I know that somewhere in the blogosphere, someone is responding to the prompt “what is the most memorable gift you’ve ever received” with “my children.”
My teeth grind just thinking about it.
A child is a cooperative effort. They’re also work, which is unlike most presents. Except for puzzles, though you have to be careful when it comes to giving puzzles to people. They might hate you.
Children are love, sure, but they’re also the source of much work, fear, rage, grief, despair, happiness, and joy. Which, when you get down to it, makes for a lousy present.
When shopping for gifts, one should choose a bottle of wine or a nice gift basket over an emotional roller coaster.
Besides, that “a child is a gift” bit smells a little like lingering patriarchy, not my favourite perfume.
I do all right on the gift-giving front when it comes to giving gifts to people I care about. You know you made the “c” list if you get a gift card from me. Unless you’d specifically asked for it. I do try and honour specific requests. My maternal grandmother refused to buy anyone anything they expressed a desire for. She found it greedy, or selfish, or some other bullshit thing. Me, I want people to be happy with what I’ve given them. It’s how I roll. [i]
My mother is a great gift-giver. The present themselves run the gamut from awesome to also-ran – she has a bit of her mother in her in that regard. Some things she refuses to buy, no matter how they’d please the recipient. No matter what, however, the manner of her delivery remains stellar.
She rocks presentation.
She wraps beautifully, a skill left over from her stint at Eaton’s while at university, back in the day when stores cared a bit more about things like stellar customer service. She worked in the office, but when it got busy at Christmas, they trained her on the ins and outs of wrapping. She can even make ribbon bows. I’m not as good, but I did learn at her knee, so I do well enough to get by/impress in this world of tissue-less gift bags.
The best times, however, are when she gets creative. She often put together scavenger hunts as part of the process. The first clue is presented in an envelope or a wrapped box, and then the hunt is on. She’s fiendishly clever with it, no doubt a consequence of a lifetime affection for murder mysteries. I’m the sentimental type so I’ve saved the notes from hunts that were mine.
Ditto the letter included with my fortieth birthday card. Not because it was mawkishly sentimental, but because it contained a list of forty ways to spend four-hundred dollars – the family’s gift to me (ten dollars for every year). It included suggestions like sixteen new books (back when a new hardcover was around twenty-five dollars), half a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, ten trips to the movies, or a new dress.
That creativity was evident in the parties she threw for us, in the lovely cakes she baked and in the decorations on the walls, all back in the days before Party City was a requirement and cakes that looked like life-sized dinosaurs were de rigueur.
Angel food cakes with dolls in the middle, decorated as a ballgown. A cake that looked like a bear, and one that looked like a sailboat (a brother and my father). Too many to remember though they live on in the photo albums my dad liked to make before the world went digital and suddenly we couldn’t be bothered.
The year I turned eleven, we had a dough party. My mother made batches of salt dough and my friends, brothers, and I made things to be baked in the oven while we ate, did presents, and had cake. I made a little doll or something like that. I don’t have it. I mostly hate the art I do and that’s been true since forever. My brother made a little plaque and used a toothpick to write, “I love you.” I still have it, and the hand-sized dough doll the aforementioned maternal grandmother made.
The piece de resistance, however, was my mother’s creation. She didn’t do one with us, helping us out and doing the million and one things a children’s party entailed instead, things I only realized existed once I had children and parties of my own. It’s nothing but juggling balls. No wonder moms wind down with wine.
At the table, after eating and presents (I say this like I clearly remember, but it’s more a matter of it seeming logical), my mother brought out our baked works of art. Definitely one of the best gift bags ever. Then she brought out the one she’d made for me. She’d done a couple, my father said. “Practicing” or something like that, my mother said.
It’s amazing. She made a doll. It’s the size of my forearm and the detail she put into it is amazing. I love it dearly. It lived on my wall for many years – she had the foresight to put a nail hole in the back, convenient for when it travelled with me to university – but now it lives in a chest in my bedroom. It’s strange how often we hide away the things we love. They’re safe, but we don’t get to enjoy them on the regular.
Perhaps I’ll look into a shadow box one of these days. For a dresser or mantle – I can’t bear them on walls. They’re proportionately wrong and I find things like that unsettling.
[i] Unless it absolutely goes against my moral code. I wouldn’t gift someone fur, for instance.