When my friend Sarai was a kid back in the early 1990’s, she made her mom a special present for Christmas -- a coupon book. There was a coupon for a back rub, another one promising to take the dog on a walk, and one offering breakfast in bed. Each coupon was artfully drawn on lined draft paper and then carefully cut out.
Last fall, Sarai helped her mom clean out the house that her family had lived in for over thirty years and she found the coupons in a box of old photos and report cards. She told me that of all the memorabilia she found, this was the thing that pulled at her heartstrings the hardest.
She wondered aloud what made this little coupon book so special for her mom that she had saved it all these years, to which her mom answered that it had been the promise of special time spent together.
Sarai was so touched by the finding of this little coupon book of moments to be shared, that she made a decision. That December, instead of scrambling to buy gifts for her loved ones, she would offer her family experiences instead.
My friend shared her experiences with me over coffee that next Spring and I was inspired. She emailed me a list of some of the things she had gifted her family, many of which I then did in over the summer months to come with my own family. Each one involved more time than money, and each brought with it a special kind of joy, so with the holiday's fast approaching, I thought I’d share my favorite three with you.
- A “Tiny, Perfect Things” Hike
Go to your library’s website and reserve “Tiny, Perfect Things” by M.H. Clark. (And I mean now, right now). I am obsessed with this story about a little girl and her grandfather who spend the afternoon noticing all of the small, fascinating things in their neighborhood. I did this “gift of special time” with my five-year-old, and on our hike around the neighborhood, we took pictures of all of the interesting things we were seeing: a spider web, a patch of yellow fungus under a log, a stack of interesting rocks by a creek. Afterward, we shared our pictures on Instagram with family members across the country and had a good laugh when the photo we took of fungus (of all things) turned out to be everybody’s favorite.
- The Gift of Giving (casseroles)
Inspired by Sarai and an item on her list she simply called “the gift of giving”, we decided to make ham and cheese breakfast casseroles together as a family for a local homeless shelter. My 11-year-old was in charge -- he researched the recipe and was the boss in the kitchen. I was proud of how seriously he took the task and I know he felt proud when we dropped the casseroles off and the shelter’s program manager thanked him.
- PeaceMakers Family Date
Sometimes I feel like we are so busy that we have little time to simply sit down and talk to one another. On this night, after all the running around and the practices and the homework was done, we made a point to sit down at the kitchen table together and to play with our PeaceMakers cards. I was surprised when getting the kids to comply with my plans for the night took zero effort to pull off, though, full disclosure, there was hot chocolate involved.
We shuffled the cards and talked about our favorites. Then we each pulled a card and took turns telling stories about what the card made us think of. I pulled the card, “I ask for what I want and need” and thought how me planning the night was actually me asking for what I was wanting and needing: namely, special time with my family.
In the almost year that has passed since Sarai shared her “coupon book” story with me, her decision to gift experiences to her family has inspired me to create many little moments of connection with my family as well. So as the holiday's fast approach, I thought I would share Sarai's story with you as well.
I just want to make it clear that I am not anti-materialist, but pro connection. For many people, myself included, the act of intentionally buying and receiving gifts can be a source of BIG JOY as well. So if shopping is your thing, go forth and shop my friends, but either way, think about giving the gift of connection.