Creating Gifts That Matter Most

Whenever I take pictures of my kids, I always focus on my son the most. Due to his Autism, he’s the hardest to get smiling or looking at the camera at the precise moment. I will always stand him next to Olivia and begin calling for his attention. Sometimes I’ll wave his iPad like a flag. Sometimes I’ll sing a song he likes. Sometimes he just does it when I ask. It’s really up in the air on which reaction I’ll get.

The one reaction I can be sure of is that Olivia will act like a fool.  Convinced that I’m not paying attention to her, she’ll puff out her cheeks or roll her eyes back in her head like The Undertaker. I always spot it after the fact when looking through my camera roll, thus validating her belief that I’m not even looking in her direction. I’ll inevitably sigh in frustration as she giggles her heart out.

It happened again a few weeks ago. They were in the living room when I walked Lucas over and draped his arms around her shoulders.  I pulled back and began snapping pictures. My ridiculous daughter stood tall and saluted like she was preparing for a naval battle.  It actually was kind of funny so I ignored it and continued clicking away with my phone.

saluteAfterwards, I was thumbing through the pictures while she stood next to me snickering under her breath. Rather than play along, I opted to blow up her spot in the most direct way possible.

You know I saw you acting like a little dipstick.

She burst into laughter and we both looked at her patriotic pictures. One, in particular, caught my eye.

This one here is the best. It looks like you’re a war hero saving Lucas.  I should Photoshop you two in front of the United States flag, use that painting app on my phone, and print it on a canvas. 

The moment I said it, her eyes lit up.

Daddy! Yes! Do that!

I wasn’t expecting such an excited response.  We have a few of those canvas paintings around the house so I was already aware of the price tag it commanded. I brought her crashing back to reality in an instant.

Those things are like $40. I’m sure there are other presents you’d rather have for the holidays.

Envisioning all the LOL Surprise dolls she could get for that loot, Olivia agreed and we both accepted that our ridiculous idea would never see the light of day.

Then, a few days later, validating my belief that our phones are bugging us and feeding info to evil corporations, I received an email with a deep discount for a canvas painting. Thank you, Big Brother. Your spy network delivered me to exactly what I was looking for.

Very rarely are you handed such an obvious lay-up of a gift. Her reaction to the idea told me that she would definitely love this present, if I could make it happen. Sure, it’s not a big corporate money-grab gift or even something that remotely makes sense.  It’s silly and pointless… and perfect.

In 2003, my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, printed out all the wrestling columns I had written to that point and arranged them in a padded binder. Despite the fact that I have them all on both my personal computer and the internet, I have valued that book since the day I got it. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I had ever received.

What else did I get that year? I have no idea. Given the time period, I’m guessing CDs from the Black Eyed Peas, Clay Aiken, and America Online. The point is that I have no idea. None of them, no matter how expensive or coveted by my neighbors, measured up to it. The same can be said for many gifts that followed in the years since.

I knew when I sat down to order her canvas painting that it would be a huge hit unlike other more expensive presents from celebrations gone by. The Hatchimal we nearly killed ourselves to get last year has been hibernating since January. The Furby with the scary eyes has been tucked away with him. Litters of Lalaloopsys, Shopkins, and other assorted shiny things have fallen to the wayside and never came close to a reaction like this:


Now I’m not saying to forgo the top shelf items that they beg you for during the commercial breaks of Teen Titans Go. I’m saying to make room for the ones that will last. Create a memory that doesn’t fit into social norms or expected items. For those you’re closest to, deliver something that shows your appreciation for their humor, dreams, or passion. Long after other toys, clothes, and jewelry fade into flea market fodder, they’ll still be the presents that remain in places of prominence.

After Olivia opened the painting, I had her and Lucas stand next to each other again in a similar pose while holding it to the camera.  After, I looked at the picture and remarked.

I should take the picture of you two holding the painting and turn THAT into a painting.

Again, her eyes widened.

Daddy! That would be awesome!

Then I could do it again every year with the previous year’s painting.

I could hang them all up! By the time I’m 50, I’ll have like a million paintings!

Actually, you’d have 41 but it would still be nuts.

We all laughed at the insane thought of a canvas painting depicting her saluting next to her brother, while holding the previous year’s painting of her saluting and standing next to her brother. She would love it, but let’s be honest, that would be absolutely ridiculous.

And that’s why I’m totally going to do it.