The Myth of the Perfect Gift

Does anybody else feel a little guilty having to ask their kids what they want for Christmas?

I struggle with this every year since most of our children have grown and moved away. When they were little it was easier. We knew if they coveted a certain toy or game, or which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was their favorite, or if they wanted the BeeBop or Rock Steady action toy in their stockings, or if they needed pajamas or socks. It was easier to know exactly what would delight them. Well, maybe except for the socks.

But in recent years it’s been harder to find the perfect gift. We listen for hints in every long-distance phone call from Thanksgiving on. We ask questions designed to unearth a nugget of an idea. And when all else feels we ask them outright, feeling a bit guilty that we don’t know instinctively and sad that we are no longer as wired into their lives as we once were.

Sometimes we punt: we give money or a gift card, along with something else to open so it’s not just a stark white envelope on Christmas morning…jewelry, a book, a warm scarf. Choosing that something is an act of faith. Will the book be read? Will the sweater or earrings actually be worn?

Maybe it doesn’t matter if the gift isn’t perfect. In fact, maybe the idea of a perfect gift is just a myth. For Bob and me, the greatest gift of our 2011 holiday season is that all six of our children will be under our roof for the first time in two years. The gift-giving will be wonderful, but it will be a warm tradition rather than a measure of our love. Like the gifts, that love is sometimes imperfect – more frustrating than the mall parking lot on Christmas Eve; more confusing than the clearance rack at Marshall’s; requiring more patience than waiting in the pre-dawn hours for Wal-Mart to open. Sometimes selfishness or pettiness or fatigue makes us behave in ways that don’t appear loving.

But we continue to strive to love as perfectly as we can, and to worry and to want the best for our kids, and to take pride in their accomplishments, and that’s what counts. That love and concern will last far longer than a Lexus with a bow. Even a gift from Nordstrom or Tiffany could not capture it.

Here are some gifts that would be perfect for me if only they could be wrapped:

• Watching my wonderful husband wash dishes after he’s worked a 10-hour day, which he does every night.
• My son Ryan, at age 5, cleaning off my car after a snowstorm while I sipped coffee in the warm house, still wearing my bathrobe. I later discovered he had been using a shovel.
• The happiness we both feel when I rub my daughter Rachel’s back, which I have been doing for the past 25 years.
• Listening to John, 13, and his older bro/idol Ben, 25, laughing and watching wrestling in the other room.
• Our son Jesse’s quiet sense of humor and his kindness and helpfulness.
• The pride we feel in our children’s achievements – such as Rachel B’s new fulltime job, and Rachel F’s “A” in her anatomy class – and in how hard they’ve worked to get there.
• Having our blended family around the same table, playing a symphony on their water glasses and trading many laughs.

Merry Christmas and much love to all my readers!