I’m writing this column from Israel, while back home my husband is determinedly battling bedtime alone with three older kids who refuse to acknowledge that they need rest. Usually, this is a frustrating war we fight together each night, but for 15 days, he has given me the ultimate gift: the gift of time.
When we first married, gifts were all about material things. We racked our brains and begged each other for clues when birthdays and anniversaries rolled around, trying to come up with unique gifts that said I love you with as much passion and conviction as material objects can muster. There was jewelry for extra-special occasions and an accumulation of other stuff that, after the initial excitement wore off, would eventually gather dust.
As the years passed, we both began to understand that purchasing material objects neither of us truly needed was a waste of time, energy and money. With the birth of our first child, we were introduced to a brand new concept of gift giving: the gift of time.
I can’t forget the first time he gave me this special gift. I’d been up with the baby during the night and foggily navigating my way through the daylight hours with a newborn. My home, my neighbourhood and my world felt like an entirely new place now that I was officially a mother, a place rife with challenges. But with that role came fatigue like I’d never known it before. I was depleted, exhausted and permanently anxious about the nights ahead, which, intercepted by regular breastfeeds, promised to be no more restful than the ones that had preceded it.
One afternoon early into our parenthood experience, my husband returned from work, took our bundle of baby from my arms and said the words I longed desperately to hear: “You go take a nap. I’m going to take the baby for a walk.”
In that moment, I fell in love with him all over again. My nap couldn’t have been more than an hour, but it was a siesta more precious than roses, chocolates, lingerie or any of the other typical gifts women are supposed to covet from their spouses. It was a gift that said, “You go first,” at a time when we were both so very tired. But one of us had to be the parent in charge, and he volunteered, handing me a period of perfect, uninterrupted sleep that remains, to this day, unforgettable.
Fast forward 17 years, and we’ve both become better equipped to handle sleepless nights. Still, the gift of time has persisted as the most meaningful gift we can exchange. Oftentimes the gift is a brief one: a couple of hours out with a good friend, a game of poker with the guys, or an evening bike ride on a hot summer night.
Occasionally, though, we get extra generous with each other. Which is how I come to write this column from Israel. It’s a mammoth gift, this one, a gift that implies many sacrifices in his daily schedule and a great deal more stress than he might ordinarily encounter. I can only hope I have the generosity of spirit to match it someday, to turn to him and say with total magnaminity, “It’s your turn to take a break.”
Because time, and how we spend it, is the greatest gift of all.