Cheap, Practical — And Sort Of Odd — Gift Giving

Last Christmas, because everybody was in financially challenging situations, we agreed to  go cheap on gifts — for everyone, that is, but the Toddler, who simultaneously performs the function of daughter/granddaughter/niece, depending upon who is talking about her.

One small child who fulfills many positions in all of our lives. Bold Innocence print by Steve Henderson

As grandparents, we splurged on the complete Beatrix Potter book collection from Cost-co. Her mother bought her the requisite pink princess sheet set. Her aunt presented her with a tiny tea cup and saucer.

Her uncle? Well, our 18-year-old Son and Heir who is truly besotted with his niece decided that there was nothing more she could possibly want than a tomato plant.

“You’re kidding.” We all stared him down.

“She loves the garden,” he exclaimed. “She’ll have fun seeing it grow and blossom, and every week when she visits it will be bigger and better!”

“Yeah. Right.”

What made it worse is that the kid hadn’t started the project yet, which is not unusual when it comes to gift planning; more than one of us has received pieces of paper with pictures of what we will shortly be receiving, once it’s ordered. Three days from Christmas — generally not the top time to purchase potting soil or plant containers — found him in the garden, slicing out frozen soil. Two hours later, the tomato seed was planted and the black plastic pot that he’d rustled up from the back of the barn was “wrapped” — lime green plastic and some random ribbon.

While the garden is a beautiful place, this is not what it looks like in the middle of December. Promenade, original and print by Steve Henderson

Christmas Day, he insisted upon his gift being the last presented, and the reaction was pretty much what the rest of us had predicted:

“Look, Toddler Niece,” he brought the contraption to her. “It’s your present.”

She stared at the pot, stared at him, and said nothing. For a Toddler she’s a remarkably well behaved child, and she really does adore her uncle.

“It’s a tomato plant!” For some reason, he felt that the gift needed further explanation.

“Oh. Thank you, Uncle.”

Some day I’m going to knit that kid an ugly sweater, safe in the knowledge that she will act grateful for it.

Nearly three months have passed since that day, and I find myself doing something I engage in more and more as I grow older and wiser: I admit that I was wrong. The joke is on us. The tomato plant actually grew — two of them — and they are 16 inches high. One of them is blossoming.

And, true to the Son and Heir’s prediction, the first thing the Toddler asks when she enters the door each week is to see the tomato plant — Her tomato plant — the gift that grows and changes daily, and eventually will provide her with her own personal tomato stash, and this kid loves tomatoes.

Go ahead, do things your way. I Do It My Way poster by Steve Henderson

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy listening to Peter Rabbit, or drinking tea from her little, little cup, or dreaming sweet dreams in satin princess comfort — she loves all of her gifts, including the one that we all declared abominably strange.

And it shouldn’t be so strange, really, given that we devoted our parenting experience to teaching our kids to be individual, to think for themselves, to walk the narrow path and not worry about what other people will say.

I just never thought that we would be the establishment voice we encouraged them to overcome and ignore.

This post was originally published on

So, the next time you give a gift and want to be different, consider fine art, which most people think is out of their reach. It isn’t, if you purchase from Steve Henderson Fine Art — you can get a poster for $10.95, with or without the saying. We’ve got gorgeous signed, limited edition prints that imbue all the color and emotion of the original, and we’ve got the most reasonably priced original paintings — considering the quality and skill of the artist who creates them — that you’ll find on the market.

6 Responses

  1. I loved this story. My “little brother” has been gone for ten years. Cancer took him at 48 and he left behind a wife and two children. Some of their favorite stories are when Aunt Mel talks about the gifts her brother, their dad, used to buy on Christmas Eve just befor the Drug Store (pre-cursor to Walmart) closed. Both my parents and myself had, at one time or another, every item Ronco or Popiel ever made! All these years later, we still have a chuckle. . . much like you’ll have over the infamous tomato plant –

    Thanks for sharing –
    Mel McSweeney

    1. Thank you, Mel — this is touching and beautiful. I will share this with the Son and Heir, and will think of your “little brother” on my next birthday or Christmas, when I receive another of my unusual gifts.

    1. Thank you, Jana. The intriguing thing is, he was born an original thinker — he always has flummoxed us in his unique way of looking at things. Our challenge, in raising him, was in not just seeing that quality — but identifying and understanding its existence in the first place. Our time together has changed ALL of us, enabling us all to grow into better beings.

  2. Just discovered your blog. Am really enjoying it! The part about her polite reaction and knitting her an ugly sweater cracked me up! lol 🙂 I have a four year old and it truly is the unexpected things that keeps their attention.

    1. Cassie — welcome! I’m glad that you have discovered me.

      You are so right — the under 5 club is constantly surprising us with their reactions. That’s why children are such treasured, delightful things — they put life in perspective for us.

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