I bet you know some bad kids. Not your kids. Your kids are lovely, imaginative, super-athletic, and smart as a whip. I’m talking about your step-sister’s kids and your boss’s kids and the kids on your son’s soccer team and those kids who always end up hurting someone at the neighborhood block parties. Screw those kids.
Most of them won’t enter your mind during the merriest time of the year, but you can be sure it’ll be a whole shitstorm if you “forget” to buy something for your step-nephew, Bradley, for instance. You don’t want to get something the undersized jerk will actually enjoy, but you also don’t want to make your yuletide trolling obvious. Here now, then, are gift ideas for children you don’t like.
Not as dismissive as socks or as inappropriate as underwear. A turtleneck is never cool, sweet, tight, on fleek, or whatever means “groovy” these days. No one looks good in a turtleneck, and I’ve never met anyone who enjoys wearing one. You see a turtleneck in the back of your closet and think, Why the fuck did I buy that? My mom gave me turtlenecks several Christmases in a row, and I wore the hell out of them, disliking every minute of it. Kind of how Browns players must feel about their jerseys. I look at old pictures of myself now and try to figure out why she hated me.
The perfect gift for a 13-year-old boy who has no shaveable facial hair, especially if—like me—you yourself have to decide where to stop shaving and can’t skip a week, let alone the entire month of November, without being added to Trump’s list of deportees. When the kid opens this, he will blush in shame at his own failure to produce testosterone. Give little Bradley a wink and a patronizing shoulder-tap of encouragement. Remind him to use a lot of aftershave. The burn that keeps on giving.
This is neither a toy nor a pet. It is simply the physical representation of time passing within a dopey clay pot. The most exciting part about owning a chia pet is spreading the chia seeds on the chia scalp. That lasts about 20 seconds. Then you wait, watch the seeds sprout, and then watch them die. Then you bank-shot the Chia Pet into the trash can. Fun for no one in the whole family.
The living version of a Chia Pet, really. What does a goldfish do, except bide time in a glass prison? A goldfish has no personality, no verve, no spark of soul behind the pupils. Owning a goldfish goes one of two ways: Either you feed it, clean its bowl, look at it every once in awhile, and it dies a few months later, or you feed it, clean its bowl, look at it every once in awhile, and it lives for decades. Either result is disappointing, but if you’re gifting a goldfish, you have to hope for the albatross scenario. Imagine little Bradley growing up, getting his first kiss, his learner’s permit, his first hangover, his acceptance letter to State Tech, his expulsion notice from State Tech, and his fry-cook job at Shoney’s, and all the while, Goldy watches silently from the bowl on the dresser, judging.
Give the gift of conversation Bradley wasn’t meant to overhear. Kids love to spy on grown-ups because they think that we lie to them about what’s really going on in their lives. That’s totally true. But if we were honest with them about the shite state of the world and their own terrible behavior, it would erase their minds. Even as an adult, learning too much can ruin your life. Just ask Edward Snowden. There are certain conversations children just weren’t meant to hear. A brightly colored, miniature parabolic microphone will destroy every Frank-Capra-tinged belief Bradley has ever held dear. All it’ll take is whispered sentences like: I’d strangle Santa myself if I could get my hands on the bastard and I just don’t think Bradley is that smart, or likable and I wish the damn cat would just die already and You in the mood for a little tallywhackin’ tonight?
Perfect for the anxious child. The only board game listed on the United Nations blacklist of PTSD-inducing activities. There is no worse feeling in the world than the startled response induced by that godawful buzzer going off as you’re target-fixated on removing the wrenched ankle. If only your hands weren’t so shaky from all the previous failed tries! My younger brother had several surgeries when he was a little kid, and I always imagined him in the operating room, screaming that buzzer sound while his nose lit up. Whoops! Here, Dr. Carson, you try to remove the funny bone. Incidentally, the makers of Operation have been suckered into chasing the latest trends. Now you can do surgery on Minions, Olaf, R2D2, SpongeBob, and more. This provides a nice assist to your stealth hate-gift. No fan of mass-market entertainment franchises is safe from the anguish of Operation.
Harken back to the days when children used their imaginations, before video games and TV rotted everyone’s brains by the time they reached their third birthday. A simpler time, when a ball attached to a pinewood paddle by a rubber band could occupy the attention of a child throughout the long, cold winter, with nary a complaint of boredom. A time when a pile of sticks was not kindling meant for the fireplace, but actually the beginnings of a thrilling contest. A time when the simple rotation of a magnetized wheel down a reshaped metal coat hanger generated rapt fascination. A time when nothing could be more fun than a barrel of monkeys. If you sell it like this, Bradley will feel horribly dull and inadequate when he doesn’t swim in the current of enjoyment his ancestors found so bracing.
Also known as the “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Starter Kit.” A microscope promises discovery, and that’s just what Bradley is going to get when you make a few comments about 400x magnification allowing him to get a close-up view of all the mites and scabies and other critters that live right on his own face! Isn’t science wonderful? I mean, if you’ve seen one paramecium, you’ve seen them all, but to stare into the eye stalks of the tiny animals feasting on your dead skin cells—well, there’s no greater gift than that. With any luck, Bradley will spend the rest of his life washing his hands 873 times a day. And still never feel clean.
You need some acting chops to pull this one off. Every big box store in America is drowning in Star Wars merchandise right now. Those Chinese kids can’t make enough Old-Ass Han Solo action figures. So when little Bradley opens the Mr. Spock doll from you, it’s gonna take an Oscar performance to sell the line, I couldn’t find that big hairy guy, so I got the fella with the pointy ears. Hope you don’t already have him! If you get any lip, just tell the kid that all those Star Man adventure stories are so hard to keep straight in your dumb grownup brain. When you get home, retire to your office, open your secret toy closet, and have Old-Ass Han Solo make out with Slave Leia. Yowza!
The most useless musical instrument to learn. I asked for one of these for Christmas when I was 14 or 15. I guess I thought I might start a blues band? I definitely did not ever try to track down a John Popper harmonica-pocket-vest to go with my starter harpoon. A harmonica is only a lead instrument if you’re on a cattle drive or gyrating in front Charlie Watts’ drum kit. As much as no one wants to be the guitar guy at the party, guitar guy at least gets a little attention from the ladies. But there’s never even a chance to be the harmonica guy at the party, because no one wants to hear a harmonica arrangement of Adele’s “Hello.” The Roots with music-class instruments? Groovy. Bradley with the Christmas harmonica you gave him? Not on fleek.
Geoffrey Redick is a freelance writer and radio producer. He lives in Memphis. He’s on Twitter.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.