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I’ve had beaus who gave me lovely presents. And I’ve had gentleman friends who were not at all good gift-givers. The ones who knew me well got that I didn’t need something big and flashy and expensive, but I do love a token of affection.
Once that gift is purchased (and should be at this point, right?), and a significant other is wracking his brain for another gift for the holiday, I propose that he make a practical choice.
I like gifts that serve me well — at my desk, in my office, as I prep lunches every day. I appreciate when someone I love notices that I’m missing a convenient gadget or that my toaster really needs to be replaced. I don’t think of those presents as boring, I think of them daily as I go about the business of my life. And often, as I mix up mac and cheese or steam my favorite maxi dress for a date night, I remember the person who gave me that little practical gem and am happy their thoughtfulness impacts tiny moments like those.
I’ve compiled a list of my very favorite practical gifts that you can run out right now and pick up, no problem. But before you do —
HEED THIS WARNING: Do not EVER give a woman a practical gift as her sole gift. Get her something loving, sentimental, high-tech or shiny. THEN and only then can you consider adding on something that clips, cleans, carries or sucks.
If you do not follow this warning, you will probably end up spending a lot more on her at the next holiday. Or end up using the practical gift in your own apartment, alone. (OK, maybe it is not that dire, but you hear me.)
Here are my favorite 15 practical gifts that I say she really will like and you can run out and grab just as soon as you’re done wrapping her iPad Mini.
This post originally appeared on Babble.com.
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We swept away the dust and dirt covering our porch from a long, slow winter. There was a faint breeze and the clouds were momentarily covering the summer’s first fully sunny weekend. We rearranged the table and chairs and grill in the small space we share with our neighbors in the condo across the way. My daughter, who is edging close to her second birthday, commandeered the broom while I sprayed and wiped every surface twice. My boyfriend fired up the grill and we waited for my 11-year old son to ring the bell and come running up the stairs to sit with us as the afternoon turned to evening.
We were making room for summer, the guest who has taken too long to arrive, but who quickly we throw our arms around and thank for being here, forgetting she should have shown up a month ago.
Our little family loves summer. Our schedules might not show it. Our calendar is complicated by my son’s day camps and sleep-away camp and visitation and vacations with his dad, by our work commitments, and now by a toddler in a daycare with robust activities. We are also confined by budget this year, and I have spent the winter concerned that another summer will slip by without a big get-away vacation or plenty of worry-less weekends when the adults can strip off the stresses and dive into the lake with the littler ones. I want that kind of summer for all of us.
This is summer, I thought. This little moment is full of summer.
I was perseverating on the vacation part while we cleaned the porch — Is there anyway I can make Maui happen? Can I survive camping with a toddler? What about that rental treehouse in Michigan I bookmarked? Could California be a possibility? Is an all-inclusive resort in Mexico a remote possibility? — when I remembered there was sliced watermelon waiting in the kitchen. While my toddler finished up her avocado and rolled peas around on her plate, I fetched a few triangles for her eat.
She grabbed one with both hands and sank her baby teeth in, the sweet red smeared across her delicious cheeks. In a flash, I remembered being her age, maybe a little older, sitting at a long kitchen table in the hot and humid summer, eating a huge slice of watermelon with the juice running down my bare chest. The memory has a hazy yellow film like most of my recollections from the mid-70s do, especially those at our “farm,” a run-down house on 127 acres of woodland that my parents owned with six other college friends. During our free-range visits, we hiked and played in the hose, hung tight on rope swings and got lost in the woods, ate sugar cereal and took baths in the kitchen sink. No television, no phone, not much to do. And we still fell into our creaky pull-out beds exhausted every night. The thing about that watermelon memory, and really all my time at that farm as a kid, is that I felt happy and free to just be a kid — a kid covered in dirt and watermelon and wildflower allergens.
My daughter was consumed by the watermelon, completely delighted by the taste she didn’t remember and having the whole slice in her own little hands. This is summer, I thought. This little moment is full of summer.
