The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I love giving presents to people. I do! To me the look on someone’s face when they open my gift is worth the pain of searching for it or the time to make it. I’m not the type to pick random crap to wrap and give to someone I care about- I actually have this whole thing I do; a process that often takes more time than the actual shopping or creating. But it makes the entire experience more fun, interesting and worthy of my attention.

My secret begins with listening. When I am having a chat with someone I care about, my antenna is up for hints and clues about what the person would like to have or do that would make her/him feel loved, happy, appreciated, noticed and/or spoiled. Often the person has no idea that the words I hear start a germ of an idea for a future gift. I listen carefully all year long, logging possible ideas in my brain’s filing cabinet. People share their thoughts and desires through both words and actions, so I have honed my little detective skills by watching for ideas all the time. Some of my friends and family members who are reading this might be smiling, remembering a gift that showed just this amount of forethought and planning. Good- because I want them to feel the love.

Doing this also makes success easier because it gives me lots of time to keep my eyes open for just the right item, color, size, place, whatever I might need to make this happen. I feel a bit sneaky doing this, but I’m not beyond sneaky when it’s a means to a happy ending, so there! This all may sound a bit obsessive, but to me it’s a good way to show I care. I don’t know any other way to love than with my whole entire being. No apologies, either.

My family, as I was growing up, was big on lists. A month or so before a birthday or Chanukah, everyone sat down and wrote a list of what they wanted. The lists circulated through the family and items were checked off and purchased. This was harder to do before the computer was invented, as it led to a lot of clandestine phone calls and visits to avoid duplicate gifts and hurt feelings. Looking back, I see that this practice led to us getting exactly what we wanted, and it was done thoughtfully and in good spirit. But something about it doesn’t sit completely right with me. I mean, I do ask people outright for ideas, especially if my filing cabinet seems empty for that person or a coming event. I’m not against the idea. It just feels too much like when a colleague or acquaintance is “registered” at a store for a wedding or baby shower- a long list of items in a variety of price ranges that people pick from. You get what you want but how much thought is involved on the giver’s part? Not much. My favorite way to give to someone is to completely surprise that person, and hear something like “How did you know??” or “This is exactly what I wanted!” or a genuine reaction of laughter and a hug.

Gifts that I give to my loved ones are not always necessarily expensive. But they are always necessarily specific to that person and often specific to my relationship to that person. For mom, I try to make experiences happen that she will enjoy. I’m not beyond buying her a pretty sweater in her favorite color, but if I can get tickets to a ballet or Broadway Show, or spend a day walking around the city and stopping for lunch, or go to a day spa, or something that involves us passing time together, that’s a sure bet everytime to make her happy. For hubby, I often look for something that will help him enjoy his rare down time- tickets to a sporting event, a golf lesson with a professional, a bicycle, a television for the bedroom larger than a breadbox. The kids are pretty easy to buy for- they enjoy just about anything, but books, clothes, ski passes, gift certificates for favorite coffee places, grown-up toys such as electronics or art supplies, all seem very appreciated. Cash, which may seem cold as a gift, actually may be the best thing to give a teen or a twenty-something. Anything involving her dogs will move one of my friends- photo coasters, funny bumper stickers, dog toys they can enjoy together; but also things relating to the music she loves make her happy. For my rent-a-kid, field trips are the best gift: the beach, the Bronx Zoo, Central Park, a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge; every year she gets to choose her field trip and plan it. For other friends, I cook something special or make photo collages or books. These are two talents that I know will bring happiness and show that I care.

Gift-giving to me is somewhat of a responsibility. I want to get it just right. I always want to be thoughtful when choosing a present for someone, whether it is a colleague or my child. I want the receiver to feel pleased and special. I want the person to know that I didn’t just spend some of my hard-earned money, but also some of my precious time.

The fact that I take time to plan and think about gifts makes things hard sometimes. I get frustrated if I can’t come up with just the right thing. And I hate a work-Christmas party tradition called Yankee Trade that some of my colleagues seem to love. If you don’t know how this works, in a nutshell: everyone buys a gift at a certain price point (under $20 seems popular these days) and wraps it. Everyone takes a number from the hat. Number one opens a gift; number two opens a gift and if she doesn’t want it, can “trade” by exchanging it with number one’s gift , whether number one wants to or not. Number three opens a gift and can take away either of the others’ gifts; and so on to the last number, who can take away any gift opened before her. This sounds unfair to number one, until you remember that at the end, number one gets to pick from all of the opened gifts. So actually, it sucks to be number two. But it also sucks to have bought the gift that no one wants and that gets made fun of throughout the game. Especially for me because even when I don’t know who will wind up with the gift, I want them to be happy. This year I went to four stores to find one of those cozy “endless” scarves in a neutral color for the Yankee Trade. I found one but I wound up borrowing a gift bag that was distinctly non-Christmasy, and no one picked it until #19…out of twenty…which happened to be me…who really wanted an “endless” scarf in a neutral color. So in spite of the fact that my sad gift sat there being passed over while all the pretty packages were picked, this story had a happy ending after all.

I hope you loved all the gifts you received for the holidays! I am sure that someone put a lot of thought into them…

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