Anticipation is Everything

A Not-Still Life: Scalawag and Backpack

My boys are currently five and almost four years old. This puts them at the very heart of an extremely selfish phase in which neither parental unit can even take out the trash without being asked “what did you buy me?” upon their return.

In an effort to keep our apartment relatively uncluttered, we are not big on collecting stuff for stuff’s sake. I am a proponent of the “practical gift” or the “experience gift”, which takes up no space and can provide a pleasant memory. This year, my sister, who lives on the other side of the world, did both of these.

She managed a feat this Christmas with those two little boys that highlighted a fascinating phenomenon that I think deserves to be examined: she harnessed the power of anticipation to make the pleasure they took in their Christmas gift last well beyond the tearing of wrapping paper. The pleasure lasted for two months leading up to Christmas and is still as strong today.

It started in October when the boys let it slip during one of their Saturday evening FaceTime chats with their aunt that they both wanted a new backpack for Christmas. Immediately, she started asking all the right questions. The boys each had pretty specific ideas of what they wanted. I don’t remember the details, but the word “sleek” was tossed about liberally as if we all understood what that meant as applied to a child’s backpack.

My sister went on Amazon and started sending me links. When it came down to it, I had no idea what sleek meant. I didn’t know, so I showed them the backpacks she proposed. Some were rejected out of hand for not having enough pockets or not being sleek enough.

And then came the day that she struck gold: she found the perfect backpacks. The boys were over the moon. I took a screen shot of them.

For every single day between the day they found their hearts’ desires and Christmas morning, they asked to see the photos of their backpacks. They examined every detail. Every. Detail. They knew their backpacks by heart. They talked about their backpacks together, each having memorized all the details of the other’s.

Because the delivery was done with discretion, they never knew they arrived. A few days before Christmas, the eldest scalawag looked up and saw an airplane in the sky and said, “look…that must be the airplane bringing our backpacks.”

On Christmas Eve, he was very concerned that the backpack had not arrived. He told me we needed to drive to the airport because surely there had been a problem.

On Christmas morning there were tears because the backpacks were tucked behind other little gifts and not visible at first sight.

And then the most exquisite gift opening occurred: their anticipation was satisfied. They opened every pocket, examined every detail, finally holding in their grubby scalawags hands what they had only seen in photos for two months. They wore their backpacks everywhere all weekend. They filled them and unfilled them, talking about how they were going to show all their friends at school.

We took pictures and videos of them wearing their new backpacks to send to their aunt, since she couldn’t be here for the unveiling.

I have long believed that the anticipation of a thing is better than the obtaining of said thing. In this case, I believe that the anticipation contributed to the pleasure they are taking in the thing.

These are my takeaways from my sister’s demonstration of gift giving prowess:

  1. Always be listening for hints
  2. Involve the recipient in the process
  3. Have willing accomplices
  4. Ask for and enjoy the feedback

Do you have tips for giving great gifts?

A Not Still-Life: Scalawag and Sleek Backpack

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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