Regifting some calamitous gift stories

Published in the Ashland Daily Press

January 4, 2020

I don’t mean to do it, but at the end of the Christmas season, I can’t help but think about the holiday events, things like the holiday décor and our family celebrations, to determine if any changes are necessary for next year.

Last year, I took photos of the household displays before tearing them down. I printed the photos and added them to the decoration’s storage box. That process cut my decorating time in half this year. No more agonizing decisions of where to put stuff so it all fits.

Last year, my husband made a map of where the outdoor lights belonged. Then packed them up in labeled bags. This year, he had the lights up by noon, before the start of the Packer game. With a win under our belt, I had a happy husband, and we both went outside to assess the lighting display. It was a joy to see how the blue tinkle lights on the house eves framed the two white sparkling trees

I also simplified the cookie process. I knew everybody’s favorite, so I created a document with just those holiday recipes. I typically start baking the weekend before Christmas. But this year my schedule got thrown off when my son, Ryan, who lives near Minneapolis, told me he was coming that weekend, instead of what he usually does, come the day after Christmas. With one week to go, I worked through that by choosing two recipes to bake each evening after work. Although I felt a bit rushed, the sugary treats were once again a triumph.

It was the morning after our Christmas celebration, when my son and I sat in the quiet of the living room, that I suggested with a warmth in my heart, “Well, it was another successful holiday. Don’t you love Christmas?”

“I love Christmas,” Ryan responded, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s the gift part I have a hard time with.”

And there it was. Christmas’ Achilles heel. The part of Christmas I am most afraid of.

“I hear ya,” I said with a chuckle. Gifting may have been the one area of parenting that I wasn’t very adept at leading by example. In an instant, it was amazing how many bad memories I could conjure up.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Ryan added. “I love buying for the kids. That’s who it is really for. I like buying for the adults too. It’s just I’m always afraid I’m going to screw something up.”

“Anything in particular that comes to mind?” I asked. I really hoped he forgot about the time I forgot to give him Courtney’s name the year the kids were going to have their first sibling exchange. That was a bad one. I think the family fumbled around and regifted something so she’d have a gift to open.

“Amie’s brother,” Ryan answered with regret. Amie, who’s birth-name is Choua, is Ryan’s girlfriend.

“I thought I had Seng’s name,” Ryan continued, “but it was actually Fong’s name. So, Seng got two gifts, Fong didn’t get any.”

I gave him one of the cringing looks, “Yup. Done that.”

“Amie did the drawing on my behalf. I even questioned her, because I had Seng the year before.”

Ryan said that Amie apologized to Seng for him. He added with a chuckle, “it’s been a year now and we still talk about buying him a make-up gift.”

For me, it was my big brother Lou who got two gifts one year, my brother Mark got none. I swore on everybody’s grave that I had Lou’s name and demanded to see the list. Of course, Mom still had the slips from the drawing. And when it was verified that I was the one who screwed it up, I felt horrible.

“. . . and then finding the right gift,” Ryan added.

“Oh, man.,” I said, my face contorted in my embarrassment.

I couldn’t help but think of the year when I was a late teen and set out to buy a gift for each of my five siblings. I wanted to buy something that was more ‘personal’. I learned that year there is a difference between thinking with your heart, and the actual presentation.

When picking up something for my big brother Del, I thought of how he loved to play games. I had so many good memories of him, my other brothers, and their friends playing Monopoly, Clue, and cards at the dining room table. I decided to buy him a game.

Back in the late 70s, there weren’t the family games available like they are today. I remember going up and down the toy aisle, searching for the right one. It was a difficult choice seeing as my brother was going to college for his Doctorate in Physics. I finally found one that advertised it challenged a person’s Math & Science skills, like basic physics principles. Although the selling photo on the box was that of what looked like a Mom and her son, the ages for play were eight and up, I remember holding the game for what seemed like an hour, wondering if it was too juvenile.

The confused look on my brother’s face when he opened the gift said it all. The object of the game was similar to that of making a train of standing dominos, something he probably enjoyed at the age of four.

I was unbelievably embarrassed that I just presented my brother, who was going to college to become a doctor, the game Topple.

“We’ve all done stuff like that, Ryan,” I said, feeling a flush of red cover my face.

“Yeah,” he answered. It didn’t look like knowing that others messed up made him feel any better. So, I shared a memory I was especially embarrassed about. It had to be worse than anything he had ever done.

That time I was buying for extended family.

I didn’t know Brandon or Dylan very well. I may have met them once, or twice. One of the kids was three, the other one eight-months old. That year it was decided that the adults would draw names of the children only. It sounded like a fool-proof plan and I picked Brandon’s name. But darned if I didn’t know that Brandon was the three-year-old. Yup, there he probably was, excited to open, possibly the biggest present under the tree. And his Uncle and I got him a brand-new bouncy baby play station.

“Wow,” Ryan chuckled away. “Mom, that’s bad!”

“Yup,’ I laughed, “It sure was.”

Two weeks later, I still smile thinking about that conversation. For me, it was like a flushing of bad memories that were found to be endearing at the same time. And I guess that’s what gifting, whether it is offered or received, is really about.

For people like me, who want to avoid creating any more bad memories, I found that giving gift cards are a great option. My family seems to love getting them. I think next year I may even buy a few extra, just in case of a mishap. Leave the names off the cards . . . Thankfully, there will be no more bad presents from me.

Satisfied that I have a process for everything, I promise, the next Christmas will be the smoothest running holiday ever. I think.

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1 Comment

  1. Marlys on January 12, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    Wow, I don’t even recognized your house with the decorations! Beautiful. I, too hate the gift giving part. It’s complicated for sure.

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