A gift given is also a gift received by the giver. To many, this is the definition of being a grandparent: when a gift given is a stand-alone joy received. Yet, when the grandchild ages out of Lego, Hot Wheels, and Pokémon, a grandparent’s gift-giving challenge is to create the smile one receives in return.
My 12-year-old grandson, Noah, did not need more radio-controlled cars, planes, boats, and drones this year. He needed an actual adventure — not a toy one — to test his pre-teen sensibilities and the freedom he so wants and deserves.
I tested some of those sensibilities this past Christmas with an “experience gift” — a week’s grandparent-grandchild adventure at White Stallion Ranch in Arizona.
I downloaded 12 pictures from the ranch’s website and showed him one photo at a time. He had 12 guesses to figure out his future life sans Lego.
The waffle with whipped cream from a breakfast buffet stumped him, but he soon realized it was a trip. However, he was still trying to understand what horses and a luxury pool had in common.
When he saw his head pasted on a cowboy’s body riding a horse, a sign saying, “Beware of rattlesnakes,” and cowboys rounding up steers, the smile began to emerge.
“You and I are going on a trip to a cowboy ranch?”
“You got it. Just the two of us.”
“So, no annoying sister? Freedom from my parents for a week? Just crazy you?”
I received the smile I wanted.
The Experience of a Lifetime
My gift-giving was still good when the time to be crazy together finally arrived, albeit in the 105-degree summer heat in the Sonoran Desert.
He stayed close during check-in but soon found 12 other kids willing to whoop and holler together. As the grandparents, we kept our whooping and hollering for happy hour after a long day in the saddle during trail rides and cattle sorting, but before target shooting and e-biking.
The grandkids, nevertheless, showed us that late-night swims in a pool just made sleep more enjoyable for old and young alike.
We also bonded over what we learned about the desert and each other.
Tarantulas won’t kill you. Snakes come out at night — including rattlers — so walk with a flashlight and don’t turn over any rocks.
Saguaro cacti are fallen Indian warriors, with the number of arms representing the number of wives they had.
A Grandparent-Grandchild Legend in the Making
Unlike the Saguaros, Noah and I won’t live for 200 years with myths to tell, but a grandparent-grandchild legend will live on beyond this trip.
A desert may not be our natural habitat as we will no longer rustle up some whipped-creamed waffles at the chuck wagon each morning.
Noah may not have earned the title of buckaroo at week’s end, and I surely don’t know the difference between “the good, the bad, and the ugly” when horses are involved. But because of this “experience” gift, memories were created about who we are and who we want to be. The smiles we feel deep inside say that shared gift-giving is good for the soul.