IMPOSSIBLE GIFTS The family Christmas gift exchange list is up. I am giving to my mother and receiving from Owen, my six-year-old nephew. You may see a beautiful symmetry in the fact that I am giving to the almost oldest in the family (my father is slightly older than my mom) and receiving from the youngest. What I see is the impossible gift problem.
The impossible gift problem is not that I am receiving a gift from an unemployed first grader uncertain about my identity. Owen lives in Colorado and I live in Maine and we have only met a handful of times. He has two other aunts on his father's side of the family. Regrettably, I’m not the cool one, probably because I use words like “regrettably.” Still, receiving a gift from Owen is not an impossible gift problem. With the appropriate bribe to one of his older siblings, Owen’s parents will be surprised to learn that he knows how to order off Amazon. There’s a lot of upscale gift possibilities for me.
The impossible gift problem is that I am giving to my mother. When she learned this, she jokingly asked: “Is the sky the limit?” I had been thinking of giving her warm socks and a nice sweater, as opposed to contemplating the relationship between air, gravity, space, light and the edge of the exosphere. Like many jokes, her question contained the real problem: my mother wants impossible gifts.
Not impossible in the way that as a child I wanted a real castle with a library. The gifts my mother wants are impossible because they are potentially lethal to her generation. She asks for the same thing every year, and in the past, I’ve been a little dismissive of her request. My mother wants the gift of time together. She wants her family gathered around the holiday table. She really wants to hug her grandchildren. She wants to talk with her children in person about dreams and ideas, but not about the fact that there aren’t as many holidays to celebrate together in her future as there are in her past. Warm socks and a nice sweater aren’t going to cut it.
I want to give her these impossible gifts. To enable her to stand in her kitchen and hear laughter bubble up in the living room where her children and their friends are hanging out. A chance to relax on the couch and catch up with my brother from Colorado, while her grandchildren run around modeling the pajamas she traditionally gives them. I want her to be able to exchange the handshake of peace with her neighbors at midnight mass. If I were Santa, I’d want to give these impossible gifts to everyone and their loved ones even if they were on the naughty list.
She’s not getting any of it. Instead, I am giving my mom something like the sky. I’m giving her space, an ample six feet from others in well ventilated rooms. She can wave to the neighbors from afar, elbow bump her masked children, and visit her grandchildren over the miracle of Zoom. I’m going to wrap her in warm socks and a nice sweater, douse her in sanitizer and hope, and get her to Christmas 2021. Whoever pulls her name in the family gift exchange next year can give her the impossible gifts she wants. Maybe it will be Owen. I will remind him which aunt I am and tell him that Memere will be happy with a hug.