The holiday season was interesting. It was the first without my husband, so of course, there was emotional baggage that needed to be unpacked, sorted, and put away to some degree. But the most fascinating thing I learned about this past holiday season was about the gift-giving.
I’ll admit, I was looking forward to the gift-giving! This was my young daughter’s first Christmas without her dad, and I wanted to make it special! I was looking forward to my friends and family helping me take care of her during a potentially trying time of year.
Instead, it was… well, not what I expected.
People are so wrapped up in their own lives, I realize. People are struggling with how to take care of themselves, so they have limited capacity to take care of others. This makes me a little sad. But it also confuses me: when people are presented with simplicity, they actively choose a harder route. I can’t figure this out.
My kid is really into games and space exploration and monster trucks right now. She prefers her National Geographic book about the solar system over a storybook for bedtime reading. I put together an Amazon wish list of gift ideas for her, and sent it out to friends and family.
All those friends and family were so very generous this past Christmas! Yet only one person bought something off the list. My kid got a TON of Christmas gifts, but only a few she actually enjoyed. I felt a little badly for her. To her credit, my daughter got over the disappointment at unwrapping dolls, and quickly pivoted to playing enthusiastically with the few gifts she liked. She was perfectly fine with my donating all the rest to charity.
All those friends and family were so very thoughtful – their gifts showed they loved and cared for my daughter tremendously. The gifts just weren’t very considerate. The gifts were obviously what THEY wanted her to have and enjoy, what THEY wanted to give, what THEY envisioned her playing with, despite evidence (and explicit direction) to the contrary.
One family member always waits until the last minute to Christmas shop, even though he got the list weeks prior. Why not just do a few mouse clicks to ensure my kid loves what she gets? No… instead there were a lot of text messages with photos of toys at the store in the days leading up to Christmas. “What about this?” I reply no. “What about this instead?” I reply no. “How about this?” I say, oh, she would love that! And then later, another text, “What about this instead?”
What the holy hell! Why are you making your life HARDER right now? I already said YES. Just buy and GO!
In that case, my daughter didn’t actually get a gift from him in time for Christmas. She got it about a week later. Something I approved of, that I knew she would enjoy. And it was something she is playing with LIKE CRAZY.
In another case, a very close friend and “auntie” got the list but made an excuse about not buying off the list, even though she said she LOVED the gifts on the list and would have loved to get one of those for her.
And you bought her something else not even remotely related to anything on the list because … why?
My thoughtful (and considerate!) daughter brought me tears by asking what I wanted for Christmas. Do you know that not one other person asked me what I wanted for Christmas? Not one. Not the family member who insists that she loves me and wants to know me better. Not the friends who insisted they would be there for me no matter what. Instead I got extremely thoughtful gifts that didn’t really serve me or help me.
I just wanted someone to get my car washed and detailed. There are a lot of crumbs I can’t get to from the kiddo eating crackers on long car rides, spiders in the side view mirrors constantly building webs even though I clean them off, and I can’t get the windshield truly streak-free. I was so prepared to provide that answer to the question of what I wanted for Christmas… until I realized I never got the question.
Eh. No time for a pity party. Thoughtful yet inconsiderate gifts don’t make or break anything. We love those friends and family as much as they love us – with abundance and abandon. But I learned an important distinction in gift giving that I hope to take forward into my own practices, and a little something to teach my daughter as well.