Holding on to Wonder and Surprise

Debbie - Westford, Massachusetts
Entered on January 30, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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My five-year-old son bounded off the bus one day.

“It’s a birthday party!” He announced, clutching an envelope.

I scanned the invitation. It named a toy store where the birthday child had registered for gifts. I’d heard of this before, but as I went about my business that afternoon, I couldn’t shake the concept from my mind. Was that Mom just being considerate, trying to save shopping time for her guests? Or was it one more step away from the innocent fun of gift giving?

Leading up to the party, I debated far too long. I wanted my son to experience the fun of choosing a gift for his friend. Yet he knew about the registry; I worried he’d feel badly if his gift didn’t come from the ‘right’ store.

In the end, we bought from the registry, but I wasn’t proud of my decision.

Fast forward, and my daughter is 10. Now we are label conscious; we shop at stores with cryptic names and dark entryways.

One day I asked what her friends received for Christmas.

“I didn’t ask,” she told me.

“Why?” I asked.

She paused, leaning over the Bedazzler I had bought her for Christmas.

“They like gift cards,” she replied.

I thought about the Bedazzler, as well as the other items I bought the kids. Nothing was pre-selected. My daughter hadn’t even known what a Bedazzler was, but she hasn’t stopped Bedazzling since.

I believe that’s what gift giving is all about; blind faith that the people you love will come up with something they think will delight you.

At a soccer game one day, my friend Kate’s mother-in-law asked what her three young children wanted for Christmas. I expected Kate to say “oh, anything!”

Instead, Kate named some stores and suggested gift cards.

I imagined this older woman searching the mall for these stores. I recalled when I was a child and my grandmother would bring me a gift. Her gifts ranged from something I’d like – a book, or some tasty chocolates – to something I didn’t, like bath oils or an itchy sweater. Either way, I accepted it graciously, knowing if I didn’t, I’d be sternly reminded how nice it was of Gram to bring me something.

Will today’s children, selecting their own gifts through toy registries or gift cards, miss out on the joy of surprises? Will they learn how to graciously accept the odd gift? And what about the laughter brought on by a gag gift, will it fade into a memory of yesterday?

Does it all begin when a five year old creates a toy registry?