What am I: visionary or sucker? I'll get my answer on Christmas morning, I'm sure. But in the meantime, I'm in a deep moral struggle over my impulse buy last weekend.
For a couple of decades now, I've rolled my childless eyes at the annual holiday blood brawl of parents on a quest for the season's hottie toy. Tramplings for Cabbage Patch dolls? Fistfights over Furbys? Real, actual Kung Fu fighting (maybe not fought with expert timing) for video games?
I'm a relatively new mom, with two boys, ages 2 and 5. It is the ideal perch to make sweeping, high-minded proclamations about the way I will raise my children.
So, no, my children will absolutely not be Little Princes who get the latest toy because everyone else has it. But then I was tested, on a Sunday afternoon at a quiet CVS in the basement of an Arlington County, Va., office building - the kind of location where an entire shelf of Zhu Zhu hamsters is meaningless.
I was alone with the boys and on a decidedly unglamorous stop for cough syrup and hand wipes. They were looking at the Christmas decorations when I came face to face with the toys that are launching thousands of anxious phone calls by frantic parents, pre-dawn recon missions for early shipments by mercenary moms and 747s of special cargo flights.
I'm not proud of what I did.
I looked around to see if there was a tidal wave of screaming parents behind me.
I picked them up to make sure they were the real thing and not, like, some kind of Zee Zee gerbil knockoff.
As far as I could tell, my kids didn't give a flying hoot about the darn hamsters. The wise woman, at that point, should have backed away from the hamsters, thrilled that her own children were sticking to the "more Legos" requests for Santa.
But fresh off reading The Washington Post's own front-page story about the hamsters and having seen the desperate pleas on mommy e-mail groups asking where to get them, I grabbed two of the little critters.
I hand-signaled the lackadaisical clerk to hurry up and hide Num-Nums and Mr. Squiggles in a bag before my uninterested children suddenly became interested in them.
Now what? Rationalization time.
About eight months ago, there was talk in the house of getting real hamsters. The boys were all excited, and my older one said he wanted a girl and would name her Louise, and my younger son said he wanted one that he'd name Pumpkin.
So we set up a good behavior chart and agreed that every day that they didn't fight, they'd earn a star. Once they got 10 stars, we'd welcome Louise and Pumpkin into the family.
Fortunately for a dad with an unnatural rodent phobia, the star chart remained as starless as the night sky in a big city. They didn't get a single one. So perhaps they don't deserve hamsters, live or mechanical.
Was my CVS purchase less about my kids and more about becoming their superhero for the mere cost of $9.99 per Zhu Zhu? Totally busted.
But to get the glory, I've got to generate some demand for the mechanical rodents. I started immediately, asking my kindergartner on our way from the drugstore: "Hey, do any of the kids in your class have those little Zhu Zhu hamsters?"
"No," he said.
"Have they all been talking about them? Is that what everyone wants for Christmas?"
"Do you think you want them?"
"Mom! Stop bothering me. I'm reading my Lego magazine."
A couple of days ago, I posted the question to my Facebook friends, whether it was slick or sucker of me to get the hamsters.
From one experienced father:
"Being a visionary takes work. If there's a newspaper story about (Zhu Zhus), casually point it out to the boys. If there's a commercial for them, comment about it. Whip them up into a frenzy so that on Christmas day the boys will think you're the most amazing, caring mother there ever was," he told me. "That ought to result in some goodwill for you that might last, oh, 18 hours."