Best presents are true gifts

I've been thinking about presents. It's the season to do so, right?

I'm not talking about gifts, which can be intangible or abstract; for example, the gift of friendship, of good health or family, etc. Rather, I've been thinking about the physical things we give one another, the things we shop for and wrap, exchange, perhaps even return.

What are the best presents you've been given? I'm sure we've all been given presents that have been amazingly thought out, beautifully wrapped treasures. Some expensive, some priceless in other ways, some handmade.

Our kids are awesome at this, giving gifts that, just by the giving of them, mean everything. My daughter is a generous and thoughtful gift-giver. She individualizes each present, really thinks about the recipient and chooses each present with love. Sometimes she spends a lot of her hard-earned money and sometimes she spends a lot of her self, like on a glorious crocheted afghan or a painting of butterflies.

When my older son was in fifth grade, he gave me a giant three-dimensional snowflake-like sculpture. I imagined him concentrating as he made each precise cut and staple. I mounted this snowflake in a giant shadow box and it hung in our home in a place of pride for many years.

Our younger son gave me some silly presents over the years, including a box of pasta (he knew I liked angel hair!) The present I treasure most from him is a poem, scribbled in pencil, in which he called me the center of our family's galaxy. The lined paper on which it is written is wrinkled and torn from a notebook, more precious to me than fancy stationery.

And so as I think of presents, how to make them meaningful, what to buy for whom, how much to spend, I need to remember that sometimes the best presents aren't the glamorous ones. (Vermicelli, anyone?) They're the ones that simply show the recipient you care.

I was reminded of this the other day at work when I saw a longstanding patient who has beautiful curly hair. I've complimented her on it over the years, and undoubtedly complained about my own frustrating wanna-be curls.

So on this day, when I walked into her room, my patient sheepishly handed me a half-empty bottle of hair mousse.

"I thought of you as I was on my way out the door," she said. "I didn't have time to buy a new bottle, but thought you might want to try this." And she handed me her own personal styling gel.

I was deeply touched. This present was great (again, I need all the hair help I can get), but indeed this was also a gift. A gift of thoughtfulness and kindness along with the "item-ness" of the present.

Butterfly paintings, snowflake sculptures, solar system poems and curl cream. May all of the presents we give and receive also hold such gifts of love and thoughtfulness.

- Kelly Abate is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].