All I Want for Christmas (or Hanukkah or Solstice or……)
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or the Winter Solstice (or another of the over 30 holidays celebrated between November and January), gift giving and receiving is a part of this time of year. If you know or love a parent/ caregiver of a child with special needs/ medical fragility, you may wonder what kind of gift they would most appreciate. I have come up with my own top ten list of gift ideas plus one bonus gift idea. This list can come in handy for Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day or any other holiday where gifts might be given or perhaps you can just give a gift for no reason at all.
1) SLEEP: How divine it would be if there were a pill to ingest that would provide the same benefits as 8 hours of sleep. The inventor of such a remedy would definitely be in the running for the Nobel Peace prize or even Sainthood. Yes, I know there are actual sleeping pills but the problem for many parents like me is not an inability to fall asleep. The problem is that we are not able to sleep due to round the clock care giving or lack of night nursing. Until this magic pill is invented, why not figure out a way to give your friend or loved one a few hours of sleep. Take some time to be trained in the care of the child and then offer her 2 or more hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. There is nothing like a chunk of consistent zzzzzzzzzzzz’s to refresh and rejuvenate a tired parent.
2) MEALS: Believe it or not, bringing a ready-made dinner to a family who is dealing with above-normal drama and busy-ness of life, is more valuable than gold (or frankincense or myrrh). Imagine calling a parent of a child with special needs/ medical fragility and offering to bring over dinner. If you do wish to give this gift, be sure to find out any dietary preferences and food sensitivities so that everyone can enjoy. You could even give a coupon that entitles the recipient to one dinner per week for a month.
3) SELF-CARE: One thing parents like me must do is practice self-care so that we are better able to care for our child (ren). This is often tricky because free time is scarce as are the funds needed to splurge on oneself. Giving the gift of a massage, a pedicure, a facial or even paying for an appointment with a Naturopath, Homeopath or a Therapist, will be gratefully accepted. Arranging for childcare while she/ he is attending the appointment will give you bonus points.
4) MY BOOK: What I Would Tell You~ One Mother’s Adventure with Medical Fragility was written for anyone who gives care whether that be to a loved one or to clients. It is written from my perspective as a mother caring for a child with medical fragility but has touched all who have read it. It is jam packed with hard earned words of wisdom that can be applied to life in general. Readers have described this book in the following ways: Universal, Validating, Inspiring, Comforting, Healing, Essential, Authentic, Enlightening, Powerful. If YOU haven’t read my book, it is time. Throw this one on your list and consider giving it as a gift to friends, family and professional who work with families like ours.
5) BOOZE: People are often at a loss for what to give Meredith for her birthday or Christmas. I half-jokingly respond with, “When in doubt, a bottle of wine for the parents is always appreciated.” Seriously, though, sometimes having a glass of wine with a dear friend or your partner gives that much needed self-induced relaxation/mental break from your life. Disclaimer: I am not promoting the use of alcohol and/or drugs to numb or deny emotions. I am merely suggesting that sometimes a glass (or 2) of a full-bodied red or a crisp white can be a nice end to a rough day. Gift cards to shops where fine wines and other alcoholic beverages are sold would also be appreciated.
6) TRAVEL COMPANION: In our situation, we cannot travel anywhere alone with Meredith. There must always be another adult sitting beside her in the back while another adult drives. For some parents/ caregivers, this is not an issue but that does not mean doctor’s appointments and outings are easy. Offering to assist your friend or family member on trips to the hospital, clinics or other appointments will give them a sense of relief and will take some of the responsibility off of them. They will be able to grab a bite to eat, use the washroom and focus on information being shared at the appointment if they have an extra set of hands and eyes to help out.
7) TIME: As a friend or family member, you may feel helpless much of the time depending on the complexities of the child. It may be impossible for you to even begin to learn how to care for the child in a way that would allow the mother or father to leave the house or go and rest. If you are willing, your time can be a wonderful gift to a parent like me. Offer to hang out with the child for short periods so that the mother/ father can take an uninterrupted shower or bath for example or make a phone call to a friend or work on a personal project that brings her/ him joy. If it is the holidays and company is coming, giving the gift of your time to provide the parent with an extra set of hands for cleaning, preparing food or helping with the care of the children, can be invaluable to them.
8) GIFT CARDS: Retail therapy can be just that: therapeutic. It is challenging for some of us to get out and shop for ourselves and sometimes living in a rural area prevents one from getting to the city to shop. Giving gift cards for places like The Body Shop, Lush, Bath & Body Works, Chapters, Amazon or clothing stores will give the mother, for example, the option of shopping online as well as treating her to something for herself. There is nothing like a new pair of jeans, shoes or good quality under eye concealer to lift the spirit. Cold hard cash is good, too, but will often go to paying bills or groceries and so gift cards force the receiver to spend money on themselves. With that said, you may need to take things a step further and physically accompany the recipient to the store where the gift card will be spent or sit with them at their computer to witness them placing their order. Billions of dollars worth of long forgotten gift cards are tucked away in drawers all across North America. Make sure the recipient of this gift actually uses it within a reasonable amount of time.
9) RELAXATION: Although I am not one to talk, incorporating some types of relaxation into our lives can have huge benefits. Giving a gift of a beginner’s yoga DVD with a mat or a collection of guided visualizations for stress reduction or good quality essential oils can all be gentle reminders of how crucial it is to carve out even ten minutes per day for ourselves specifically for the purpose of finding some peace and quiet. We may not have the luxury of travelling to Bora Bora but we can close our eyes and drift off to our “Happy Place” via guided visualization/ meditation.
10) LAUGHTER: There is nothing like a good, side splitting fit of laughter to unleash a dose of oxytocin into the bloodstream and to relieve one of tension and stress. Maybe you are that one person that has a knack to crack up your caregiver friend/ family member. Your inexpensive yet invaluable gift, would be to steal him/her away for an hour or more to just be silly and laugh. This can include going to a movie that you know is bound to bring on the giggles or simply hanging out together and reminiscing about events in your life that make you smile. I have a few dear friends, two sisters and a brother who know how to make me break down into laughter. This might be one of the most priceless gifts you can give.
BONUS GIFT IDEA: Look into retreats and conferences that your loved one could benefit from and do the leg work and pay their way to attend one of these events. For families who have children affected with HIE, Hope for HIE is an organization whose mission statement is as follows: “To foster hope in families affected by Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) through awareness, education and support.” They also organize mother retreats across the U.S.A. each year. You can send that special mother in your life to one of four locations for an affordable getaway where she will be surrounded with love and care by mothers just like herself. Contact Hope for HIE to find out more.
These are just a few thoughts and ideas that come to mind as we anticipate the holidays. I would love to hear some gift ideas that you have loved and appreciated as a mother, father or caregiver of a child with special needs. Leave them in the comments below! And Happy Hanukkah, Joyful Solstice, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you! May your days be merry and bright!
**This post was originally written and published December 2011. It’s a good one and so worth sharing again with appropriate updates!