I believe in being real in this space I call Hands Free Mama, so I give you my honesty in hopes that it makes a difference in how you gift the ones who mean the most this holiday season.
This is my story …
The month before my husband turned 40 years old, I started thinking about how we could celebrate it. Very early on, he made it abundantly clear that he did not want a surprise party, actually no party whatsoever.
He said he just wanted to spend time together as family.
Really? That’s it?
Well, I knew that I would be sorely letting him down if I did not make his 40th birthday somehow different than the 39 birthdays before.
Although I wanted to make it special, I really hoped to figure out something that didn’t require a lot of effort on my part.
(That’s the honesty I mentioned earlier.)
Because the sad truth is this: While I make it a point to push away distraction and go the extra mile for just about everyone in my life, I often “cut corners” when it comes to my spouse.
I bank on the fact that my husband will love me no matter what, which means he often gets “shorted” on my time, effort, love, and attention.
These truths are not pretty, but they bring me closer to grasping what matters on this Hand Free journey. So with that, I give you even more honesty …
I decided a nice family overnight at a local hotel with a pool and amenities would make a unique and memorable birthday present. This gift idea had the packaging of a “big deal,” while requiring little effort from me, the giver. It was the perfect plan.
For me, that is.
I immediately made the hotel reservation, stressing to the receptionist that although my husband frequents their chain of hotels for business, it is imperative that they do not to send him an email confirmation.
I hung up feeling quite satisfied with myself.
Make special plans for Scott’s birthday … Check!
A few hours later my husband walked in the door and asked, “Do you know anything about a hotel reservation for the date of my birthday?”
Damn. (Or if I am being totally honest, slightly worse than “Damn.”)
I could not believe it. My surprise was ruined! Or shall I say, my “easy out” was ruined?
I went straight to the phone punching the numbers so violently that I misdialed three times.
For the next thirty minutes, I traveled the hotel’s chain of command until I got to the top … lamenting every poor phone representative along the way.
When I finally got to executive director, “Renee,” beads of angry sweat had collected on my forehead.
“Do you know how many times I told your reservation receptionist NOT to send my husband an email confirmation?” I asked in a snarly voice that even I did not recognize.
Poor Renee. Of course she did not know.
All she wanted was to get off the phone with this customer service nightmare, so she offered me some “frustration points” to rectify the situation.
“Frustration points? That’s putting it lightly!” I retorted.
“What about ‘Our Hotel Messed Up A Brilliant 40th Birthday Surprise’ Points? I will need about 50,000 of those, and they need to cover the cost of the room. “ I seethed.
At this point I felt as if my head was about to pop off my body; I was required to release a deep sigh before I exploded.
That is when I caught sight of myself in a hallway mirror.
I did not like what I saw.
In fact, the sight of my puffy, irate face was so embarrassing that I wished I could rewind my life 42 minutes prior and decide calling the hotel was probably not the best idea.
All this ugly drama, nastiness, and anger over someone’s innocent mistake?
I don’t think so.
This was not about the accidental error made by the person who sent the hotel confirmation.
This was about me.
This was about the woman who was desperately trying to “cut corners” on her husband’s 40th birthday when she should be taking those corners, dipping them in chocolate, covering them in sprinkles, and adorning each one with a tiny gold crown.
My Hands Free inner voice, which is usually quite kind and gentle about reminding me to grasp what really matters, had some harsh words for me:
You are damn lucky to be married to a man who would rather spend his 40th birthday with his family than have a huge bash.
You are damn lucky to be married to a man who would rather eat your smoked almond turkey meatloaf at the kitchen table with his wife and children than go to Ruth’s Chris.
And you, Rachel Macy Stafford, are damn lucky to be married to a man who never cuts corners on you.
So then I knew.
I was not going to take the easy out on this one. It was going to require more than simply dialing the 1-800 number of a hotel. It was going to require more than presenting a credit card at his favorite store.
Oh no, this was going to be way more … a gift that represented what really mattered, how HE truly mattered, on his 40th birthday.
I immediately sat down at the computer and typed in the email addresses of every family member, friend, and work associate my husband had ever known. I informed them that Scott was about to turn 40 and I would like them to send me a memory of him … any kind of memory, funny, serious, meaningful, or all of the above.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to receive.
Within hours, the email messages started coming in.
Although I know my husband very well, there are 20 years of his life that I was not a part of … and while he is a good communicator, there just some memories and facts about his life that do not come up in daily conversation … and as much as I love my husband, there are redeeming qualities about him that I have not come to fully appreciate.
