I thought I had my holiday shopping done on Black Friday (one of them, at least). Lured by the emails promising 30...40... 50 percent off of everything, double the reward points, and cashback on the credit card, I scooped up armfuls of sweaters and gift sets at the mall. Presents for everyone! Fashionable, safe and just a little boring.
Over the years, I'm afraid I've developed a reputation among my family and friends for giving gifts that are homespun: a binder full of favorite recipes, handpainted ceramics, picture frames holding my artful (in my humble opinion) photographs of my kids. Each year, I stay up past two in the morning on some night in early December, frantically editing photos and uploading them to one of those sites where you can design your own calendars. There is usually the added time pressure of an expiring coupon code, or the last day to order forn delivery by the 25th.
These gifts are ooh'ed and ah'ed over on Christmas morning, but I never really quite knew if the recipients truly like them. After all, when the gift-giver is also the gift-maker, it makes it doubly hard to show any disappointment. I read hidden meanings into which presents are scooped up and put away and which are left to languish on the coffee table.
There is also my other fear: that people will think I'm just cheap. Our budget is as tight as (or tighter than) anyone else's, something I'm acutely aware of during the holidays. Like some twisted magazine headline, my presents "Look Cheap, Cost a Fortune!" After all, those studio fees, printing charges, and art supplies add up.
This year, I vowed not to make any more family photo calendars. My kids are no longer chubby cheeked toddlers in matching sweaters, but gangly elementary school students who hate to dress up. My parents have a new grandbaby to dote on, and frankly, I could do without staying up all night squinting at the monitor, deciding whether Helvetica or Bookman Old School suits the calendar background. Nobody really likes those gifts anyway.
As soon as I had made that silent vow, strange things began to happen. My mother told me a story about how she brought a photo album I had created for her over to a party at a friend's house. When it was time for her to leave, she couldn't find the album. She couldn't sleep that night, and the next day, returned to her friend's house, certain that the album was still there. "It's irreplacable!" she lamented, telling of how she returned to that house the next day, and searched until she found it.
Over a Thanksgiving visit, I noticed that each morning my father-in-law kept grabbing a certain mug out of the cabinet: a handpainted one, smeared with yellow and blue paint and a blobby "dog". My older son made it when he was four. "Remember that mug we gave my dad?" my husband later asked me. "It fell on the floor and broke. He's really bummed. You should take the boys to make another one."
Are you crazy? Take two rambunctious boys to a studio full of breakable ceramics, and pay money to watch them get paint all over the place? I could buy a table full of coffee cups at Target for the price of a studio fee and an oversized (and overpriced) mug at the paint-it-yourself place.
But the idea that someone actually wants — and is requesting — my creations (or those of my kids) is just too enticing to my artist's ego. So, three hours and nearly $100 later, we created a mug for my father-in-law...
One for my husband...
A platter for my mother...
and several other knick-knacks.
The photo calendars have been laid out and printed... But I will still have to buy gifts for the kids. No matter how hard I try, I don't think I could make a Wii.
All text and photos (c) 2010 Grace Hwang Lynch