ran screaming from lions in Africa, to the time they ran screaming from tigers in Asia. I’m convinced that migration patterns involve running and screaming, and not hunting and foraging.
I love this gift for the sense of wonder it creates about who we are and how all of us are related, connected to that one ancestor who either ran screaming or figured out how to throw rocks at lions so they could hang out and perfect really good Ethiopian food. When I think about my ancestors spending their days on the brink of starvation, coming up with better ways to hunt and to eventually farm and put aside food for the winter, I’m kind of saddened by the fact that the end result of all of that energy, bravery, cunning, and brain power is me sitting at a laptop in sweatpants eating Wasabi-flavored Funyons and sipping a latte that came out of one of those “one-touch” machines on my kitchen counter.
If you give this to a biological parent, you also get the benefits of the kit if they share the results with you. It can also be a neat gift to someone who’s been adopted, as it helps someone discover their biological ancestry, albeit a very deep view.
Books for Kids
Brontorina, by James Howe and Randy Cecil. Candlewick Press, 2010.Oh, how I love Brontorina, a smashup between tutus and the Jurassic Period. Little kids can love ballet and dinosaurs at the same time, as evidenced by my niece, Neavie, who loves a good tutu and a good Apatosaurus, which is the new and improved name for a Brontosaurus, they of the burgers that Fred Flintstone so enjoyed. Brontorina wants to join Madame Lucille’s dance studio in the worst way, but alas, she does not have pointe shoes. Despite this hardship, the plucky sauropod nails the arabesque, only to become very embarrassed when the teacher calls out, “Jeté!” and her graceful leap takes out the ceiling. It all works out in the end when Madame Lucille recognizes that talent cannot be contained by ceilings and takes the class outdoors. This is also a good time to do some Ken Ham damage control and explain that dinosaurs can’t really dance with people, since, you know. You know.
It’s a Book, by Lane Smith. Roaring Book Press, 2010. I’ve reviewed Lane Smith, here, he’s the illustrator of Science Verse and Math Curse, with Jon Scieszka. This one’s a solo effort about a jackass and a monkey. In addition to this being a wonderful way to teach your loved little ones the word, “jackass” it’s sort of a love note to Luddites. Monkey is peacefully reading a book in his comfy chair, while Jackass tries to figure out what the purpose of the book is. “Too many letters,” he says, as he tries to simplify the “code.” Monkey tries to explain that the letters are for reading. Jackass looks for a password, a mouse, a place to enter a screenname, while the exasperated Monkey tries to get his book back out of the hands of the Jackass, who has finally settled down to read. And read. And read some more. When Monkey calls out that he’s leaving for the library to get another book, the engrossed donkey tells him that he’ll recharge it when he’s done. The annoyed Monkey responds,
“You don’t have to…IT’S A BOOK, JACKASS.”
Children Make Terrible Pets, by Peter Brown. Little, Brown & Company, 2010. This one’s my personal favorite for giving. A great children’s book presents an opportunity for a conversation. This one presents a lovely way to discuss animal habitats, after a bear takes in a little boy as a pet. I will admit here that the main reason I love this book is the hilarious illustration of the bear holding the little boy over a litter box.
When Lucille Beatrice (no relation) finds a cute little boy in the woods and brings him home to Mama Bear, Mama tries to explain that children make terrible pets. Lucille Beatrice begs her mama to let her keep the little boy, and mama acquiesces, letting her daughter find out the hard way that bringing home a wild animal isn’t going to work out for anyone. Lucille doesn’t really know how to feed or comfort her new pet, and the end result is a meltdown for the little boy who is tired, hungry, and has no use for a litter box. So Lucille does the right thing and returns the little boy to his natural habitat with his family in their backyard, having a delicious supper at the picnic table. It’s a lovely story that turns the anthropomorphism of wild animals on its head.
Buy Books By Us!
For the grownups in your life, I of course would like to suggest the fine books written by CPP bloggers; Jennifer Ouellette’s Calculus Diaries, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky’s The Physics of NASCAR, my very own The Amazing Adventures of Sam the Bat, and husband-of Blogger-in-Chief Sean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here are all available for you to purchase for your loved ones via the internets and contribute to our royalty checks.
Happy Holidays, reader-shaped-people. I hope some of these suggestions take a bit of stress out of the gift-giving season for you, so you can enjoy what the holiday season is really about: receiving awesome presents, eating too much yummy food, and watching syrupy holiday movies in your jammies while the Mall Zombies bump into each other and periodically scream in frustration.