Sara Pauff: Searching for the perfect gift

December 12, 2011 

There’s a story that gets told every Christmas in my family. I’m going to share it and hope I don’t end up with coal in my stocking this year.

A couple years ago, we sat around the tree on Christmas morning passing around gifts to open. My dad passed my mom a big box. She knew what was in it -- or she thought she did. She’d asked for a new set of baking dishes, ones with glass lids, so she could put them in the oven.

There were casserole dishes in the box, but they were the wrong kind. Plastic lids, not glass.

My mom, who always speaks her mind, immediately said, “Oh, this wasn’t what I wanted.” We laughed at her frank response (Typical Mom). A few days later, the dishes were exchanged for the ones she wanted.

I tell you this story to illustrate two points: 1) Details matter, so listen carefully when someone tells you their Christmas wish list 2) Parents are notoriously hard to buy presents for.

My youngest sister and I have the same conversation every year: What do we get our parents for Christmas?

She’s better at gift-giving than I am. While I frequently forget the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary and wait until the week before Christmas to shop, she always remembers birthdays and holidays and picks out the right gift for each person. We collaborate on big gifts for our parents because it’s easier on our tiny budgets and I like taking partial credit for her awesome ideas.

But after talking for nearly an hour last week, we still hadn’t come up with a Christmas gift for our parents this year. Do we get them separate gifts or one they can both enjoy? Gift cards are easy, but a little impersonal unless you pick the right store or restaurant. My parents don’t go out to eat and you can’t get them JcPenney gift cards every year.

What about a homemade gift? My parents loved -- or at least pretended to love -- every homemade Christmas ornament I made in elementary school, including a giant clay bear so heavy it nearly snapped branches off the tree. Too bad I’m way too old to pass off macaroni and glitter crafts as Christmas gifts.

I’ve asked my parents, “What do you want for Christmas?” I get vague answers like, “I don’t know. Just come home for Christmas.”

I hate this answer. It always makes me roll my eyes and wonder why they have to be so difficult. How am I supposed to find the perfect gift if they won’t tell me what it is?

But maybe there are details I’m missing. Maybe I’m not listening. Maybe the gift -- whatever it is -- doesn’t have to be perfect.

After all, if my dad had given my mom the right set of dishes, we wouldn’t remember that Christmas or have that story to tell. The gift would have been perfect, but we wouldn’t have laughed.

--Contact Sara Pauff at 706-320-4469 or For more commentary, read her 20-something blog at

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