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