Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Holiday Gift Your Kids Will Still Have in 20 Years

Photo Credit - Flickr Common

I was inspired the other morning watching my husband replacing a part to fix our electronic garage door opener. Just a few years ago anything that broke around our house would have prompted an immediate call to a company to send someone out to replace it.

The thought of fixing it would have been secondary to replacing it. The thought of my husband actually fixing it himself, well, that just makes me smile. In defense of his manliness; he could fix it, but he never would have thought to go that route.

Upon the garage door opening and closing properly again, he was actually excited and proud to show me his handiwork proclaiming – “I did it”.

It secretly reminds me of when I occasionally babysit my friend’s 2 and 3 year old boys. They are thrilled when they put their shoes on by themselves or navigate bringing a glass of ice tea to me without spilling a drop on the floor.

Similar to my reaction to the boys, I was all smiles to witness my husband’s achievement confirming his pride in accomplishment. I’m not making fun of him. I’m simply noticing more these days how everyone likes to feel and share success even in little things no matter their age or background.

It’s the everyday pleasures that count again.

Just a few years ago, the hectic work schedule of our two CEO family had us eating out five nights a week on a regular basis. Our 60 hour or more weekly work schedules have slowed down as the economy has slowed down.

We eat out 2-4 times per month now. I am cooking meals at home the rest of the time.

This has been a big change, and yet it has been a blessing to me as it turns out. I have rediscovered how much fun I have cooking and that I love to cook again.

I am just as proud of being a good cook as I am of being a good executive. I put the same amount of attention to detail in both endeavors and equally enjoy the “great job” accolade for either.

I grew up in a family with both parents being a great cook. My parents would never have thought to go out to eat dinner because they were too busy at work to cook at home.

They enjoyed cooking and saw it as pleasurable family time. My Italian dad was a home cook who made bread and pasta from scratch by hand weekly.

Rediscovering the fun in cooking has me re-remembering the smells and laughter I had learning to make lasagna and meatballs back then with one of my best teachers in life – my dad. My Swedish mom was a good cook too. Her “Black Magic Chocolate Cake” (strong coffee and sour milk believe it or not), chicken and dumplings, and deviled eggs is still the most requested birthday meal by me and my sisters.

I still chuckle to myself with the memory of my dad teasing my mom when she made her “little” Swedish meatballs dinner saying “You call that a meatball?”

I remember my mom and dad dancing around the kitchen cooking together when I hear a Frank Sinatra song. I remember chopping garlic cloves, for what seemed like forever, every time I see the glass jar of chopped garlic in the grocery store.

They are all memories of the simple pleasures in life I am glad I experienced. Everyday events may get overlooked in more hectic or prosperous times. They can bring have more meaning, and be more noticed, in times of counting blessings.

As we approach the holidays, I hope people, especially parents, will appreciate that it can be the gift of time and even inexpensive, thoughtful gifts that will bring great pleasure to their family and friends. I hope parents do not feel guilty if they cannot buy their children the latest, greatest technology gadget.

I hope everyone realizes the gifts of time and thoughtfulness are what create the lasting memories their kids will still have in 20 years. What you are creating today may be memories to be remembered years from now providing comfort perhaps when your child is feeling sad or facing a challenging time in their adult life.

As an example, your children will remember the fun in the kitchen holiday cooking with you long after this year’s hottest gadget has become obsolete to them.

Getting together with family and friends means more than you realize now, and this will create a lasting memory for all of you. It is usually thoughtfulness and laughter that people remember and look back on with fondness in life.

Some of you reading this might be saying to yourself right about now – “Yeah right, my kids would be embarrassed by any of this.” I know firsthand that an embarrassing family memory can become a treasured one.

As I mentioned, my dad made pasta from scratch by hand when I was growing up. I can remember coming home from school with a friend and seeing the pasta strips draped across dish towels on our dining room chairs, drying in the air, with Luciano Pavarotti playing in the background.

I was always embarrassed for my friends to see this, for it seemed so old fashioned and backwards to me at the time.

I made pasta from scratch by hand a few months ago and put Andre Bocelli on the stereo. I sensed my dad’s spirit in the dining room with me as I draped the pasta over our dining room chairs to dry.

It was the warmest and most comforting feeling I have had in a long time. The point being, you never know what your children will remember fondly later in life. If they are embarrassed by your effort now, so what, it’s still worth it.

My two favorite gifts of all time were both inexpensive. They are my favorite gifts because one was so intimately given from the heart, and the other was so reflective of knowing me on an every day level.

My youngest sister, like my dad was, is a gifted poet and writer. Many years ago for Christmas, when she had no money to buy gifts, she wrote me a poem titled “The Face in the Mirror”. She placed it in a mirror frame and wrapped it in a brown grocery bag she hand-decorated with angel drawings.

It is one of my treasures to this day. Half way through reading her poem for the first time that Christmas morning, I realized it was about her looking in the mirror and seeing the face of our dad looking back at her.

When I read her poem today years later, I still feel inside how she perfectly captured the dichotomy of our dad’s deep love and yet almost impossible-to-meet expectation for all of his children. The average person reading this poem may not realize it was about her and our dad.

It is very personal and intimate with that knowing between the two of us. This handmade gift had more impact in my life than any piece of expensive jewelry ever has.

On a lighter note, my second favorite gift was a $19.99 Mr. CoffeeTM Ice-Tea Maker my husband bought me the first year we were married. He thought it was the perfect gift for me, because it made my daily ice tea habit more convenient.

I love that thing, and yes, I still use it almost every day of the week. He bought me other more expensive gifts too that holiday, but you know what - I cannot recall what they were today. Yet, when I used that ice-tea maker this afternoon, I smiled and remembered the day he gave it to me.

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