Mama Madison: Teens that aren't hard to shop for

Shop for Good will gift older kids in need

My mom called late last week fishing around for present ideas for my kids this coming Hanukkah. The phone call kind of took me by surprise. Those "Eight Crazy Nights" unfortunately come a little early this year, sneaking up in November, one of the few months in the Judge household that doesn't traditionally require gift giving. And since the first day of Hanukkah 5774 (2013 in the secular calendar) falls on Thanksgiving (the two holidays won't coincide again for the next 70,000 years), I've been a little bit preoccupied with non-gift-giving ideas on how to best honor this once-in-a-lifetime event. Like brainstorming Thanksgivukkah decoration options beyond the Menurkey and gelt-filled cornucopia. And figuring out how to master the art of stuffing latkes. But no, I hadn't thought for a second about presents.

Truth be told, buying for my 11-year-old daughter has always been pretty easy. She tends to like whatever is hot during a particular gift-giving season. This year she's angling for the ubiquitous Rainbow Loom, the immensely popular craft kit that helps young crafters make bracelets out of rubber bands. This should actually make Hanukkah gift-giving pretty easy -- yellow rubber bands night one, blue rubber bands night two, etc.

Buying for my teenage sons, though, is a bit more challenging. When they were little, I used to love stalking retail establishments in search of the perfect Thomas the Tank engine train or Tonka Truck cherry picker. Holiday gift shopping was fun and festive. But these days, I'm pretty sure the only items on their wish lists are foul smelling Axe body spray gift sets and things with the letter "i" in front of them.

What they want? Yes. But not what I'm eager -- either from an olfactory or financial standpoint -- to buy them.

This is precisely the reason I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive called "Shop for Good" this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.

The United Way has made it extremely easy to participate in the drive, especially if you plan to visit the always-awesome Downtown Madison Holiday Open House on Friday, Nov. 29 or Saturday, Nov. 30. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on those days, three volunteer-staffed drop-off locations -- Dream Bank, 1 N. Pinckney St.; the Overture Center lobby, 201 State St.; and the Downtown Visitor Center, 452 State St.-- will be eagerly accepting donations of new, unwrapped, teen-friendly gifts. Think fun scarves, hats, mittens and winter coats (adult sizes medium or larger). Or adult-sized hoodies, t-shirts or jerseys. Rumor has it funky room decor, especially lava lamps, are big hits, as are body sprays (yeah, I know), make-up sets and nail polish. And of course, what teen gift list would be complete without tech items like new digital cameras, headphones, prepaid cell phones, and video games? Gift cards and gift certificates (perhaps even one for downtown Madison) are great ideas, as well.

For me, participating should be no problem at all. As my mom reminded me, I've got to get shopping soon anyway. So I'll definitely plan on picking up some extra Axe. And who knows, maybe one of these Thanksgivukkah hoodies, too.

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