The Joy of Gifting

A couple of days ago, I was writing a post about what a great birthday I had when I realized that I was actually justifying why Matt gave me a practical gift - as if it was somehow not good enough. It’s become second nature for both of us to assume the gifts we give each other are not up to some vague standard, even if the gift is exactly what we wanted. 

Several times over the course of our marriage, I’ve encouraged Matt to get me things for Christmas or birthdays that are of a practical nature - much like my birthday gift this year. The times he’s done it, he’s often felt that his gift wasn’t good enough. Not because of me, but because of societal (and occasionally family) pressures to make grand - and often expensive - or “romantic” gestures. Not that there’s anything wrong with grand gestures; I’ve had those from Matt as well. But when did it become a requirement that birthdays, Christmases and every other holiday must be recognized by material items with a certain price tag or from a certain category of giftdom?

Matt struggled with this decision of whether to give a practical gift yet again this week. Would he be called out for purchasing me what is basically the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner? (Apparently, vacuum cleaners as gifts are a relationship no-no.) Would he be accused of hinting that the ironing needed to be done around the house? And since when did a simple birthday gift warrant such in-depth analysis (both what to give and the motivation behind the gift)?

The insecurity he felt in giving me my lovely new cordless clothes iron shouldn’t be there. Why should the joy of giving someone a gift that you know they will want be overshadowed by the fear that outside parties may judge your gift and find it wanting?

I feel absolutely certain that if Matt went out and bought me an iPhone 4G or a diamond necklace, there would be oohs and ahhs from each and every one of the five people who read my blog. But I didn’t want a new iPhone or a diamond necklace. If you’d asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I wouldn’t have even come up with the iron. I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted so Matt searched his memory banks and hit the jackpot.

When we got home Tuesday night, I got the camera all ready to record my special birthday. I wanted to take pictures and blog about the day because it had been so nice for me. I could sense hesitation about my announcing to the world that he bought me a clothes iron (hello, it’s cordless people - that’s sorta techy and cool and also I kind of like ironing clothes occasionally, a fact some of those five people who read my blog are trying to take advantage of now).

After I caught on to Matt’s reluctance, I told him that I want us to start giving gifts to each other with only the other person in mind - and ignore whatever we think anyone else will say about our gifts. After all, we know each other better than anyone else in the world knows us, so I know Matt will thoughtfully choose gifts for me on those occasions when he feels it’s appropriate.

And I will choose not to justify why he’s purchased a particular item for me in the future.


Written in participation of Bigger Picture Moments, “A moment where you recognized the role your faith plays in your every day life. A moment where you take note of motherhood and the importance of what you are doing. A moment that made you stop and breathe in the bigness of it all. The hugeness that is life and the small moments adding up to one Bigger Picture.” Check out this week’s posts at Peanut Butter in my hair.

Awesome moms deserve recognition - Happy Mother's Day, ladies!

Mother’s Day – like every other holiday – has become marketed and commercialized to death. The pressure for sons, daughters and husbands to commemorate the day in a way that truly shows the appropriate level of gratitude and appreciation seems to increase each year. The more money you spend or the bigger the gift, the greater your appreciation. What an unfortunate perspective our kids are being exposed to these days!

Generally, I’m low maintenance when it comes to birthdays and Christmas. I grew up in a family that didn’t do much for birthdays, and Christmas wasn’t about presents though we did exchange them. We always acknowledged birthdays, but it was unusual for us to make them into a huge deal with parties and lots of gifts. I had a whopping 2 birthday parties growing up. One when I turned 6 and the other when I turned 16. In my family, birthdays were made special, but not necessarily huge. As an adult, I don’t expect or want much for my birthday or Christmas. 

Mother’s Day was a slightly different story, though – at least to me. I always wanted to make the day really special for my mom. We got her sweet gifts some years, silly gifts other years. I think we hit Dad up for money to help us buy flowers once or twice. We often cooked meals for her or took her out for a special treat. I was and still am very grateful for my Mom. I liked having a day set aside to specifically and purposefully show her what she meant to me. That gratitude gets easily lost in the day-to-day comings and goings of a busy family, especially as children get older and rely less on their parents.

After moving away from home, I must admit it got harder and harder to do something truly special for my mom because “special” was usually something that involved spending time together - hard to do from 1,500 miles away. So, I’d order her little things online that I knew she’d like but also find practical and convenient. Mom and I had very similar taste so it was easy to please her. Sometimes I’d send flowers, but I didn’t like to do that every year – it doesn’t take much effort or thought and I like thoughtful gifts. But the flowers were something nice that Mom always genuinely enjoyed as she didn’t get them very often.

Since having Brandon, I have to admit that I like the recognition of my newish role in life. I’ve wanted to have children most of my life and I waited a very long time to become a mom. I’m thrilled to be a mom and I try hard to be a mother who is deserving of some measure of gratitude. I want my son to grow up with an appreciation of motherhood in general so that if he has children with a future partner he’ll cherish that role she plays to his kids. If I fulfill my role to him growing up, it will give him a good foundation of respect for mothers and motherhood.

