We like the number 13 in our house. Ben’s birthday is March 13, and Joshua’s is today, May 13. Except for the year I turned 40, when Joshua went all out and flew people in to the city to celebrate, we tend to do very low key things on birthdays. (Mine and Joshua’s, not necessarily the kids.) The kids make cards and we give gifts, and that’s about it. When it comes to Joshua, the gift part was always a challenge. This is mostly because when Joshua wants something, he goes and gets it. A few years ago I started telling him that if he thinks of something he wants and it is anytime from Thanksgiving to about December 23rd, DO NOT go buy it. Tell me so that I can have someone else get it for him for Christmas/Hannukah. The same holds true for the weeks leading up to his birthday.
And then there is the type of gift he likes. In my family, the purely practical does not always play a large role in our gift giving. We like to buy things we know the person will love, but which they will not buy for themselves, usually because of cost. (Like the year we got my Dad an expensive radio with built in short wave and 24 hour weather. He still says it’s one of his best presents ever.) But the things Joshua would not normally buy for himself are not easily had; for instance tickets to see Manchester United play at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester England. Even if I could get my hands on some tickets, there is also the flight, the hotel, and planning it far enough in advance so that he could actually go. (I do plan to surprise him with just such a trip one year, for the record. So if anyone knows a good way to secure tickets for, say, the 2013 season, please let me know!)
It only took me 16 years to figure out that, except for getting to see ManU play at home, the best present for Joshua is a big box of all the things he uses all the time, preferably in large quantities. We did this for him last year and he couldn’t stop talking about what a great present it was – the best ever. It consisted of tons of socks, dental floss, deodorant, t-shirts, etc. He loved it. I don’t know why I never thought of it before, because he is nothing if not practical. He enjoys things he will use every day.
So this year, guess what? We paid attention and did it again, adding a new Gap shirt and a framed photo of me and the kids for good measure. And he loved it. Again.
There is a lesson in all of this somewhere. If we are smart and observant and compassionate, we will stop trying to make everyone around us like the things we like. Instead, we will pay attention to their likes, dislikes and general disposition so that we can act accordingly. The same goes, by the way, for learning. Maybe the fact that we began life learning last year helped me figure this out. 16 years of marriage couldn’t do it, but several months of life learning did.