Like most parents of the elementary school set, I’ve spent the last three weeks poring over my children’s Christmas lists and dividing the requests into three simple categories:

Let The Relatives Spring For It
Is My Kid Effin’ Insane?
That last category covers most items on my daughter’s list. Our li’l diva, having been brainwashed by the flashy lifestyles of Disney Channel sitcom teens and tweens, believes being the Big One-Oh at Yule time entitles her to a cell phone, a laptop and a 42-inch flat screen for her bedroom among other things.

ME: “What is this you wrote here: `dress form’?”

LI’L DIVA: “It’s on this website.” (Clickty-clickty click.)

ME: “It’s a mannequin. That costs $199!”

LI’L DIVA: “Yes! I’ll put my clothes on it so I can figure out what to wear to school.”

ME: “You already have that in the deluxe two-piece model. It’s called a body and a mirror.”

My son, however, is far more practical.

He started with a few must-have items. This year it’s all things Beyblades, which regardless of the opium-induced storyline behind them, are simply metal tops. You spin them in a stadium (a thin plastic bowl for only $9.99 — while supplies last!) until one knocks over the other. Eh, fairly tame.

Then, over Thanksgiving weekend, he padded this list by scouring the pounds of sale ads the retailers had stuffed into the holiday newspapers. I know this because when questioned why certain items had made the cut, his reasons consisted of “Idunno,” “looks cool” and “it’s on sale at Target.”

I can’t blame him. I essentially did the same thing at his age with the toy section of the Sears catalog. I figured The Jolly Round Man in Red owed me something good from these pages as reward for the hours I had spent throughout the year waiting at the pick-up counter of the local outlet with my mother while minimum-wage clerks dug out our order of fitted sheets or butt-chaffing ToughSkins jeans.

However, tucked between this dichotomy of wishes on my son’s list this year was one simple item that made me all weepy. And I quote:

“A big empty box.”

THE big empty box.

Possibly the greatest and most malleable of all childhood toys. Not to mention, the cheapest. I had many while growing up. Those were often procured, by request, from the stock room of the local A&P after these magic brown cubes had valiantly protected yet a different kind of butt-chaffing delivery — individual rolls of Scott toilet paper in shades of pink, green or whatever pastel color matched your groovy `70s shag toilet seat cover.

“This is awesome!” I said to my wife as I showed her our son’s list. My mind whirled with the possibilities he might have in store for this gift.

Formula One racing car.

Space shuttle.

Fort on the outer edge of the wilderness.

Castle to defend from the treacherous Knights Who Say Ni (note to self: introduce son to genius of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” over Christmas break).

I just had to know what wondrous creation he had in mind.

“I want to use it as a stadium for my Beyblades,” he said.

“Huh. Really? That’s it?”


I trudged out to the unfinished part of our basement then, after a dozen seconds or so, returned.

“Happy early Christmas,” I said.

I just wonder what are the chances he’ll figure out it once contained one of other presents he had on his list. And I wonder which one he’ll like more.