Thursday, December 26, 2002

Commentary: Gift of love for a newborn

Published in the Current

It’s my first Christmas as an uncle. My sister gave birth to little Aidan in mid-October, and even at the tender young age of two-and-a-half months, he is in for a holiday treat.

Some of the boxes under the tree are likely to be larger than he is, and many of them, like a book he will receive from me, won’t be used by him on his own for years. (I expect to read it aloud to him soon after the holiday hurry passes.)

It’s not like he really needs anything material. That young, he has no requirements aside from a warm set of arms to hold him, milk from his mother or a bottle, and a regular – even frequent – change of diapers.

But we in the family are likely to keep looking for the Perfect Book or the Perfect Toy. Perhaps even the Perfect Crib or the Perfect Baby Carrier, replacing models previously thought top-of-the-line, will appear under the tree come Dec. 25. We will spend our hard-earned money on things Aidan may use, like money for college or a new outfit. We’ll miss the mark with other gifts and find that he never uses them. And of course there will be the toys, mobiles and trinkets all families want kids to play with.

But why do we insist, this early in his life, on showering him with material goods? In part, it’s selfish: I notice my own glee as I wander through stores, wondering what I might find that I want Aidan to have. All of us, the grown-ups in his life, hope that he will never want for anything, and plan to do our part.

But we, like all members of expanding families, risk missing the point on the things he really will need as a growing boy: attention, love, support and encouragement.

Rather than buy him a book or a toy, I could clap along with him as he coos and gurgles. Spending time, with him and other loved ones, is more important than spending money.

And yet the gifts we give are symbols of our love for each other, efforts to make the lives of our friends and family somehow easier, better or more fun. I have found myself in more than one store, debating inside my head whether this is something that I really want to buy.

I try to remember to resist the urges and not let spending money on my nephew substitute for spending time with him. He’s a glorious young boy who, I fear, will grow up far too fast for any of us to really handle. There will always be more books, more toys and more things-that-look-weird-and-make-noise to buy, but there will not always be more time to be with Aidan.

And I hope we all keep in mind what Aidan’s holiday packages truly should contain: not replacements for affection or simple bribes to satisfy spoiled children, but minor tokens of the expansive love we feel for our family’s newest member.