The first Christmas I was married to Jim, we were staying with his mom, not yet settled into our rental apartment after moving to Atlanta two days after our wedding. It was my first Christmas ever, since I am Jewish, and I was like a five-year-old kid, waking up early in the morning, excited to see what packages might await me under the tree. I have no recollection of what my mother-in-law or Jim purchased for me that year, but I do recall the fun of opening many beautifully wrapped boxes with items just for me. Twenty-five years later, I still enjoy Christmas morning when we gather with coffee and open gifts with our kids and whatever extended family is with us, but boy do I hate the run up to that morning. Twenty-five years into holiday shopping, I think I have enough experience to pronounce it the pits.
Maybe it’s unfair to lay these feelings about gift shopping on Christmas because I find myself dreading gift shopping for birthdays and anniversaries too. In a world where almost everyone I gift to lives in abundance, there is no clear need to fulfill, and so I must try to put myself into their lives and figure out what they might want or enjoy. On top of that, at least for Christmas, the family tradition has been multiple gifts for each person, so I am not just trying to think of one good idea, but one good big idea and then a few more smaller ones on top. For my college-aged kids and my law school-aged niece, Jim and I usually lame out and Venmo or help them upgrade an Apple device, but for everyone else, it’s not that easy. I actually dread the amount of time and energy involved, even though when the birthday or Christmas morning arrives, I feel almost as much joy in giving the gift as does the one who receives it when I have been clever enough to surprise or delight.
I will admit as well that, until this year, it’s also felt a bit unfair that I am the one responsible for Christmas shopping in our marriage. After all, Jim is the one who celebrates Christmas officially, yet I am the one tracking who we should gift to on a spreadsheet with columns for ideas and status as to whether the item has been purchased or ordered. Given he’s now retired, I let him know I expected help this year. While it was a little more fun having someone to brainstorm with, I am still the one doing the real legwork beyond idea generation. I guess at least he now realizes that it takes a lot of time and energy to do holiday gifting well.
All of this leads to 2021’s season. Ten of us will assemble in Colorado – Us four, Jim’s mom, sister, brother-in-law and niece, plus my parents. The house technically sleeps twelve: with all bedrooms in use, it will be a crowd. Like everyone everywhere, we are all thrilled that we will be together for the first time in two years. Maybe because we are also all so aware of how many people are struggling, my mother-in-law and Jim’s sister (rationally and finally) decided to limit us to one reasonable gift per person this year. Jim and I had already figured out what to give his mom while window shopping on fall trips, and our kids had also already chosen to combine holidays and birthday in order to upgrade Apple devices. Our niece was fairly easy too – she is a budget-constrained law student. After a lot of Googling to look at Best Tech Gifts, Best Dad Gifts, Best Whatever-You-Can-Think-Of Gifts, we arrived at good ideas for the rest, except one: my mother.
You wouldn’t think my mom would be the toughest person to decipher gift-wise – she loves to read and golf; she attends lectures and concerts; she’s also tech-y enough to like cool gadgets and apps for her iPhone and iPad. The issue is that my mom doesn’t need another golf watch, outfit or club; she owns a Kindle and buys or borrows from the library whatever she wants to read; she’s already subscribed to lecture and concert series, and she has an iPhone and an iPad which, even if she needed upgrades, felt a little outside the one-gift/reasonable spirit anyhow. Jim and I were baffled.
Until my new Apple watch arrived.
About two weeks ago, I mentioned to my mom that I had ordered a new Apple watch. The glass on my old one was cracked and replacing it would have cost half the price of the new one. Since the watch was also several generations old, it made more sense to upgrade than fix. I had already enrolled in Apple’s recycling program, even though the watch was worthless for credit, and I planned to send it back for safe disposal. My mom had other ideas.
My parents had never been interested in an Apple watch. My mom swore by her golf watch, wore cute, colorful sporty watches when not golfing and owns a beautiful Italian watch my dad gave her years ago for dressier occasions. What use was an Apple watch they both would say, even when I explained I never missed a text or call and loved the fitness tracking. We don’t need it was their sentiment, and especially my dad would profess he felt too connected already. He couldn’t fathom why he would add another distraction device to his arsenal. Jim and I argued to them both that they ought to wear Apple watches just for the fall detection application, but the advice seemed to land on deaf ears.
Maybe it was because it would be free or maybe it was because her best friend had just started wearing an Apple watch, but regardless, when I told my mom I was buying a new watch, she asked if she could have the chipped one. I explained the whole reason I bought the new watch was because the current one wasn’t wearable long-term, so she revised her request and asked to use it on a test basis to see if she might want one after all. Thrilled because of the fall detection, I acquiesced and as soon as my new one arrived, I turned it over. She let me know a day later that she had fixed the crack; when I saw her next, she had a piece of scotch tape over it and told me it was fine now.
Two days later, my mom and I had coffee and at least half of our time together was spent discussing her watch. My mom professed she didn’t know how she had gone so long without one. She wanted to understand details about how to respond to texts on it, how to track her steps and, most exciting for me, how to set up the fall detection application. And she still seemed to think a scotch-taped version was fine. I did not.
The problem with buying someone an Apple watch (or any Apple device) as a gift is that you can’t make it a surprise. Given the expense of the unreturnable device and the personal, customizing choices involved, especially for a watch, you really must spoil the surprise and specify it with your giftee. As you have guessed, Jim and I had figured out what to give my mom for the holidays, but the joy in giving would have to come before it arrived.
When I told my mom we wanted to give her an Apple watch for the holidays, she smiled a wide grin. As excited as a kid in a candy store, she started researching options immediately. But when we finally sat down together and looked at colors, bands and so on, she seemed overwhelmed. Eventually, she looked at me and said: I think I just want what you have. Now, I had upgraded to a pricier finish and hadn’t really planned on that for her (reasonable standard again), but she looked so thrilled by what was on my wrist that I agreed wholeheartedly, telling her we would count it for her birthday as well. Huge grin again. My heart filled: How much fun it is to give someone a gift they really want and would not buy for themselves.
Ironically, my dad has now started asking questions about the Apple watch. He even went to a store to try one on. I am not sure if he is beginning to see value in the way the watch notifies you about texts or calls, or if he is thinking maybe he too ought to wear a device that senses a fall, but he seems to be seriously considering it. I don’t know what he will decide, but I do wonder if his newfound curiosity may just be that he feels left out of the fun that my mom and I had giving and receiving a perfect gift.