A certain kid done with finals started his break from studies by opening a box I had sitting by our dining room table. The box contained a puzzle – a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright, gold foil, 1000 piece puzzle. A puzzle I bought for my sister for Christmas. Because it’s beautiful. Stunning in fact. Yet, truth be told, the puzzle scared me. So many colors and shapes and pieces. I hoped she’d like it.

But before I could stop him, not only had he opened the puzzle, he had started in on the edges. And what could I do, but join him. No one should puzzle alone! (Which is part of a puzzle’s beauty.)

So during a week where things were begging/needing to get done, any hoped-for-productivity got traded for searching, hunting and trying pieces. For three days. Straight. Only to “finish” it last night and realize that the munching sound coming from the happy puppy underfoot was said dog eating 4 or the puzzle’s pieces. Well, 3 and 1/2 – we managed to salvage some.

It was agonizing – and wonderful all at the same time. Even the apologies (“I’m sorry I got so frustrated at those missing pieces”), the scrambling over pieces, the ignoring of all things needing to be done. We spent some serious quality time together. No screens, just a common goal. This gift intended for another actually gave to us so much more than 1000 pieces fitting together.

So playing on that theme – here a few tried & true non-screen gift ideas for the tween/teens in our lives (well, actually anyone) that keep giving long after opened.

Board Games
Before a groan, or been there done that, or the dread of having to play – board games are now cool. One of the latest trends is board game cafes. Why are they popping up around the country? Because games meet “the need to connect with people in a public/private space, the need to have a meaningful interaction that doesn’t use emoticons, and perhaps the need, in an increasingly complex world, to work with friends and family toward a clear goal. (The Atlantic) And thanks to YouTube, it’s easy to watch rather than read the instructions.

The greatest thing about board games – and we’re not talking old-school that take a day or two to play – is personal interaction. Actual talking to each other and – with some games – working together to win.
Here are a few of our current favs: Splendor (fun for all ages), Pandemic (work TOGETHER to save the world), Azul (great for all ages), Rat-a-tat-Cat (sounds childish – beautifully not), Codenames.

A Blessing Box
When our now 22 year old son was 13, I sent an message out to close friends, relatives and teachers/school administrators asking them to message me back a short/true (key is true) blurb about him. I took all of those notes, formatted and sized them to fit in a beautiful wood box I thought he would like.

Just this week, almost ten years later (!), I saw the box open on his desk with a couple of notes sitting alongside. He had been reading them.

“I still look,” he told me. “Some of them make me cry. I just can’t believe people took the time to say such nice things.”

I think he struggles believing what people wrote about him. I probably would too. But the fact that he stops reads them, well – it sure beats an X-Box he probably got that same year (an understatement.)

Simple Service (might not sound like a gift, but it is)
Serving simply to serve, no counting community service hours or putting it on a resume. The memories themselves are worth the time. We will never forget a certain trip to our favorite Food Pantry that involved the going through a pallet of cabbage to weed out rot. Or the time the kids took our wagon up and down the block gathering cans of food to put in the North Texas Food Bank Box.

Give a break
Give a break from nagging or checking up. Go a day without so much as a have you done your homework, clean your room, get off that game, … – just for a day. And any time fear rises with all the horrible things that might happen without the nag, replace the it with something positive. Remind them who they are, speak aloud their attributes and giftedness. Call out their worth, specifically. And give those a reminders a listen – maybe shoot a few your way too. We could all use a reminder of good in the midst of do’s and be’s.

Channel Choice (involves screens, but not of the hand-held variety)
Pass the remote, then sit down and watch a show together. A show they like – with no groaning or looking at your phone or working on the computer. OR play a video game. Any time I join in on a Mario Kart race, I do everyone a favor – faithfully, legitimately, coming in last place, putting others ahead of me despite my very best effort to at least come in 11th. It’s just so hard to stay on the track!

The Gift of Like
We love our kids. But, believe it or not, it’s okay – actually good – to like them too. This just might be the best gift of all, for everyone. And it probably comes into greater focus when engaging with a few of the gifts above.

Thanks for walking the road with me,

– Kay

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