The holidays are the perfect time to show kids that giving can be as much fun as getting. But I bungled my shot at teaching that lesson this year.
At Thanksgiving I had the harried working-mother last-minute realization that I wanted to find a way for us to give back somehow. But by the time I tried signing up to serve at a soup kitchen, all the places were flush with other more organized, plan-aheady do-gooders.
At Christmas I wanted us to bring toys to the local firehouse for Toys for Tots. At least, I had that thought then must’ve seen something shiny, got distracted, and forgot about it. It wasn’t until YESTERDAY when I saw a weeks-old photo of my friends’ kids on Facebook, arms laden with toys for those less fortunate that I slapped my head in a shoulda-had-a-V8 kinda way and remembered my intention.
Of course, it’s never too late to help others. All those soup kitchens still need donations and help and homeless kids need toys and clothes even though the Christmas spirit has been packed away and stowed in the attic for a year.
And it’s not like my kids learned nothing about the finer points of gift giving this year. There were plenty of gift swapping exchanges between them—trading toys they’d gotten that they decided they didn’t like as much as the thing their sister got. Inevitably once the new recipient of the item showed interest in it, the original owner howled to have it back. And Big Sis Kate, who’d usually contrived the often-unfair trade, would call Indian Giver. Which of course, we were always careful to point out should be Native American Giver.
They’ll learn eventually.
Other lessons in giving and receiving took place, and not just with the kids. After a long campaign between my three sisters and I, I’d tiraded against getting the ‘rents iPads feeling certain they didn’t want and/or wouldn’t use them. Instead I convinced one sib that a year-long subscription to The New York Times was just what they needed. On Day One of our visit home—with zero shopping days remaining—I saw that they already got the Times. D’oh! (And they LOVED the iPads they got from my other sister.)
This, I’ll note, was my follow up act to the previous year’s attempt at paternal gift giving. I’d decided a donation to a school in Africa was just what the man who had everything would appreciate. Paige’s preschool has a sister school in Zimbabwe and the kids there needed water canteens for their epic walks to school. After conferring with a sister on this donation-in-Dad’s-name concept, I was convinced that a gift card to a local restaurant would be more appreciated.
Dad called that Christmas, his voice cracking with emotion, to report he’d received the best gifts ever that morning. His wife had paid for some third-world kids to have surgery on their cleft palates. Another of my sisters bought desks for a dirt-floored school somewhere in Africa.
“Such incredible, thoughtful gifts,” he croaked huskily. “It was really the best Christmas ever.”
Seemed silly at that point to inquire if they were looking forward to their dinner out.
This Christmas also provided us with lessons in re-gifting. Dad and his wife received a bag of red and green dog biscuits. For their pooch, of course. They have one of those immensely-adored retirement dogs who lives the life of Cleopatra. No nutritional or manufacturing information came with the canine treats—they were in a clear plastic bag cinched with a festive red bow.
The dog treats were deemed suspect. References to babies dying in China from bad formula were made. Undaunted by the potential harm they could cause I grabbed the sack before heading to visit friends who have two very large, very hungry dogs. Those nefarious biscuits might take down Dad’s small Dachshund, but my friends have a German Shepherd and a Great Dane. I figured a few bum biscuits were less likely to kill them, based on their body mass alone.
Batting the muzzles of the dogs away, my friend took the bag, thanked me and holding it up out of reach, twirled it around to find an ingredient list. Did I know, she asked, if they contained chicken or beef? Turns out that Duke, their Great Dane, is allergic to the processed versions of those proteins. But, she said, setting the bag on her counter, her dog walkers’ dogs would most certainly appreciate the biscuits.
Or would they?
Let it be known that there’s a bag of Christmas-colored doggie treats currently making their way ’round South Eastern New England like some hot-potato fruitcake.
So then, my gifting take-aways to keep in mind for next year:
1. Reserve volunteer opportunities early at soup kitchens. Turns out those are some of the hottest reservations to book at the holidays.
2. Prioritize gift-buying impulses in this order: anything related to children in Africa or made by Apple.
3. Do not consult with—or lobby to—your siblings when buying gifts for your parents. Both approaches inevitably backfire.
4. When it comes to selecting gifts for pets, dispense with any notions of packaged snacks or treats. Opt instead for a gift card to the local fancy restaurant.