A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mom spied a gingerbread house kit at the grocery store. She immediately seized upon the idea of buying it for my daughter, who is 17 and hasn’t made a gingerbread house in years. “Take this home to Emily,” she said. “I think she’ll enjoy it!”
Mom doesn’t always remember that her youngest grandchild is growing up. But the kit was ten dollars, and I knew it would make her happy to buy it, so I put it in the cart.
I wasn’t sure if my post-modern, near-adult daughter would roll her eyes or scream with childish glee. She did neither; she just accepted the gift with mild amusement and set it on the dining room table. A few days later, she and her dad got bored and built the house while I was off doing something useful in another part of town.
I came home to find that they had constructed a seriously pimped-out Gingerbread Extravaganza. This was not your fairy-tale, Hansel and Gretel cottage; this was more of a Zombie Apocalypse hideout with gumdrops on the roof. So much for visions of sugarplums. (Sorry, I don’t have pictures.)
I loved it, but I had a craving for the more innocent version. I got out some graham crackers and used the leftover icing and candy to create a mini-cottage of my own. My husband affectionately dubbed it the “Gingerbread Shed.”
The following weekend I was crazy-busy, so I asked my husband to swing by and visit Mom for me. “Take her the Gingerbread Shed,” I suggested. “You can tell her I made it for her.” (Nothing wrong with a little white lie if it brings a smile to her face.)
He took her the Shed, and she did smile. But here’s the interesting part: by the time the visit was over, her brain had turned my little fib around. Mom was convinced that she had made the Shed. She was planning to take it to dinner that evening and share it with her table-mates.
“That Gingerbread Shed is a goner,” my husband told me. “I hope you get your plate back.”
“That’s the least of my worries,” I said. “I’m just glad she’s happy. Besides, she’ll probably forget to take it to the dining hall.” Sure enough, the next morning when I went to visit, the Shed was still sitting on her coffee table.
“I made that for you,” she beamed. “Take it home to your family. I think they’ll enjoy it!”
Her aging brain is a tornado of generosity, strong enough to lift that little house off its foundation and transport it to Oz and back again. Whatever dementia has taken away, it certainly has not diminished her ability – her need – to give. As the holiday approaches, and she battles the fear that her gifts have been stolen (again), I try to hold onto this lesson: we sense our worth by what we are able to give away.