LET INGA TELL YOU:
I was frankly concerned about being labeled "Grammy Cheapskate" for getting my young grandchildren tax-deductible gifts for Christmas, but last year they turned out to be the best gifts ever.
Now I think we'd all agree that just making a donation in a child's name to a wildlife organization would get you the reputation you'd deserve. But adopting an elephant from The Elephant Sanctuary in my 7-year-old granddaughter's name was a huge hit. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee houses retired — or rescued — circus and zoo elephants on 2,700 acres. You can watch them online on the Ele-Cam — video cameras hidden in trees around the property — which my 7-year-old granddaughter and her classmates did on the class computer with great fascination. The only problem was that then everyone wanted their own elephant.
Please be assured that my $75 donation probably fed this elephant exactly one breakfast. But my granddaughter is bonded with it as "her" elephant and has its 8x10 glossy photo (from the Sanctuary) and adoption certificate posted prominently on her wall.
For a grandson, I sponsored an abused kitty (a look-alike to their own) that was waiting for a forever home from Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. I got him a child's T-shirt from the organization to go with it, and wrote up a summary of animal rights issues that the organization addresses, including working toward the abolition of puppy mills. You can choose to sponsor a dog, cat, horse, pig, goat, bird or other animal in need. They'll send you a special printed card about the sponsored animal that you can give to the giftee.
This year, another grandson is getting a bat from Bat World Sanctuary. Like the Elephant Sanctuary, you get a glossy photo, adoption certificate, and history of your specific bat. (In years past, I adopted Cleobatra.) My aunt was a biologist who was a leading authority on Myotis Lucifigus, the North American Little Brown Bat. While bats have the worst press ever, they are vital for ecosystems; up to 98 percent of all rainforest regrowth comes from seeds that have been spread by fruit bats. They are the ultimate natural pest control, consuming up to 2,000 mosquitos each per night never mind many of the worst agricultural pests.
For elementary school-age kids, adopting a specific animal with a name and getting a photo, history and adoption certificate has definite benefits. Let me be clear that you are one of hundreds (hopefully thousands) adopting that animal but it really allows a child to connect with both the species and its cause never mind the animal itself.
There are a number of other organizations like Defenders of Wildlife and World Wildlife Fund that let you adopt a species (rather than a specific animal) and will send a child-oriented adoption certification and information about that species.
And now, here's a few kiddie Christmas gifts that were not a huge success, at least with my own kids. The first is a rock tumbler/polisher, which as the name suggests, polishes rocks. My son Rory asked Santa for one when he was 10. Now, I'm told that quieter versions are made now, but don't buy this item unless you have a sound-proof detached garage in which to put it, because those rocks have to be polished for days. In my small garage-less house, the noise was constant and deafening. Worst gift EVER.
The second was a chemistry set, also on Rory's list. Now actually a chemistry set can be a really terrific educational gift unless you have an 11-year-old whose idea of "chemistry" is ignoring the booklet of suggested experiments and randomly mixing the chemicals together to see what happens. Let me tell you: a LOT happens. Stuff that you really don't want to happen. So if you have a Rory, the chemistry set needs to be kept under lock and key.
Of course, the worst all-time gift you can give young kids is a drum set. Well, unless you truly hate their mother, in which case it can be considered a terrific gift. Fortunately, no one ever gave my kids a drum set. I was still recovering from the rock polisher anyway.
I've covered kid gifts, but I'd be remiss in not mentioning another gift that was a huge hit last year at Christmas. Both our family and my daughter-in-law's family congregate at my younger son Henry's house in L.A. Noting last year was the 50th anniversary of the lava lamp, I procured one for my daughter-in-law's parents (veterans, like us, of the late '60s college-era), along with some high quality cannabis procured from a neighborhood youth I've known forever. I would like to say it was my first cannabis buy ever, but the young man generously gave it to me for free, hand-rolled and ready for action. A lava lamp by itself is just, well, a lava lamp.
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at email@example.com