Your Best Gift Essay

I wanted a little brother

Crystal loves hanging out with her brother, Andrew. Photo by Crystal's biological mother, Amanda Boten.

First place $50

By Crystal Byrne, Opportunities for Learning

One of the most priceless and mind-blowing gifts I’ve ever been given is my little brother, Andrew! I know a lot of people say they wish they could sell their siblings on eBay (just kidding) or be an only child, but it’s not at all like that with me. My brothers and sisters are the greatest thing invented since sliced bread and each of them contributed to the person I am today. I didn’t know about Andrew’s existence until I was 15 or 16 but for the longest time I had secretly longed for a little brother. Here’s why: I am adopted and grew up with my five siblings who were also adopted.

My oldest brother Eddie, who is twice my age, and I used to be really close because I was a tomboy. Man, the pranks we would play! He is the one who taught me that someone may be able to overpower you physically but you can always outwit them. So he treated me equally and never went easy on me because I was a girl or because I was younger. It enabled me to think fast and sometimes I believe he grudgingly regretted teaching me how to be quick on my feet because he later paid the consequences. Although we bickered, fought and got into mischief, when push came to shove we had each other’s back.

Eddie was my best friend so when he moved out and headed off to train for war I was absolutely devastated. Don’t get me wrong, I adored my sisters. They provided me with emotional support and were always there for me if I needed to vent, but they simply couldn’t give me the male companionship that I needed. My brother and I had a connection. No one challenged me the way he did and I missed that.

War changes people and he was one of those people. I got one letter from him, which I keep in my wallet, and after that he became a complete stranger. I no longer knew this person who had invaded his body. I was hurt beyond words but as upset as I was, I couldn’t forget all that we had had together. For the longest time all my friends were guys and that helped fill in the emptiness, but it still wasn’t the same. I began to wish for a little brother whose face I could wake up to and whose laughter I could fall asleep to.

Years went by without me knowing that safe and sound about 40 minutes from where I was, my dream come true was waiting. My brother had known about me since he was a tot, while I on the other hand had no clue that as I sat on my bed wishing and dreaming for him to exist, that he was sitting on his bed wondering every day if we would ever meet. When I finally met him for the first time a thrill shot through my veins and excitement raced up and down my spine. Andrew could never take the place of my brother Eddie; instead he has made his own place. Andrew is a bundle of inexhaustible love that I would never trade for any other gift in the whole wide world. He is the best present I’ve ever been given!!

A special charm bracelet

2nd Place $30

By Daisy Jauregui, Wilmington MS

I have always been grateful for everything I receive because that is the way I was raised. Yet, one of the best gifts I have ever received was my grandmother’s charm bracelet. My grandmother died when my dad was only 5 years old and ever since then my grandmother’s bracelet has been passed down as an heirloom. At first my grandfather kept it but when my dad got engaged to my mom, my grandfather gave it to my mom. Then my mom gave it to me for my 11th birthday and I loved it so much because it made me feel secure.

The charm bracelet was different colors and had silver crosses on it that would shine in the light. However, what made it really special was that it was my grandmother’s and it gave me luck. Ever since I began wearing it, I began to do better in school and began to achieve some goals that I never thought I would be able to achieve. Once I noticed this, I wore my bracelet every day and when I told my mom, she told me it must be my grandmother looking over me. When she told me this, I began to feel closer to my grandmother even though I didn’t know her. I knew she cared about me and was looking out for me. Yet, the charm bracelet was really old and it would break often, but not beyond repair. For instance, once I hit my hand against the wall by accident and it broke into three pieces. I was so scared that my dad wasn’t going to be able to fix it, but luckily he did.

Unfortunately, now I don’t have the bracelet anymore. One day after school, I was messing around with my friends during band practice and when I looked at my wrist, the bracelet wasn’t there. I began to panic because I had been all over the school and I knew how delicate the bracelet was. I went crazy searching for it but it was no use. The bracelet was really thin, and I had a feeling I lost it on the school’s grass field. At that moment, so many questions were going through my head including, “Does this mean I’m not going to do well in school anymore?” When I told my mom this, she just laughed and said, “It’s OK. Maybe someone needed the luck more than you.” Although my mom was trying to make me feel better by telling me this, she made me feel worse because I couldn’t bear thinking someone else had my bracelet. Luckily, as I began to tear up, my dad made me feel better by telling me that the bracelet having luck was all in my head and that my grandmother has always been looking over me.

A gift from Afghanistan

3rd place $20

By Joseph Fischer, Fleming MS (Lomita)

The best present I’ve ever gotten was a hand-made box from Afghanistan. My grandfather was in Afghanistan along with other U.S. troops. He got my brother and I these hand-made boxes for our personal stuff. He also sent it with a note from him, a picture and money from “Da Afghan Bank.” That is actually what is says on the bill, ha ha. The box is wooden with a picture of the American and Afghanistan flags on the front. To open the box is even more special. You can’t just lift the top, you have to … actually that’s a secret. That’s the one thing that keeps the box so secret. I have put only the most personal of items in that box. There are only a handful of things that are that personal to me. The note that was sent with the box is one of them.

