Trash can or regift: A short Christmas tale

“I got a little tub of cream cheese and threw it out,” Bridget replied after I asked her how the Secret Santa gift exchange went today.  She then proceeded to tell me that the cream cheese giver is always wearing new clothes.

“He’s rich. Surely he could afford more than a single-serving of cream cheese?” Bridget asked.

I replied, “I don’t know,” and added that expensive shoes and clothes don’t necessarily mean that his home life is grand. Neither of us knows what’s happening in his home, and we should just accept the gift as a kind gesture.

Palmer House Hilton Chicago
Palmer House Hilton Chicago

I proceeded to tell her how I cringed when I received the email from her homeroom teacher two weeks ago. As if it happened yesterday, I recalled my worst experience with a secret Santa. I was in second grade. As everyone came into the classroom that morning, they placed their wrapped gift into an extra-large black plastic garbage bag. Sometime later, when our bellies were full of cookies and other goodies that made us all doped up on sugar, we enthusiastically picked one gift from the big black bag.

I picked out a nicely wrapped gift. Once unwrapped my eyes welled up with tears as I discovered the contents. The gift made no sense to me. Just like Bridget and the cream cheese, I didn’t understand why someone would give a second grader an ADULT nail clipper set. Really? A nail clipper set? It’s been nearly four decades and I’m still befuddled and bewildered at the thought of that gift.

Our stories of mutual disappointment probably warranted a teachable moment. Not today. Bridget already learned the lesson. She wasn’t going to let the cream cheese bring her down.  She accepted the cream cheese as a senseless gift, nonetheless a kind gesture, and without losing a step she threw it in the trash. She shook off the gift exchange as no big deal.

I asked her, “Who sends their kid to school with an ADULT nail clipper set?”

“I know right,” Bridget replied. “Why even bother with the cream cheese?”

I told her I gave the “ADULT” nail clippers to my Dad that Christmas. Instead of being angry because I didn’t want the gift, I lost the “n’t” and gave it to someone who did. As we talked more it occurred to me, that this year, Bridget has started to live an “n’t” life. And yes, admittedly sometimes that means manipulating me. I think her approach is grounded in energy. Why should she spend time worrying about things that are out of her control? There are so many other things she’d rather do. Short of the occasional pity party, she’s doing a pretty good job navigating away from negativity.

My buttons are bursting. And I am feeling a little more positive about Secret Santa and Christmas. It’s awesome that she’s recognized this need to lose the “n’t” and is practicing it. I hope she continues to move through life choosing can and will, instead of can’t and won’t. And, I hope that I continue to learn from her.

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