When my kids were little, presents were no problem. A $1 pack of baseball cards? A $3 Playmobile figure? My son and daughter would be pleased as punch. We have so many pictures (yes, those glossy 4 x 6 things) of happy children wearing ribbons on their heads, displaying their treasures for posterity.
Fast-forward 20 or more years later, and the gift-giving thing has become more problematic.
Last year, we thought we were going to hit it out of the ballpark: My son and his girlfriend wanted one kind of TV streaming device; my daughter and her husband another. The unboxing was great. Two happy couples. (We have pictures. Digital.) By the next day, however, disaster had struck. Neither contraption worked.
Luckily, the big box store where we had made the purchases took back the opened merchandise. The kids ended up with store credit, which I assume they used on something or other.
Hoping to avoid another gift calamity, this year I crowdsourced on Facebook and Twitter, by phone and by email. I heard from dozens of parents of grown kids and the twenty- and thirtysomethings themselves. I wanted to know what young adults really want and need (for the holidays and beyond), and I wanted to share what I learned. So here they are, my friends, 10 perfect gifts:
When a few people put “bread maker” high on their lists, I went to Zabar’s, the one-of-a-kind gourmet store that happens to be close to my house and chatted up the experts. This model, they said, is easy to use, durable, versatile and looks sleek on the countertop. AND it can be programmed to make about 100 different kinds of bread, from a rustic Italian with a dark crust to gluten-free that won’t be over-kneaded. The instruction booklet, which includes recipes, is like a Bread 101 course — in a good way.
Good to give: Show your foodie that you know something about good eating, too. This machine makes bread-baking so easy that you’ll probably be the recipient of some extra homemade loaves.
Good to get: “I know I can get along without a bread machine,” wrote one young man, “but I don’t have time to bake as much as I want. I long for fresh bread every day.”
Happy Socks — $12/pair (men’s and women’s), $45 for a gift box of four pairs (men’s and women’s)
Yes, you can buy perfectly functional foot coverings for a dollar or even less in the supermarket or discount store. Uber-cool socks, however, have become the new must-have wardrobe item. Even former President George H.W. Bush wears fancy-schmancy socks. Also good to know (at this price!): my son bought a few pairs three years ago that haven’t lost their color or elasticity from regular laundering and are not worn out at the toe or heel.
Good to give: People always need socks. Surprise your child with your knowledge of the hip.
Good to get: Your kid will be relieved you picked out such cool socks.
It surprised me, but even in these days of wearable tech, our grown children still want old-fashioned watches. This Kate Spade model is sleek and sophisticated. It complements work attire and would even go well with a long gown worn to a black-tie wedding. I showed it to a few 30-ish friends and they especially liked the playful red “spade” (get it?) symbol at 12 o’clock.
Good to give: A physical gift is always there to remind the recipient of the giver. That’s one reason I think watches have remained popular presents.
Good to get: “I want something nice for work, something that my boss will look at and think, ‘She has good taste,’” Mindy, who works for a public relations firm, explained to me. When I asked Mindy whether she wanted an iWatch (the not-yet-released Apple device) she said, “Sure — but I’d never wear it to work.”
Hess Toy Truck — $29.99, including batteries and shipping.
Happy 50th birthday, Hess toy trucks. You were exactly what all the little kids wanted every Christmas, and, it seems from my crowdsourcing, grownup ones still crave. This year’s special 50th-anniversary special is a flatbed truck carrying “space cruiser.” (How appropriate, considering all the buzz over the Orion spacecraft.) As one would expect from a Hess toy truck, there are flashing lights, gorgeous detail and sound effects galore.
Good to give: Turns out that some young adults still have their Hess toy truck collections, and those who don’t think it’s never to late to enjoy the yearly models.
Good to get: Hess trucks look great on a bookshelf. Those young adults with kids of their own may have to share, though. (Remind them, however, that the truck has small pieces that could be dangerous for children under 3.)
Roku 3 — $99.99
My holiday gift debacle last year turned me into a streaming device truther. I researched for months and had decided that the Roku 2 was terrific. Then Roku (which has been in business since 2008) went and made a better gadget. The Roku 3 is faster, has more than 1,800 channel possibilities, shortcut buttons to your favorites and a motion controller for video gaming.
