I like to be early. Not a lot early, stand awkwardly outside while waiting for the place to open but desperately trying not to look like I'm waiting, but a little bit early. This bleeds over into my typical plan for holiday shopping - I like to get started (and finished) early. Preferably before Thanksgiving. And this has typically served me well, leaving more December time for baking, decorating, and general Christmas shenanigans. It was a good system.
But then I had children. This didn't really stop my early shopping so much as limit the time I had available for early shopping. I'd use whatever pockets of time I could, but shopping didn't exact get finished by Thanksgiving (admittedly, it never consistently did, but that was the goal). No, what really stuck a finger in the soup was when my dear, sweet children a) developed opinions, and b) started paying attention to advertising. You see, for a couple of years, I'd slowly, stealthily do Santa's work throughout the fall, and then get walloped with a laundry list of requests as soon as the leftover turkey went into the fridge. Crap.
So I've taken a different tactic this year. Santa only has a single gift, or maybe two, in this sack thus far. Let me tell you, it's tough to resist when I see something that might be awesome and is also on mega sale. But then I remember last year, and the frustration of trying to reconcile any remaining holiday budget with my daughter's desires, thanks to the arrival of the Toys R Us Christmas catalog. So I decided to use that stinking catalog to my advantage. This morning, Sabrina and I sat down, and when through that bad boy (along with its cousins from Walmart and Target) page by page, and I wrote down every item she mentioned (within reason, because sometimes she picked out something on a page just so she wouldn't leave a page out). Then we talked about how she might get some of the toys from Santa, some from Grandma and Grandpa, some from other people, but she wouldn't be getting the entirety of the list. I tried to explain (again, this isn't our first time at this rodeo) that she was showing me what kinds of things she liked, not giving me a precise accounting of gifts she expected. I think she got it, but I know it's hard for a 5 year old staring down about a hundred shiny pages of fancy playthings to fully grasp the concept of gifts as a representation of love and not a demonstration of deserved reward. But she's a smart cookie with a sweet heart, and she'll be happy regardless come the 25th.
But now I have reasonable inventory of toys to cherry pick. And so I begin cross-referencing the entire internet for the best prices, which makes me giddily happy. I can share the list with my parents and any other family member who wants it, and I'll be able to answer whenever anybody asks what Sabrina wants for Christmas (or her birthday, or Arbor Day, or whatever). Niiiiice. Santa's gonna rock it this year.*
You may ask where is Sammy in all of this. He is a completely different creature when it comes to presents. He is rarely specific (and when he is, we do our level best to make sure we get those things) and generally happy with anything and everything he gets. He has mentioned a few broad ideas - Legos, sciencey stuff - and he's certainly not immune from the siren song of the TV commercial or toy store catalog, so specific request may yet be coming. But he's just a bit easier because he's, well, easy going. I've probably just jinxed myself with him, but oh well.
*Santa gets the credit, but I'm totally OK with this. I like being an elf.