Thursday, June 7, 2007

Happy Birthday from HubCap Heaven

You can't blog about the meaning of money without getting into the meaning of gifts. Sociologists, etiquette mavens, psychologists, and advice columnists all weigh in on the significance of gift exchanges, not to mention Hallmark. Gifts symbolize all kinds of things which cannot be measured, so people interpret them endlessly, searching for clues.
I didn't grow up in a family which made a big deal of gifts, just celebrating Hanukkah, birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day, all quite modestly. Mostly the gifts were practical. Lots of pajamas, as I recall. My husband found gift-buying an ordeal, and of course in our culture gifts are hyped to the point that picking the perfect one for your wife can be stressful and intimidating. And the impression one gets from the media is that unless it's Tiffany's, don't bother. Eventually, to my husband's relief, I called a gift-giving truce. Instead we indulge each other on vacation encouraging one another to purchase things we actually like, instead of guessing what the other might like, and rarely does.
However, I didn't think ignoring gift-giving was a good idea with our children, when they came along. At its best, gift-giving can be gratifying, and since children are completely focused on what gifts are coming to them, it's important to focus them on giving gifts as well. The problem is with little kids, the gifts have to be purchased with an adult, usually the non-birthday-celebrating parent. So when it was my birthday, this task fell to my husband, none too excited about it, but willing to do the deed.
When our son was about 7 years old, I came up with the perfect present for myself. My well-driven Nissan Stanza wagon was missing 3 hubcaps; they had mysteriously disappeared, one at a time, over the years, and I never got around to replacing them. I noticed a great store called HubCap Heaven a few miles from our house, and couldn't imagine a store better suited to a 7- year-old boy. So I told them that what I wanted for my birthday was to have them equip my car with proper hubcaps, an errand wholly unappealing to me. Almost anything seemed more important than hubcap replacing.
Off they went, and in an hour or so they returned. My son proudly showed me the 3 shiny new old hubcaps, and believe it or not, I was thrilled!
At that point in my life, having someone else do something for me - the gift of their time and expertise - was wonderful. Being taken care of, especially their accomplishing something I didn't want to deal with myself, felt like a huge luxury. Much better than the usual bath gel, gift certificate, or earrings, for sure! The car is long gone, but the HubCaps memory lingers on.
Let's hear about some of your favorite kooky, off-beat presents - either as giver or recipient. What's the most surprising gift you've received? What was the most crazy gift you've given?

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