I will still worry about making summer feel big for my kids and worth all that winter for me and my boyfriend. But I am also going to work hard at seeing the fullness in each little moment at the free beach a few miles away, in staying in our PJs until lunch time on Sundays, stretching out on the grass at the park, and leisurely dinners on the porch without the pressure of homework and deadlines. I will keep bringing out the watermelon as a reminder of the sweet and the simple, the summer moments to savor right here and now.
I can see, not far in the distance, the last days of breastfeeding my last baby. It is as if a large, friendly vessel is making its way toward us, and we wake each morning and say farewell to each day measuring how far away it is.
This ship carries things, lovely moments and new opportunities that I value. Like wearing regular bras that aren’t stained and stretched from so many months of unhooking and re-fastening, the ones that boost my workhorse boobs and give me back that part of my body to own again. Like the hope of losing the last pounds that nestle comfortably in to my hips so long as I am nursing. And the pure joy of watching my daughter bound into the next part of toddlerhood, running as she does with arms behind her like she’s holding up her cape in the wind.
But it also brings the bittersweet cargo that these are the final moments of what has been an intimate, quiet gift of motherhood for me. Even when it has been hard — when my breasts have been unbearably full or during the early days when I barely had time to pee in between nursing sessions, when I have cried through those ten to 45 minutes in a chair while my family was eating dinner or running around in the sunshine or deeply sleeping — I have loved to hold a baby to my beating heart and know I alone was nourishing her growing brain and tiny body. Later, when we got into a routine, I held tight to the times when my climbing, dancing, stomping toddler was still for a bit, when she needed me for comfort as much as anything else.
I felt the same way with my son a decade ago. I was a stay-at-home mom then and so it was convenient and comforting for us both to keep up the breastfeeding for 18 healthy months. Then I got my first professional blogging job, jetted off to New York City with throbbing boobs and said a silent farewell to what had been. When I got home, I sat in our nursing spot and used our baby sign to ask if he’d like to try again after those three nurse-less days.
“I’m all done,” he said sweetly and decisively, and turned back toward his toys. That ship felt more like a speed boat my uncomfortable then-in-laws were immensely relieved to see had finally docked.
I didn’t place any breastfeeding expectations on this baby, understanding that each child and circumstance is different and the shoulds can be devastating to a mother who greatly wants or doesn’t want to nurse. But she latched on in every way, and so we’ve somewhat surprisingly arrived at this place as she turns 20 months old.
She still asks, still hands me the Boppy, gathers her stuffed animals and makes her way into my lap. And she really breastfeeds, even if the time is gradually getting shorter and she’s easily distracted by noises and light and questions about where Daddy is. Before she barrel rolls off of me to play or ask for breakfast or run to find her brother, she contentedly twirls her curls and mine, sings, smiles and snuggles her babies, all while she nurses.
I stroke her cheek, hold the back of her head in my palm, wink back at her in an inside joke kind of way. And then I turn my attention to Words With Friends while she tucks her fingers inside my t-shirt. It feels like such everyday familiarity that even typing the routine for others to read surfaces a shyness I rarely share.
In two weeks, I will be gone for three full days. Much like that trip ten years ago to NYC, I expect to come home to a toddler who has grown out of her baby breastfeeding. I expect that the throbbing at my chest will also be from my heart, beating with anticipation of letting go and letting that be good.
I will probably cry. And try to get a squirmy girl to settle into my arms by singing to her at bedtime or covering her cheeks with lipstick kisses. It’s also likely that I will laugh at my littlest one who is very excited to talk about potties and squeals as she shows off her belly. I might even order a sexy new red lace bra that only unfastens in the back.
Because good and hard often go together, arm in arm, raising a free hand to welcome the ship to shore while the other palm is pressed close into what is for a few more precious minutes.
This post originally appeared on alpha mom.