Does every important present come in a big package? The answer just might be “no.” At this season, most of us are looking for the ultimate gift, ready to give whatever we can dream up and afford, hoping to please the ones we love. Or, at least, I am.
This morning, my son answered an email from me, one in which I had mentioned his Christmas list. To my surprise, he didn’t tell me what was on that list—but instead what was not. Asking if I would please refrain from putting any more sweaters or button-downs under the tree with his name on the tag, he said: “I have 3x more of them than I could ever possibly wear, and you have already outfitted me handsomely many times over.”
I did not take this as some kind of rejection of my Christmas or Hanukkah or birthday gifts in previous years—even though he was telling me that for quite some time now, I’ve probably been giving him presents he doesn’t really want and probably may not even use, as he simply has too many of them.
Instead, I laughed, not only at my silly assumption (what guy wouldn’t want as many cashmere sweaters and classy button-downs as possible?) but also at the candid but sensitive way he’d told me I’d been missing the boat. In my attempts to be generous, I’d merely been repetitive, largely because I don’t know as much as I should about his life right now—he being thirty-two and newly married and settled far from me in Manhattan.
It hurts to admit this, naturally, but the truth is that if I’d been visiting him more frequently, I’d know he had a plethora of those shirts tucked away in his drawers with the pins still in them. But because he is living so far away, I just don’t get there very often. We talk mostly on the phone or Facetime, or when he makes a short trip here for work and takes a break for a dinner with my husband and me after a day dominated by clients and jet lag. He and I don’t often have the opportunity to share much about our inner lives. Still, despite our distance, I know him pretty well after all these years—though maybe not what he wears.
Perhaps if I opened my eyes and looked at who he is right now, I might find something even better for him than sweaters. If I paid him and his wife a visit, we could share take-out in their brand-new apartment. Laugh together. Talk about “stuff.” It would be a big gift in a small package, requiring only a plane flight and some time. He might even wear one of those brand-new shirts as a way of letting me know that nothing I ever give him is a mistake.
Of course, this present from me could come at any time of the year. It doesn’t have to be Christmas or his birthday or any particular holiday. I am meditating on the idea right now because it’s December, when pondering perfect presents for those we love occupies our thoughts quite a bit, as we anticipate the variety of festive occasions that come around in this month. We get obsessed with that notion of perfection, sometimes losing sight of the point of it all, which is simply to make one another happy. No gift, in fact, is required at all. A happy moment can be built around small bits of beauty—just what’s needed, like talking about “stuff.” But it can only happen if we think about it with a little wisdom, wisdom that is sometimes inspired by exchanges with others.
I was having a bad day two weeks ago, with my computer misbehaving until I was ready to throw it across the room. Snarling at a good friend, I said that I was “having the worst day ever.” “The worst?” she asked, as she laughed. “Wasn’t there something today that was good—in spite of your technology glitch?”
I stopped. That very afternoon one of my articles had been published in The Huffington Post, and there I sat complaining. Maybe this particular success wasn’t like hitting the bestseller list, or getting a great review in the New York Times—but it was an important step for me nonetheless to now be a regular blogger at this well-respected and popular site. In my anger and distraction, I’d forgotten all about it. Her words were just what I needed. A small gift in her eyes perhaps, but a big one in mine.
So maybe under our Christmas tree this year there will be a package wrapped in red and green with my son’s name on it. Inside will be a plane ticket to JFK in my name. Wouldn’t that be perfect? A December promise of a few days spent together. And one I can keep any time of the year.