Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Gift Matters

"It's the thought that counts," is what people say when they get a crappy gift, or a present that a two-year old picks out.  I mean, let's be honest.  How many team logo ties can one person own?  And those "Your #1" mugs that seem to go to distant relatives or to your boss are really false advertisements and given simply because you didn't want to spend the money on a real gift like Reese's Cups.  Not everybody can be #1 and when I get a shirt that says "#1 Dad" on it, I have to wonder how many others were in the running and why wasn't I even told there was a competition?  Were the boys taking applications and the others just sucked worse than me?

Still, the thought does count, after all, and as I said in My Gift Giving Rules, some thought is better than a no thought gift card.  I would rather people sweat trying to figure out what size shirt covers my protruding belly than make me go pick it out myself.  I'm lazy that way.  As I said the gift matters and people who say otherwise are just being nice.

"Hey, you got me an ice cream dish gift set!  It's exactly what my chubby depressed ass needs."

"I just love this light-up rose you got me.  I bet you searched twelve truck stops until you found that perfect shade of puke."

We want people to put thought into our gifts and get us quality junk.  We're Americans and we like stuff.  That's just us.

However, when a child gives you a gift it really is the thought that matters and that thought is what in turn makes the gift matter.  When I was attending Dr. W. J. Creel Elementary, every December they would hold a Secret Santa Shop where parents would send their children to school with dollar bills and the little tykes could purchase Christmas gifts for whoever was on the required  list.  Sometimes we even bought presents for other people and not just ourselves!  The gifts, of course, were craft projects done by people with way too much time on their hands and very little creative taste.  There were years I purchased wire hangers that had been covered in knitting for my mother or those smelly bars of soap wrapped in a mesh net and tied with red ribbon.  My dad would get a paperweight that was in reality a stone someone pulled from their garden and painted.  I know, you're groaning.  As I look back, I also wince at the bad taste I had as a child in picking out gifts, but hey, it was all I had to work with.

There was one year I remember growing up that my father took Laurie and me to J M Fields to get Mom's present.  I remember I had picked out this glass container that you store spaghetti or flour or colored marbles in.  Of course, it had a long cylindrical body and a globe lid and equally of course, the lid broke when we got home and tried to wrap it.  I freaked, and by that I mean I cried like a five-year old that catches Daddy playing the tooth fairy and wearing the outfit.  I cried a lot growing up but that's another tale to be told with a fresh bottle of scotch.  My parents tried their best to comfort their over-dramatic son, my mom issuing great assurances that it was really no big deal.  It is, after all, the thought that counts and no gift was worth my tears.  I just cried harder.

So, my father, in an effort to cease the wailings of his clumsy son, bundled me up along with the broken dust collector and headed back to the store. He must have found a sympathetic clerk who also had a bumbling boy because we pilfered the shelves trying to find a replacement lid for my mom's gift.  To be honest, I don't remember what we wound up bringing home, but I know my mother loved it.  Mother's love everything you give them.  It's a Mommy Law.

Children put a lot of thought into their Christmas surprises for people.  When the boys were young we would take them to one of those stores where everything is a buck so they could purchase their gifts for the entire family and I wouldn't go broke.  Now instead of getting crafts sold at a school, everyone received hammers, coffee cups, and dozens of ceramic animals with demented faces painted on.  I would be dragged for hours up and down those cluttered aisles so the boys could pick out the perfect gift for each person, guessing and second guessing each purchase and explaining why their aunt's needed batteries so badly.  Pa always received a collection of crossword puzzles, Grandpa Bobby some kind of tool and the grandma's were usually gifted with candles that truly smelled like you had only paid a buck for them.  One of the boys always got me a coffee mug or some exotic pen while their mom was blessed with angel figurines or a Winnie the Pooh coloring book and toy soldiers or cars went to brothers and cousins. Twenty bucks equaled twenty gifts.  How could you beat that?

Inevitably, however, the craft gifts made their way back into our home from my boys' school.  There were hands pressed into plaster a paris and then dated and painted so we'd always have a copy of those dirty little prints we usually had to wipe from walls and counters.  Sometimes we received picture frames made out of fabric and Popsicle sticks and decorated with buttons.  Usually, it was something that would keep a classroom of kids quiet for an hour while the teacher sneaked off to the teacher's lounge for a much needed shot of spiked eggnog.

Now, that my children are grown and leading their own lives, these are the gifts that matter.  I know they've bought me books and soundtracks, movies and games, but I couldn't tell you which ones.  I can, however,  tell you about the pencil holder Nathan made out of ice cream sticks or the red metal ashtray Chris morphed into a Christmas ornament or Zac's shoebox mural.  Those are the gifts that I look at now and I remember the giant smiles on their tiny little faces as we unwrapped them and gave our OOOOs and AHHHs that now, years later, I really feel.

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