Good to give: More and more young adults are shunning cable and satellite and relying on a streaming device for their TV. You’ll be out about 100 bucks, but you’ll be saving your adult kids money.
Good to get: Look ma! No cable! One less bill to pay a month! Even with a few monthly subscriptions, such as to Netflix or HBOGo, the TV-spend comes in much lower than for a cable or satellite package.
Warby Parker Eyeglasses — Frames (including polarized lenses) $95-$145. Frames with single-vision lenses: $150; frames with progressive lenses: $350.
Another crowdsourcing surprise for me: adult kids wanting eyeglasses as a gift. That they specified Warby Parker, however, made complete sense. For people who don’t live near a Warby Parker store, the company has a program where they’ll ship five frames to you and let you take them for a five-day how-do-these-ones-look? spin. Then you go online, send in your prescription, select the frames you love and send the five try-ons back free of charge. For every frame purchased, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses to someone in need. Their program has now grown to job creation in third-world countries.
Good to give: Now this is easy: Warby Parker offers an e-gift card so your adult child can take care of the whole process. Not geographically close by? Share in the decision through Skype, Facetime or photos.
Good to get: Such a practical gift! Such a relief on the wallet. And so stylish!
Babysitting Where to find: Your home or theirs. Cost: Priceless.
When my kids were little, for the holidays (and birthdays) they would give us “coupons,” strips of decorated construction paper with words like “redeemable for five kisses” or “trade in for no tears at bedtime” written on them. Some teacher’s manual must have touted this idea because my friends all over the country received similar “presents.” I think those of us who are now proud grandmothers and grandfathers (not me yet) should steal this idea. Make a card and on it write: Redeemable for X hours of babysitting, at our mutual convenience.
Good to give: You spend time with the cutest kids in the world.
Good to get: “What do I want most from my mom and dad? I want them to watch my kids for a weekend so my husband and I can go someplace fun!” Westchester, N.Y. mom Deborah Skolnik wrote to me.
Etsy Gift Card — $25-$250
Jewelry. Clothing. Home décor. Handmade treasures. Children’s stuff. Gems from the DIY (do-it-yourself) community. That’s what Etsy specializes in, and it’s where a lot of our grown children go to shop. (A lot of us as well.)
Good to give: It’s kind of like giving money, except the gift card acknowledges that you know something about what they like and where they shop online.
Good to get: Your kids will be able to select what they’ve been eying. Because it’s a gift card, they won’t have to worry about returns.
As airlines keep lowering the weight allowance for checked baggage, the sturdy suitcases that many of us gave our children as they departed for college have become unwieldy. Fortunately, luggage companies now make lightweight, hard-sided suitcases that offer few interior bells and whistles (such as cushioning and dividers) but won’t make you open your wallet to pay for overage at the check-in counter. eBags EXO’s Hardside Spinner luggage has accrued great reviews, and the set comes with a carry-on and a 24-inch case. Available in colors like gold and purple, your grown kid will quickly be able to spot his bag as it whirls around the airport luggage conveyor.
Good to give: Many of my friends complain that their grown kids appropriate their luggage. (Well, they borrow it for a long time, anyway.) Buy your child his or her own set, and you’ll know where your suitcases are when you need them.
Good to get: Luggage was one of the most frequently mentioned wish-list items from my crowd-sourced twenty- and thirtysomethings. “I really, really need one of those hard-sided things; my jackets wrinkle in the duffle bag I’ve been using,” wrote a young man whose job sends him places by trains and planes.
Black and Decker ScumBuster Xtreme — price varies
Full disclosure moment: Not one twenty- or thirtysomething expressed an interest in a cleaning machine. Their parents, well, that’s a different story. The roller brush on this durable tool cleans bathtubs and even toilets; its extension handle means your son or daughter won’t have to get down on his or her hands and knees.
Good to give: Exclaim that it’s a cool tool. (Don’t mention that you wish they’d clean a bit more thoroughly.)
Good to get: They’ll appreciate how much easier cleaning can be.