My husband, Danny, and I have been together for 31 years. We have two children – a boy (a man, now), and a girl (a young woman). Our baby just turned 20 this past weekend. Holy cow. I guess I can’t call them babies anymore.
As I think back on their childhoods – all the birthday parties, vacations, Christmas mornings – I wish I had learned something much sooner than I did …
The Christmas that our son was a Sophomore in high school and our daughter was in 6th grade, I was finding gift ideas for them both to quite a challenge. Every attempt I made to pry ideas from them and ask what they might like was met with the same answer: I don’t know. Ugh. (If you’ve ever tried to buy a gift for a teenager, you know what I’m talking about. And I mean honest to goodness “gifts”. Packages they can open, not gift cards, etc.) Then I had an idea: how about a great family trip? So our devious planning began …
The kids, none the wiser, came downstairs Christmas morning to open presents. As is our tradition, they took turns opening their gifts as my husband and I watched – trying not to burst with excitement. Our daughter opened a package which contained a cute t-shirt which read Maui on it. Our son opened a box to find an ornament for the tree which was a tropically dressed Santa who, when a button was pressed, sang Mele Kalikimaka. Then she unwrapped a package which held a cute pink and white striped swimsuit while he was removing Hawaiian-print swim trunks from a gift box. We had them simultaneously open packages which contained swim masks and snorkels. Danny and I watched them shooting each other looks which translated to: “I think Mom and Dad have lost their minds” and “They do realize we are in Illinois and it’s currently 25 degrees outside, right?” I thought I might explode at this point. When we thought we had toyed with them long enough – and we just couldn’t wait any longer – we looked at them and said, “Run upstairs and pack … we’re going to Hawaii and our plane leaves in a few hours!” Blank stares. Blinking eyes. Then, it started to sink in. “What? No way!” “Are you serious?!” And so our family Christmas adventure began.
It was the best Christmas ever. We snorkeled. We went deep sea fishing. We had the best tasting pineapple – with every meal. Our kids still talk about that morning and all the amazing things we experienced on our Hawaiian Christmas, and I suspect that they will for the rest of their lives. And here’s what I wish I had realized long before that Christmas: Instead of throwing money away on gifts that they hadn’t asked for (and that I had simply guessed at), we now had something that they would never outgrow, would never break or become obsolete, and didn’t require batteries. We gave them the gift of an “experience”. A once in a life time trip and the best gift of all: special memories. Memories that nothing can take away or replace. (and to my children, if you’re reading this, yes. I am crying as I write it. Just hush up. Don’t make fun of your mother.) My hope is that they will remember this for their children and instead of so many “things”, they will give experiences, memories, and time spent together.
Now not every trip has to be as big and grand as a trip to Hawaii, mind you, and you certainly don’t have to wait for an occasion such as Christmas. Make memories. Share experiences. Take pictures. Play games. Go places – even if it’s just a weekend trip here and there – and your membership in FACT will help you save money as you do!
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