Unexpected Gifts

#5 is sick.

He’s been sick off and on for more than two months and every time we think we’ve figured it out, we haven’t. In the realm of sick kids it is both the worst (vomiting & diarrhea and all the awesomeness that goes with that) and the best (it isn’t a whole bunch of even worse things, and we have really good insurance). He’s a trooper but it’s wearing him down. He’s lost five pounds and for someone who hasn’t hit 70lbs yet, that’s a lot.

When he told me yesterday that the smell of bacon made his stomach hurt it was all I could do to not break down in front of him.

We were at the Children’s Hospital last week to see the specialist and there were some pretty sick kids in the waiting room, accompanied by parents who were as used to hospital waiting rooms as one could be. Parents who, at the moment, were not wild-eyed with fear and were content to watch their kids bounce around the room. Kids who had lost their hair and their coloring and a lot of their energy but could still pop up in front of the aquarium and scream, “Fishie!” I was desperately looking for a direction to turn my mind to that wasn’t all panic and fear, and watching these kids got me thinking about gratitude and unexpected gifts.

Now, I love Christmas. Even when I’m depressed I love everything about it: the decorations, the overly-scented candles, the music, the anticipation, the too many sweets, that goddamn elf, the presents.

Yeah, the presents. There’s some idea running around the intellectuals where I live that you shouldn’t like Christmas presents. That we should all be striving towards more lofty goals of solving world hunger and making peace in the Middle East and that if we get filled with joy when someone gifts us a brightly wrapped package, we’ve merely succumbed to our baser human nature and, oh, we really shouldn’t mention Jesus when we talk about Christmas because it offends all the non-Christians.

But I love the presents. And the baby Jesus.

Yes, Christmas is over-commercialized and our culture is too focused on the material every day of the year; Christmas can be an excuse to go into hyperdrive. But presents- concretely material, unnecessary, wrapped up in pretty paper you usually just throw away- are awesome.

I reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook a couple years ago, and at Christmas he sent my family some pears. You know, those Harry & David ones.

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The gesture really touched me, I’m sure more than he realizes. I thought about our differences: he’s West Coast now, and I’m East; he didn’t celebrate Christmas when we were kids and I did; he doesn’t have children and I have a houseful of them. The note said: I’m glad we reconnected. Now, pears. Big whoop, right? Well, I happen to love them. But the Christmas miracle is that my kids tried them after having rejected the entire pear genre for years. Because Harry & David’s only sends out perfect pears (I picture tiny pear fairies scattering magic dust on the trees in 8-hour shifts), they hoovered them. The case of pears lasted like two days. There is now one more healthy thing my kids will eat, and that’s a big deal. Every time I go to the store, #3 asks if it’s pear season.

Another friend last year gave me this plate. A rectangle plate with a really cool painting on it containing both a dove and an alligator, completely unexpected and entirely perfect.

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I like to think of the dove and the alligator as two aspects of me, and hope that someday the dove will be this much bigger. The plate lives on the sideboard and holds CC’s open wine bottle. I see it every day, and I think of my friend every day. I like that.

Then there’s the skull ring from one of my best friends. Every 40+ year-old needs a skull ring. Mine is particularly badass because she got it in Paris from an artist on the street. It sits on top of my writing desk and I wear it when the muse is fickle.

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It’s on my finger now, and at the end of this long, frustrating day I am reminded that when my friend went to Paris she saw this and thought of me.

We’re on the path to finding out what’s wrong with #5 and getting him well. It may take a while. The greatest gift would be a sudden, complete, magic cure. Perhaps the Harry & David’s pear fairies can put in a good word with the vomit fairies when they get together at the fairy bar. Meanwhile, I’m not turning up my nose at pretty packages with bows on top, because presents don’t have to save the  whole world. Sometimes they make one person smile, and that’s enough to save the day.

What’s the best unexpected gift you ever received?

(Shout out to Elena Aitkin because I totally swiped the title of one of her sweet books- click here: Unexpected Gifts is free for a limited time)

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9 thoughts on “Unexpected Gifts

  1. The most memorable gifts I’ve received are the small ones – a Starbucks delivered to my door when we were going through a tough time and I was a bit housebound, surprise pack of Cheese Strings on the porch for our boys, peanut butter cups on my desk at work. Reminders that people care about us. Here’s hoping #5 is on the mend soon.

