Being an Uncle or Aunt during the holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to buy great gifts for your nieces and nephews. Being an Uncle, however, is a special burden when it comes to gift selection. That is because it is your duty to buy toys that the parent would never, ever get their child under any circumstances whatsoever. Aunts, being rational females, are freed from this noble task because they are usually too sensible. They may participate in this sacred ritual if they choose, however. The joy of seeing simultaneous looks of joy (on the child’s face) and fear/hate/disgust/anger/dread/fright/panic (on the parent’s faces) cannot be described in words.

What not to buy

  • Clothes - Unless they are the exact kind their mother hates, like hip-hop pants or T-shirts with off-color or suggestive statements, clothes should be avoided at all costs, and socks are grounds for complete disenfranchisement as a family member in the child’s eyes. This includes shoes, unless they conform to the exception listed above.
  • Books - Unless the child is already attending the early-entrance program for gifted kids, don’t buy books. That’s what parents (and Aunts) are for. The exception to this would be The Anarchists Cook Book (and maybe Orwell’s 1984 – you gotta help them keep it real, too.)
  • School Supplies -Unless they are dual-use devices able to be used as weaponry, secret caches, or a Trapper-Keeper with a mutant computer in it, stay away from this stuff too.

What to buy

  • Noisy toys - This category is rich and full of great gift ideas running the spectrum from annoying to downright dangerous. Cap rockets, electronic ray guns, and talking toys with annoying voices are all things that won’t hurt the child or anyone around them, yet will drive your sister or brother and their spouse up a wall. Intermediate-level noisy toys would include small firecrackers, cap pistols, those tiny explosive devices made from coarse sand mixed with gunpowder wrapped up in tissue paper1, and voice-changing megaphones. The extreme level includes serious fireworks and teaching the child how to make a butane-powered tennis-ball launcher.
  • Active toys - Skateboards, skates, pogo sticks, romper-stompers, scooters, and linesman climbing gear can be unwanted gifts if the child’s parents are concerned with safety. Never underestimate the mayhem a superball can bring into a house.
  • Weapons - A BB-gun, slingshot, pellet rifle, bow and arrows, and other projectile weapons bring a special glow to a child’s face, and this is not limited to boys (don’t be sexist and project your gender values on your niece, she loves mayhem too.) A Nerf gun or Super-Soaker may fall into this category if the parents are especially sensitive to violence. Large plastic swords, light sabers, Hulk Hands, boxing gloves, and other toys that will inspire the child to hit the people around them are practical alternatives.
  • Messy toys - This can range from Play-doh to the above-mentioned Super-Soaker, and includes building kits with lots of small parts as well as oil-based painting sets. Special bonus points for gel-based goo-like toys that the child can throw at people.
  • Candy, cookies, and other non-healthy food. - This also qualifies for a twofer2 with the "messy" category if you do something like give a little kid a 2-lb. bar of chocolate.
  • Porn - Just make sure you give it to the child when your brother or sister aren’t around. What 16-year old boy wouldn't appreciate a copy of the Playboy 50th Anniversary issue?

The properly-selected gift will not only bring fun and laughter into the child’s life, but will more than make up for the time when you were eight and your sister’s cat ate your hamster.

1.Thanks to kozmund, I now know those paper-wrapped things are called "Bang Caps" (nk adds that they are also known as "snap caps"), and they coat the grains with Silver Fulminate, not gunpowder (which makes much more sense in hindsight.) kozmundalso reminded me about sweet toys, and food gifts in general.

2. For example, I am giving my niece Hulk Hands (don't worry, she doesn't visit E2, so she won't see this.) It qualifies as a weapon (a pair of padded gloves that incites a child to run around and punch everyone, very cathartic) and as a noisy toy, since the foam fists have sound chips and make smashing noises and Hulk yells when you hit something.

DejaMorgana rightly points out that one could add another catogory: "Every growing boy needs an uncle to take him out to R-rated movies for an occasional dose of forbidden content, invite him over to play M-rated video games, and buy him gangsta rap CDs. While i wouldn't actually go against my nephew's parents wishes, i consider it my duty to push the envelope."

kiladogg says re Uncle gifts: don't forget the ridiculously difficult to assemble gifts - my dad and aunt have tortured each other over the years this way (have you ever tried to put together a pair of moon shoes?)
I think that's a great category, although I would say it is almost a gifting mistake made by the parents. Yet a devious Uncle could deliberately buy such a gift.

Written for The Ninjagirls Christmas Special.

UPDATE I have recently found the most odious and despicable gifts ever. They are those rubber balls with LEDs and sound generators in them that make noise and flash when you bounce them. I predict that a household with a ball per child will be in shambles long before the batteries wear out.

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