Thursday, December 21, 2006

The best gift ever

"Oooh, look at that one!" I said to myself in Mrs. Langren's fifth grade class at Atwood Elementary.

It was magnificent. Sitting atop the Christmas grab-bag pile was the biggest, best present. Beautifully wrapped. With a gorgeous bow.

It was destined to be mine. Mine, mine, mine.

I tried to imagine what could be in that box. I couldn’t stop staring at it.

So when the teacher started the drawing and called my number first, I leaped up and grabbed that glorious present before anyone else could take it.
I love, love, love the traditions around Christmas. The social schedule is intense. Much merriment.

But one of my favorite traditions is mine alone: A random night before the holiday, Jim goes out for beers with his good friend Chris.

I stay home to wrap presents.

But it’s so much more than wrapping. I make hot chocolate. I watch the movie You’ve Got Mail.

Then I spend a couple hours working quietly with the tape and scissors and tags and bows, thinking about all the people I love who are gonna open those gifts and hopefully smile just a little.
Back in Mrs. Langren’s classroom, it was finally time to open the presents.

Honestly, to this day, I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I was wishing for a book or even a set of books like the Little House on the Prairie series that I treasured so much back then.

I tore off the paper and breathlessly ripped open the box.

I was stunned. Could it be?

A hat? An ugly knit hat? An ugly, boring knit HAT?

How could such an awful gift be in such a beautiful package?

I was beyond crestfallen; my little fifth grade heart was devastated.

For all the wrong reasons, I had chosen the wrong gift.
There’s a psychology to giving.

It's not about how much you spend. That's the last thing that makes a great gift and the first thing that most people do because it's so goddamn easy.

The best kind of giving is all about knowing someone really well – maybe even better than they know themselves – and spending more time than money to give them something they needed but didn't necessarily know.

It doesn’t happen very often. To me, that’s the best gift.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Ever received?
I’m sure the disappointment showed on my face. I’m sure the girl who brought that gift could tell the knit hat wasn’t what I’d been expecting.

I wonder if she remembers. I wish I could tell her what that gift has come to mean to me after all these years.
It’s shameful that I can’t remember more of the presents I received as a kid.

Of course there are more than a few standouts. Mrs. Beasley. I loved her little voice, asking me somewhat conspiratorially “Do you want to know a secret?”

The Barbie townhouse – with a real, working elevator!

The thick World of Pooh storybook ("Hedy S_____ 75 Christmas" written in pencil on the cover page) that introduced me to Christopher Robin and his Silly Old Bear, plus the idiotic but lovable Piglet and irritating, know-it-all Owl.
Yet every year around Christmas I think about that ugly knit hat.

It was one of the best gifts ever.
I am listening to: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan
I am reading: Christmas in Harmony by Philip Gulley
And I am: Grateful