Last week, after all these years, I finally unwrapped the mystery of why gifts are not the way to this girl’s heart.
It happened as I was explaining the five languages of love to a friend, while getting to know him as we each put them in order of our preferences.
This feels like the right place to share what I realized, even though what I have to say isn’t quite like what I usually write.
It is so simple to catch the attention of a child with a present. And I was like all the other children for awhile, drawn to any gift offered me.
It gave me a moment to pretend someone who never held my hand or asked about my day had spent time thinking about me.
I could believe for a little while that the givers cared specifically about me, when normally they failed rather miserably at obscuring their preference for my brothers.
But it is easy to bury a hook under colorful paper, and tie it up with a bow that’s been curled with the blade of a razor sharp pair of scissors.
I would grab at the carefully taped moment of attention, forgetting in my excitement the exact way they expected me to unwrap my own demise.
I often failed to unwrap it correctly, usually to background comments blasted in stereo about being a bull in a china shop.
Then I was expected to thank the givers properly, too, despite the blood sometimes dripping from my little fingers.
I tried to show gratitude, I did, in spite of the welts occasionally swelling up on the back of my naughty, runaway stick legs.
Very soon, the precious proof I mattered, dissolved into a poisonous reminder of my innocent transgressions, until gift-receiving became a frightening overwhelm of colors and tears.
My fear sweated off me, as I grew wiser and began to wonder when I’d have the awful moment of surprise discovering the inevitable catch.
The gifts weren’t out of the ordinary for a little girl, although perhaps my reactions were.
If the gift was a doll, I resented her ability to absorb the blows I was taking, all the while she grinned as if encouraging me not to make such a big deal of getting my just deserves. The dolls often ended up in dangerous places, where I rescued them in a way I never was.
If I’d unwrapped a stuffed animal, I desperately squeezed it in the night, personifying it immediately, while I apologized for my grip and the horror it had to witness because of its bad girl owner.
If what was in the box was a crafty kit, I did my best to create something perfect, even though I knew it would never be worthy of praise.
The gifts became permanent reminders of everything that went wrong when receiving them, or with the relationship between me and the giver.
I learned things from receiving gifts, although I’m not sure what I learned was what they intended to teach.
I learned not to discard anything, from the stinging blows I received for ignoring or breaking what they wanted me to continue to treasure.
I learned the value of a dollar, as gifts almost always came with a pronouncement of how long the giver had worked to purchase the shiny grenade that would almost always blow up in my face.
Most of all, I learned that gifts have hooks and come with strings attached to them. I owed the giver, I was regularly reminded of the debt. It’s made receiving gifts of any kind pin-cushion uncomfortable to me.
As an adult, I bristle at letting a man buy me dinner, which causes me struggles as I begin to date again. I hate to borrow anything from a friend for fear I will lose it or break it, or be unable to return it on time. If someone tries to help me out and succeeds at gaining my acceptance, it remains forever on my mind as a debt I’m not always able to repay.
I’d believed my reticence was because of an incident with a boyfriend, when I was 15 and living with his parents because I couldn’t live with mine. He’d informed me, after weeks of buying me albums each time he got paid that THIS week, his paycheck wasn’t mine.
Or alternatively I thought it was because of a gift I received from a priest when I was 12. I’d met him at a Packer game, and a week later, he’d sweetly sent me a gift of Indian jewelry from a reservation he served. I still have it now, along with the article of his murder, mere weeks after I had received my treasures.
I’d never correlated my fierce independence from receiving gifts or help with the other parts of my childhood until the past few weeks, when it was nearly impossible to ignore the gifts I was currently receiving.
During the past few weeks, I had the helpful loan of my housemate’s car, so I could get the desk my Dad had left me last year when he died. My housemate also took care of my garden and my doggie, despite me staying much longer than I had intended.
Another close friend loaned me a tripod, which gave me wonderful moments of escape, where I could focus on learning how to take pictures I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise take.
More helpful than any of them likely know, I had the beautiful gift of understanding, compassion, comfort, and support from close friends and even acquaintances when I was struggling more than I imagined I would with losing my Grandma so soon after I lost my dad.
And then I had the precious gift of spending a good deal of time with a childhood friend, who showed me where I’d lived as a child in a way I’d never seen, and who talked to me about our childhoods in a way no one else could ever understand.
And most of all, I had the irreplaceable gift of the last bit of my Grandma’s awareness. The last four things she said, she said to me. The last smile, the last I love you, the last affectionate touches, she gave to me.
And then I had the gift of several days spent holding her hand, while she accepted my presence, assurance and affection as my gift back to her during her last few days.
And, while this awareness isn’t the biggest gift I received in the past few weeks, it’s not lost on me that another gift I’ve received is learning that in the midst of discovering why I didn’t like receiving gifts, I was also discovering that some gifts are more than worth the pain receiving sometimes brings.
~ cj 2013.07.30