I am fond of telling my son that he owns nothing. “Everything you have is a gift,” I tell him. This is a standard response to the boy when he grasps something to claim it, when a fellow small person has taken a toy from Bryce even when he’s not playing with it, or when Bryce claims that something is “mine” while he’s taking it off his mother’s plate.
Nothing is yours, I’ll say. That was a gift to you. Somebody shared that with you. And when someone shares something, it means that thing belongs to more than you.
I used to tell my son that everything he had belonged to me. I used to fuss about Dawn telling him to go to his room and not to the room we loaned him. “That’s mine. That’s your mom’s.” Sometimes I still invoke that almighty parental ownership language.
More often, though, I’m reminding Bryce that when he looks around, he is almost always seeing something that was a gift. A gift is something that once was held in the hands of another and then (hopefully) freely given to the receiver. In that way, all gifts are secondhand. A gift is a reminder that what we need shows up in the hands of people.
In my life as a parent, gifts have been a long-standing reminder of how God blesses our family, even before the boy was born. People were giving stuff we needed. When we didn’t know what we’d need, these secondhand gifts were coming in the mail room.
Another example comes in bed clothes. Most of Bryce’s pajamas belonged to his cousin Eliot at one time. I have no idea how Eliot got them. But, after bathing, when we dress the boy in these secondhand garments, he usually says, “Eliot’s.” It took me a few weeks to find something else to say. My reply was “Yes, that was Eliot’s.” Then the reply became “Yes, Eliot gave these to you.” That morphed into, “Eliot wanted you to have them” and “Eliot shared them with you, so they’re yours now.”
I hope these reminders, the ones all over our home, the ones in my kid’s laundry pile, become steady ways we learn how to give and how to receive. I hope they teach us in implicit and explicit way to recall all our family’s gifts.