This summer my dad's family had a big reunion. My dad had put together an activity that involved asking questions (and collecting answers) from his parents and all his siblings, and then putting the unlabeled answers on a page and everyone trying to guess who had given which answer.
One of the questions was "What was the best gift you ever received from a family member?" Answers were varied of course, but of 9 responses, only two or three were purchased items. All the others were handmade or were actions instead of things, including "the letter I got from the kids on fathers day," "green needle-point diaper bag," "visits to my home," and "my better half." Great gifts are just not about the money.
They never have been.
When one of my brothers was about 6 or 7 he was given a little plastic marble run. It had about 20 pieces of track and a few connectors and a half dozen marbles. I'm sure it was not terribly expensive, but he enjoyed it. As the years passed, of course, he outgrew it. It sat on his shelf collecting dust until one year he decided to give it to our younger brother--who was then 6 or 7 himself. The younger brother also got several years of enjoyment out of it before it ended up on a back shelf. Two years ago my oldest son (age 7!) had expressed interest in a marble run, but we had been unable to find one we could afford. I happened to mention it to my then-teenage brother, and he said "I have one, it's getting old, but I would love to give it to him if you think he would like it..." So my brother passed the marble run along to my son, and yet another little boy found hours of amusement in this simple toy. Now Wolf is more interested in other things, and while he has not formally given the marble run to Bear, it is Bear who now plays with it almost daily. Some of the pieces are cracking, but the marbles run down the tracks as well as they ever did (and as loudly as they ever did too). ☺
Often we get caught up with the notion that a gift must be something purchased, something new, something fancy or hot-off-the-presses. The truth is that the best gifts are often things that are tried and true and yes, often used. When Wolf turned 7 we had gone to the trouble to get a somewhat expensive but (we thought) very exciting birthday gift for him. He was thrilled with it...until two minutes later when he opened something that Hubby had decided to wrap up at the last minute: a big baggie full of his 20-year-old plastic army men. Guess which toy has seen the most playtime?!
I remember one year when I was in my early teens and my little brother was 2 or 3. He was just learning about giving, and in the excitement of the holiday, as we watched the pile of gifts under the tree grow, he started asking for help wrapping up this or that to give to other family members. By the time Christmas Day rolled around he had a virtually empty toy box because he had wrapped almost every one of his toys (certainly all his favorites) to give to all of us. Of course none of us particularly wanted little teddy bears or trucks, but when we tried to sneak them back into his toy box he would get them out and bring them back to us "I gave this to you!" he'd announce. He missed his toys, but he really wanted to give to the people he loved. This is the kind of attitude that we hope to cultivate with our children. (Luckily for this little brother, his birthday was less than a month after Christmas, and we were able to wrap up all his toys and give them all back to him. He was very happy to have his favorite things back. ☺)
Since we've established our new Christmas gifting plan, I have been talking with the boys about what they want to give to the other family members (daddy will help them figure out things for me, but I tend to head up the gifts for everyone else--writing the wish lists and coordinating with grandmas--so I'm helping them with most gifts). I was talking with Bear one night, asking him what kinds of things he liked to play with, and he mentioned that he really liked "the blue lego motorcycle" (it's Wolf's, but Bear plays with it a lot). From the other side of the room I heard "ooooooo!" from Wolf...later, when I was talking with Wolf, he said "I think I will give Bear that blue motorcycle, and a guy to go on it."
I asked Wolf if he'd prefer to buy something for Bear (I'm subsidizing, so he certainly could). He said he'd rather give the blue motorcycle. That blue motorcycle is missing one of the handlebars, and it's nothing like new. In fact, it was my blue motorcycle loooong ago (I passed my bucket of legos along to Wolf a couple of years ago). The mainstream world would probably look upon that blue motorcycle as a poor gift indeed...but I think that Bear is going to love it.
What is the greatest gift I ever got? I'm not sure, but I don't think it was something off my wish list. Of course I appreciate getting things I need or want, but it's usually the things that weren't on my list that are the most touching. It might be the co-sleeper that Hubby built for me (since we couldn't afford to buy one and couldn't fit the crib beside the bed in our small bedroom). It might be the framed, hand-written note from my then-teenage sister "sisters by nature ~ friends by choice." Perhaps the plug-in l.e.d. nightlight of praying hands that my brother gave to me in college, and which now lights my children's bedroom, or my favorite candy bar (from that same brother) when we were both too little to afford anything bigger. Maybe it's the phrase my husband had engraved on the inside of my wedding ring (which was free at the store where we bought the rings). Maybe it's my mother's ring, which admittedly did cost some money, but has far more value in sentiment than in dollars. I still think the greatest gift I've ever given was the group gift my siblings gave to my parents two years ago. It also involved money, but was more about sentiment than funds.
I'm not saying that great gifts cannot be purchased items, just that the greatness of a gift is not correlated to its cost.
What are some great gifts you have gotten? Or given?