Saturday, December 21, 2013

At a time of much giving, what do we really need?

From Friday's Briefing:

One of my students asked last week, “Mrs. Damm, what would you like someone to give you for Christmas?”
“A card!”
He nodded. “So you want a gift card? Like to a restaurant?”
I shook my head. “No. I’d like a handmade card.”
He nodded. “What’s your favorite restaurant?”
I gave in. I named a couple. He wasn’t buying my (totally true) story that all I want is a heartfelt message written in marker under a detailed drawing of a snowman or candy cane.
I am firmly entrenched in the stage of life in which giving is hands-down more important than receiving.
Being a parent does that to you. You eavesdrop on your children as they talk about Santa wishes. You ask oh-so-casual questions like, “When you see Santa, what do you think you might ask for?”
Then, as an officially sanctioned Santa helper, you squeeze in time to shop — in person if you have to. But it’s preferable to sit on the sofa with your laptop for online shopping — after the kids have gone to sleep, of course.
While you’re ordering, you hope that the planned request is identical to the real request, remembering that in the past a child has been known to call an audible while visiting with Santa.
Some years, there’s not much you can do to fulfill the request, such as when a child — a born and bred Texas child — earnestly asks only for snow on Christmas Day.
That might be the year that Santa delivers an inexpensive saucer sled as a way to acknowledge the noble yet difficult-to- guarantee wish.
In the middle of all that giving to already-fortunate children, you realize how little we actually need.
My children don’t ask for much for Christmas — partly because they’re not overtly greedy and partly because they already have everything they truly need and much of what they want.
That makes gift-giving all the more important. What I choose to spend our money on reflects what I think matters. It’s why we don’t have a big television in the family room or the latest video game system.
Cooper is an avid camper, so I choose to buy quality gear. It feeds his passion. Plus, it offers me some comfort when he’s away from home. Katie is a creator and a reader, so I spend money on paints and paper, books and more books.
And still, on Christmas Day, I expect that I’ll survey the goods and think to myself, “This is too much.”
When you live in the land of plenty plus, it’s easy to add just one more small gift or two. It’s second nature to think of how much you spent on one child, realize that you spent less on the other child, then buy just one more gift to even out the bounty.
It’s easy to tell yourself, “Well, I know I’m not spending as much as so-and-so.”
It’s easy to create entitled children even when you are absolutely certain you would never intentionally create entitled children.
Yet, I’m not ready to stop giving my children the reasonable gifts they’ve asked for, plus a few surprises.
It’s taken me a few decades to fully appreciate that the best gifts to receive aren’t wrapped and under the tree — uninterrupted time with friends and family, a home-cooked dinner, an afternoon at the movies and, yes, a handmade card from a child.
At the same time, there’s great joy found in giving what makes the recipient happy in the moment.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@

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