Follow-Up Questions

My husband Ed has three nieces, ages five, six, and eight. The older two—I’ll call them Beatrix and Ruby—are sisters. The youngest I’ll call Ella. All three live on the other side of the country. Until this year, we always saw them at Thanksgiving, and usually at least one other time during the year.

Last year we saw them the first week of March, during my spring break, just before everything shut down. We haven’t seen them in person since, of course.

Before the pandemic, we gave them quite modest presents for Christmas and on their birthdays. Ed and I agreed that it was better to spend money on them in person, taking them to play mini golf or visit the aquarium—things like that. Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Ed are pretty good sports: Pump it Up is the only place we refuse to visit. I mean, again.

During the pandemic, we decided we needed to up our gift game. (OK, I decided, but Ed was on board.) Before Christmas, we sent them treasure boxes with a little present for every day December 1-24. The presents were extremely minor—pencils, Chapstick, a hair clip—you get the idea, but I had fun putting everything together, and the kids seemed to enjoy it.

On a normal Valentine’s Day, the girls might receive a card from us with a dollar or a sheet of stickers. This year, I sent the younger one, Ella, a guided journal from a Wirecutter list of gift ideas for kids. The older two, Beatrix and Ruby, got a rock painting kit (also recommended by Wirecutter) and a copy of Uni the Unicorn. I knew they were into unicorns, and when I found a unicorn book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, I figured I had found a title that the girls would like and that their parents could read to them without wanting to gouge their eyes out.

Ella’s mother sent us a video of her daughter thanking us for the journal. Ella either liked it or is good at faking gratitude.

The older two FaceTimed us. After the hellos and how-are-yous, the six-year-old, Beatrix, said, “Thank you for the rock paining kit.”

Ed said, “You’re welcome, Sweetie.”

I said, “Was there something else in the package?” I had ordered the items online, and they were supposed to ship together.

The girls looked at each other uncomfortably. I was about to ask the obvious question, but then Beatrix said quietly, “A book we already have.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “You can pass it on to a friend, or else your mom or dad might be able to send it back and get something else.”

All of the above is long, drawn out backstory for the text exchange I had yesterday with my brother-in-law. I would like to share the gist of that exchange with you now.

Brother-in-law: Can you suggest some books? For Ruby and Beatrix?

Me: Sure.

BIL: Thanks.

Me: Do you know what they thought of the books I sent them for Christmas?

BIL: Christmas was two years ago. What we they?

Me: One was Front Desk, about a girl whose family runs a motel. Another was Ballet Shoes, which is an old book I loved as a child. I thought it might be good for family read-aloud. I can’t recall the other two.

BIL: I honestly don’t know if they have read them. I’ll have Ruby read Front Desk next. She’s been reading Captain Underpants. Again.

Me: Ok. Do you have any goals for the books I suggest?

BIL: I want to exchange the duplicate.

Me: Do they still like picture books?

BIL: I’m not prepared for follow-up questions.

Me: Ok, I’ll just send you a list of things I think they might like.

BIL: Thanks. I’ve been reading them Lord of the Rings at Ruby’s request. It makes me want to jump out the window. I forgot how much I skimmed as a kid. I’ll read them Ballet Shoes next.

Me: You might want to read a chapter on your own first.

BIL: The worst part of LotR is that Ruby likes the most boring parts the most.

Me: What does Beatrix think about the book?

BIL: She always falls asleep.

Me: Well, that’s something.

2 thoughts on “Follow-Up Questions

  1. “I’m not prepared for follow-up questions.” I have nieces and nephews too( long-distance gift-giving never gets easier), but I’d never heard that line before! Well, isn’t it great that they’re reading?


  2. Is there any better honor than being asked to recommend a book for a child you love? (And a rock painting kit sounds pretty awesome, too!) (AND: LOVE Front Desk! Can’t wait to read the sequel!)


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