Holiday experiences, a gift of memories

ktanner@thetribunenews.comDecember 15, 2011 

If you could give your children, grandchildren and other young family members anything at all, what would it be?

Yeah, yeah, I understand the whole world peace-and-health, stable economy, no global-warming thing. But I’m talking about gifts within the realm of immediate reality here. Christmas is only … how many days away?

Would you give the latest, hottest toy or electronic gizmo? Money to buy whatever it is the kids think they really want?

Sure, we’d love to do that and more … if we could afford it. But we can’t. And that’s probably OK, because I’m told that youngsters who get absolutely everything they want often won’t know what they really, truly want, experience the thrill of actually getting it or refine the skills to acquire similar things for themselves later in life.

At least, that’s how I’ve comforted myself through the years when limited budgets and time constraints kept me from providing the presents my kids seemed to want and that I so much wanted to give them.

Searching for perfect gifts, I’ve spent hours and weeks wandering through stores from Cambria Village Pharmacy, Froggie’s and All-American Video and more to perusing the Internet. (I refuse to default to the “give-a-gift-card-from-a-big-box-store” cop-out.)

Even now, I’m stuck in the age-old dilemma: What Christmas gifts would our grands and greats really want … especially because we don’t know what they already have.

Our information disconnect applies especially to our girls who are in blended families created by divorces followed eventually by other marriages.

For instance, one set of grandgirls — ages 9, 11, 11 and 16 — split their time between three different houses, attend four different schools and are pursuing entirely different life tracks. Good! Being siblings doesn’t mean the entire group should wind up like the Partridge Family, all singing in the same key, all the time.

However, the girls’ complex lives complicate grandparental gift giving, especially with the tightrope-walk of wanting not to seemingly favor one girl over the others.

Now that I’m older, I realize that in juggling with all that, we may have found a comforting mother lode. At least, I hope we have.

Our main gifts to our grandgirls have, for years, been … experiences.

I remember taking a very dressed-up young lady to see “Nutcracker Suite” in San Francisco, and watching her eyes sparkling like snowflakes when a light sprinkling of manmade snow wafted down on us as we walked into the War Memorial Opera Center.

We went to the Monterey aquarium with them, vacationing with them there, in Santa Cruz, Yosemite, Reno and other places.

I remember going with them to the state Capitol Building in Sacramento, to tea in Cambria, to a fancy award ceremony with state and federal officials, to a Santa Rosa Creek ranch and to a dim-sum restaurant in San Francisco.

I hope they’ll remember it all, too.

We’ve given them other experiential gifts designed to trigger their creativity and knowledge … lessons in all kinds of arts and activities from dancing and acting to ice skating, digital cameras, science experiments, a musical instrument or enough books so one of our grandgirls accused me of sending her an entire library for her birthday.

We’ve given sports equipment to encourage them to get outside and move, to stretch their muscles and their limits while learning balance, sportsmanship and teamwork.

There’ve been puzzles, games, magic lessons and gadgets … anything to make them think.

Some of the gifts turned into long-time enthusiasms, others didn’t. That’s OK, too. The experience memories remain.

We’ve also included annual donations to charity in the kids’ names, because there’s no greater gift than fostering a passion for compassion. Most recently, we gave to Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County and a charity in their own hometown.

So, what’s on the Tanner gift list this year? Shhhh….that’s between me and Santa for now. The girls are Internet wise, and some of them read this column regularly.

We hope they will not only enjoy what winds up in this year’s stockings and under the trees, but that they’ll benefit from those gifts for years to come. Because helping our “grands” reach their full potential and figure out who they really are will be the best gifts ever for G-pa and me.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all!

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