On the secular side of things, we’re coming up on the season of giving. What to choose for a spouse, or a parent? Or your siblings, to say nothing of their spouses. Do they have children? How old are they? What do they like? Not having seen them for several [insert appropriate span of time here], it can be hard to figure out what to give.
My family got a chuckle out of an early present from my husband. An iron. The typical I’m-not-paying-attention gift, right? Wrong! He spent an inordinate amount of time searching several stores for just the right iron. Luckily, I waited for an explanation after opening it. He was very proud of having found a lightweight iron meant for, as he put it, “someone petite.” (From that, you can tell it was really a lo-o-o-ng time ago!) That kind of attention was worth waiting for, iron or no iron.
Pair that with my dad’s gift to my mom: an industrial jigsaw. This time, it wasn’t because she was petite, or even wanted a jigsaw. It was one of those cases of her knowing what he wanted, but not knowing what to buy, nor how to go about finding one. So, she sent him out to forage for his heart’s desire. He returned the favor–sort of–by giving it to her. A bit of convoluted thinking there, but I think the sentiment is clear.
Our daughter and her husband made up coupon books for their nieces and nephews. What could be better than a weekend alone with the aunt and uncle who live in Chicago? They could redeem coupons for such things as a visit to the Aquarium, or the Museum of Science and Industry. One of the favorite coupons was to a gaming restaurant, where they could play video games while waiting for dinner. One year, the niece, maybe 8 years old, requested a fancy night out to a restaurant with music. They took her out for jazz and dinner, so she could dress up in her red satin dress and patent shoes. A real hit! Homemade coupon books are wonderful. As our bonus daughter says, “You’re creating memories.”
Gift cards for car washes, grocery stores (especially for those fancy-schmanzy ones you’d never go to otherwise), gas stations, maid or window washing services. Tree trimming? Snow plowing? Lawn service? Gardening shop for spring plants? How about a new garden shovel for the one so dull it won’t dig anything harder than snow? A new paring knife! One of those expensive ones from Chicago Cutlery or Williams Sonoma! Maybe a flower bouquet delivered once a month!
I’m starting to hyperventilate…
What’s the old saying? God loves a cheerful giver. It’s easy to be a cheerful giver this time of year, as we choose things for the people we love.
But there’s a flip side to being a cheerful giver. And that’s being a cheerful receiver. That, my friend, is not always quite as easy. A group of my mother’s friends threw a bridal shower for me, and a kindergarten teacher gave me a cute framed picture of a bride and groom drawn in crayon by one of her little students. It was charming. And that’s said with the retrospective of many years. At the time, I wasn’t too impressed, not being a person who really took to little kids. I did my best to be thankful, and show it, but I don’t think I did a very good job. I don’t remember her exact facial expression, but I do remember that it didn’t seem to be exactly what she expected from me. The fact that I can remember that after more than 50 years, shows that it made an impression. I needed to put out more effort, if not for the gift itself, then for the thought that went into choosing that particular thing just for me. I’ve done better over the years. I take the time to consider the giver far more than the gift.
Sometimes we want to jump in when we see a gift that perhaps isn’t what we would choose. I know of a grandmother who gave her set of good china to her grandson when he set up housekeeping in his first apartment at college. His mother, the grandmother’s daughter, made him give it all back. He was broken hearted, and I’ll bet his grandmother was too. Of course, there were a number of things going on here. Partly, it was the mother not wanting to see her own mother seeing death on the horizon, and divesting herself of some of her worldly goods. Unfortunately, that also took away the pleasure from the old woman of seeing her grandson’s joy at receiving something she cherished. I’ve learned that I’d rather be around to see someone get something, and use it, instead of waiting until I’m dead, and can’t share in the fun. Downsizing can reinforce that feeling of cheerful giving. What fun to see someone happily receive a piece of jewelry or a kitchen gadget that we no longer need!
This season, be not only a cheerful giver, but revel in being a cheerful receiver. Sometimes it’s even more important to cheerfully receive something we’re not sure about, than it is to open something expected.