elemental gratitude

A few months ago I bought my first “daddy’s been away” present for my daughter. I don’t have the type of job that has me traveling to exotic locations very often, so this was the first time since she’s been old enough to understand the concept of a present from a different place. Needless to say, I missed her a whole lot and I spent a lot of mental energy in an Asheville toy store trying to purchase the right thing for her. The whole idea of buying her something was a bit of a long shot, since she is still at an age where if she doesn’t immediately want or understand something she will move right past it to something that she does.   Add that to the fact that I am not quite the crafty gift-giver that my wife is, and it was safe to say that the game was afoot.

A couple of options jumped out at me as when we hit the store.  A local artist had made some really cool wooden car that grabbed my attention, but they were a little bit light on the sanding and I didn’t want to buy anything that was going to damage fingers or floors.  Then there was a rack of books about a dog named “Biscuit” that offered some candidates. Biscuit is already a favorite character in our house and I thought that buying her “Biscuit Goes to the City” would use one of her bedtime friends to introduce her to how much fun city life can be…but then I thought that the downside was that after arriving from an 8-day trip away from her this would leave her with a lifetime association of “city life” with “abandonment” and decided to keep looking. (I sometimes overthink things).

In the end, I chose something very simple and unassuming: a small and smoothly-sanded wooden airplane.  I thought that might work because she is really into airplanes these days. When listening for airplanes, the girl has better hearing than the FAA.

Even when I brought it home I wasn’t expecting it to be a great hit, and quite frankly it wasn’t. I didn’t even expect her to understand how this present was any different from what we might have bought for her on a trip to Target. But there she surprised me.

I said, “Daddy brought you a present.”

She walked over to me from her play-dough station. “Daddy brought me a present,” she said and picked up the bag with tissue paper.  “Thank you, Daddy.”

She continued to carry the bag as my wife walked into the room, and appeared to have no idea that there might be something in the bag. “Daddy brought me a present, Mama,” she said.  It took Amelia some time to figure out that she could reach in and find something (debatably) more fun than the tissue paper. But the gift itself never mattered, not so much to her.  She hadn’t reached the inevitable place where “what’s in the bag?” eclipsed “Daddy brought me a bag!” The fact that I’d brought her something at all was a new thing, and was all that seemed to matter.  The present had surprised me as much as it surprised her.

Plus now I get to play with the airplane.


About bernardowens

I'm an Episcopal priest in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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