This box is special to me because it was a great surprise and it gave me a feeling that I was talking to my grandfather every time I read that note. I haven’t seen him in a while. I’ve seen my grandfather only once since he was sent to Afghanistan. That box keeps him in my thoughts. I will never get rid of that box and it will never lose its importance to me. I only want to see my grandpa again. I miss him.

Next essay contest: What do you wish you could give up?

One of our staff writers has to have her daily coffee fix. Another was so obsessed with video games that his grades went down. There are temptations all around us. Sometimes we feel bad when we give in, but we’re not the only ones. Tell us about what you can’t give up. It could be a bad reality TV show, a website you spend too much time on, a video game you stay up too late playing or texting at any hour. Or it could be your favorite junk food or too much shopping. Tell us what you love about it and why you can’t give it up. Also tell us why you wish you could give it up, like it’s unhealthy or expensive or a waste of time.

Write an essay to L.A. Youth and tell us about it:

Essays should be a page or more. Include your name, school, age and phone number with your essay. The staff of L.A. Youth will read the entries and pick three winners.Your name will be withheld if you request it. The first-place winner will receive $50. The second-place winner will get $30 and the third-place winner will receive $20. Winning essays will be printed in our November-December issue and posted  on

Mail your essay to:
L.A. Youth
5967 W. 3rd St. Suite 301
Los Angeles CA 90036
or to

DEADLINE: Friday, October 21, 2011

I saw a post on Facebook this week from a mom who is advocating that all families get inexpensive gifts for their children so that kids with less aren’t “heartbroken.” I’m no social economist, but I’m pretty sure if this mom got her way, it would not be good for the global economy. And, while I’m also not a huge fan of conspicuous consumption and I’d like to see everyone getting meaningful gifts for their children, something struck me as “off” about trying to protect poor children from the pain of seeing other children get big fancy gifts.

Isn’t it more important that we all appreciate the value of the gifts we are given? And that we put care into the gifts we give?

Studies have shown that giving gifts is a source of happiness even more than receiving them. As reported by Harvard-trained researcher Shawn Achor in his Success Magazine article, “How (And Why) To Give The Perfect Gift,” “people who are constantly giving to their families and friends are significantly happier than those who are not.” Regardless of the gift, says Achor, it’s the thoughtfulness that counts—not only for the receiver, but for the giver too. Increasing the anticipation and time put into gift choice and, when applicable, gift creation, gives more joy to the person giving! Even if the recipient doesn’t appreciate the gift as much as the giver desired, the giver has had weeks or months of joy leading up the moment of giving. That’s worth a lot.

Choosing the Right Gift

I’m in a leadership group where we throw birthday parties for every member of the group and purchase gifts for the birthday boy or girl. The process of choosing a gift is always enlightening. We want it to be something they’ll enjoy, that they wouldn’t get for themselves, and that they won’t throw in the corner and never use. We prefer not to default to Amazon gift cards since we want to show that thought was put into the gift—even if the person has been in our group for only a week!

To jump start the process, we get a list from the recipient of things they would want, and we collaborate from there. Gifts have included energy healing sessions, movie popcorn machines, shirts and ties, cologne, and tickets to Disney World. Without fail, the gifts we give hit the mark and we all get to watch birthday person’s excitement when they discover what we’ve given them.

When we know people well, it’s usually easy to choose a gift that will light them up, whether that’s something we make by hand, a computer-generated photo album, or an expensive electronic gadget (drone anyone?) I recently discovered the “subscription-box” option where you can give someone a monthly box of something they will love! In particular, BetterBox seems like a thoughtful choice: a service which delivers monthly boxes with themes like gratitude, creativity, better sleep, and paying it forward. What a great gift for someone who can use incentive for self-care or slowing down! If are close to someone, you’ll probably be able to find the perfect box subscription for them—and it will last all year!

Creating Satisfaction

There are all kinds of ways to make gift-giving satisfying and joy-inducing for everyone involved. Choosing a charity to give money too has become another popular, and fulfilling, option. One thing’s for sure: Throwing money at a last-minute gift won’t produce a lot of joy—while regardless of cost, a thoughtful gift will bring light to both the giver’s and the recipient’s lives.

To the mom on Facebook, I say this: Instead of trying to limit the types of gifts other people give to their kids, how about starting a campaign for all of us to be thoughtful about our gifts, and to value thoughtfulness over price tag, no matter what our budget?

Now that would be a cause I could support with gusto.

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