Solving the Hard-to-Shop-For-Mother Quandary: A Little Macaroni and a lot of Inner Child

“Remember when you used to make me cards and presents for Christmas?”

I should never have made her that scrap-wood jewelery box when I was 8 -- I set the bar too high.

My mother, my wing-woman, is an Italian-Irish Catholic Canadian, but I swear, she’s got that New York City Jewish Mother knack for instilling a stomach-churning sense of guilt.

“I always liked it when you made me cards and presents for Christmas.”

She said this to me one December 22nd as she drove me home from college. I had just grumbled something inaudible about being behind on my gift-buying. Not 30 minutes had passed since I was freed from the relentless push of the semester’s end and I was worn out from two weeks of exams and term papers. There had been no time to eat and sleep let alone tackle the NYC holiday shopping crowds. Not surprisingly, I was in that typical student mode of pure selfishness. Forget holiday shopping and bow making. Forget fa la la la laaaing and joy to the world. I was going to sleep for the next 24 hours… some one else could deck the halls.

My mother, like all mothers, is a notoriously bad person to draw in Secret Santa. Shopping for her Christmas gifts makes me sweat, ties knots in my stomach, and often causes hyperventilation — I started carrying a brown paper bag with me when I hit the mall in Santa mode. Yet, once upon a time, all I had to give her for Christmas was a glittered construction paper and doily card gingerly assembled during afternoon craft hour.

Mum had made a good point (one I’m not entirely sure she meant to make) — homemade presents are not only more thoughtful, they’re also easier: standards are lower.

A summer vacation scrapbook? Who doesn't love a sentimental photo album, witfully assembled?

At home, bedraggled but eager to please, I rummaged through drawers and bins on a hunt for stowed-away crafting supplies. I should never have made her that scrap-wood jewelery box when I was 8 — I had set the resourceful bar high. Many years later, the only materials at my disposal were faded construction paper, colored string, and macaroni.

“You’re an art student,” my father, who escapes the thinking/shopping challenge through gift certificates, said encouragingly. “Surely, you can come up with something.”

“Dad, it’s Art History. I don’t make stuff. I analyze stuff other people make.”

Sitting on my living room floor, in front of the fire, I consulted my creative side and got to work. A humorous scrapbook from our summer vacation? Who doesn’t love a sentimental photo collage?

A construction paper collage card? It would be just like kindergarten. Half the fun of Christmas is rekindling your inner child, isn’t it?

But the piece de resistance of that Christmas? The pasta necklace.

Despite its aesthetic qualities and the diligence with which it was crafted, like many a Christmas present past, it never got any use. But my mother’s hearty laugh and big hug upon opening it said it all: this time, it really was the thought that counted.


A construction paper card and macaroni necklace made by a 20-year old college student. Without a doubt, it was the thought that counted.

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