My mother had a “gift room” when we were growing up, a closet in our basement where she stored presents for upcoming occasions. With five children, innumerable birthday parties, holidays, and milestones requiring gifts presented themselves–especially since my mother was prone to treat us to special surprises just because (“you got an A plus on that report! here’s an unexpected sticker book!”; “you’ve been under the weather; here’s a special headband to cheer you!”)–and my mother would wisely purchase items well in advance of said events, typically while on sale, and typically in multiples. I loved when I had a birthday party on the horizon, because she would invite me into this secret chamber to select from a variety of possible presents she’d set aside. “Look straight ahead,” she’d instruct, leading me into the room and directing me towards a shelving unit with a handful of age-appropriate items: an art set, a Barbie (“no, not that Barbie! I want that Barbie!”), a set of colorful barrettes. Of course, I always found ways to covertly glance at the “off-limits” zone, where I might catch sight of a larger gift she was stockpiling for Christmas.
What my mother didn’t know–or, then again, maybe she did?–was that my sisters and I would then huddle up to share what we’d glimpsed (“a whole Barbie house, I think!”) and plot the logistics of investigating further. My brother had clued us into the fact that my mother, for a time, stored the key to this gift room on the mantel above the door frame. My sister Christina–second to youngest of the five children, so it’s unclear why this physical task would fall to her–would drag a chair from the play room down the hall when we were quite certain my mother was engaged in another task: cleaning the kitchen, talking with Mrs. Stephens on the phone, polishing the silver, or–best yet–treating herself to a bowl of Crispix and the Sunday paper, when we could be quite certain she wouldn’t descend the stairs for at least fifteen minutes. This furtive chair-dragging activity left trail marks in the carpeting and we’d drag our palms over them to erase our tracks before another sister would mount the chair, fish for the key (“ew, I think I felt a spiderweb!” “shhhhh!”), and then we’d unlock the door and poke our heads in, all adrenaline, our faces ablaze with the excitement of our trespass. We’d linger briefly over the shelves of goodies, snap at one another for making too much noise, debate whether or not we could get away with stealing a pack of stickers from the basket (“No! Mom will know!” “She might have a video camera!” — this last theory advanced after watching the Robert Redford film Sneakers one too many times), and then stare, open-mouthed, at the large-scale gift in front of us as we quietly debated who it was intended for, alternating waves of excitement and jealousy washing over us and intermingling with the nerves of our crime.
“Shh, shh, SHH!” “Someone’s coming!”
We’d scramble over one another to hightail it down the hallway, hustling to restore the key to its place and rushing towards the play room, leaving poor Christina to drag the chair by herself.
We never got caught.
But, come to think of it, my mother definitely knew. At some point, we made the haunting discovery that my mother had moved the key. This, without mentioning a word to us–an even more terrifying proposition (“she knows!” “when will we get in trouble?!”), as we then approached her cautiously that afternoon, wondering when we’d suddenly be taken to task, living in purgatory for the better part of the week.
Funny, the things that loom large in your life when you’re a child. The rule-breaking that, on reflection, says more about our reverence for our mother (covering the tracks with our palms! strategizing about the optimal window of time in which to commit our sophomoric espionage!) than it does about anything else.
But also: I now keep a cache of gifts myself, following in my mother’s footsteps as I have with most everything else in my life, consciously and unconsciously: I wear rubber gloves to wash dishes to protect my manicure (“just like your mom!” exclaimed my brother-in-law in wonderment when he first noticed me donning them while cleaning our kitchen), I keep my cosmetic cabinet meticulously ordered (“it’s like being in mom’s bathroom,” cooed my sister on a recent visit), I buy items in bulk so I’m never without hand soap or saran wrap or scotch tape (it stresses me out to be “down to the last one” of anything), I like to “refresh the larder,” as my mother puts it, buying bags of onions and heads of garlic and spare boxes of pasta to make sure we have enough in our pantry to see us through the inevitable nights where we just didn’t plan dinner and need something fast and easy.
My mother is always prepared, always poised and ready to put together a “get well” basket or a hostess gift or a salve for whatever is ailing her five visiting children. I aspire to live my life as an extension of these small gestures of kindness.
On this note, some stand-by gifts to add to your own budding gift room, or to keep on file for when a gift-giving event presents itself. (Click the images to be taken directly to product or see below for links and details!):
Dinner Diaries Coffee Table Book, $32 // My Go-To Molton-Brown Hand Soap, $28 // Celebration Wine Bowl, $149 // Monogrammed Canvas Valet Tray, $58 // Caspari Napkins, $8 // Connor Hand-Stamped Stationery, $98 // Marble Mixing Bowl Set, $40 // Laguiole Butter Knife Set, $59 // One Line a Day Journal, $15 // Jo Malone Candle, $65 // Monogrammed Fringe Napkins, $64 // Lee Radziwell Coffee Table Book, $32 // Graphic Round Acrylic Tray, $49 // Sea Salt Hand Soap, $8 // Monogrammed Gift Card Tags, $50 for 50 // Personalized Cups, $35 for 15 // Fancy Matches, $18 // Kate Spade Shoe Bag, $18 // Monogram Tea Towel, $20
One last note: I was in Nordstrom the other day and they had a WHOLE Sugarfina gifting area and it was so beyond cute and I nearly found myself buying $50 worth of gummy candies. Oh, the power of packaging. But, seriously, what a cute little treat for a loved one who needs a pick me up!
P.S. I shared some of my other thoughts on gifts for the woman who has everything in this Q+A.
P.P.S. Books are always a great option — if you have a chef on your hands, consider one of my favorite cookbooks!
P.P.P.S. My post on Mr. Magpie’s favorite things includes a bunch of great gift ideas for dudes!