vital signs

“I just wish they’d give me a cow and be done with it.”

I love this line from my friend Lisa* for so many, many reasons.  It summarizes all of the complexities of the gift-giving season in 13 words.  All of the “I’d love to receive a gift knowing it is a sign of your love for me, but I think you give me gifts sometimes because we are related and you don’t feel like you have a choice.  Either way, I want to honor your intention to give it.  Really, though, every year you give me something I don’t actually like.  Or can’t actually use.  But give it you do, so I’ll wear it or hang it even though it makes me cringe.  Then I’ll wonder how long it has to be on display before I can give it away.  And, honestly, I don’t really need anything.  So I’d much rather you give the money to an organization to help others.  But if I tell you that, you might get offended and assume it is because I don’t like the taste you have in gifts.  Which is true.  But it’s more true (or maybe equally true) that I’d like the abundance to be shared with those who have a higher need.  So please, don’t worry that it seems generic or impersonal, I really don’t mind (really really).  Just buy a damn cow.”

It doesn’t always feel like the most wonderful time of the year, does it?

If we were lucky (and I was) December as a child was magical.  Filled with anticipation, exhilaration, and, well, sugar.  It didn’t focus on budgets and shoe sizes and practical realities that go bump in the night.  So, how can we, as more giver-than-receiver adults, go back to the charms of childhood?

Swap verbs for nouns.


Let me explain.  Last year in our graduate studies, we read Parenting Well in a Media Age.  (full disclosure, the author, Gloria DeGaetano, is the founder / director of the program).  In it, DeGaetano examines five essential needs that must be met in order for children (and adults) to thrive.  As she describes them – The Vital Five.  It is impossible to give a nuanced report of each one in depth here, so, with my apologies, I am going to do a hack job.  I’m boiling 245 pages of careful research and reflection down to five verbs.

Connect.  Be.  Make.  Create.  Contribute.

Huh.  Five verbs for better living.  I looked at the kids’ activities.  I looked at mine.  We examined how we spent time as a family.  A little tweak here, a letting go there, an added something elsewhere.  Higher quality of life, great balance.

Which made me wonder.  Can I apply the five verbs in other places?   I tried an experiment.  What if I used these five verbs as the framework for the gifts we gave?  Any gift.  For any person.  All season long.  And while it seems like it would make it more complex, it actually made it much easier.  An Occam’s razor for giving.

Since we are entering Occam2.0 this year, I thought I’d share the word.  Well, words.  Especially after two other parents mentioned their struggle with gifting.  So, here it is.  The questions are placeholders- you can phrase them anyway you please- and resay them for any situation.

Connect.  Does this give us time to spend together?

Be.  Does this provide the opportunity for quiet solitude?

Make.  Does this offer a chance to explore the world in a new way?

Create.  Does it encourage self-expression?

Contribute.  Is it an invitation to become a part of the community?

So make your list, check it twice.  Does it match one (or more) of these verbs?  Then Bazinga!  [Now this doesn’t guarantee that the toboggan you bought will be the right color (puce is never a good choice, that’s why it’s on sale)].  The beauty is in the simplicity.  There are no rigid rules, just a loose frame that works no matter the occasion, recipient, budget, sense of humor or sense of style.

Hmmm…Maybe, just maybe, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

(And if you are wondering whether Lisa gets the cow of her dreams?  Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.)

*Reader, meet long-distance Lisa (not to be confused with local Lisa).  Lisa, readers.  Lisa is from Wisconsin.  Doesn’t that make the cow line even better?

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