Gifts are complicated for me.
When I was younger, my mother would give me gifts and end up taking them away or destroying them soon after. I honestly believe that her intention each time was to leave me with nothing. It was like she was playing mind games with me. If I didn’t seem grateful enough, if I didn’t do something right, there went the “gift”. Bad girls don’t deserve nice things.
My mother continued that practice into my adulthood, except she would take away the gifts that other people would give me. It was always that I didn’t need it, or didn’t deserve it. Sometimes she even had the nerve to tell me I didn’t want the gift, and that’s why she took it. Everything was always about her.
One Christmas, my mother bought me clothes – sweatshirts, a jacket, shirts, pants – all in Men’s size 5XL. While I admit I was (and still am) overweight, I was nowhere near that size. I told her that none of the clothes were in my size, and she said “oh, just try them on. I’m sure they fit.” Yea, they’d fit two of me. When I told her I didn’t want them, she went on a tirade and started crying about how much I hated her.
Last Christmas was probably the most difficult for me. While the sexual abuse had stopped for months at this point, my mother continued to find subtle ways to remind me. She did it at first by showing me the shower picture. She continued it at Christmas by gifting me underwear, bras, and lingerie.
She wrapped them all just like they were any other Christmas gifts. I felt sick once I opened them and realized what they were. Even worse was that they were the correct size. My mother had no knowledge of my size, especially my bra size. She had gone through my drawers. I felt like my privacy was invaded, even though I knew privacy didn’t exist in our household. My mother knew no boundaries. I think she knew how it made me feel, how sick it made me. That’s why she did it. If she couldn’t abuse me anymore, she was just going to find other ways to get to me. And it worked.
Despite my shitty experiences with gifting, I really enjoyed picking out (or making) gifts for people, gifts with meaning and purpose. One Christmas, I bought gifts for all of my coworkers, even the ones I wasn’t very close to. Every gift had a reason behind it. I bought a 12-pack of diet coke for my manager who loved to drink it. I bought the human resource person two packages of Oreos because they were her favorite food. Small things, sure, but every gift was wrapped and adorned with decorative bows to make it special.
As I handed the customer service woman her gift, she started to cry. Confused, I started to apologize to her, thinking I had offended her in some way. She hugged me and thanked me through tears as she told me that no one had ever thought of her at Christmas before. She hadn’t even opened her gift yet and was already grateful. It was (and still is) a reminder for me that even small gestures can make a world of difference for another person.
My joy soon turned to frustration when I came home later that day and had to deal with my mother’s never-ending sense of entitlement.
“I hope you are as generous to your own family as you were to all these people at work. They don’t do anything for you. I give you everything. What do I get for it?”
I was quickly reminded of how obsessive my mother was about gifting. She believed that she should receive a gift for every occasion. I never wanted to give her a gift. I hated her. But if I didn’t, I’d get in trouble, even as an adult. I had to swallow my pride and get her something just to avoid further pain. And I couldn’t just get her something small. It had to be something good enough to meet her standards.
My mother made similar demands when it came to giving gifts to my brother. She was always on top of me in the weeks before my brother’s birthday, making sure that I bought him an adequate gift, telling me all of the things he wanted. If I told her I couldn’t afford any of those things, she’d tell me to find a way.
“If you didn’t buy so much for yourself, you would have enough for the people that matter.”
In her mind, gifts were associated with how much a person mattered. It made sense. It’s probably why she never demanded that I get my father any gifts; she treated him with disdain. It’s probably why she showered my brother with expensive gifts, gifts she couldn’t afford but bought anyway. Me? It was obvious I didn’t matter. Whenever my birthday came around, all I got were a bunch of excuses.
“Oh, I don’t have any money this week. I’ll get you something in a month or two.”
A month or two never happened. Despite her financial difficulties, she always found enough money to buy herself whatever she wanted. But when it came to me or my father, she was broke. There was no sense of celebration for my birthday. I was lucky for a few years and managed to find a birthday card thrown on my desk when I got home from work. No special message, just a cheap birthday card and a signature. There was no thoughtfulness. There was no love. It was merely an act to say she did something.
The last couple of years, I started to stand up for myself and refused to get gifts for people I cared nothing about. I dealt with the backlash. I dealt with my mother’s verbal assaults, all the horrible things she would say about me and the names she would call me. At times, it got physical. One time, she found out that I bought my best friend at work a Mother’s Day gift and she went on a rampage that ended with me in tears. I had to beg my friend not to tell my mother about anything I bought anymore.
Of course, my mother used that situation as a way to get people on her side, telling people that I bought this other woman a gift but wouldn’t even get anything for my own mother, how it breaks her heart and she just doesn’t understand why I hated her so. She was so manipulative, and people actually fell for it.
I am actually a little relieved that this is the first year that I won’t have to deal with any of the drama. I briefly thought about mailing my family a bill for my therapy (anonymously, of course). I’m not even sure that they are worth the effort of licking the envelope. Then there is a company that allows you to anonymously mail shit (literally) to anyone in the world. Some parts of me would thoroughly enjoy doing that, but I know it won’t serve a purpose in the end.
I did want to do something for my therapist. While I was browsing the local book store last week, I came across the same coloring book that I received a couple months back at a group therapy session. I was in a bad place emotionally at that time and I made some apparently frightening color choices. It was a page with the word ‘HOPE’ in big letters, surrounded by flowers and a bird. I colored hope black, and scribbled over the rest. Both therapists noticed. Back then, I had no hope. It was dead.
I bought the coloring book. This time, there was no black. I colored in each flower with bright colors. I even colored the background sky blue, and colored hope white – the complete opposite of what I had colored just months before. I bought a basic frame and put my new art in it. After my therapy session today, I told my therapist I made her something. I preempted it with saying that it was kind of lame and that my coloring skills needed work. I handed it to her. I told her I have hope now. And that’s the truth.
It was the best gift I have ever given.