In this season of giving and sharing, it’s easy to overlook the intangible presents: gifts that will last far longer than the season’s newest electronics or fashions.
For instance, the gift of the giver’s experience will be used again and again, but it’s usually less appreciated than a petrified fruitcake or a donation made in the recipient’s name.
That’s why it’s best to give a gift that your recipient wants — and accompany it with a cautionary tale. As an example, you could give your niece that Victoria’s Secret gift card that she asked you for. While she’s squealing in delight, you might say offhandedly, “They sell very nice cotton underwear there … the type a nice girl would wear. I had a friend who bought sexy underwear from that store. She ended up as a teenage mother with no child support. She had to clean offices at night to support her baby, while the baby’s father went off to college. Her parents were not happy that they had to watch the baby every night.” Your advice will probably be laughed off, but it will not be forgotten.
Before you start handing out unsolicited experience, you should make a list of things you’ve learned the hard way. You can also feel free to add lessons learned by your friends and family, but I wouldn’t use their names when relating their horror tales.
So far, I’ve come up with two life-lesson gifts that I will be bestowing on lucky family members or close friends:
Do not use chemical cleaners when you’re wearing a flimsy nightgown. Years ago, before ovens cleaned themselves, I was wearing a silk slip-like nightgown when I decided to spray the inside of the oven with an industrial cleaner. After the required amount of waiting time, I got a bucket of water and a sponge and began to wipe out the oven. Unfortunately, one of my mammary glands popped out of the top of my nightgown and came in contact with the oven-cleaning solution. As a result, the sensitive tip of this body part got burned. The phone call I made to Poison Control was extremely embarrassing … for both me and the young man who answered my call.
Take everything that a child under the age of 10 says with a grain of salt. My sister’s friend, Leslie, got a call from her young son’s school. She was asked to come in as soon as possible. No other details were divulged. When she arrived, she was ushered into the school psychologist’s office. Her son, Joe, was in tears and was being comforted by the woman behind the desk. When Leslie asked what was wrong, the psychologist told her that Joe had been talking in class, so he was sent to see her. When she asked him why he was misbehaving, he said that his parents were out of money and that there was no food in the house.
“What?!” asked Leslie, in amazement. “We have money!”
Joe responded, “I heard Dad say that we were out of money and couldn’t spend any more.”
After thinking for a minute, realization struck. Leslie said, “He was talking about our renovation budget — the money we had to fix up the house. Dad meant that we couldn’t spend any more money on the house!”
“Well, I’m glad we’ve straightened that out,” said the psychologist, “but what about your not having any food in the house?”
Leslie responded, “We have plenty of food in the house!” They both looked at Joe for confirmation.
“Nothing that I like,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding to this list of hard-won wisdom. But, I haven’t experienced what you have experienced, so I’d love to hear your stories. I promise that when I re-tell them, I’ll change your name. Let me know what you’ve learned the hard way, in the comments section.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays! There are several days left of Hanukkah, so there’s still time to add unasked-for advice to every present you give this year.