Mother’s Day shouldn’t be about getting an expensive present or making a big deal – though that’s how some choose to show their mother what she means and there’s no harm in that. I want my son to learn that it’s about making your mother feel special for her contribution to your life. It’s not about buying cards or anything else. It’s about taking a day to show specific and purposeful gratitude, because so often we forget to do that on a daily basis with the people we love who have such a huge impact on our lives.

Second-hand children's clothes; a blessing and a curse

I am really fortunate to have a number of friends with young boys who have been very generous in giving me hand-me-downs for Brandon. One good friend (who has two boys) gave me everything she had ever had for her boys up to about the 18mo. size before Brandon was born. It amounted to three huge Rubbermaid bins full of clothes. I was able to use quite a bit of the clothes, though on occasion there were some really cute pieces that he didn't get to wear, because they were the right size in the wrong season. I still kept them, because maybe we'll have another one born smaller or at a different time of year - you never know!

Other friends have mostly given me much smaller amounts of clothes, but in being more selective, those few items tend to be even more useful for Brandon. I've actually thought about asking my friends to let me go through their things before they take them to the consignment stores and I'll pay them for what I can use for Brandon. It's a win-win proposition; I pay less than I would at the consignment shop and they get more than they would from the consigning, though maybe it has some drawbacks that I'm not aware of.

Today, I got a message from someone I'd say is more of an acquaintance. We see each other mostly in passing and generally not often. She indicated that she was going to be taking some clothes to Goodwill tonight that she couldn't sell at the consignment shops and I could come over this afternoon and look through them to see if I want anything. While I appreciate the thought, I was also a little bothered by the message. I might be laid off, but I do have things on my plate and I can't necessarily just drop everything and go look through clothes on the off chance that something will be useful. And what if they aren't?

I'm the type of person that if I'm being "gifted" something, I don't ever like to express dislike, even if I hate it; I try to be as diplomatic as possible so that I'm honest without being brutal. But what if these clothes aren't something I'd ever want for Brandon? My only true escape route would be to say they aren't the right size for him and I have no idea from the message what size or season they are.

I guess if I were planning to give away clothes that I wasn't going to consign, I'd offer all of them and leave it up to the recipient to sort and discard, as they feel necessary, any items they don't want. Mind you, that doesn't make it more appealing to me either, because I have spent many, many hours going through all the clothes we were given because it just took a very long time to go through that volume of clothes and stay on top of it so that he didn't outgrow things before we used them. After all the time I spent sorting and organizing clothes Brandon had never worn, I decided it's actually much easier to buy my own clothes for Brandon and I do usually buy them from consignment stores.

Second-hand children's clothes are wonderful, because every piece you can use saves you money, but it's also a lot of work and can be potentially awkward. I've had more than one mom offer to loan Brandon a particular item of clothing because they know he can use it and it won't get too much wear, but they aren't ready to part with it. I honestly love that honesty and appreciate their willingness to let him use that piece so much more; we take extra care with those items to ensure they are returned in good condition.

Other awkward moments come when you're offered a piece of clothing that you really don't like or want and how do you diplomatically express that? My most recent awkward moment was being offered the leftovers being sent to Goodwill. Perhaps it's unreasonable of me, or simply related to us being only acquaintances, but it rubbed me the wrong way when I read that. I'm over it now and I won't hold it against her. The thing is, she may not have meant it in a negative way and I totally get that - we ALL say things that are unintentionally awkward for others. I'm truly giving the benefit of the doubt on this.

But it doesn't make me want to drop what I'm doing and run to her house to look through clothes today!

To gift or not to gift

Today Matt and I got an email saying that we can expect to get an invitation to a wedding that is to take place this coming August. This is a family wedding, but neither of us even know the family members’ names, nor would we recognize them if we saw them out in public somewhere. I don’t think they would recognize us either. So, I have absolutely no idea why we’re getting an invitation.

Or is this just a ploy to get a gift? Not knowing them, I can’t make a judgment, but I suspect that could be part of it since wedding etiquette says you’re supposed to send a gift if you’re invited, even if you don’t attend the wedding. So, do we give them a gift? I think there should be further wedding etiquette that you have to know what someone looks like if you’re going to invite them to a wedding.

Matt and I had a quick chat about what we’re going to do and we decided we’re going to do nothing. The invite will come and we’re not going to go to the wedding, nor will we send a gift. It won’t mean a thing to them if we did. My personal feeling is that when I had my wedding, it was a special event where people that I knew or who were very close to mine or Matt’s immediate family came to gather. It was a fabulous time and I’m very glad that I didn’t invite people just to bulk up the numbers. The things we received from our friends and family still mean something to both of us - especially when I look at or use those things and remember our special day.