Dave and I have tried not to make gifts the main point of Christmas, and so it’s quite possible that it never actually occurred to our kids that they might give us gifts — until yesterday, when they saw one of the neighbor kids labor with our paper and ribbons to wrap up a gift for her mom. (The gift was a fancy chocolate from our stash, but it was a great impulse so I was happy to donate it.) Suddenly Ryan was interested in this whole gift-giving idea, and I was interested in encouraging it, and thus Dave ended up taking Nathan and Ryan to Fred Meyer to pick out something small for me. My turn to reciprocate is yet to come.
Dave reports that they got some enjoyment from the exercise. (Nathan is sick, so it isn’t surprising that he was a bit slow.) I don’t know the details of the gift-wrapping session in the sewing room, but I do know that Dave, coming out to get the tape, shook his head at me and rolled his eyes. I gather that gift-wrapping is not an inborn skill. But poor Ryan simply could not contain his excitement over his gift. Despite several interruptions from me where I assured him that I’d rather it remain a secret, he eventually managed to get out: “Do you think a Snickers would be a good present? Because that’s what I got you!”
Oh, my sweet Ryan.
He tried to convince Dave that he should keep the little oblong gift on his table, just in case he decided to eat it himself, but Dave resolutely steered him toward the tree. Several times one or the other of us saw him search it out to consider it. We reiterated for him that the best way to resist something is not to think about it; staring at his gift almost guaranteed that he’d succumb to temptation. We’ve gone over this lesson with him before.
Nevertheless, that evening he asked me to come into our bedroom so he could talk to me. He started to cry almost immediately and told me that he’d sneaked away and eaten my present. “And now I wish I gave it to you!” he told me in a tiny voice, snuggled in my lap, his eyes squeezed shut in misery. We talked a bit; I told him that I appreciated him having picked it out for me to begin with, and that really he’d resisted the temptation for a long time, and would get better at that with practice. I suggested that I could get another Snickers when I was at the store next, and we could try again. He thought that was a good idea, but that I should hide it in the shop so he couldn’t find it. Each time he thought about it he would get sad again.
So eventually I went with distraction. I made my hand into a Tickling Spider (an old game), and gave him a Spider Hug on his hand. After he’d fed the spider, and made a bed for it, and told it a bedtime story, he felt much better.
My boys are so different. It isn’t merely that Ryan is two years younger than Nathan; he truly does have more trouble with the Marshmallow Experiment. But I also see such a sweetness in him, such a capacity for empathy and caring. Sometimes that’s easy to overlook when he comes up behind me and punches me, but it’s a strength I definitely want to encourage.