My favorite part of this season is giving. I love secretly hunting for ideas, plotting and planning for the perfect present. It's the other stuff that I don't enjoy- the worry about finances, the budgeting, the scrimping and scouring for deals. And the battling packed parking lots and elbowing my way through crowds. Even amid all of the admonitions that, "It's the thought that counts!" I somehow, without intending to, felt the pressure to match (or outdo) a loved one's gift. Though it started with the best intentions, by early November I found myself writing innumerable lists and searching sale papers in a bit of a panic as the pressure mounted to give more, more, more.
Then, two years ago, we decided to make every gift at home, by hand. In retrospect I went a bit overboard, but it allowed us to stop and really think about what we wanted to do for our loved ones. Rather than just picking what's new, flashy and on sale on Black Friday, we asked, "What would this person really enjoy?"
Spending weeks canning jams and embossing vintage glasses imbued each of those gifts with happy, special memories rather than harried, stressed ones. It was pretty time-consuming, but it was time that we enjoyed, and the process added to the giving season rather than taking away. I won't be making every single gift this year, but the sense of steeping each small token in thought and meaning has changed my focus a bit as we dive into this November.
I've carried that philosophy over to gift-giving with my small son. When giving to him, the pressure for "more!" has a slightly different emphasis, but is equally self-imposed. There's little opportunity throughout the rest of the year for me to spoil him. There isn't always room in the budget to splurge on that noisy, frivolous toy he's eyeing, and there are too many concerns for cavities to indulge in sugary treats regularly. Holidays mark a special time where I not only have an excuse to give him all of those things that aren't typically allowed. As a result, I want to give him everything!
Of course, I'm not the only one giving to my son. Overzealous grandparents and well-intentioned aunts and uncles lavish him with every imaginable toy in bright primary colors with beeping and buzzing and clicking noises. For a two-year old, that translates to overload.
To reign myself in, I borrow an adage I once heard. "Something he wants, something he needs, something to wear, something to read." Four gifts, that's all. Four gifts I can feel very good about giving. I can still surprise him with that one long-coveted toy, but also something practical, a book to feed his mind, and something for him to wear (helpful, as my son wears through shoes faster than I can lace them). Simple boundaries that still give wiggle room for a little spoiling. Instead of scrambling to gather every shiny new thing, I can take the time to really select four special, meaningful gifts for him.
Despite my desire to do more, more, more, he enjoys each gift the most when he isn't overwhelmed.
The truth is, I do, too.
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.