“When you open your present,” I told my 5-year-old son on the first night of Hanukkah, “I don’t want to hear any complaints. Even if you don’t like it, don’t complain. Just say thank you.” An attitude of gratitude, as they say.
My son hit out it out of the park. Smiles and thank yous, the whole shebang.
I, however, did not. I got a present that, while perfectly lovely, did not match a picture that existed only in my head. And I kvetched.
I can’t remember when I became impossible to give presents to. For a long time I thought it was just my boyfriends, and then my husband, who couldn’t get it right—either because they weren’t applying themselves (i.e. did not sufficiently care) or were just plain incompetent.
A few years ago, however, I commented to my mother that I found her habit of sending me a check for my birthday kind of impersonal. That I’d rather her pick something out.
“You’re impossible to buy a gift for,” she said. “I’m scared I’ll get it wrong.”
That’s when I realized that I was the problem.
Thinking back, I realized that it had been a long time since I had truly liked or appreciated a Hanukkah or birthday gift from anyone. And, that, along the way, I had sucked the joy out of gift-giving for anyone with the misfortune to love me.
On the second night of Hanukkah—big present night this year—my son kept teetering on the edge of a major meltdown. “You can’t cry now,” I said. “Tonight is big present night. You have to be happy. This is as good as it gets.
Whoah. Where did that come from? As good as it gets?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think I peaked when I got that first Cabbage Patch Kid. On the contrary, I’ve found caring for my own real-life children infinitely more fun.
But perhaps I miss a time when you could state your expectations of life–I want this toy, that doll, this game—and everything would happen just as you imagined it. Gosh, who wouldn’t miss that?
A grown-up lady, that’s who. Because in life sometimes it’s the things you least expect that are the most wonderful. And furthermore, I’ve got people who love me—a husband, children, parents—who are counting on me not to be a giant stinking brat. And the thought really does count
So I’ve been working on this. It’s an uphill battle. Some years it’s a matter of biting my tongue. Others I manage to be actually, truly grateful. But I still exchange gifts with disturbing frequency. And sometimes, like this Hanukkah, I just blow it.
One day, maybe my family will enjoy picking out presents for me again. And, God willing, I will find a way to be truly and unequivocally excited about whatever they throw my way. Until then, lucky for me, ‘tis better to give.