So, let me start by saying that our children do not make wishlists. We don't ask them what they want for Christmas. Many of the toys or other gifts they get for Christmas are not specific things we asked for. Occasionally, they'll be something specific someone needs or someone will ask for gift suggestions or someone will check to make sure that we don't already have something. But, I only give wishlists if people ask for them, and, in general, most of the gifts our girls get are surprises. And ultimately, that's a good thing.
Our girls are not picky. The littlest things get them excited. But their mom...well, she's another story. She's a planner. She (ahem...I) plan and research ideas for toys and games. But do you know what? All the research in the world about the best toy doesn't mean that that will be the best toy for my daughters. I may know them well, but I've only been a mom for four years, and there's a lot I don't know. Pridefully, I used to try to cling to doing things just so, but the thing is that my parents and Andrew's parents are smart people. They're also good parents. They've raised five children between their two families, and they have a lot of insight to offer into what works for kids. They also love our girls. They love them deeply, and they understand them in ways that only a grandparent can.
The same goes for their uncles and aunt. They may not have raised any children yet, but they're known our children since they were babies. They love them and know them as only an uncle or an aunt can.
And each of these family members also bring something else valuable into the girls' lives - their own personalities, interests, and experiences. When a loved one gives the girls a toy that was much loved by him or her as a child - that is a beautiful thing. My daughter then gets to share in and experience a part of her aunt/uncle/grandparent's childhood. When a loved one gives the girls a gift that he or she carefully picked out with Maria or Therese in mind - that is a beautiful thing. That gift becomes more than a thing - it's also the gift of time and care given for my daughter.
But let's be honest - over the years, there are occasionally toys that the girls get that would have been the last thing that I would have expected or would have gotten for them! But do you know what else? (I bet you can see where this is going...) Typically, that unexpected toy is the toy that my daughter loves the most. Why? Because I don't know everything about my daughters! And I certainly don't know everything about toys. Typically, an aunt/uncle/grandparent has an idea that is far better than whatever I had in mind. And that's a great thing!
But this is also important from a spiritual perspective. Why do we give gifts on Christmas? To remind us of the greatest gift of all - the Christ child! Now, let's think of that gift. Do you think that that gift looked anything like how Mary wanted it to look? Do you think Mary expected to have her first baby in a smelly barn and have kind of sketchy shepherds be his first visitors? No. No. No. But Mary knew something we often forget - a gift is a gift!
This time of year, I often hear moms talk with dread about the "unwanted" gifts/toys that their children are about to receive. I typically cringe inside when I hear that. Seriously? I appreciate that we think we know what the best toys are for our child, but I also think that we need to be open to the idea that we don't know everything about our children. God put the people who are in our children's in there for a reason, and He can and does work through them to reach our little ones. It's alright to have ideals and plans for your children, but it's not alright to do it in such a way that you limit how God chooses to work through your loved ones. (And I love seeing the gifts that those loved ones got our girls!)
Not to mention gratitude! Gifts are gifts and as the wife of a graduate student, I know how precious time and money are. I am grateful for the things that people give me. Have I ever complained about a gift that I've received? Yes, I'm ashamed to say I have. Should I have? No, certainly not.
You see, it's not about what I think is perfect. It's about the bigger picture. It's about God's plan. And can God use an unexpected Christmas gift in an unexpected way? You bet. And am I grateful for those surprise gifts? Yes, again! They are reminders that Christmas isn't about racking up the items on my wishlist, but rather about being open to the small and unexpected gifts in my life - material or otherwise. They are reminders of the greatest "small and unexpected" gift there ever was.