I dream of being a minimalist.
I just don’t care that much for possessions and can get worked up about the environmental implications. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a few things that I love or that I am not appreciative of certain gifts loved ones have given me over the years. I love gifts that are useful day-to-day; I do have to live in the world after all. Smelly candles, music, and books make me smile. I’m not completely immune to pretty things, but most things that I appreciate are items that can be used or don’t take up space.
I also understand that many people express their love through gift-giving. I have one dear friend who carries around a “gift idea notebook” for future presents. Several times I’ve been in her company when she has pulled it out to make a note about something she thinks a friend would enjoy. There is no holiday or birthday present worry for this woman. She always has the perfect gift. This is the way she shows her love.
Unlike my generous friend, I am caught in a mild panic at any gift-giving situation. I have NO idea what to give someone that would bring joy, and I worry that any gift I give will not adequately express how I feel about that person. In these situations, I always begin crazy preemptive excuses such as “they don’t need anything anyway” or “why bother”; but In the end, of course, I find a gift and let go of my heartless grinch excuses.
There is, however, one gift exception to this rule in my life.
It is a gift I will be proud to present. I look forward to creating it every year. Today, this gift is locked in my fire-safe box. It is the only thing in there besides our passports. The recipients have no idea they are even getting it. This might be the only time I have talked about it. It is my secret gift… maybe even more a gift to me than to the recipients.
It all started on my eldest daughter’s first birthday. I didn’t want to buy her another toy that I would eventually give away. I wanted a grand gesture to mark her first year. During this time, I also kept thinking about my grandmother, who was an important person in my life. She never got to meet my children, but as I thought of her, I remembered her letters.
For years, we wrote to one another. In college, she would even send me an occasional five dollars. “For a soda,” she would say. I’ve kept these letters (Actually, I have EVERY letter I’ve ever received.). My grandmother’s letters are mundane. They aren’t exciting or full of family history. Instead, they mark what was happening to both of us at specific times in our lives.
When I read them now, they are filled with my old boyfriends, cousins getting married, illnesses that kept her from dancing on the weekends, and school issues I had. The letters give insight into both of our lives. Her letters are a gift to me. They are a way to be close to her still and to remember times in my life that I might have forgotten… as well as some of those awful boyfriends I probably should have!
A letter for Isabelle was the perfect gift.
So, on my daughter’s first birthday, after her party and her first taste of sugar, and after all the guests left, I sat down in the quiet of my house and wrote her a letter. It wasn’t deep. I didn’t ponder our existence or say anything that would change her life someday, but I talked about her journey to us. I wrote about the things she learned to do in that first year and how I felt at that very moment.
Then, I sealed the envelope:
For Adult Isabelle
First birthday, 2004
I continue to write birthday letters every year, making it a gift tradition. When my second and third child were born, I added their letters to my ritual. Like my grandmother’s letters, I write about the mundane things. The letters include various situations that happened throughout the year: moves, vacations, stories. I always keep the letters simple so that I won’t agonize over what to write. I don’t want it to feel like a chore. If I felt like they had to be deep or important in some way, I would never get around to writing a single word. It would be too much pressure. As parents, we have enough of that already.
Now, I have a nice stack for each of them, tied with a colorful ribbon. They don’t know they exist, and I can’t wait to give them some day. I know it won’t be on their 18th birthdays. That doesn’t feel right for some reason. I think they will still be too young to appreciate them; I know I would have been at that age.
Truthfully, they may not care about the letters when they finally receive them, or maybe they will have to be parents before they can understand their relevance, but I don’t care. I love writing to my children and knowing I have a secret gift waiting for them.