So as the messages came pouring in,
I found myself learning amazing things about my husband that I did not know.
I found myself in awe of small gestures he did for people that had profoundly changed someone’s life.
I found myself hanging on every word, as if reading a biography about a truly kind and inspiring man.
I found myself laughing out loud.
I found myself wiping away tears.
When the deadline for memory submissions came, I printed the huge stack of responses, slid them into page protectors and placed them in a binder.
But before I wrapped it, there was something I knew I must do.
I called my daughters to sit with me. And then I proceeded to tell them all about their daddy.
I read bits and pieces of the loving, humorous, and meaningful messages that I thought they would understand and enjoy hearing.
They loved hearing how he once had to wear pink as a baby.
And how his former wooden bat baseball league teammates called him “Scooter” because of the way he “scooted” across the field (a nice way of saying ‘ran slowly’).
They loved knowing he sent money to his younger sister when she was in college, instructing her only to “have fun” with it.
They laughed envisioning their daddy as a sixteen-year-old boy installing speakers in his car with a bass that nearly shattered the windows.
And finally, my children’s faces grew solemn when they learned of the way he ran toward, not away from tornado survivors, inner-city kids in need of role models, and a friend with cancer.
As my eight-year-old daughter carried the book to bed with her that night, I knew I had done something right. I couldn’t wait to see my husband’s reaction.
On the day of my husband’s birthday, our family gathered around the kitchen table and I began reading a list entitled, “40 Things We Learned About Our Daddy.”
When we spoke of childhood tent building with his cousins, my husband quickly looked surprised.
“How do you know that?” he asked bewildered.
I kept reading and the children kept smiling because he was about to be handed the most wonderful gift.
When the list had been read, we presented the album and left him alone so he could read every thoughtful word written about him in silence.
At one point, I peeked around the corner to see his reaction.
My husband held the same look of happiness I saw on his face on our wedding day and the same serene expression he wore when he held his daughter for the first time. It was a look that said, “Something divine has just touched my soul and filled me with peace.”
The rest of the weekend was spent celebrating in a Hands Free manner I like to call “going where life is simple,” just spending time together and making memories …
running in the sunshine,
high fives in mid-air,
my first cartwheels in 25 years,
smoked almond turkey meatloaf made from scratch,
making his favorite butter cream frosting,
decorating with love,
hugs and back rubs from little hands.
That night, as my husband drifted off to sleep he whispered, “Thank you. This was my best birthday ever.”
As I watched my contented husband fall into his peaceful slumber, a chilling revelation stuck me and rocked me to my core.
It suddenly occurred to me the magnitude of his memory book gift.
Such meaningful sentiments are not usually spoken about people until the day of their funeral.
This means they never get to hear exactly what it is that people love about them.
They never get to hear how they touched someone’s life so long ago.
They never get to hear the sacred words someone always wanted to say.
By the grace of God and every single person who wrote a message in his album, my husband got to hear these significant words on the day he turned forty years old.
And his children got to hear them, too, while their daddy is still alive to be celebrated.
As my eyelids grew heavy at the end of this momentous day, I thought of the one line from his memory book that I had tried to read aloud to him, but my voice had failed me.
Scott Stafford never misses a moment.
I smiled at the irony.
What did I give my husband on his 40th birthday?
For once, I didn’t cut corners.
Instead, I gave him a moment.
And it was the perfect gift.
As you plan your gifts for the people you love the most this holiday season, I hope you will consider giving the gift of the moment.
- Let it be known all the things you love about your significant other … and announce it in front of your children or loved ones so they know, too.
- Let it be known why you love your child and write it down so he or she can cherish it forever.
- Let it be known how much you appreciate your parent or loyal friend for being there for you.
- Let it be known what you remember someone doing for you ten years ago that you still remember today.
Giving a moment means letting go of distraction, turning off that electronic device, putting away your to-do list, and going where life is simple. Spend time playing, laughing, dancing, exploring, loving, and communicating the words you often don’t take time to say.
Make December 25, 2011 the day your loved one receives the most meaningful gift of his or her lifetime.
* If you feel this is a worthy message, I would be grateful if you would click the “share” button below to spread this idea of giving the gift of the moment.
If you would like specific ideas on how to give this type of priceless gift, I invite you to join “The Hands Free Revolution.” I will be posting specific ideas there this week.
The The Gift of The Moment by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.