This week has flown by! I can’t believe it’s already Thursday. I’m sitting here thinking about how my husband will be on yet another business trip next week, while I sit here and plan our trip to see our dentist and later, the Czech Republic (aka Czechia). I look forward to the road trip to Czechia. It’s a beautiful country, with a lot to see, great beer, and excellent food. It’s also not a very expensive place to visit, at least compared to some other destinations. I was pretty shocked by how much Yerevan is going to cost! I think it’ll be worth it, though, because I haven’t seen Armenia since 1997, and it’s a special place to me.
Anyway, I’m sitting here this morning thinking about a column I just read in The New York Times. A woman wrote:
“My mom has wanted to buy me a luxury bag for a few years, but I have reservations about spending lots of money on things. Still, when she asked for my opinion about a bag for herself, I provided one — though I suspected it was really for me. I texted her that I appreciate everything she does, but I asked her not to buy me a bag. (Having expensive things makes me anxious.) She agreed, but then she sent me more pictures of status bags. I repeated my request. Then I spoke to my sibling, who convinced me that gifts are my mom’s way of expressing love, and that she can afford it. (She’s also having a hard time now caring for my grandfather.) So, I prepared myself to receive a $2,000 bag. But the one that arrived cost $7,000 — which stresses me out! I love my mom, but she didn’t respect my feelings. How can I handle this nicely?”
The columnist, Philip Galanes, gave what I think is good advice. He advised explaining to the mom, once again, that receiving such expensive gifts provokes anxiety. He suggests giving her ideas for more appropriate gifts. Galanes recognizes that the situation is kind of tricky, since our social mores frown on telling people what they should or should not give as gifts to someone. An etiquette expert would likely say that it’s better to receive all gifts with a grateful heart. Galanes says this, which I think is pretty astute:
Your question isn’t really about gifts; it’s about getting through to your mother, kindly. You shouldn’t have to choke down anxiety to make her feel good.
I checked out the Facebook comments on this post, just because I was curious. I wasn’t surprised to find that a lot of people found this dilemma ridiculous. Here’s a woman with a mom who can afford to give her daughter $7000 handbags. Many people love expensive handbags, and would be very excited to get one as a gift. Moreover, some readers were focused on the mom’s feelings, pointing out that the mom might be hoping to see her daughter enjoying her gift. They didn’t seem to realize that even a $7000 handbag isn’t much of a gift if it makes the recipient feel uncomfortable. Part of gift giving involves being thoughtful, and giving something that the recipient can use and/or appreciate.
I liked this woman’s suggestion:
If it’s the bag I’m thinking, resale value is good. Get a bag you feel more comfortable owning and invest, save or donate the rest.
A few people agreed with her. But then she got this response, which prompted me to write today’s blog post.
“…it was a gift from her mother. I would be hurt if my daughter sold this gift.“
I didn’t tag the woman who wrote this response, because I’m not looking for an argument with a stranger today. But I did feel compelled to leave my opinion, which is this:
I would be hurt if I repeatedly made my wishes known to my mom and she ignored them. Besides, once someone gives you a gift, it’s yours. I think exchanging the bag for a less expensive one and saving, investing, or donating the money is a great idea.
So far, several people seem to agree with me. Yes, there’s etiquette involved with receiving gifts, but there’s also etiquette involved with giving them. Gifts should be given with thought and care. I will admit, when I was younger, I didn’t always understand the pleasure of giving or receiving thoughtful gifts. I used to see Christmas and birthdays as burdens, as I was expected to buy presents for everyone in my immediate family. I didn’t have any money, nor was I close enough to most of them to know what they liked, wanted, or needed. Now that my Christmases mainly involve Bill and me, it’s a lot easier. I know what he likes. I buy most of his clothes for him as a matter of course. 😉 He tells me I’m good at the job. I also seek honest feedback from him, so I don’t end up spending money on things he doesn’t like or want.
One thing I’ve learned after being married to Bill is that sometimes giving and receiving gifts can be problematic in relationships. Most of us are taught from childhood that we should always be grateful to receive gifts, even if they’re inappropriate, not our taste, or leave a rude impression. We are trained to always assume that gifts are always given with the spirit of generosity. But I have learned that sometimes gifts can have weird messages attached to them that leave the recipient with negative feelings.
