The Spirit of Giving (or The Best Intentions Are Often Subject to Old Habits)

Sometimes, the best intentions go by the wayside in lieu of old habits. Sadly, this Christmas season has pointed that out to me much more than expected.

A few months ago, I told the wife that this year, instead of getting into the Christmas feel by buying a bunch of presents for each other and giving into the whole materialism bit, we would instead use the money to adopt a family. I didn’t mean one or two kids, I meant adopt a whole family, providing them with everything from the tree to a dinner to presents for all family members.

Alas, while both of us fell in love with the idea, life conspired with old habits to prevent us (and I use the term “prevent” loosely here) from achieving this rather lofty goal. I will admit, a fair amount of this is my fault, since I didn’t research as much as I could have. But with my falling with the flu — twice! — and various other life situations arising (mostly business related), it has seemed almost impossible to find the time to properly research the matter.

My birthday was a rather interesting one this year. (Its pertinent to this story because it falls about a month before Christmas day.) From my parents and in-laws, I received about $250 to do with as I pleased. At first, the answer was obvious: use this money to buy gifts for that family I wanted to adopt. The Wife and I had been trying to figure out how we could both afford adopting a family and still afford to buy gifts for our family members, and the $250 went a long way into that, since with it we could defer our personal gifting expenses, leaving us with more to give.

Here’s where old habits came in: While at first I wanted to be completely altruistic, I decided to use a small part of the cash for myself — about $50. I know this was selfish, given that my goal dictated I move another direction, but the American spirit of instant gratification I suppose took over, justifying itself with the mantra “Its your birthday money, you deserve a little for yourself.” (This mantra was just loud enough to drown out my other voice, which was telling me “you’ve got enough stuff already.”) I bought myself a few books from Amazon (most of which were used, and none of which cost more than $10) and a couple of CDs (both of which were new, but heavily discounted), then decided that the rest should go for gifts. For my family members. Actually, for The Wife.

(For those of you interested in my shopping list, my purchases included the following: Leadership by Rudolph Giuliani, Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki, The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, An Enterprising Life by Jay van Andel, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, The Myst Reader, Books 1-3 (The Book of Atrus; The Book of Ti’ana; The Book of D’ni), Straight Outta Lynwood by “Weird Al” Yankovick, and the ultimate collection by Chihiro Onitsuka. Total cost was around $55, including shipping. Amazon merchants rock.)

I suppose I’m not too different than most other husbands in this respect. I love buying gifts for The Wife. Flowers, movies, deserts, more movies, etc. (She’s not a kid, she’s my wife and I’ll spoil her if I want to, thank you. Besides, “spoiled” is about the last word I’d use to describe her, unless I’m describing her eating habits: she’s soooooo picky about food. But I digress.) So, I started buying her gifts. Except for the whole clotting and jewelry thing (which I know almost nothing about), her tastes and mine are pretty similar, so buying stuff for her wasn’t all that hard: I just looked for stuff I knew we’d both like. (No, not like a fishing rod when she doesn’t fish, but more like movies she and I both like, or rather would, since I haven’t seen them but she’s told me she likes them.) Anyway, by the time I had finished, I realized I had spent the remaining $150 on gifts for her. I wanted to get her more, but knew I had to stop myself.

With a little smart shopping, we were able to take care of everyone else in our list without much hassle or cost: I think we might have spent $150 total on everyone, especially since some of the gifts we’re giving are things we can make (like Web pages for specific people, and musical compositions: inexpensive, but hardly cheap, since they cost a currently far more valuable than money, time). That’s actually left us with a fair amount to give, except for the fact that we’re taking a vacation at the end of the year, which we expect to spend between $500-$1,000 on. The problem again boils down to the research. We don’t have a family to adopt.

In lieu of adopting a family, we’ve instead decided to go ahead and sponsor a couple of little kids for Christmas. One is two years old, one is eleven. (Needless to say, the older of the two is exponentially more expensive than the younger.) Maybe next year we’ll get of our lazy bums and be able to sponsor more than just a couple of kids, and instead go for a full family. Honestly, I’d love to be able to sponsor a hundred families, although I thing that after a few families I’d probably need some help.

Edit: Here are the kids and their lists:

Daytona – Girl – 2 years old
Shirt: 3T
Pants: 3T
Shoe: 8
Asking for: Bicycle [Already donated by someone else], Doll w/hair, Dress up set.
Needs: Underwear and socks.

Dante – Boy – 11 years old
Shirt: L
Pants: 12-14
Shoe: 8
Asking for: Shaq NBA Jersey, GameBoy DS (or Advanced), Madden ’06 (for which system, I don’t know)
Needs: Clothes & jewelery

I know I won’t be able to get everything on these kids’ lists, but I’ll get what I can: maybe I can work out a deal with vendors for some of the items. If you want to help, email me at gnorbx@gmail.com and we’ll discuss it then.

