Writing, Waiting, Giving, Grace
Not knowing what to write about feels a lot like not knowing what to give someone that you love. And phoning it in for either feels the same too. What is the point of just typing something out if it isn’t going to mean anything to anyone that reads it? If it isn’t exciting, engaging, compelling? It is exactly the same with gifts. A gift with no purpose behind it falls short, falls empty, and seems to bear the markings of your half-heartedness.
My fiery middle child got into the car yesterday with a gift in hand. Something she’d made for me at school. It was wrapped in a brown paper bag. She was elated. She wanted me to open it immediately.
I tried to explain how we wait until Christmas day to open gifts, that the anticipation is part of the surprise, the fun. In the rearview mirror I could see that she was confused and disappointed. “No. Now, today. You’re supposed to open it today!” I was insistent: Christmas day. By the time we got home, she was wailing, and an hour or so later she came to me with the gift, she had opened it herself. It was a silver ball with her handprint on it, her fingertips painted to look like 5 tiny reindeer, and a card attached to the ornament with one of those dear little poems that kindergarten teachers come up with about small hands and time passing that brings you instantly to tears.
But I was also upset that she had opened it. Because we are supposed to wait for Christmas, right? Or are we supposed to live like it is Christmas every day? Which one is it? And I feel like this indecisive doublespeak is deeply woven into the ways that we teach virtues like respect, patience, and empathy. How do we arrange them, which is most important?
Certainly her eagerness led her to be disobedient. And part of that eagerness came from selfishness. But what do you do when a child is selfish about giving? Where does that fall on the gray spectrum of right and wrong?
I assure you I didn’t know and handled it all quite poorly. I scolded her and told her the gift is a gift to herself since she is the one who opened it. More tears. I’m not sure this was a total parenting fail, but part of the intentions of Christmas and gift giving is experiencing the joy of delivering something to someone that you believe will be meaningful to them. She had felt that and I had wrecked it. I taught the wrong lesson. But as parents know, sometimes you start down the wrong track and it is difficult to reverse once rules and discipline are decided. But you can. And sometimes you must.
My plan is to try again. To recreate the moment as best I can today and have it play out differently. She can learn about patience another time.
What is more important is appreciating the love behind all our efforts to give to one another. Even when you can’t find the words, can’t find the right gift. Keep looking, keep thinking, keep trying. Because sooner or later (or in some cases earlier) you will stumble upon a box or a bauble, or anything so similarly perfect your heart races at the thought of them unwrapping it. Something they will love. Something that will resonate. Something that speaks to the tenderness of reciprocity and the quiet understanding that constitutes all great human relationships. Something that bears the markings of love and adoration.
And it is profoundly appropriate that you would want them to open it now.
'It is not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving' (Mother Teresa)...and perhaps not when we accept, but how graciously we do so.