Several years ago I conceived of the best possible Christmas gift for myself and my spouse and possibly for other Naikan-savvy grandparents.
To use the Mad Men cliché, “it is truly a gift that keeps on giving.” It encourages daily doses of thankfulness AND then becomes the perfect present.
Yes, I have heard the grumbling from younger folks, both those to whom I have given birth and those younger friends that I have acquired in the wider world. According to these folks, the grandparents of their children are just hard to purchase gifts for.
In addition, there seems to be some growing cultural imperative that some gifts should come from the actual grandchildren once they’ve passed Pre-K. In the age of frugality, there are just so many possible projects: back scratch coupons, macaroni jewel boxes, framed fridge art, rock ladybugs etc.
O.K., once our fridge art needs are met, we ARE difficult. Truth is, most of the grandparents I know are in the potlatch stage of our lives. We are usually trying to give away items rather than collect them. It is not all generosity; part of it is that life is easier on us if there is less stuff around. There is a joke that defines late middle age as a time when you can remember exactly where you were when Kennedy was shot, but not where you put the car keys this morning.
So here is my plan for the perfect grandparent present. As with many good things, it takes a bit of advance planning. We give a gift this year. We get it back next year.
Here’s how it works. This Christmas I promise my 12 year old tech-savvy neighbor a trip to the mall if he will help me create a calendar from one of the many picture sites on the Internet (Picasa, Shutterfly, Flicker, Snapfish etc.)
I select the photo calendar with the biggest date boxes. I will select calendar photos from the cache of family photos which I have scanned onto CD’s at the local drugstore. Yes, I know CD’s are somewhat primitive, redolent of 8 track tapes, and I have put some pictures on the web, but I usual forget to write the passwords down, so retrieving them requires additional payoff mall trips to my 12 year old tech assistant.
When the calendars are completed, I will mail them out to my grown children or hand them out if we are able to get together in Norman Rockwell fashion. Here are the parents read aloud directions. (At this point, my grandchildren only read single syllable words with the short vowel A):
• Each day list in the date box, something specific that you are thankful for. Be very specific. (Not just food, but a peanut butter sandwich with crisp carrot sticks.)
• Actions and events are important too. (Dad tied my ballet slippers. Cole let me borrow his bubble wand after mine broke. I bounced on the Georgetown track.)
• If competing moments of thankfulness arise, the scribe can write very small or the scribe can pick one. In the interest of justice for all aggrieved parties, the one who did not have his or her item selected, can have prior claim on the calendar space the next evening.
• Older grandchildren can inscribe the family calendar themselves.
• Next December, the calendar is to be mailed to grandparents, or better yet brought to them. They will chuckle over it and cherish it. Plus, it will always be a gift that is exactly the right size and the right color.
Looking at the calendar through my ancient teacher spectacles (I taught junior high for 38 years) I see educational benefit in this gift. While the project seems daunting, it is so Kaizen, so incremental, that it is definitely doable. In an instant access world, it promotes deferred gratification — a useful academic tool. Finally, completing the calendar is really a private family project. If some days—or weeks— are left blank, no hall monitor appears to drag anyone off to the principal’s office.
Victoria Register-Freeman, 64, of Riverside, is a writer and retired teacher turned innkeeper with a passion for gardening. She and her husband, Robert Freeman, have owned and operated the House on Cherry Street, a 100-year-old home that has served 27 years as a bed and breakfast.