My reasons for choosing these kids was simple: The girl, someone else returned her list, being unable to do much for her other than the bike. Feeling I could complete the list, I grabbed it. The boy, at 11 years old, was the oldest of the kids, and would likely appreciate the gifts more than the younger ones (save for the 9 year old). I also plan to give him some books he’ll find useful, such as The Magic of Thinking Big, and Reallionaire. I figure if I can get to his mind, then the future will take care of itself.

After suggesting this to The Wife, she wondered where this came from, why it was that “suddenly” I wanted to give so much. Truth be told, I’m not sure I truly understand why, save for the fact that I feel this to be my duty as a generally affluent person (relative to everyone else on the planet) to help those who may need a hand right now. I have a couple of theories on this:

First, I believe its because of what happened when we first moved into the US. My siblings and I moved to the US with my mom in September of ’89. For a long time, we didn’t even have furniture: my brother and I shared a collapsible portable futon as a bed for weeks, and my sisters — well, I don’t even remember what they had.

Over the next few months, we got some donated furniture (consisting mostly of beds), couches from Goodwill, and a small television. In fact, most of what we got at that point — clothing, toys, furniture — came from Goodwill or from someone giving it to us. These came in handy, since that year the temperature dropped to 0oF, and we, as a family of Puerto Ricans, didn’t have much more than a sweater to cover ourselves. (In fact, I remember my parents more than once grabbing all the blankets and comforters in the house and having all four of us go under them so we could stay warm. When your temperature at home, in the house is 40oF, and you don’t have proper clothing, there’s usually a problem. It was about this time I discovered that really cold temperatures make me sick to the stomach.) I suppose now, thinking on all that, I want to make sure families don’t go through what we did at that point, that while they may be having a hard time, they don’t go through what we did that first year here.

Second, I believe it could be because of what happened in 7th grade. One of my friend’s mom (his name was Joe Hawks, if I recall correctly) noticed that I was always squinting and needed glasses. At that time, my parents still couldn’t afford to get me glasses, so she offered to buy me a pair so I could see. I have never forgotten that, and think about that every time I look at my glasses.

Finally, I hate receiving gifts. Ok, I don’t really hate it, but I seem to have a strange love/hate relationship with the practice. During Christmas morning, throughout my youth, people often wondered if I liked what they got me, because I wouldn’t get too excited about it. (As a small kid, I was always super excited, but the excited attitude changed after we moved to the US.) The truth was that I always felt guilty when I received a gift. (I’ve since learned to act gracefully thankful for whatever I receive.) My parents being the biggest gift givers of them all, would always shower us with presents. While I loved and appreciated their efforts, I didn’t feel I deserved the gifts, particularly after we moved to the US. This is why I eventually developed the habit of opening my gifts, then running to a room with them where I could be alone and explore them, a bit like a hamster gathers up all his food in his cheeks, then runs to his home to dump it all off there for later use.

Conversely, I love giving. I love when I can give something to someone and bring a smile to their face. I love not only the act of giving — since it feels like I’m giving a bit of myself to that person — but also the feeling that I get afterwards, that somehow I may have made that person’s life a bit better. This, I guess, is why I love giving The Wife gifts: I want to make sure she has the best life possible, having entrusted me with it.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. The point is that I’ve noticed in my life too many times when the hand of another was the only thing I’ve had to guide me, to give me what I needed. Now, in my adult years, when I’m undeniably better off than my family was during those early years, to deny that hand of help to another would be completely immoral on my part.

I suppose I’ll be able to make a difference in the life of a couple of kids this year, and I guess that’s a good thing. But it pains me to think that despite my best intentions, my plans have been derailed by old habits, including procrastination and materialism (even if it is materialism manifest through gift giving to my loved ones.) Maybe by next year I’ll have grown enough to not let personal desires get in the way of personal duty. For now, I’ll simply enjoy the bed I’ve set up for myself, and enjoy making some kid’s Christmas complete.

3 thoughts on “The Spirit of Giving (or The Best Intentions Are Often Subject to Old Habits)

  1. A lovely, inspiring post. And don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve done something for someone else. If everyone did just that, we’d all be better off, both givers and receivers. Happy holidays to you and your wife.

  2. Thanks for the vote of kindness, bloglily. It makes me feel like a bit less of a materialistic weeny. And you’re right, it would be a better place if we learned how to give (and receive) graciously. I wish others would realize that the act of not giving usually stems from the fear of not having something, and that to have a fear of missing something is to be missing it anyway. (Kahil Gibran said it much more eloquently in The Prophet.)

    On a related note, it looks like the example set by my parents of being great gift givers has rubbed off on more than one kid: I just found out my younger sister will be buying the Christmas presents for a her friend’s kids, since otherwise they’d have no presents Christmas morning. I guess sometimes people in need are closer than we think.

    Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukah) to you too, bloglily.

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