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Presence

12/06/07 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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Deborah Luskin, commentator
(HOST) Stumped by the cultural imperative to buy holiday gifts even though her family has everything it needs, commentator Deborah Luskin thinks she's found the perfect gift - something we all could use more of.

(LUSKIN) Just after Thanksgiving, I bumped into a friend, who asked if I'd done my holiday shopping. I must have stared at her, because frankly, I'd been so busy with work I couldn't see the holidays coming. I told her, "My kids are coming home. All I want is to be with my family."

Having my children at home is a big deal. When they aren't away at school, they're off exploring the world. In the last year, my kids have traveled to India, Russia, Rwanda, Thailand, South Africa, Kenya and France. Mostly, I parent by email and drive to and from the airport the way I used to drive to ballet.

Even if the kids weren't coming home from places where the village water supply is guarded by soldiers or women the age of my daughters have been arranged into marriage, I'd still be aware that my American family has more than it needs.
In the last few years, my family has fallen into the habit of buying not only what we need, but also what we want at any time of year. This includes the hi-tech long underwear that was once part of the pile of gifts under the tree, as well as the electronic hardware that is part of modern life: lap top computers for school, digital cameras for travel, iPods to tune out the noise of the world. One of my kids attended ice hockey camp one summer, so I bought her a pair of skates in July.

Our year-round consuming has taken away the magic of gift giving. What, I asked myself, could I possibly give my family? Then it hit me. There's only one thing all five of us lack, and that's time. So that's what I'll give everyone: my time.

My kids will be home. I will put aside my work-a-day tasks to watch a silly movie with them, all of us squashed on the couch, reveling in our mammal warmth. When their friends come over, I will hang around the kitchen counter, listening to the talk of these interesting young people who are about to take over our world.

My parents will join us. In their eighties, they have everything in the world but time.

My husband will have a night off. If there is snow cover, we'll snowshoe by starlight, or skate if there's ice.

I know I must sound a bit defensive; it's not easy to swim against the current of our consumer lives. But taking the time to be fully present is the best present of all.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.
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