Presents and presence

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By Janice Bagawi-Cabahit

WHEN I told my husband I'm buying him a gift for Christmas, he had to stifle a laugh—and I had to laugh out loud at his failed attempt. My spending money comes from him, see, so when I told him that, I must have sounded like an echo of our childhood when we asked money from our parents so we could buy them their presents.

And then I asked him what he’s getting for me. He said, half jokingly and with a full flourish of the hands, "I don’t need to get you anything, darling, because I’m your gift!"

"But you always gave me something when we weren’t yet married!" I mock-whined. That stumped him, and he replied with nothing but a sheepish grin.

The truth, however, is he's right and I agree with him. When we were still courting and dating we regularly gave presents to each other. I realize now that it was because we could not give much of our presence, which is what we really want from each other. We gave gifts because they are concrete expressions of affection.

Now that we are married, our need to give store-bought gifts has dwindled considerably. Instead of planning what to buy me for a monthsary/anniversary/birthday/holiday present, my husband makes time to do something for me every day. He finishes my chores; he never refuses any request or favor I ask of him; and he laughs away my pagkukulang and pagmamalabis.

Do I really want a present from him this Christmas? Nope. I have his constant presence and I prefer that over the fleeting thrill of opening a nicely wrapped package.

While reconsidering my plan to buy a gift for my husband, my favorite seven-year-old niece came over and said something to make me see that the merit of presence outweighing that of presents is also true for children.

"No one was paying me any mind so I left the house without asking permission,” she told me when I asked if her Dad knew she was coming to my house. This niece has no trouble playing by herself; and, we have no trouble making her understand what she’s supposed to do or not to do.

But we often forget that she’s still a child.

She likes to get new toys, of course. She enjoys putting on new clothes, definitely. She doesn’t mind reading a new book on her own, certainly. But, also, she would have greater pleasure in her Christmas presents if we played the toy with her, asked her how she liked her new outfit, and invited her to read the book together—that’s for sure.

It is now clear to me that children do not just want attention. They need our attention. An adult, married woman undeniably needs the presence of her husband. A young girl’s need for the presence of the grown-ups around her is much, much greater for she’s still making sense of herself and her world.

To prove that I’ve learned that lesson well, as well as to allay my guilt for spending more time on buying presents for my niece than on being with her, I took her to the crafts store with me. I let her choose the material she wants on a hair clip—glittery purple lace, glittery purple beads, and some pink glitters. This weekend, I’m making a huge kikay clip for her—and with her.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 19, 2013.


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