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Just a simple threadbare gypsy soul, wandering from blessing to blessing on this earth.

February 7, 2012

Social Norms Which Should Be Abolished: Installment #1

Obligatory Gift Opening (in front of the Giver)

As an angelic young girl with adorable baby teeth and gorgeously elastic skin, nothing gave me more pleasure than giving my mother precious gifts. These gifts included, but were not limited to: beautiful wild flowers picked from magical fairy glens; delicate gourmet meals; the finest of jeweled baubles; priceless works of art. Nothing was too costly to give to my sweet mother.

I presented these gifts with much vigor and to do, slyly working the room into appropriate frenzy before revealing the latest treasure with which I would awe and inspire my mother.  Perhaps there was first a guessing game to prolong the moment of triumph, or suspiciously difficult rounds of Choose Which Hand.  Perhaps I would hide the item and, giving only the directions of “Warmer, warmer, COLD!,” lead her to it. On some occasions the prize would simply be thrust into her hands while I stepped back, grinning maniacally up at her. Of course, I loved her with a childlike purity and fervency. But these gifts were always given with the secret expectation of being received with high praise for my general supremacy over all others, which she delivered on cue and with professional acumen.

My stunning performances were later identified (via plot diagrams in English class) as rising action, which traditionally comes before the climax and turning point of any true masterpiece.  It was the perfect description for my perceived mastery of presentation, though these days I recognize that what I engaged in was really more akin to a great big hat atop a scrawny, vertically challenged cowboy. You’ve seen the cartoons: a chinking rattle of spurs causes everyone to hush, to listen, while behind the saloon’s batwing doors the shadowy top of a hat becomes visible.  He pauses. The height of this being is astounding, his hat brushing the highest part of the doorjamb. The gulping of outlaws is audible, while mysteriously, the saloon girls and bartender have disappeared. Everyone stares, unmoving, eyes bulging. Even the men raking in their card-winnings have frozen in place. The hinges creak. A sliver of blinding light slices through the smoky darkness. Hearts are thudding, bile is rising, sweat is pouring, and moustaches are quivering. In a fluid motion the doors part and everyone can see the cheerful faced, miniature person beneath an enormously tall hat, who grins and says, “Hey, y’all!” Basking in complete and utter letdown, nobody even bothers to issue a relieved sigh as all return to normal.

After years of babysitting, of teaching pre- and elementary school, and nannying incorrigible little beasts, I have learned that children also present such gifts in the following situations: 1) they have blatantly abused their siblings; 2) they want to watch forbidden television shows; 3) they’d rather not bathe, or sleep, or eat what you’ve prepared; and 4) they have done something hideous that they hope will remain hidden beneath the glare of their adorableness. 

Furthermore, I have recognized that in every instance, I am both shocked and baffled at the trinket proffered, and never fail to receive such gewgaws with a combination of dumbstruck, “Oh!” and “How interesting!” I generally pair this with a careful, “So… tell me about this,” which has a secret “What is it?” rolled up within.  The child is inevitably crest-fallen that I cannot immediately pinpoint the exact nature of the gift. At this, I am certain that I have caused irreversible damage to this tiny person and must prevent him, at all costs, from ever feeling not good enough. I attempt to remedy the injury by proceeding to vomit syrupy, over exaggerated remarks about the positive traits of said child -- probably the exact thing my mother did, and she is a saint for having done it. 

The truth is, rare flowers from fairy glens were in fact dandelions, dripping their sticky, bitter milk everywhere and leaving her hands covered in black dandy-tar that could not be eradicated for days. Gourmet meals were lumpy concoctions of completely incompatible ingredients, scorched and smoking on the outside, but liquefied on the inside. The finest jewels were macaroni noodle necklaces that gouged tender flesh with chipped points and sprinkled flaking paint down necklines. The priceless art pieces were images of fiercely crayon-scribbled figures -- sausage bodies displayed spiny polydactyl hands and were generally surrounded by my trademark miniature portraits of the family Lhasa Apso wearing a red tutu and pirouetting on toe-point. Gaudy, useless, ridiculous items they were, but she always accepted them with grace and a profusion of admiring positivity. I’m sure as soon as my exultant back was turned, she was raking her tongue with her fingernails to eradicate the lingering palate of my feasts.

Hindsight in its purest form is what remained after the distillation process of both having been a child once, and having experienced the confusion of a childless adult dealing with children. I now clearly understand that the responsibility for the giver’s heart and confidence, not to mention future gifting habits, is placed upon my shoulders with every gift. Moreover, this responsibility does not wane with the giver’s increasing age. If anything, it increases, as the giver is now so much surer that she knows you inside and out. You are expected to exclaim over the appearance of the package in its wrapping, then make inane remarks about the possibility of its content while you carefully remove the ribbons and paper to save for later use. Finally, you must feign surprise at whatever is within, and gush about its merits. Meanwhile, the giver beams maddeningly at you, waiting for more praise, waiting for you to put it on or display it proudly. Inability to passably enthuse over the gift has the power to annihilate so many gossamer threads of confidence! But the odds of being able to do so are strongly against me. What if I don’t know what it’s for? What if I already have one, or if I hate the color? What if it doesn’t fit? What if it is obviously second-hand and the giver has not adequately prepared me for its used nature? What if I have no room to store it or display it? And what, oh what, if it is something I have given that person in years past that she has subsequently forgotten about and is now giving back to me?

It is more than an awkward moment of social conundrum. It is a moral dilemma. I was taught to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God, and also taught that nothing hurts like the truth. How can I possibly give an honest response to this gift? I could try to be honest while omitting certain painful facts. But isn’t that deception, and won’t the Lord destroy all deceitful lips? The agony of this burden is unchecked and billows up from the depths of my inmost being like a noxious cloud whenever a beribboned parcel is placed within my palms.

As a result, I have developed an irrational fear of public gift opening. When gifts are given, I ooh and ahh and smother the giver in thanks. Then, I deftly tuck the gift out of sight, to be opened in a moment of pressure-less solitude. If someone very close to me begins hinting at the possibility of gifting, I obviously point out things I do and do not like. Sometimes I send hyperlinks, or solicit donations for wish list items. I have even been known to purchase my own gift, hand it to my spouse, and tell him to hide it from me until the day of gifting arrives. I often forget about the gift, which is unrecognizable when it comes to me in gift wrap. Then, I am never displeased when I open it, and therefore can give true homage to the awesomeness of the giver. After all, the giver is me, kind of. And what person can give better gifts to me than myself?

It is entirely possible that I am projecting my personal deep seeded fear of disappointing others in this area of social behavior, and wildly mutating it. I myself am fairly easy to please, as I love most things, particularly if they can be used or consumed, and always feel blessed beyond measure when someone thinks to surprise or bless me with a present. Choosing my own gifts takes much of the joy and surprise away from receiving gifts. It also removes the stress of receiving those gifts.  But I will do what I need to do in order to assuage my own projected fears. Taking a cutback in this kind of surprise is, I feel, a great bargain for removing the stress of receiving and opening gifts.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, lordy...I MADE you open your birthday present in front of me a few weeks ago. Was I beaming maddeningly at you? DOH! I probably have about a dozen pictures of Buttons in a tutu---want me to email it to you so you can post it?! :) XOXO