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All that glitters is not gold (12/29/2004)
By Cynthya Porter

Sometimes we give people things for Christmas, and sometimes we give them gifts. And sometimes, lost in an endless trail of Visa bills and curling ribbon, we forget to remember the difference between them.

But sometimes all it takes is Christmas through the eyes of an eight-year-old to remind us what giving is supposed to be about.

My daughter gave me a gift this year, a gift with a value she can't possibly know. Wrapped in her tiny offering was a lesson, one that made me both humble and hopeful, both ashamed and proud.

Christmas Eve, amidst a mountain of gifts in my parents' living room, my daughter was troubled.

Heaped before this child were unopened gifts from eight aunts and uncles, two sets of grandparents, two great-grandparents, her brothers and her parents, but before diving into the enormous pile she told me in a somber tone, "Mom, I forgot your present at home."

I assumed it was something made at school, but then she told me a story about how she had been at the store with her friend and how her friend's mother asked if she had bought me a present yet. "I told her ‘no' so she gave me a few dollars to pay for something I wanted to get for you," she told me. I felt bad for a minute and wondered how much we owed her friend's mom for the gift. "It wasn't very much," my daughter said as if she read my mind.

Seeing as we were six hours from home, I reassured her that the present would still be special even a few days after Christmas and I thanked her for thinking about me.

And then we went about the Christmas frenzy, peeling through package after package of things we love but don't need, or things we need but don't love, and after a while the wrappers and boxes and things people had given us were strewn about the room in haphazard piles and we moved on to the pie.

It wasn't until I was tucking her into her own bed two days later that she brought up the forgotten gift again. "Oh Mom!" she exclaimed, vaulting out of her loft bed and over to a cupboard in her bookshelf. From the cupboard she extracted a small jewelry box that I had given her some years ago. "Your present is in the top drawer," she told me, handing me the box.

Alone inside the drawer was a ring sparkling with a dozen crystal stones and three delicate white ovals that resembled opals. Delicate but on the verge of overdone, it was the kind of inexpensive cocktail ring that little girls would love and many grown women would leave sitting in a jewelry box somewhere.

Just like I had.

You see, the ring was mine, passed on to me long ago by a relative cleaning out her jewelry box. Eventually I think I had put the ring in a container of play jewelry for my daughters, but what I had cast off as impractical my daughter had seen as beautiful and she wanted me to have it.

My heart swelled with the understanding that this child wanted to give me something so much that she would give me something of her own. And my heart sank with the realization of how miserably I had failed as a parent for her to think she had to make up a story about it costing money for fear I would not value it.

Days after Christmas, all the sweaters and electronics and appliances, while appreciated, are just things. But on my finger is a sparkly ring made out of plastic and glass that is more precious than the rest put together. This is a gift given to me by a little girl from the bottom of her heart, and I will wear it until it falls apart, forever keeping its secret.

I wonder how I got so wrapped up in the Christmas machine that it took the humble gift of a little girl to remind me that things come from our wallet and our sense of duty, but gifts come from our heart.

And as I look down at the ring on my hand I wonder, did I give her any gifts this year? Or did I just give her things? And what did those things teach her about Christmas?

No matter what, I know it could never compare with what she taught me, because this lesson didn't just change me, it will change Christmas in our home. 


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