Ex was/is the queen of giving inappropriate gifts, which I think is actually a pretty prominent trait in people who are narcissistic. They tend to give gifts based on their own preferences, because they generally only think of themselves. If they do manage to give someone something they actually want, it’s because they have an angle, and will use the gift as a means of control and obligation. Bill told me that when he was married to Ex, she’d buy him things that were impractical, yet expensive. Like, for instance, she once gave him a bust of a Star Wars character. It’s true that Bill likes Star Wars, and the bust was kind of cool. But it cost $300 that they needed for buying food. He ended up insisting that she return it, which she did without too much protest.
Younger daughter has said that her mother will send gifts to her that have some kind of sentimental message or hidden meaning. Sometimes, she sends things that are just plain odd– like Christmas jammies for the whole family that are all in the wrong sizes. Or, she’ll send things that are kind of thoughtless. More than once, she’s sent tea sets to her grandchildren, who are being raised in the LDS faith, where most tea drinking is forbidden (although they can drink herbal teas). The funny thing is, Ex is the one who got younger daughter into the LDS religion. You’d think she’d remember the Word of Wisdom. But no… she has evidently forgotten that Mormons don’t typically drink coffee, tea, or alcohol. Or she doesn’t care. Or… she’s sending some kind of hidden message that younger daughter should quit the church.
A few years ago, Bill was shopping for a gift for his granddaughter. He saw a cool looking tea set and was about to buy it, when something dawned on me. I said “Wait a minute! Are you sure you should be sending a tea party set to a child who is being raised LDS?”
Bill laughed and said, “Oh my God, you’re right! I totally forgot!” Then he found a really cool looking ice cream cart toy and sent that instead. Younger daughter said granddaughter was delighted with the toy and it was a huge hit with the other kids in their neighborhood, too. Bill wasn’t offended when I pointed out that he might want to take an extra minute to consider the appropriateness of his gift. His ex wife probably would have, but that’s most likely because she gives gifts with herself in mind, rather than the person receiving the gift.
Later, Bill told his daughter about the faux pas he almost committed. She smiled and said it would have been okay, since her mom had sent them a bunch of tea party sets, too. In my mind, that’s another reason to have sent something else. They already have a bunch of tea sets!
I enjoy sending gifts to Bill’s grandchildren. As I’ve been doing so, I try to consider whether or not the gifts are appropriate or will be received well. I’m sure I miss sometimes. A couple of days ago, I posted a picture of Bill wrapping a care package we made for his daughter, who is currently expecting her fourth baby. I usually send stuff for the kids, but this time, I wanted to send something more for their mother.
Bill and I like Molton Brown toiletries from England. They aren’t cheap, but they smell wonderful, are high quality, colorful, and just nice. I thought about younger daughter taking care of her kids and wondered if maybe she’d like them, too. So I asked her. I said I wanted to send her something nice for the few minutes alone she gets in the shower. I said I didn’t want to send her anything that would be offensive or make her feel sick to her stomach. She gave me some ideas of scents she likes. I ended up sending her a couple of assortment sets that have different samples of the scents Molton Brown sells. That way, if she finds one she really likes, she can tell me. If there’s one that offends, she can tell me. I didn’t make a big investment in a particular scent in the gift, so it’s no big deal if she doesn’t like certain ones. I hope she’ll let me know if there are any she doesn’t like… or even if she doesn’t like Molton Brown at all.
I included a pair of Irish wool socks, since she lives in Utah and winter is coming, ginger lemon bon bons for nausea, skin cream for the stretching, and a couple of bracelets that were made by a local artisan. We filled the remaining space with German and Dutch candy and stroopwafels. We know she likes those, and can’t easily get them locally.
One of my friends took me to task for sending sweets to a pregnant lady. She said that stuff isn’t “good” for her, and will only tempt her. I was a bit taken aback by that comment. First off, for years, Bill wasn’t allowed any contact with his daughter. So he’s making up for lost time now. We know she appreciates the goodies, and she will share them responsibly with her family.
