IN THE PAST, my children's Christmas wishes were modest. One year Eve wanted Dora the Explorer. Another year Little Solomon wanted a dancing Spider-Man. Occasionally they'd ask for the latest fad toy, and we'd fight for the last Tickle Me Elmo.

This year is different, though. Solomon's 8 and Eve is 11, and they're entering a normal but ugly time in their development - the "Gimme that" phase.

Now, before you go indicting us for raising self-centered egomaniacs, I assure you, we've done the best we could. But like teething and puberty, the "Gimme that" phase is inevitable, and it's a miracle we've delayed it until now.

Let's be honest, though. "Gimme that" looks different for us than it does for the parents you see in toy stores. You know the ones. They've got Little Johnny with them and he won't take no for an answer.

"Gimme that Wreck-It Ralph action figure now!" he screams at the top of his lungs.

"Calm down, Johnny," his mother says soothingly. "We agreed you couldn't handle anything with the words 'wreck it.' "

"Then I'm gonna wreck you!" he shouts while pummeling his mother with his tiny little fists.

It's not going down like that at my house. I know it, my wife knows it, and you better believe the kids know it, too. We've spent too much time on discipline and manners to let them get away with such nonsense.

Still, our kids have creative strategies for getting what they want, and at some point this holiday season, they'll connive and plot and scheme and beg in order to convey their true sentiment - Gimme that.

I've already seen my son begin the first stages of a Christmas dance more elaborate than anything on "Dancing With the Stars." It's perfectly choreographed and expertly executed. The only thing missing is the skimpy costume - well, unless you count the times the boy walks around the house in his boxers.

His unwitting partner is his mother, and like any good leading man, he always initiates the dance. First he hugs her. Then he snuggles up next to her. Then he looks up at her with puppy dog eyes. She knows this is a ploy, but the boy has already figured out that she can't fight hugs from her son. So he leads, she follows, and the dance goes on from there.

"Mom, I need a snowboard," he told LaVeta two weeks ago.

"There's no snow on the ground," LaVeta said, weakening even as she spoke.

"Yeah, but it's going to snow before Christmas," he said, setting her up for the big finish. "I need it now so I'll be ready when it snows." Then he threw in a high-pitched "Pleeeeaaaase?"

He might as well have said, "Gimme that," because the boy got his snowboard that day - one Christmas gift out of the way.

Eve has a different tactic. It doesn't involve begging or puppy dog eyes. She just uses continuous talking. Eve will talk until your ears bleed. By doing so, she can force anyone to bend to her will - even me.

If you've ever been caught in a conversation with a professional talker, you know that there's always a point when you begin to nod and smile in an attempt to make the talking stop. It doesn't matter if you know what they're saying. If they'll just stop talking, you'll agree with anything.

I believe Eve has noticed this, and she's taken full advantage.

"So anyway, I was in school and this boy was telling the teacher that he didn't understand, and I was like, 'I understand,' but then this girl was in back of the class chewing gum and the fire alarm went off and we had math for homework and . . . "

By this time she's been talking for 10 minutes straight and my eyes have begun to glaze over. She has me and she knows it, so without ever pausing for a breath, she voices her demands.

" . . . and this girl was walking with this boy and he blew his nose and she was like, 'That's nasty,' and I was like, 'I know,' and Dad, can I have $250 and some new Uggs?"

At that point, I'm nodding, smiling, and hoping the talking will stop - before Christmas. When it does, I'm out close to four hundred bucks, and only two things make me feel better.

I've got the kind of kids who deserve a great Christmas. And I've never heard either of them say, "Gimme that."