December 2007
A Gift Beyond Measure

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

If we could, we’d tell them, ‘My life is enriched beyond measure because you are my child. All that you bring to this family is precious to me.’
Christmas Cactus

Sunday’s ad section weighed in at a pound and a half. “Wonder if the delivery guys get extra this time of year?” David mused. Not likely, unless we’re talking about an extra sore throwing arm. But we appreciate their sacrifice because without it how would we know where to go for the best gift deals?

Whether you joined the throngs in the pre-dawn line up outside of your local big box or you’re sipping coffee and shopping online, you’re buying lots of stuff for your kids. But do you know they really want this year more than anything? No? Don’t worry. I’ve done some research.

Foggy sunset on Mt. Tam - photo by David FoxChecking out the ads before shredding them into bedding for my worm composter, I’ve deduced that young male adolescents want, among other things, the WWE Official Scale Ring Series 3 Elimination Chamber*. Female adolescents apparently crave, among other things, the Virgin Mobile London Experience cell phone and headset gift pack with phone decals*. (What’s a phone without decals?)

*I do not endorse either of these products. I just mention them because I like the catchy names and the kids in the ads sure look happy, which has to count for something, right?

If you buy all the gizmos the ads say that your kids want, then in return you can expect to be showered with gratitude.

And years from now when they are grown
With little children of their own
You can hope that they’ll recall
The greatest holiday gift of all

…that special hunk of consumer electronics they received for Christmas or Chanukah back in 2007. And at that same distant moment hopefully they will remember you with equal if not greater fondness. Just kidding! Of course your children will always remember you. But the stuff you buy them… not so much. In fact, according to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco by March 2008, two-thirds of us who received a holiday gift, won’t be able to remember what it was.

So, why bother?

Thanksgiving walk - photo by David FoxWell, for one because it’s a tradition. Everyone exchanges gifts. It’s expected. It’s fun. And let’s be honest, gift giving might also reflect our wanting to give kids a leg up in the bragging rights department—which temporarily increases their happiness quotient (AKA HapQ), something all parents love to have a hand in.

But the real deal reason we give our kids gifts is because we absolutely love them. If we could, we’d show that love with every interaction. If we could, we’d tell them, “My life is enriched beyond measure because you are my child. I am grateful for my relationship with you. I love teaching you and learning from you. I understand who you are and I respect your uniqueness. All that you bring to this family is precious to me.”

Unfortunately we don’t know how to say any of that, so instead we give our kids stuff. But sometimes the material gifts we give actually manage to transcend their innate stuffness.

When I was in middle school my mother surprised me with an acoustic guitar. Mom had purchased the instrument with thousands of S & H Green Stamps she had saved for months. Absolutely thrilled, it was one of the few times (after the age of 18 months) when I couldn’t speak. I immediately taught myself to play using the “Learn to Play Guitar” book Mom had thoughtfully included. I listened to my favorite albums, furiously jotting down lyrics then figuring out the chords. I began composing my own songs. For a couple of years I performed with two high school friends as the Rumford Wellington Trio (à la Peter Paul and Mary). The guitar became such a part of my identity that as a 22-year old teacher’s aide, my students presented me with a birthday cake in the shape of a guitar! My mother’s insightful and far-reaching gift led me into a new realm of creative self-expression. She seemed to know exactly what my soul would respond to.

In addition to the spiritual and emotional gifts we give each other year-round, well-chosen material gifts can also have true meaning.

Curious about other peoples’ experiences, I asked several family members and close friends to describe a very special gift they remember receiving as a child and to explain why it had lasting meaning for them. Here’s what some of them had to say:

What childhood gift do you still remember fondly?

  • When I was maybe 9 years old I received for Hanukah from my Dad & Mom my first bike. I was so touched and happy because we had just moved and I knew even then that times were mentally and financially difficult for them. It was a reconditioned two-wheel bike and I was very proud. My first car was not as exciting. Our values are so important. —R.C.
  • Late one Chanukah - photo by David FoxWhen I was five, I lived on an apple farm with my brother and parents, who were very poor. When my brother was in school, I followed around our hired man, Joe O’Dwyer. On Christmas morning, I found three gifts. My parents gave me a box of new crayons, which I enjoyed so much, lying on the floor coloring by the warm fireplace. I had shown my mother a gift I would cherish in the Sears’ “Wish Book,” but I remember telling her it probably cost too much; it was so beautiful and grand. She ordered it—a little pink cradle that played Brahms’ Lullaby when you rocked it. Santa left a gift, too—a doll carriage so big I could put barn cats, dolls and a stuffed bear in it to push everywhere on our farm. What I learned many years later from my mother is that Joe O’Dwyer saved his meager pay all year long to buy me that carriage, then asked my parents to put it under the Christmas tree from “Santa”; he didn’t want to outshine my parents with such a big gift. Having very few toys and people who love you is very precious. —A.M.
  • When I saw and smelled my first magnolia blossom I asked my parents if we could get a magnolia tree. They bought me one and as a family we planted it together in the yard. I now live 3,000 miles away from my parents’ home, but I still love to “visit” the magnolia tree whenever I’m there. —T.R.
  • Christmas bobblesWhen I was a teenager, my parents gave me a wooden box that looked like a pirate treasure chest—riveted metal strips on wood, with a big (non-functional) keyhole on a metal plate in front. I think it held something that was supposed to be the real present, but I’ve long since forgotten what. But the box itself immediately became my favorite repository for special keepsakes, and years ago I passed it onto my daughter who immediately put it to the same use. It gives me a happy glow to see it on her bookshelf, carrying on the tradition of harboring memories. —N.F.
  • I had just received my first large bicycle for my tenth birthday. My grandmother got wind of my love for riding and that Christmas responded by folding 25 one-dollar bills into an origami paper sculpture in the shape of a girl on her bicycle. She attached it to the inside bottom of a box and put it under the tree. I opened it and was simply delighted. It was so special to me! I’ll never forget that. —R.F.
  • When my parents discovered that I loved the piano, they bought me a baby grand. That instrument inspired me to devote my life to music for many years to come. There’s nothing quite like a grand piano! —E.B.
  • I can remember being about 3 years old, and there was a huge red package from Uncle Chad and Aunt Barbara with a note that said, “Do not open until Christmas!” My aunt and uncle were so loving and generous to us 5 kids. I can’t even remember what it was that I got for Christmas that year, but to this day, some 50 years later, whenever I hear from my Aunt Barb I am filled with love. —P.P.

I encourage you to share these stories and some of your own with your children. As a family, talk about what’s most important to each of you during this upcoming holiday season. Plan some special time together. Talk about opportunities your family can participate in helping others either locally and/or globally.

Resting place - photo by Annie FoxWhen you head out to the stores, choose thoughtfully, with insight and understanding. Resist the urge to spend more than you’re comfortable with. And crowded malls aside, don’t forget to look for enjoyment in the process of shopping and selecting those meaningful gifts. That enjoyment is part of your gift to yourself.

Enjoy in joy...

From our home to yours,
Annie

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