My Thing About Gifts by
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Prompted By Gifts

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I grew up in a family in which gifts were important. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s days were celebrated. My mother hated late gifts so much that, when she had to mail them to me after I had moved away, they inevitably arrived a week early. Imagine my shock when my new husband suggested I select my own birthday gift a month after our wedding. I remember crying and explaining that he could buy me anything, but he had to do it himself.

Lately, I have been thinking that, aside from the little ones in my life who love to tear open wrapping paper to find a new toy, the best gift may be the gift of time.

Different families, different traditions. I know I have a thing about gifts that makes this time of year very stressful, not to mention expensive, and yet I can’t help myself. Ultimately, giving gifts brings me great joy.

When my kids were growing up, I developed a tradition of buying them what I hoped was a perfect gift and placing it beautifully wrapped in their bedrooms when they were asleep, so it would be the first thing they saw when they woke up on their birthdays. Finding those gifts took some work back then. I remember going to every Toys R Us in a twenty mile radius to find a red scoot motorcycle for our son’s second birthday. And don’t get me started on the shopping I did to secure a Cabbage Patch doll for my daughter. I also continued to send gifts to my parents and in-laws as well as my husband. The one concession my husband and I agreed on was not to buy anniversary presents for each other. At some point, our children decided that we needed to mark our anniversary in a more special manner. They would cook dinner for us and present us with what they thought was a spectacular gift. Prep time usually resulted in arguments, multiple trips to the next-door neighbor to borrow missing ingredients, and interesting presentations late at night. But I was touched by their thoughtfulness.

When the grandchildren arrived, my gifting impulses became out of control. Here’s how neurotic I became about gifting my grandkids at holiday time. When they were younger, I would buy each of them three or four gifts. I would then assess if I had been equitable. Inevitably, it would feel like one of them had been short changed, so I would shop some more to even things out. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt some were receiving more than others. This was all on me, as they seemed pleased by my gift-giving extravaganza.

The year of matching pajamas – a gift from my mother


Look how happy he is with his presents

As the years went by and families grew, new gifting traditions evolved. Having to find gifts for eleven grandkids and ten young great-nieces and nephews has tempered my desire to find perfect gifts for my adult children. Last year, I decided to donate to causes that meant something to each of them in lieu of a gift. Like my mother before me, I still send cards with these donations inside and gifts to the little ones so they arrive early. I almost always surprise my husband with what I think he would like, and after fifty years of marriage, he does the same for me.

The best gift I have received in recent years is a membership to Amazon Prime. Without it, I doubt I could have kept up with all of those presents for twenty-one kids twice a year. Hanukkah/Christmas is a challenge because I have to find so many “perfect” gifts all at once. But remembering all of those birthdays is something else. I have them on my calendar along with monthly post-it reminders in my kitchen. Now, the hard part is remembering to check the dates on my computer or phone and notice the post-its.

Yes, I admit I have a thing about gifts, both on the giving and receiving end. I never return a gift unless it doesn’t fit, and even then, I try to exchange it for the same thing in a different size. Once someone gives me something, anything, it becomes precious to me. This is a definite problem in decluttering my house. I can’t part with those sentimental trinkets.

Yes, I kept that hat

Lately, I have been thinking that, aside from the little ones in my life who love to tear open wrapping paper to find a new toy, the best gift may be the gift of time. I love when my children and grandchildren in town go out to a restaurant with me to celebrate an occasion. I’m also starting to take the older grandkids somewhere special in lieu of a physical gift. But no matter how my gifting practice evolves, I don’t think I will ever be cured of my thing about gifts.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Tags: gifts, holidays, family traditions
Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wow, you certainly do have a “thing” about gifts. And buying for so many people on so many occasions must have been very time consuming, but showed how much you cared. I think it was a lovely tradition, but could see how it got out of control as the family and occasions grew. I used to give each of my kids one present for each night of Hanukkah and could be found surrounded by a sea of toys and gift wrapping a few nights before, just overwhelmed by the task of wrapping so much. I remember my husband coming in from a business trip on one such occasion to find me on the floor of the den, legs extended, almost throwing in the towel. I put up a tiny “help” sign. I almost couldn’t be seen, for all the “stuff”. Those days are long gone. We can’t even think what our well-earning adult children might like these days. Good for you for still trying.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I think my passion for gifting got worse when I became a grandparent. But I also remember wrapping seven gifts for each of my three kids back in the day. While I felt as overwhelmed as you, I guess we were much younger then!

  2. John Zussman says:

    I love the fact that the best gift you’ve received just allowed you to indulge your gift habit more easily! (Would you call yourself a “giftaholic?”) But I also think it’s wise to recognize that your high gift standards are a double-edged sword, bringing great joy but also a certain amount of anxiety to both giver and recipient.

    When our nieces and nephews began to be born, we took pride in giving them birthday and holiday gifts, but as they accumulated (to a total of 13) it just became too much. I’m afraid the later ones suffered in comparison. I salute you in evolving your gift customs as you (and the recipients) got older.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      You are right about the double-edged sword and my being a giftaholic. Trying my best not to short change the youngest additions to my ever-growing family. Still believe it’s better to gift than receive and prefer donations to worthy causes these days.

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