Moving Beyond the Gifts We Didn’t Get

As I fidgeted in a church pew that Christmas morning of 1978, squished between siblings, feeling hot and itchy in white tights sticking to my skinny little thighs, I’ll confess, I wasn’t exactly thinking about baby Jesus.

I was thinking about Merlin.

Merlin, “The Electronic Wizard.” Gen-Xers remember?

photodune-13819842-christmas-decorations-with-gift-box-xsIt looked like an oversized red telephone and was one of the first hand-held, computer like games to take the toy world (and my heart) by storm.

Merlin was loaded with magical sounds, lighted buttons, and six mind memory games: Tic Tac Toe, Echo, Blackjack 13, Magic Square, Mindbender, and Music Machine.

Boys and girls loved it because it was fun and addicting.

Parents loved it because it enhanced logic and group theory skills without the kids even realizing it. (Those same kids didn’t realize their super moms regularly snuck pureed cauliflower into their mac ‘n’ cheese, either).

That year, there was nothing I wanted more in the whole wide world than my very own Merlin.

My parents did their best to keep all that materialistic hullabaloo on the back burner and the true meaning of Christmas up front.

But, for a 9-year-old who’d been awake since 5:00 am, having to wait until after church service to open gifts was darn near torture.

When it finally came time to gather around the tree, one of us kids would be appointed “Santa’s elf” and pass out all the gifts to help keep chaos to a minimum. Before long, though, with nine kids, it was total mayhem.

While opening my own modest pile, I always tried to save the best for last. Typically the biggest. But that year, it was a package about 8 inches long, 3 inches wide. Just about the size of the box I’d imagine Merlin would come in.

My heart beat wildly as I moved toward the magnificence of the future, pulling back the layers of wrapping paper as though I were opening hand-carved doors to a sparkly, magical land.

And then. There it was . . .  a clock radio.

SPLAT! Disappointment landed on my Christmas like a sack of squash.

I really couldn’t complain. It had both AM and FM. A darn good gift that kids all over the world would love to have. And on top of that, I got a turtleneck, a Barbie named Tuesday, and Hungry Hungry Hippo!

But even so, all I could think about was the gift I didn’t get.

I’d like to say that was the last time I dwelled on a gift I didn’t get. Clearly, I’ve received far more in this life than my fair share and what I deserve.

And yet, I’ve dwelled.

I’ve dwelled over not getting curly hair, a husband who cooks, a cabin up North, the knack for small talk, the aptitude for math, the patience for crafts, and most of all, a magic wand to cure Parkinson’s Disease, Rett Syndrome, asthma, cancer, depression, loneliness, unemployment, and everything else that has caused suffering to those I’ve known and loved.

Midlife is a powerful time in anyone’s life. It can either suck you into a pit of didn’t-gets or spring you into a state of gratitude for the did-gets.

It’s all about perspective, really.

A few examples:

♦ Let’s start with the hair. I’ve always wished I had some curl. My hair is flat as Stanley. But who am I to complain? My cousin’s wife, an artist and mother of two undergoing radiation therapy, has none.

♦ Next, the hubby. Great guy. Love him. But at times I’ve wished he were more cultivated in some areas; in the kitchen, for instance. But he commutes an hour to work, comes home and plays basketball with the kids, cleans gutters, and buys me chocolate.

♦ I’ve wished many times, and so have my kids, that I were more domestically inclined like “the other moms.” You know, like the ones that make birthday cakes look like Minions. But, I can fix a dangling modifier, make a mean pot of gumbo if I follow a recipe and stay focused,  and whip lots of people’s butts in ping-pong.

♦ I’ve wished for the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anyplace. The gift of gab I call it. I’m not a complete introvert, but I live in my head a lot and have to mentally prepare to put myself out there. But I long for connection like everyone else, and I’ve made some amazing ones along the way.

♦ And finally, sometimes I’ve watched with a little envy those fit and able grandmas at basketball and baseball games standing up and cheering for their grandkids. By the time my firstborn came along, the functionality of my mom’s hands, feet, and vocal chords was already starting to diminish and keep her from being the grandma she longs to be, no thanks to Parkinson’s Disease.

But, I still have my Mom (and my wonderful Dad who’s loved her for 57 years). I still get to kiss her silky cheeks, look into her bountiful eyes, and learn from the gratitude she displays like an angel in the midst of one of her greatest didn’t-gets.

You know what? That clock radio I got instead of Merlin turned out to be just what I needed in the years following. The music by my bedside helped me fall asleep at night during some not-so-great junior high years.

Small electronics are no comparison to real matters of the heart, of course. But what I’m trying to say is maybe our did-gets and didn’t-gets are part of a bigger plan that reveals itself in time.

