Thursday, December 15, 2011

"It's For You, Teacher Tom."

As a boy I was impressed with my father's present wrapping skills and strived to emulate them. I was particularly taken with how precisely he folded the paper, creating packages as tidy as they were beautiful. He explained to me, an eager student, the importance of cutting the paper to the proper size -- excess created bulges and creases where you didn't want them in the finished product. 

He demonstrated how to fold the ends so perfectly a machine could have done it. He walked me through the process of how he figured out how to wrap unusually shaped gifts. He showed me techniques for using the minimum amount of tape in order to make it easy for the receiver to open it, which after all, is the destiny of every present.

I'm still impressed with his gift wrapping artistry and spend at least some time each Christmas morning discussing with him how he overcame particular challenges like recovering from mistakes without starting all over or creating a new kind of flourish or how many years in a row he's managed to re-use the same bit of paper, bow, or ribbon.

It's one of those things that's been passed down in our family, perhaps without him even realizing it.

I think of those lessons with each present I wrap and take special care with the ones intended for him. Often he notices my efforts, complimenting me before tearing in. Although he doesn't usually tear in, instead striving to preserve the paper by opening it along the seams, removing tape so that it does the minimum damage. As a boy I just tore in, but now I imitate him.

I thought of dad as I prepared our gift wrapping activity for the kids. I imagined that they would have fun horsing around with rolls of colorful holiday paper, tape, scissors, cigar boxes, ribbons, and bows, perhaps occasionally winding up with a present for a friend to open. I figured they would want to put something in those boxes and wondered what they would find around the classroom for the purpose. It occurred to me that they would be so proud of their presents that they might want to take them home to give to mom or dad, but frankly, I didn't want to give up any of our cigar boxes.

When River's mom Jennifer arrived to serve as our parent-teacher for the project, I suggested she use the mantra, "Presents are for opening," in order to discourage them from trying to abscond with those precious boxes, but as it turns out that was entirely unnecessary.

One by one, throughout the morning, after having worked often for 10-15 minutes putting their present together, they came to me with their packages bursting with pride and generosity, saying, "It's for you, Teacher Tom." I tried to encourage them to give their presents to friends, but they wanted yesterday to give to me.

"For me? How exciting! Look how hard you worked on this. You used this fancy paper and a red bow and a ribbon around like this. And look at how much tape you put across here. That must have taken a long time."

At first I tried opening them a la Dad, carefully peeling off the tape, but Violet objected, "That's not how to open a present. You have to tear the paper!"

So that's what I did, often with the help of several other sets to little hands. And when we were finished we looked inside the box, where I would find more bows, or a pair of scissors, or a bracelet from our costume collection. "Just what I wanted!" They were as joyful as me, even when the box was empty, which was most often the case, an act of pure giving.

Not one of them asked to take their present home with them.

They understood a present's destiny. 

Kids get a bum rap in the media. They and my father are perhaps the ones who really understand what it means to give.

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marcie jan bronstein said...

So much to learn/relearn about giving and taking. As always, kids are our teachers. Beautifully written TT.

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog and am overjoyed at your wonderful insights to childhood. I love wrapping gifts and used to obsess about having my kids learn the art of giving a beautifully wrapped present. Now I focus on setting a good example, as your father did and letting the kids have at it with all the tape they need.

Jeanne Zuech said...

Tom - you had me at wrapping :) Wonderful memories with your father, similar to my own family tradition of enjoying the entire gifting experience from the outside in. My husband had to learn this quickly as our first year together he basically handed me an unwrapped gift ["ohhhhh, this will not do"] - he gets the meaning now after years of practice.
Lastly, thanks for the gift of your blog everyday - sometimes I tear right through, sometimes I read so carefully one word at a time to unwrap your story :) Merry Christmas to you.

Anonymous said...

I've always saved small boxes for my kids to wrap at Christmas time, so, when my daughter taught preschool, so did she. But one year they ran out of boxes! And she had the marvelous idea of letting her students wrap their wooden blocks, saving the packages and, taking turns opening them, practicing saying "thank you" no matter what was in the gift. Now I do, too, the last day or two before Christmas break.

Aunt Annie said...

Thanks for sending an early morning smile all the way across the world. Lovely!

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Ah - your children surely knew to expect appreciation from you for their effort and work, and so you were the recipient of their gifts.

How wonderful to be on the receiving end of all these treasures given with love!

This is such a lovely post - and a good reminder of the spirit of Christmas giving, which is really best understood by children, I think.(And your Dad, it seems) :)
Thank you.