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The Christmas Gift of Travel

I am submitting this story to E-hell as it’s one that I think will solicit an interesting mix of responses! Just before Christmas, my husband received the following note in his Christmas card from his Grandma. Now, Grandma is in her 80s, and has (as the letter says) 13 grandchildren, who range from older teens at University to married-with-kids in their late 30s. Grandma lives in the far south of the UK and her grandchildren and their families live in various parts of the UK from very nearby (in the same village) to a few hundred miles away. My husband and I fall into the latter category, but we still see his family a few times per year as time allows – usually at birthdays, Christmas, wedding and christenings, as well as the occasional family Sunday lunch etc. I know some of the grandchildren see her much more often, and some, who are away at University etc., see her less frequently.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the letter and its contents, and my husband and my siblings-in-law and cousins-in-law have somewhat varying views about it from, “ahh, how kind and generous”,  to, “OMG! Gifts with Conditions are not Gifts at all!” I fall into a third category, of wondering why Grandma feels she has to ‘bribe’ her family into spending time with her (and, if I’m honest, worrying what kinds of unsuitable and overly-tiring activities some of the family will have Grandma doing, despite her being reasonably energetic for her age!)

So I thought it would be really interesting to see what some of the Ehellions thought of this one!

“Grandma’s Christmas Present for You!

This year, I wanted to do something really special with each of my 13 grandchildren (including partners and great-grandchildren if any yet) so here’s an idea that I hope we will all enjoy:

I have set aside £500 for each grandchild. But there’s a condition. To receive this I would like to spend some quality time with you! Quality time will be at least two days (and perhaps a night somewhere of your choice) for us to enjoy being together, sometime during the next year. Where we go or what we do (provided you don’t rush me about too much) will be organised by you but at my expense (up to the value of £500). Be as innovative as you like, but it must be a special time for us to share, creating happy memories and some photographs too.

Shall we go to a spa for the weekend to enjoy leisure facilities? What about a trip to the theatre or to have a mini holiday together? Even having a makeover and a photo shoot could be fun. Would you like to cook for me and invite me to stay with you in your own home for the weekend? How about escorting me to a special event somewhere? Relaxing in one another’s company with time to chat will be equally enjoyable. ‘Aunty Jane’ has lots of ideas if you want to discuss options with her.

The date will be of your choosing (subject to my availability) anytime between now and Christmas 2013. The quicker you are with your preferred date, the best choice you will have. It would be good to spread these quality time experiences throughout the year, if possible.

You don’t have to let me know in advance what you are proposing to arrange for us, although I will assume I don’t need any special equipment. Please don’t expect me to do kite-surfing, rock-climbing or bungee-jumping, but I’ll be quite happy watching you if that what you’d like to do during our time together.

If we don’t manage to spend all of the £500 during our weekend, I will let you have the difference in cash soon after. Also if you need cash upfront to make bookings etc. please liaise with ‘Aunty Jane’ so the experience you are planning will stay a secret from me until the day.

Look forward to hearing from you soon!”  1220-12

The small problem I see with this letter is that Grandma phrased it as a monetary gift with “conditions”.   What she is really giving is a shared experience, chosen at the discretion of the recipient, in which she pays all expenses up to £500.

She may be bribing her grandkids to spend time with her but all of us have mixed motives even in the most seemingly altruistic of actions.   I wouldn’t overly analyze her letter, the offer or her motives and simply take it at face value.    If you are feeling bribed, you can decline to accept the gift.

Grandma is also being as fair as she can by not singling out specific grandkids as being more  distant or closer than others and making a well thought out effort to keep the financial aspect of it very fair to everyone.  You could rejoice that this is a relatively drama-free offer.   Worrying about excursions that could tire Grandma are counterproductive since I assume Grandma knows her limits and Aunt Jane is there to provide better suggestions should one be deemed too wild and crazy for her mother.

My deceased father simply sent a check every Christmas whereas your husband’s grandmother is making an effort to get involved in her grandkids’ interests and lives and enjoy some new adventure with them.   If I were you, I’d think of some creative weekend trip that you all would enjoy…maybe to a special festival, or an unusual museum or aquarium, eat dinner at a nice pub and enjoy a night at a bed and breakfast inn.   And then send Grandma a thank you for the lovely gift of time.

{ 101 comments… add one }
  • Green123 September 18, 2013, 12:52 pm

    OP here. I just thought I’d pop back and update on how the year has been going so far. Well, as I predicted, some of DH’s siblings and cousins (mostly the ones who live close by to Grandma) have planned very cheap activities (days out at the seaside, trips to the local theatre, BBQs at home) or things that were great for those involved but dull for Grandma (watching family members play football or do moto-cross), with the overnight-stay requirement being covered by the spare room in their house or a cheap ‘travel lodge’. This has been quite blatantly done to spend as little of the £500 on Grandma so as to keep as much of it as possible for themselves, and there’s been discussion quite openly about how much ‘profit’ has been made.

    No doubt Grandma has enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren – she has certainly said as much – but I do feel she’s been taken advantage of somewhat, and I feel that the family members have been a bit unimaginative. Some, who had expressed horror at ‘gifts with conditions’ are yet to arrange anything.

    For our part, DH and I arranged a trip for Grandma to catch a train first class (which she had never done) to our hometown, and then took her for a drive around the local area (which is a famous National Park which she had never visited) so she could see some of the more picturesque villages and enjoy taking photographs. We had a delicious meal in a good local gastropub, which she declared ‘delicious’ and arranged for her to stay in a lovely ‘chocolate box’ hotel where again she was able to indulge her hobby of photography in the gardens and grounds. The next morning we explored more of the area, in thankfully-good weather, before having a traditional afternoon tea. I hope this was an appropriate and enjoyable weekend for her.

    I stand by my original assessment that although the gift was kind, there was potential for Grandma to be exposed to unsuitable, cheap, or boring activities. This has been proven correct in some cases.

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