By: Sr. Clare Hunter
Only a king was lucky enough to get the one pound bag of M&Ms! At least as kids that is what we thought when we gifted my dad with one three times a year: Christmas, Father’s Day and his birthday. As far as we knew, those were the only days he got his favorite candy. For us, it was not merely the size of the bag, mind blowing as that was, but that on a tight budget, mom would splurge and let us get them for him, an inconceivably extravagant treat that we truly believed meant the world to him. We could hardly contain the excitement as we handed him the wrapped bag and never lost the amusement of watching him feel the gift and start guessing what might be inside – “socks? A new tie? A hammer?” There was always the little brother who started to panic and broke down and yelled “no, it’s M&Ms!!!!” Followed by the ritual shove and “now you blew it!” stare from one of the older siblings. He opened them, and never let us down with his joy and surprise, “How did you know this is what I wanted?” Then he did the unthinkable….he opened the bag, and all six of us got a handful. Not only had we made him happy and given him the only thing he ever wanted, but he shared them with us! We were the luckiest kids in the whole world!
My mother made this happen. She is one of the most talented gift givers I’ve ever come across. I truly believe she has a special charism, a gift from God, to teach others the significance of being able to gift and receive. How much did a one pound bag of M&Ms cost back then? It could not have been more than $5. It was never about the M&Ms, the thing or the money. For my mother, it is about the whole process. She taught us to think about the person, to notice that our father liked M&Ms. Can you imagine taking six little kids to the store to pick out a bag of M&Ms? But it was important for us to learn how to shop for someone. Although we could never wrap gifts like my mother (extraordinary talent!), she taught us that wrapping and presentation is part of the gift. Most important, though, is the moment of presenting the gift: how you hand it to them, eye contact, patience while watching it be opened, and joy in their joy. We may have started with M&Ms, but gift giving and receiving in our family has taught us invaluable life lessons, and not just with tangible things. And my father, while playful, certainly witnessed for us the need to be an active receiver, to affirm us in being thoughtful and generous, and then teaching us to be generous in what was received. It was also affirming to be missioned by dad to spy on our mother, so that we could tell him what she might like for Christmas. He never did fall for the “she really likes Lucky Charms.”
Please trust that I am not trying to promote materialism, nor suggest that gifts are the only way to show love. But I do think there is value in children getting gifts for parents, even watching their parents give gifts to each other, as all participating in the vulnerable and even humbling experience of giving and receiving. More and more, I am so appreciative of my mother’s lessons in the “gift-giving process” and the importance of learning how to graciously gift and receive and experience real joy in watching another receive and open a gift, which we might all need to examine and work on this Christmas. And lastly, part of the joy in giving my father M&Ms was that we really believed that was the only time he had them. Maybe parents might even think of holding back, or denying themselves a simple treat, knowing that their children could feel they are the ones who can provide a little something to the people who provide everything for them.