And secondly, the last thing I would ever want to do is presume to tell younger daughter what she should or shouldn’t do– particularly when it comes to eating. I understand the point about not encouraging unhealthy eating habits, but food is something younger daughter enjoys. She’s a very busy mom, but she loves to try new things and test recipes. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries the stroopwafels and learns to make them herself. She’s never been to Europe, either, so this is one way to introduce it to her.
I’ve had to listen to a lot of unwelcome criticism and commentary about my body from so-called loved ones. It never seemed loving to me when my mom would look at me with annoyance or outright disgust and said things like, “I wish you’d lose some weight!” And then she’d offer to buy me a new wardrobe if I lost twenty pounds. I’m sure those comments came more from her desire to impress other people than any concern for my health or well being. But it was even worse when my dad would make comments to me, even when I was a normal sized teen. That shit led to years of body image issues and disordered eating. Now, I’d happily tell them both to fuck off… perhaps using more polite terms, but yeah– if I was angry enough, I probably would use the “f” bomb. I inherited the “gift” of their tempers, along with their gifts for music. 😉
And that brings me to my next point. Sometimes gifts come in intangible ways. Sometimes people pay compliments that turn out to be gifts. Or they offer constructive criticism that turns out to be truly helpful and constructive. Or they divorce their husbands so their husbands can marry someone who is more compatible. I consider the fact that Ex divorced Bill a tremendous gift to me. Sure, it was not meant to be a gift, but it turned out to be one, just the same. Ditto to the voice teacher I had in 1990, back when I was a freshman at Longwood, who suggested to me that I should study voice privately with her. That adjunct professor literally changed my life for the better by doing that. Yes, that was also a tremendous gift! It’s continued to give for 33 years and counting, even if only to me, and those who like what I do.
On the other hand, intangible gifts can also turn out to be duds. Take, for instance, the “compliment” someone tried to pay me a few months ago. I shared a meme on my Facebook page that featured an overweight woman in a bikini and the suggestion that people should mind their own business when they see someone on the beach in a bikini– even if they think the person shouldn’t be wearing one. The person who “complimented” me said I looked “great”. But that wasn’t me in the picture, so the compliment ended up being very offensive. When I pointed out that the woman in the photo wasn’t me, my former friend continued to try to compliment me on my looks. It made things much worse. Then I vented about it in my blog; she read it; and now we’re not “friends” anymore. :/ Her “gift” turned me into the asshole… although actually, maybe there was a gift in what happened. I got to see her for the person she really is. Now, I don’t waste time trying to be friends with her.
Then there are the “gifts” that come with many strings attached. I don’t want to get into that too heavily in this post, since I just wrote about how Jim Bob Duggar gives gifts with many strings attached. You can read my recent posts about the “gifts” he gave to his daughter, Jill, and his other children to get an idea of that concept. But I do want to point out that Jim Bob seems to have missed the point of giving gifts… which is to give someone something that will be a blessing or kindness to them as an expression of love or friendship– not as a source of control or “ego boo”.
Bottom line– whenever possible, gifts should be given with thought and good will toward the recipient. So, mom, if your daughter very clearly tells you what she does not want as a gift, you should respect that, and try to give her something more appropriate. And if you insist on giving her a $7000 gift that makes her feel uncomfortable and anxious, you should not be offended if she decides to do something else with the gift. Once you give a gift to someone, it no longer belongs to you. So, if she sells or returns the handbag and gets something she’d rather have, take that as a lesson. Giving and receiving gifts isn’t just about one person making a transaction. It’s something that should be done with a true spirit of generosity.
Personally, I love the idea of reselling the expensive handbag and either investing or donating the money. That’s a great way to turn this awkward situation into a winning solution that will pay dividends in the long run– either for the original recipient, or to less fortunate people who might benefit from donated funds generated by the sale of the unwanted bag.
Well, that about does it for today’s sermon. It’s Thursday, so that means I have to break out the riding vacuum cleaner. 😉 So I think I’ll get on with that, and check in tomorrow with something new. Ciao!