Shopping for Gifts With Children Loads Parents With Problems

Times Staff Writer

Christmas joy? It was a padded bench next to a children's play area in the middle of a Thousand Oaks shopping mall Saturday for Gina Baxter.

The Newbury Park mother of four slumped on the bench as two of her children romped in the 50-foot carpeted play area at The Oaks shopping center. Her husband, Ron, was in a nearby store.

"We've been running all day," Baxter said. "The kids haven't played all day. But I'll admit that it's kind of nice to be able to sit down. Shopping with kids can be a pain. It's very hectic."

And challenging. Parents who took their children to San Fernando Valley-area stores for last-minute shopping Saturday found out that kids have visions of cartoon-show commercials--not sugarplum fairies--dancing in their heads.

Kids know what toy packages look like and they know what they want.

"They want everything," George Weisfuss said, gazing up at a platoon of GI Joes marching across a shelf at the supermarket-sized Toys R Us store in Woodland Hills. "They change their minds about what they want on every aisle."

He Likes What He Sees

On cue, son Jonathon, 4, announced that he wanted a GI Joe doll. Then he saw a Knight Rider car and he announced that that was what he wanted for Christmas.

Weisfuss, of Chatsworth, was holding Jonathon and son Nacy, 9, captive in the cart while his wife, Linda, filled a second cart with toys. She was keeping her cart out of sight, two aisles away.

"We double-team these guys," Weisfuss said, the cart so his boys could get a closer look at a $99.97 GI Joe toy aircraft carrier. "She'll pay for the toys and get them in bags before they can see them."

Over in the dolls section, Doug and Sharon Newell of Oxnard were trying to distract daughter Tiana as they tried to unobtrusively pick out gifts for her. That was proving difficult because 2 1/2-year-old Tiana had requested "green and blue and red" presents for Christmas.

"If's she's busy looking at other stuff, she doesn't look in the cart," Sharon Newell said, hopefully. "But we're definitely looking for a baby sitter next year."

Keeping Purchases Out of Sight

At the K Mart store in Northridge, Carla Santana looked for a shopping cart with an under-the-basket rack. She said the rack would hide Christmas purchases from her children--Sergio, 2, and Victoria, 3.

"If they do see it, I'll just tell them we're getting it to show Santa to see what he thinks," Santana, of Mission Hills, explained. "Victoria will believe that. I don't know about Sergio, though."

It was tougher in North Hollywood for Suong Ha. She had five children in tow as she shopped for gifts at Zody's department store.

"It's crazy," said Ha, of North Hollywood. "They run around picking up toys. I spend a lot of time looking for them. When they see me pick up something they ask if it's for them. I tell them it's for my friend or my cousin and that their daddy is buying their gifts."

That ploy didn't seem to be working. "I haven't been able to finish shopping yet. I don't think I'll bring them with me next time," she shrugged as she left the store.

Sister Helps Watch Them

At the back of the store, Carol Brown of Tujunga figured out how to handle her two children while she shopped. She invited her sister, Vickie McLeod of Sunland, along to watch them.

"I've done my shopping, so I could come with her," said McLeod, inspecting a rack of clothing with Jeremy, 5, and Denice, 4 months. "The kids are really understanding."

Stephen Jones of Newbury Park was watching daughters Shelby, 7, and Shannon, 4, as his wife, Gail, shopped at a children's clothing store in The Oaks. He said the amount of such understanding varies from day to day.

"It depends on how much the kids have had to eat and how much sleep they've had," Jones said. "Shopping with kids is not bad if you don't have much expectation of efficiency.

"You have to be sneaky and misdirect their attention when you're shopping for them. You look at something you know they aren't going to get and draw their attention to it."

Begins Getting Gifts

In Van Nuys, Cindy Plathe said she has already begun giving 9-month-old daughter Elizabeth some of her Christmas gifts.

"I've been giving her things to play with to keep her quiet while I shopped. I'm running out of her presents," Plathe said with a laugh as she stood in line at the Van Nuys post office to mail gifts to relatives in Nevada. In her stroller, Elizabeth was trying to rifle her mother's purse.

Farther back in line, 3-year-old Thor Mitchell was equally restless. The line was moving slowly and he punched the legs of Sally Perry, who was standing in front of him.

Shrugs Off Incident

Dale Mitchell of Van Nuys ordered his son to settle down and apologized. Perry shrugged the incident off.

"I don't have kids. But I'm a nice lady and I don't mind being beaten up by little boys," she said.

Equally unflappable were Renae and Rodger McDonald of Panorama City. They were brave enough Saturday to take all five of their children to the Zody's toy department in North Hollywood so the children could point out what they would like to have for Christmas. But they will do their purchasing without the children.

"They're too sly to take with us when we're shopping for them," Renae McDonald said.

"So we hire a baby sitter for the night, go out for dinner and do the shopping. We make a date out of it."

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