Regardless, I owe it to myself, those I love, and the Babe in the Manger to move beyond dwelling over gifts I didn’t get and appreciate more the ones I did get.

Still hoping to find a salad spinner and new fuzzy socks under the tree, though. After church, of course:-)


I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom to two teens and a tween, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between. 

This blog, Carvings on a Desk, is where I reconnect with my own voice swirling around in the middle.

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About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

25 comments on “Moving Beyond the Gifts We Didn’t Get

  1. I love this SO much, Julie. Your perspective and how you string together stories and insight ALWAYS moves me and inspires me. Yes yes yes… I have my own list of ‘didn’t gets’ and can surely spin them all into what I DID get. This is a perfect message for this time of year. Thank you for the reality check. We all need it!!

  2. Oh that Christmas morning disappointment is so real though isn’t it? But you’re so so right – the many did gets — we truly are blessed, aren’t we? I think about this often, especially with the news and current events bring new stories of heartbreak and violence. I’m so glad that I started blogging and that I did get to have time with you here because you are wonderful. I love this!

  3. First. MERLIN! I completely forgot about this thingamathing ’till you showed the picture. You’re right, it *was* pretty cool. Did I have one? I actually can’t remember, so there’s that to add into the mix. Sometimes it’s said we have our “didn’t gets” in order to better appreciate our “gets,” I for one don’t really buy into that theory. I think instead you are right on to look at the didn’t gets as part of the balance of the whole deal, really. And you have shared it and painted it here with us in such a beautiful way, thank you.

    • Yay, somebody remembers Merlin! Thingamathing!! So funny. Clearly it didn’t leave quite the same impression on you as it did on me. What a sweet, thoughtful comment. Thank you. And thank you for sharing.

  4. “Midlife is a powerful time in anyone’s life. It can either suck you into a pit of didn’t-gets or spring you into a state of gratitude for the did-gets.

    It’s all about perspective, really.”

    So true! Whenever I get in a funk, all I have to do is look around. I really enjoyed reading this.

  5. Love love love your perspective and the reminder that it’s usually about perspective!
    Best line: “But he commutes an hour to work, comes home and plays basketball with the kids, cleans gutters, and buys me chocolate.”

    • Thanks Nicki! Yeah, I’m lucky to have a buy who buys me chocolate. I have to really, really focus on that perspective when it’s 5:30pm and once again, it’s all up to me to figure out what to feed the family again!

  6. I always love the gratitude and perspective that comes through in your writing. Plus, I’m laughing because my cousins had a Merlin growing up, but honestly until this post, I never knew that’s what it was called. I thnk by the time I could play with it, the lifespan was running out. Anyway, hope you find those fuzzy socks and salad spinner under the tree. Your appreciation for all things, the mundane and the significant, is inspiring.

    • What a wonderful comment. Thank you so much Mimi! That’s awesome that you remember playing Merlin at your cousin’s! Yeah, if I’m doing my math right, you were only 3 when Merlin first came out. I’ve been thinking about buying a vintage one on Ebay! I really appreciate you stopping by and for your kind words.

  7. The did-gets. I love that. I think 35 is a weird age. part of me still thinks I’m a young adult, and part of me thinks I’m getting middle-aged. I’m just an adult adult, with so many didn’t-gets and did-gets.

    • Well, whatever age I am, it seems like I’m still always looking for an adultier adult who is more wise than I am to make all the decisions for me. You’re at a great age! All ages have their own sort of weirdness.

  8. I really enjoyed this today. It is something I guess we all need to focus on more and more. Lovely thoughts. I remember having Merlin and it was greatly coveted by me, but I didn’t receive it either.

    • Hi Rena! You must’ve played Merlin at your friends houses then. I think one of my siblings eventually got one, second hand maybe, but by then, I’d moved on to other things. Thanks for sharing this post on Twitter by the way. Appreciate it!

  9. I haven’t thought about Merlin in years! I didn’t have one, but I did love my clock radio. As many others have commented, your perspective is such a welcome one, particularly at this time of year. As I’m facing a year filled with many changes, I need to remember that perspective is crucial. Thank you for reminding me!

    • You’re welcome, and thank YOU! Well, it seems as though I’m not alone in not getting a Merlin of my own. You do have a year full of changes. Perspective is tricky and takes so much discipline. I constantly have to reign myself in so as not to fall into that pit of didn’t-gets. So much good to focus on.

  10. “I wish he were more cultivated in some areas” is such a genius way to say that. 😉

    I love the sentiment behind this whole post, which is GRATITUDE and it’s so important. The title is perfect, too.

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