(NOTE: My usual end-of-the-year quiz has been postponed until a future year when something amusing happens.)
It used to be easy shopping for the kids at Christmas. Nate wanted anything labeled “Red Sox.” Elena simply could not live or breathe without small plastic horses in 50 shades of pink or blue. Socks or a sweater might be slipped into the mix, opened with a sigh and worn until worn out, but our children's Christmases were mostly fun and frolic, with pets all around. Malls were crowded and lines long, but we knew exactly what to get them. Christmas morning never seemed to come and, once arrived, lasted into the afternoon. Our sense of Giving was a given.
But now the kids are grown and their wish lists are as ill-defined as the desires of the American electorate. What’s worse, all our preaching about anti-consumerism has come back to haunt us. Ask our kids this year what they want for Christmas and they just shrug and go back online.
So what to get for the 24-year-old Brooklynite who has little but wants little more? What to buy the college senior convinced that consumerism is speeding the planet toward a scorching apocalypse? When their things that need replacing cost in the mid-triple digits, when nothing that goes in their heads exists in any form but digits, when they haven’t outgrown any sweaters or Legos since the early years of Bush II, what’s a parent to do?
In the absence of wish lists, I am turning to needs lists. As cool young adults, they might not want anything, but that doesn't mean they don't need anything. And so I have a little list of gifts that, while perhaps not found in malls, are things we can all use these days.
My first gift is hope. Hope, whether couched in a Red Sox item or the next Harry Potter book, used to be easy to find at Christmas. This year, however, it has been the season's scarcest gift. Still, I'm determined to keep searching. I believe I'll package hope in stories, dating to my Cold War childhood, of how to survive an imminent apocalypse, how to go on when, like Beckett, you can't go on, how to turn away from the madness and find a country you can believe in.
Right, Dad. Old stories ought to have the whole family lining up for more Merlot. Still, not every gift keeps giving, and hope, however fleeting, deserves its place at the table. Especially when hope sets that table for the next gift — time.
Time was when time was abundant, stretching forever before us, days upon weeks upon years. Now, in a world where 24/7 is a cliché, we dashers and dancers race through each day as if time were another endangered species. Talk of times to come darkens the brightest room and time itself is suspect, as if the procession of days and months can only end in tears.
But time, my dear children, is still yours, much more yours than mine. I can count my remaining decades on one hand, but you are just beginning your march along time's lovely but treacherous coastline. Anything I can do to open the gift of time — make you groan at baby pictures, show you a sunrise, get you to spend quiet, silent moments offline, I will do this Christmas. And time, once opened, will lead to my final gift.
On those early Christmas mornings, it might seem that love was not under the tree. The pile of packages morphing into piles of wrapping paper left little room for more than hugs and "Thanks!" And kids off to play. When all giving was gift-wrapped, it was easy to overlook the love behind it.
But now, with so few gifts under the tree, there will be time, seasoned with hope for more time still, to unwrap our love for each other. To talk about it even, appreciating an evening, with Merlot of course, and the four of us around a table and a tree. And then, bearing time and hope and love, it'll be back to Brooklyn, back to school, on into another year when something amusing might happen.
Bruce Watson can be reached at email@example.com.