I recently asked my 13-year-old son what the best gift I’ve ever given him was. He answered right away: “Life.” OK, fair enough, I said. But, set that aside.
He thought for a second and then asked for clarification. “Do you mean a physical gift or a mental gift?” (By mental, I think he meant intangible.) I told him to share whatever came to mind. “As far as physical gift, probably the DS,” he said. That’s a handheld game console made by Nintendo that acted like a permanent extension of his hands for several years.
“As far as mentally, teaching me how to get things done,” he added. That’s an interesting choice. I’m pretty sure it’s part of the basic parenting deal -- loving them, providing for them and teaching them how to survive and thrive in this world. I wanted to tell him that’s not a gift; that’s my job. But I appreciated the sweetness of the answer, so I moved on to interrogate the next child.
She’s 16 and far less sentimental in her conversations with me. When I asked her, she answered pretty quickly.
“When you got us Hamilton’ tickets,” she said. A few years back, all we heard in our home were the songs from that Broadway musical. She was obsessed, which got her younger brother into the music, which got us curious, too. When tickets went on sale for a run in Chicago, I spent considerable time online and kept striking out. I called the box office and was able to get tickets for a show more than eight months later. The cost exceeded what I would normally spend on a gift, so I surprised her on Eid (our holiday at the end of Ramadan) with the disclaimer that this would be her Eid and birthday gift for the next year. She freaked out.
We ended up making a family weekend out of it. The months of looking forward to it added to the enjoyment of the experience. This is my child who loves memorable experiences -- concerts, adventures -- and those are my favorite gifts to give, as well. There’s the added bonus of reliving a great memory. To be honest, seeing “Hamilton” was a gift for all of us.
Lastly, I turned to my husband. Neither of us is a fan of receiving expensive gifts from each other. We consult each other on any major purchase, anyway. Once I wanted to surprise him with tickets to a concert we had both wanted to see. My excitement got the better of me, and I told him right after I got the tickets. Turns out, he had planned to buy the same tickets as a surprise for me later that same day.
I already knew the answer to my best gift question, because he’s told me several times that the Breville tea maker I got for one of his birthdays was the best gift ever. He had been eyeing it for a year but was reluctant to spend $250 on a convenience appliance. It makes a perfect cup of tea every morning. He has used it every single day since I gave it to him. It’s always great when someone else buys us something we really want but consider too indulgent to buy ourselves.
All this talk of gifts made me reflect on the best ones I’ve received. Like my son, I created two categories in my mind -- stuff and non-stuff. My favorite physical gifts tend to be the cards, letters, poems and keepsakes the kids make. That stuff is priceless.
The truly best gift, however, my loved ones give far more than once or twice a year.
It’s letting go of all the times I’m less than my best self. It’s overlooking my bad habits and worst mistakes. It’s the love that persists despite living with my flaws and shortcomings.
The best gift is forgiveness.