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I’m Not Bribing My Sons

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s not a bribe. It really isn’t. I am a non-custodial parent and I live on the opposite coast from my children, which means that we spend lots of time on the phone, hanging out on Skype and sharing the stories of our lives. And yes, there is lots of gift-giving on non-holidays, but I am not sure it’s more than the average mom does. The only difference is, I’m not there to hand the gifts to them and they have become accustomed to receiving packages in the mail with little tokens of my affection.

I’m not trying to win their love — I am confident that I have that. When I send my sons a gift it is truly because I want to involve myself in their everyday lives and take care of needs that I see they have, and I consider these gifts to be investments in their future.

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Here are the last 10 gifts I sent my sons and a brief explanation about why I sent them.

"The Grapes of Wrath"

My younger son Solomon is an avid book reader. He speed reads, has a great vocabulary and is constantly telling me that he just finished a new book. Even though he is only 12 I like to challenge him by sending him books I loved when I was younger so we can discuss them. Just last week he received the classic "The Grapes of Wrath." “This book is bigger than the Bible,” I warned him and he laughed. “But it’s one of my all-time favorites.”

Energizer LED Book Light

One night my son Solomon called me, whispering into the phone, telling me that he couldn’t sleep and he was bored. “So read a book,” I suggested. “I am sure you have plenty.” He told me that his brother was on the top bunk and the light would bother him. So I ordered a book light to solve the problem.

Artist Painting Kit

My older son Saidon wanted new shoes and I told him that he needed to create something to sell. He decided that he would create paintings and sell them and I offered to invest in him by sending him a painting starter kit. He ended up selling two paintings (to my mom) but he made $60. Gotta love Grandma!

Flushable Wipes

The last time my sons visited Los Angeles I took some time to teach them about proper grooming, including giving them pedicures and teaching them how to clean their ears without a q-tip. Before they left I gave them their own package of wipes to use so they will be squeaky clean everywhere. When they ran out, I sent them a refill that I hope will last a long time.

I’ll never forget when they arrived. ... My Sneakerhead was so happy that I could feel his joy through the phone.

"The Game of Life and How to Play It"

This is my favorite book to give as a gift because reading it completely changed my life. One day I was sitting at home and thinking about how much I want my sons to have a good life and became frustrated because I didn’t really know how I could ensure that. Then an image of this book flashed in my mind. If I can’t protect them from the world, then maybe I can teach them how to handle life’s inconsistencies in the same way this book taught me.

Jillian Michael’s 30-Day Shred

I’m turning into a fit chick. Well, at least my mama says I am. “You look like a body builder!” she exclaimed recently after seeing me over Skype. I’m trying. I see some progress and I want my sons to progress too so I ordered Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred and had it shipped to them so that we could work out together. They weren’t thrilled but they indulged me for a couple of weeks.

3-Pound Hand Weights

I ordered the hand weights so they can feel the burn when we’re doing the 30 Day Shred, duh.

"The Giver"

My son has an amazing language arts teacher who challenged his eighth-grade class to read "The Giver" by Lois Lowry. As my son described the premise of the book to me one evening over the phone, my eyes grew wide and I just had to go and download the book for myself to read along with his class. After I was done reading, I ordered a copy for my younger son to read as well so that we could all discuss the important themes presented in this marvelous book.

"Card Tricks For Beginners"

My older son Saidon is a social butterfly, he simply loves meeting new people and making friends. He believes that anyone you share a joke with is your friend and I can’t break him out of that so I just watch him enjoy himself. One day I was thinking about how I could support him by teaching him a social skill that would make him stand out. I don’t know where it came from, but I decided to buy him a book of card tricks and a book filled with coin tricks too. After he received them, he practiced and practiced and now he gives little shows when he meets new people. It proved to be the perfect addition to his social skills!

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Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars

I won a gift card so I told my sons they could choose anything they wanted, and my older son chose his first pair of “LA shoes” — bright red Converse Chuck Taylors. I’ll never forget when they arrived. He called me so that I could witness the ‘unboxing’ and my Sneakerhead was so happy that I could feel his joy through the phone.

These are the moments when I feel complete and whole, knowing that I am making an impact on my children’s lives, even from 3,000 miles away.

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