Today I went shopping for my daughter Libby’s birthday. She will be 24 this Saturday. I am here to tell you that giving gifts has become an arduous ordeal in the last few years. What happened to those good old days when you could get a toy or trinket for a reasonable amount of money and be certain it would be greeted with smiles and delight? It is almost impossible to achieve that effect these days, and since I really want the gifts I give my children to be special, to make their eyes light up, buying gifts has become really difficult.
What can I buy for her? Clothes? Yeah right. Even if I find something I am sure she will love, the fit has to be so precise — they can’t be a half an inch too big, or they are too baggy, and of course they can’t be too small. It’s beyond me to find that perfection. Books? CD’s? Once kids have a job, if there is something little they want, they buy it for themselves. Jewelry and electronics? Well, the gifts in these categories that are likely to elicit the response I want are out of my price range. But all of these break, get old, go out of style, get lost. Do many people remember what they got for their birthday three years ago?
In recent years, I have taken to giving the kids money. But it’s not really satisfactory. It never makes their eyes light up. And as less of it has become available, it has become less satisfactory, and I’ve decided it’s just not special enough.
So this evening I went out and looked for a gift for Libby. I wanted it to be something special, something that would last forever, a nascent family heirloom. I saw lots of things. I always do, when I go shopping (and I usually think, “I wish somebody would buy this for me!”). But I couldn’t pick anything out, because I kept wondering, “Will she like it?” “Will she hate it?” Will she say, “Can you believe what my mom gave me for my birthday?” I actually got a lump in my throat thinking about it, because what I really wanted to give her was my heart. I wanted to give her my love in solid form. I wanted it to be one of those things that would grow more special with age, something that would remind her, even some distant day when I am no longer here, that I love her. But this is a message, I know, that my children don’t always hear, or don’t understand.
There is nothing in the world like the love we have for our children. And it doesn’t diminish as they grow older. Those babies whose softness we cuddled, the toddlers whose hands we held, the curious faces — they are still there, intact, in those grown-up bodies. But we are transformed somehow. The attention that they used to thrive on suddenly makes us annoying! I sometimes say that they won’t really understand how much I love them until they have children. But I’ve decided even that’s not true. They will have little babies, children, and they will hold them and love them, but that won’t really tell them how I feel about them. Babies and children are easy to love, even when they aren’t your own! Their sheer helplessness and need is compelling. So, no, they won’t understand how I feel until they have grown children. Then they will realize that the bond of the heart goes so far beyond that instinct to care for our young.
I lost my mother several years ago. I now possess every item she owned. Funny thing is that the items that make me feel most deeply the bond Iwith my mother are not the ones she bought for me, but the ones I bought for her. It is because I did put my love into them, it’s true. But perhaps it is partly just because there is a difference between my taste and hers, because the items I picked out speak in a language I can more easily understand. And I need to remember that.
So I’ll go out tomorrow and see if I can find that special gift. And hopefully I will. And hopefully it will not turn out that she’d rather have had the money!