What should I get Tony for his birthday? Inquiring minds want to know.

The holiday season is upon us. Halloween is in our rearview mirror. Thanksgiving leftovers are in our fridges. We’re in it now. It’s time to buy Christmas gifts. My husband was a Thanksgiving baby, so actually, at my house, the gift-giving frenzy really begins around mid-November. Every year, a flurry of calls and texts come my way, all asking the same very important question: What should I get Tony for his birthday? Then, less than a month later, the next there’s a second wave: What should I get Tony for Christmas? 

Every. Single. Year. 

This isn’t some family round-robin or a collective brainstorm. Nobody texts my husband to ask him what to get me for Christmas. I checked. I’ve texted a link and asked if somebody would like X-item. I’ve asked if somebody already has something. It never crossed my mind to turn to one of my relatives and ask a broad and burdensome question like: What should I get so-and-so?

For many families— mine included— gift giving is part of the second shift. Whose birthday is when and what to get them is, at least unconsciously, relegated to women’s work. It wasn’t until I got married that my extended family shifted the responsibility of gift selection onto me. I didn’t expect it. Nor did I expect how readily I accepted it as part of my job.

I kept a running list of gift ideas and doled them out to my relatives— who didn’t yet know him well enough to offer up something personal. I did the same when his brothers called. It was exhausting. I’m only one person. I only have so many great gift ideas for my husband at a given time, and over the years I’ve given away some really good ones. Then, a couple of years ago, it finally happened: I didn’t know what to get Tony for Christmas. I’d had a few ideas at the start of the season, but during the flurry of birthday idea requests, I gave them away. 

The system wasn’t working for me. I was tired and more than a little irritated when round two of the gift-giving brainstorm began. What should you get Tony for Christmas? I thought. Well, why don’t you start with getting to know him well enough to have your own ideas. Gift giving is a labor of love, and I resented that this labor seemed to fall squarely on my shoulders. Something needed to shift.

This year, I tried something a little bit different. When my brother-in-law called and asked what he should give Tony for his birthday, I said, “I don’t know. What do you think?” You know what? He came up with an idea. He texted me a link to some sneakers and asked which color I thought Tony might like the most. A few days later, I got a text from my other brother-in-law, not asking what to get Tony, but simply what size shirt he wears. Easy. Happy to answer. 

And when my mother called to ask the usual question? I offered a category: “Maybe a Christmas decoration?”

“Like what?” she asked. 

I told her I didn’t know. 

In the past, I would have felt like I was letting her down by not giving every last detail. But you know what? It was the truth! I didn’t know! This was a gift from her to Tony, and there’s really no reason for me to be the one pulling all the strings.

In the end, my parents got him a cookie jar shaped like a cow. The cow is wearing a Santa hat, and when you lift the lid, it moos. It is an exact replica of the cookie jar we had in my childhood home. They found it on Etsy. 

And you know what he thought of it? 

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