It Was the Best of Gift-Giving Times, It Was the Worst of Gift-Receiving Times

A friend found this shoe on Etsy

For the first time in several years I’m excited about Christmas shopping. I have been given permission to buy actual wrapping-worthy presents instead of coughing up the cash or gift cards that teenagers prefer, and I’m scoring a lot of fun items. (Thank you Think Geek!)

Inevitably, though, I can’t help remembering two gift experiences.

The first happened when Molly was four and Frank not yet one. I had returned to work after a too-short maternity leave and missed my kids with an ache so intense, if you put your hand on my chest as if to feel my heartbeat, I’m convinced your fingers would grow numb and cyanotic, then your wrist, and so on. It was a devastating time, not helped by a patient I cared for who was dying, sleep deprivation from having an infant and working one out of five nights, and my growing suspicion that I’d someday leave medicine. 

One Friday I arrived home for an actual weekend off, and it got worse.

The ToolMaster had a huge grin on his face, Molly wore a look of resignation, and our then-nanny shoved a duffel bag in my hands almost the minute I walked in the door. When I asked what was going on, they pointed to a vehicle pulling onto our driveway.

It was a white limo, summoned by P to convey us to a hotel where we’d dine at the first romantic restaurant he’d been able to afford when we’d dated. Tonight we’d eat high above our city under a twinkling canopy of LED lights, he informed me. We’d retire to the honeymoon suite — the one we hadn’t been able to afford on our wedding night. Then we’d be thoroughly alone for the first time in five years in rooms with vaulted ceilings and a swimming-pool sized tub.

I panicked.

Oh, I didn’t want to. I knew I needed the break, and what P was trying to do for us/me. I knew what it was doing to him that I was so torn and conflicted about being there, so I shoe-horned my way into a reluctant enjoyment of the experience.

He knew, though. He always knows. I still feel bad that I received P’s generosity in a perfect storm of ambivalence.

Contrast that gift experience with a bridal shower a few years prior:

My girlfriend and her fiancé had both lived independently, so the gifts were to be personal, rather than aimed at the household. I dutifully complied. And I had a moment of inspiration, using two sewn-together potholders for “wrapping”, the gift sandwiched between. The label? A recipe card stitched to the exterior.

At the shower itself, we did those silly games women play when they’re dressed up, seated on tiny chairs in a living room, several generations rubbing against one another. (No chance of a stripper in that high society crowd.) Then we opened the gifts.

As one of the bridesmaids, my job was to record who had given what, so the bride could later write out thankyou cards. I was distracted and had only half an eye on the room as I wrote. Even so, I noticed when a demonstrable hush fell over the company.

When I looked up, my gift was being passed from one well-manicured hand to another. The bride wore a pained expression, mirrored on every carefully made-up face in the room. But she had impeccable manners and she was my friend, so she stammered out her thanks.

“But…you didn’t open it,” I said.

Oh, the buzz of excitement and relief that hit that room ! It still makes me laugh. Someone raced to the kitchen for scissors to cut the thread. People shifted in their chairs to watch. They hadn’t been that excited when my friend unveiled the espresso machine from her parents.

And when G pulled out a scarf, inch by colorful inch — not even designer, but the best I could afford at the time — you would have thought I’d given her the Hope Diamonds by the cooing and clucking in the room. From disaster to discovery. 🙂

So, this year I don’t anticipate any kind of drama like either of these stories, but I did toy with buying my two teenaged nephews this:

From Think Geek

How about you? Any best of-, worst of- gift-giving stories? What gifts fill you with the most excitement this year?

16 thoughts on “It Was the Best of Gift-Giving Times, It Was the Worst of Gift-Receiving Times

  1. I love these stories, and that first one reads like straight memoir. What a lovely memory and I can relate to the tired, stressed time of life so I can imagine how appreciated that gift was, as well as the ambivilance you’d feel. How sweet though. Truly a great gift idea.:)

  2. The best ever was several years ago when I watched my huband open CD after CD of Duane Eddy music that I had ordered for him. He never gives me a list (my husband, I’m not acquainted with Duane Eddy), but I knew he loved Duane Eddy’s music; however, he hadn’t gotten around to replacing albums with CDs. So on a whim, I shopped online and got a major gift-win that year. He was delighted. 😉

    I hope your Christmas is wonderful this year, Jan, and I want a pair of those SHOES! 😉

  3. Jenn, with two young boys, I’m sure you could have penned every moment of that first episode! And yes, it was sweet of him. I’m a very lucky woman.

    T, ooh, I love it when I nail a gift like that! It’s so considerate of other people to have specific wants they haven’t fulfilled, and that don’t involve exorbitant cost or impossible effort.

    Hope your Christmas is a good one, too. And yes, the shoes are the bomb. 🙂

  4. My husband gave me a horse for christmas, the very first one I’d ever owned all by myself after years of leasing and catching rides whenever I could. Unfortunately, it turned out to be mildly psychotic and tried to kill me, but the thought was there.

  5. Those are great stories. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to giving some books to my good friend’s son this year. Amazingly enough, I know all these fabulous children’s writers (from where, I wonder ;-)), and he’ll be getting a couple signed copies of their books. He loves to read, and his mama thinks he’ll be thrilled.

  6. Liz, yikes! That sounds like a good experience for fiction.

    My daughter rides, too. She leases for now, will probably change that when she’s done with her school.

    Tracey, it makes it extra poignant to pass on a friend’s book, doesn’t it? I’m sure your friends appreciate it, too.

  7. My dad gave me an onion for my fifth birthday. My mom tried to explain that it was something from his childhood but mostly it was just a bit weird for a 5 yr old to get and she didn’t really get it either. I played with the Mickey Mouse watch instead and left the onion under the kitchen sink.

    This is also why I believe in re-gifting. I don’t think it’s insensitive. I think of it as a gift working to find it’s true person and purpose.

  8. Whoa, Steph, I think you win the Internets on that one. 😮 It sounds like it might be a gift from folklore, that it would have profound meaning if you were hooked into local legend. I can appreciate your 5 yo self, though, wouldn’t find that to be a good reason.

    I regift, too – items I have never used, so brand new in all respects except I was an intermediary once. I don’t believe in screwing the Earth just because the wrong person held it for 5 minutes.

  9. These were great stories! Glad you shared. I love giving gifts, it’s always fun to see the reactions. I still say the one gift that beats everything else so far, where I’m concerned, is when my husband and I were dating and it was our year anniversary since we started dating (again). We’d agreed to get each other watches, but when I opened mine up (we were vacationing at the River Walk in San Antonio, so it was riverside at midnight) I wasn’t expecting the ring box. I feel bad because I don’t remember a damn word he said I was so surprised. All I remember is crying and saying yes.

  10. ChristaCarol, oh, how sweet is that?! I think you have good reason to put that at #1. 🙂

    I don’t remember much of what my husband said, either. My parents knew something was up because they’d picked up on P’s expectant air, but I was caught off guard, LOL.

  11. Wonderful memories. Who wouldn’t love a colorful scarf. 🙂

    I’m not picky about receiving gifts, but purchasing has become a pain. I’ve come to dislike hopping from store to store. I’m doing more online shopping to avoid the craziness.

  12. Hi great article. The only thing i find about buying gifts now is that people dont seem to put any thought into the gift any more. We used to have a family kris kindle for the older relatives but we stopped it when it was turning into a shopping voucher swop. Everyone was buying each other vouchers for certain stores.

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