I tallied up the price of the gifts to my children the other day and realized one is $2 short of the amount I spent on the other two.

There are those who will say: "Christmas isn't about money. It's about little tokens of love and giving and sharing."I say to you, you've been reading too many Hallmark cards.

It's a stupid thing I'm doing. I know that. Ask me why I look both ways before I cross a one-way street. I don't know. I just do it.

But I know for a fact that children are born with microchips in their brains that record and store the exact day their brothers and sisters got their first bicycle/ watch/car. If you miss doing the same for one child within that time frame, then that can mean only one thing: You love his brother better than you love him.

Every child in the family vies for the attention of his parents. Some will get it sticking two carrots in their nostrils at the table. Others will make all A's. Another will speak only two words to you a year. But they're all in the race.

My husband says the kids have outgrown the Christmas tabulating routine. I don't want to take the chance. "It's just going to be stocking stuffers," I said.

When I went to buy a $2 gift for the one on the short end, I found I had to pay $10 for an address book. That made the other two $8 short. In buying a fanny pack for my daughter, I had to pay $12 for it. That meant the first son was now $12 short and his brother $4 light.

That wasn't right. So I charged the malls again.

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I'm at the stage now if I buy a candy cane for one, a postage stamp for the other and a stick of gum for the third, I'm paid up on my affection for another year.

I know in my heart they're all grown-up adults and don't even think about such things at Christmas, but years ago when they were small, I told my son the poignant story of a town's quest to make the chimes ring in the old church.

The townspeople were told that when someone put a gift of value and sacrifice on the altar, it would happen. One by one they offered gold and valuables. The church bells remained silent. Then a little waif took off his coat, which was his only protection against the cold, and placed it on the altar. It was the only thing he had. The chimes rang gloriously.

My son turned to me and asked, "What did his brother give?"

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