  2. This is a wonderful post. Wonderful. I think we need to get back to the habit of giving gifts that surprise and delight and not necessarily the ones that are requested, removing the elements I just mentioned. Putting thought into a gift makes it so much more valuable, even when it’s materially worth very little.
    I hope #5 recovers well, and very soon. The agony of the bacon-revulsion alone… not to mention that of watching a boy you love and raise suffer without knowing why…
    …but mostly the bacon thing.
    My most unexpected gift? I have to think about that. Maybe I’ll be back to share when I find the answer.

  3. The second person I ever met from the Milkman’s family was his cousin. She sought us out, which as I’m sure you can understand, was a welcome change. She’s such a kindred soul, and I knew it from the moment she said, “here, I hope you’re not offended easily because I didn’t have anyone else I could give this to and it was too awesome not to purchase…”

    It was Jesus. Magnetic dress up Jesus. I love him so…and the camaraderie he brought to a potentially awkward situation.

  4. As usual, your post rocks. Thanks for it. I hope your poor #5 heals all up soon. Sounds like it has been no fun at all for him (well, and you)!

    My most unexpected gift was this little bronze froggie (http://www.frogmancollection.com/store/Frogman-Sculptures-under-300/Zen-p34.html) from my husband. I had admired these guys for a long time, because Froggie is the perfect size to fit in the palm of my hand. It never occurred to me that my husband would get me such a silly, expensive little goodie!

    I am, unfortunately, terrible at picking out gifts for people, because I honestly have no idea what anyone would like. I will be buying my husband a heated foot massager thing this year for Christmas, though. I don’t think anyone can argue with a heated foot massager… Saaayy, maybe my son would like one too!

  5. Wishing well for #5 and, really, all of you.

    As far as the unexpected gift part, I suck at thinking in response to prompts. My brain goes into some kind of temporary shutdown and releases when I’m 1-2 hours out from the question. The only thing that comes to mind right now is a monetary gift. I was broke, down to only a few handfuls of rice for food and without gas money near the end of a pay period in Japan. I had a brief chat with a friend a few hours south and felt a little better from it. Then I got a card from him maybe two days later, with sweet words and $100 that made the rest of my month doable. Funny how thankful I still feel about that eight years later.

  6. Oh no, poor 5. And poor you! So much worry and helplessness. Besides the actual sickness, that part is really the worst. A parent who can’t just magically fix their child is the most miserable creature. I will send very good healing thoughts up your way for 5 to be well soon!

    As to your question, this is actually me. Not the receiving, but the giving. I have a knack (not to brag) of finding the perfect little surprise gift for people who do not expect it. I send things to friends, just because, all the time, just to make them smile or if I see something that makes me think of them and I know they just must have it.

    As to receiving my OWN unexpected gift . . . . a not that close blogging friend (at the time) sent me a little gift package for my birthday this past year. It was completely unexpected (2 weeks late) and warmed my heart. There were silly plastic ninjas and magnets, no big deal, but so thoughtful. Another blogging friend just recently sent me a care package when I blogged about my sink being broken. All on-the-go type beauty products. It was unexpected and wonderful. So, yes, I agree with you. Presents can really be a fabulous thing. Not just for the tangibility of the item, but the thought and intent behind it.

  7. Sorry to hear your #5 is not feeling well. I was about to read your Family Circle article, but the teaser on page 14 was all I needed to look you up here first (accidentalstepmom)! I’m stepmom to 4 and because I’m just as crazy as anyone else, I’m expecting my first own baby in a few weeks. I am loving your style so far and I think I’m going to enjoy a dose of your lightheartedness since I have been taking things way to seriously lately!

    By the way, I also love Christmas presents. I love Jesus too, but to stay on topic, I love shopping for presents and wrapping them and giving them. And I don’t mind receiving them either! Like you, I like seeing my gifts, using them and thinking about the giver and our relationship and their thoughtfulness.

    Looking forward to following. And Thanks!

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