First, much thanks for all your ideas, experiences and advice! This was a tough one for me, mostly because it has the potential to open up all kind of old wounds. But this time* I had a "smart mommy moment." (*the rarity of these moments make them all the more valuable!) To follow the story you'll need to know my abbreviations:
DS4 = my youngest son, age 4
DS8 = my middle son, age 8
DS14 = my oldest son, age 14
I contemplated. Hmmm. What's my trump card? Well, DS8 basically wants to be DS14. He asked for DS14's name for Christmas. After shopping for DS14, DS8 came home and changed his entire Christmas list to match what he'd just purchased for big brother. He lives, plays and breathes big brother. Fights with him all the time, too, just to make sure big brother doesn't forget about him. (And because he doesn't want me to get bored.)
I called DS14 aside and explained my problem. Told him that I was going to offer DS8 a choice and I needed him to play a role. Called DS8 in to have a *private* conversation with the two of them. Here's how it went:
Mommy: "Boys, do you remember Jin? She sent a little kid gift to DS4. It's a Mr. Potato Head. Do you want the gift to be partly yours and play with it with him tonight, or do you want to play Settlers? (a big person game)"
DS14 (on cue): "I don't want a little kid toy. I want to play Settlers."
DS8: "I want to play Settlers, too!" at which points he proceeds to tackle DS14, completely unfazed by the news that little brother was getting a gift. Then, "Can I give it to him?"
Mommy: "Sure you can give it to him. Just keep it a surprise til tonight."
With excitement, he presented the gift to DS4, watched him open it, then immediately joined us in a "big kid" game of Settlers.
Whew. One Christmas gift conflict resolved. One. ;)
BTW, if you've ever read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, my mom, a longtime 4th grade teacher, tells me this was classic Fudge.
P.S. This morning, DS4 got out his new Potato Head. DS8 started to take over so I pulled out the old Potato Head set (from the garage sale box in the barn) so there was more to share. DS8 took the old set. DS4 the new. Then, both DSs informed me that they weren't going to share...that each of their sets was the best. Lovely.