My 7-year-old daughter pouted. "But it won't be special." She rested her round face on her fists at the kitchen table.
"Why do you say that? Grandma's going to love it." I continued to gather permanent markers so Hannah could decorate a white tablecloth with her own design as a Christmas gift for my mother.
"I want to get her a real present from a real store with real money," Hannah said. "Besides, is it a real gift if we make it from stuff Grandma bought us? That seems like cheating."
I laughed at my daughter's reasoning. "She gave you the materials, but your imagination and hard work will create the gift, my girl."
Everything we were using had, indeed, come from a box of craft supplies Hannah's grandmother had given us last Christmas. Every year Grandma filled a storage box with art supplies. It was my favorite gift because it encouraged creativity in my children.
That Christmas, Hannah presented her grandmother with the tablecloth she'd created. "Look what I made with what you gave me, Grandma!"
My mother was overjoyed not only to receive something created by Hannah, but also to know her original gift had been put to use. In that moment, I learned a lesson I was able to apply for years to come.
Extended family members sometimes wonder if the gifts they've given are appreciated or if they're sitting, forgotten, on a closet shelf. Beyond a thank-you note, my mother now had evidence that her gift had been used and enjoyed.
After that day, I looked for opportunities to show relatives what my children did with the presents they received. I now send pictures of my children using or wearing their gifts, and when my kids receive money, we spend it on outings. Then I work with them to write stories about their adventures. We enclose those stories with their thank-you notes or express gratitude over the phone.
Doing this for our extended family has created meaningful relationships. And every meal our family has enjoyed at Grandma's house over the tablecloth my girl made for her has deepened the bond between my mother and my daughter — and reinforced to my daughter that gifts should come from the heart. After all, the best gift grandchildren can give to any grandparent is to return the love and joy they've received.