With so many folks exchanging presents today, it seems a good time to reflect on the gifts I’ve found most meaningful through the years.
A single gift from my mother, who died a decade or so ago of pancreatic cancer, stands out. It was a box containing various keepsakes from my childhood.
A dimestore pin I’d given her for Christmas one year. The outfit I was baptized in as a baby. Other items with special meanings that I’d always assumed were long gone with the many moves we made through the years.
But the gifts that I call to mind again and again aren’t mere objects. They’re words — words with power their speakers likely never realized or intended.
When my three children were younger, we seemed to spend a lot of time at the pediatrician’s office. I rarely had the luxury of taking along just the one child with the appointment.
So we spent a lot of time in waiting areas playing games like “Mother, May I?” and “I-Spy.” Never a timid bunch, we played together nicely yet noisely. I had my hands full with three busy minds, and three bouncy bodies.
One day, as I was feeling especially self-conscious about all the commotion, a doctor in our practice cheerfully entered our examination room and noticed the cacophany of clamour that seemed to be our trademark.
Taking it all in –and perhaps sensing my monumental efforts to keep the experience playful, even joyful — the doctor offered these words:
“Your children got the right mother.”
Those words have stayed with me through the years, and I often call on them when I begin to doubt my own parenting skills or question my ability to handle some of the frightening fates that have headed our way.
A second gift of words was shared during grace over a family meal with my husband’s parents, who graciously host us for holidays since we live right across the street and have far too much clutter to make entertaining even remotely possible.
Our children, I suspect, will find this an odd sort of gift of the non-material variety. Less can be more. Simplicity is soothing. Life is full of things we can enjoy without owning them. What we truly need is so little. And acquiring is far easier than letting go.
My father-in-law leads us in prayer before each family meal, a tradition we honor though it’s never been our own. It’s a way to demonstrate through our actions the importance of respecting others’ beliefs, and to honor the many gifts James’ parents bring to our lives.
I especially treasure the prayer he led during our most recent Thanksgiving together — which included the wish that our children grow up to be what we’re hoping for them.
To many, I suppose, these words wouldn’t stand out. But to me, they were a signal of acceptance. Like the words of the pediatrician. Like the words of my mother, who always made it clear that her love was unconditional.
I imagine that most grandparents disagree at times with the way their grandchildren are parented — whether it comes to discipline, education, religion, politics, relationships or other hot topics.
But it’s a lovely thing to know that your parenting intentions, and even choices, are honored and respected. It is, in fact, one of the greatest gifts family members can share during the holiday season.
As you’re tearing through the gift wrap and talking up a storm with friends and family this holiday season, take time to consider the gifts that don’t come in a box or a bag.
Remember the power of your words. Give them thoughtfully, gently, sincerely. Be generous with words that encourage and empower — and pause to consider the spoken gifts you receive from others.
Soon the ribbons and bows will be recycled or thrown away. But the words you give away stay with people forever.
Photo: Lynn Trimble, Entrance to the Phoenix Art Museum