suburban momEvery year at this time I ask my kids for their holiday wish lists. For a sentimental mom into history, these lists — in the early years scratched in their handwriting on torn-out pieces of notebook paper, more recently, printed out from emailed word documents — represent a snapshot in time, capturing their hearts’ deepest desires at distinct moments of their childhood, when all they wanted for Christmas could actually be found on the shelves of Toys ‘R Us and Target.

For years, Will’s lists had everything to do with swords and light sabers — think Star Wars and Power Rangers. And every year I put something under the tree that might draw him towards engineering or architecture — think Legos and entire Thomas the Tank Engine villages.

But Will has always been his own man, even when he was a tiny boy, and his dexterity at brandishing long poles has revealed itself in his talent at lacrosse, a sport where it is socially acceptable, even encouraged, to whack people with sticks.

Will’s 2006 list — when he was seven years old — included Sponge Bob, an iDog, and in a nod to his “boys-will-be-boys” disposition, a cap gun. That year Santa also slid a Sudoku book, games and puzzles and a Lego Ferrari set under the tree.

In 2007, Will’s Christmas was crowned by a second guitar for Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution (inspired and most likely also coerced by his big sisters) and a wide variety of football jerseys and sweatshirts to reflect his growing interest in sports, both as a participant and spectator.

Thank goodness we had our kids too late for the Cabbage Patch Craze of 1983. I remember witnessing wild-eyed parents mowing each other down at malls nationwide. Who can forget 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? We were married that year and I was a reporter in Sacramento, and even though our kids were still but a twinkle, those terrapins were very much in the forefront of my consciousness, as my TV station did a number of news stories about — yes, once again, wild and crazy parents fighting for that trophy.

We had a direct hit on Barney in 1992 because of Katie, who, at the age of two, was passionate about the purple dinosaur. Katie and Molly both had their romance with the American Girl dolls. We also ran smack into the Beanie Baby tempest of the mid-90s. I spent a great deal of time at the Learning Express toy store, then located in the McCaffrey’s shopping center in West Windsor on the prowl, not crazy, never deranged, but definitely determined.

Katie’s earliest wishes also included Polly Pocket, Furby and Tamagochi, the electronic pet that was huge with the elementary school set, but befuddling to parents who took on the lion’s share of caring for the live pets already in the house that required food and water and regular walks.

Things electronic began to dominate Katie’s wish lists — especially as a teenager. The iPod clock radio soon was joined by all things Apple, including one of the earliest iPhones. Katie has always been a great barometer of consumer trends and tastes. Of course, a girl’s gotta have some bling as well, and so Katie’s Christmas lists have included the likes of a Tiffany silver choker and Coach key chain.

In 2006, Santa mom also slipped in the U.S. News and World Handbook of Top Colleges and a book about the Impressionists. As the years went on, Katie’s Christmas lists became almost the exclusive domain of wearable gifts — think Marc Jacobs coat, Tory Burch loafers, and J. Crew leggings. Her interests also expanded to the culinary world, and cookbooks and gadgets became the hot items — in 2011, Santa brought her an Oster hand mixer and a “Chef for a Day” dinner package at Elements in Princeton.

As for Molly, who can forget her Juicy Couture phase? At one point she had a rainbow of Juicy velour hoodies in her closet. Though I did not love spending that much money for what was essentially an overpriced sweatshirt, I had to hold the line at some of the sweatpants that advertised “Juicy” in large letters right across the derriere — completely inappropriate, especially for the middle-schooler she was at the time.

Molly’s tastes also ran to live critters — including bunnies and hamsters to add to our menagerie. Bill will never forget getting up in the middle of the night to find a note on the bathroom door: “Daddy, please don’t step on my hamster.” Molly’s furry friend had gone on the lam once more and Bill was traumatized at the thought of finding it with his very large foot. Molly’s holiday lists in more recent years would be dominated by what I call products — Chanel perfume, Oribe Hair Curl Spray, and “expensive” shampoo.

This year, so far, not one of the kids has responded to my request for their holiday wish list. “Mom, my list this year is really short,” Katie explained. There’s an Instagram post that nails this spirit: “As we grow older our Christmas list gets smaller and we find out that the things we really want can’t be bought.”

While this resonates with me completely, I still want a list from each of my kids even if it includes wishes like good health and world peace. These lists are still historical documents that capture a sense of who my kids are at a moment in time. In December of 2016, where are they, what do they need, and what do they think will make them happy? While this is something that cannot be put in a box and wrapped with a bow, it is a window on their world, and for me, that is a gift that no money can buy.