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Gift Giving for Dummies

I have a confession to make. Sometimes gift giving in our marriage is, well, prickly.

There was the time John gave me a mop for Christmas. I needed a mop, I admit, but seeing it’s plastic blue handle under the tree undermined my sense of peace and goodwill. He thought “This is to make your life easier!” I thought, “This is to get me to work harder.”

Then there were the desk organizers I gave him that looked so swell at Office Max, but lay empty for the better part of a year on top of his piles of papers. I thought I was being helpful but I suspect he heard a subliminal message of “Get organized, Jack.”

There was the year we both agreed to cut back, and he took that discussion so seriously he had absolutely nothing for me on Christmas morning. I mean not anything. He thought he was following the plan. I thought “You schmuck!”

Although I am not completely to blame for the idea, I will admit that I went in on a gift to my mother from my father that did more damage to their marital stability than the average too-small sweater in the wrong shade of magenta. He gave her garbage cans! He somehow convinced himself this would be kind, as she occasionally had trouble parting with her abundance of yard sale must-haves. She was not amused.

I heard of a fresh approach to the gift giving debacle from my uncle and aunt. They each went out and bought exactly what they wanted, wrapped it, labeled it from their loving spouse and put it under the tree. Christmas morning there was still a surprise element, but it was the giver who was guessing.

I sometimes fantasize that my choices are highly original. I pay attention to my husband’s desires. I think long and deeply about what makes him happy. Then I buy him socks. But reality creeps in and I see that wives have been compromising the perfect, romantic gift with well-you-really-need-underwear for as long as the tradition has been in vogue.

There is a stanza from Don Rose’s poem, “The Day After Christmas,” that resonates for me.

“So I washed myself partly and put on the socks
that Santa Claus sent me, six pairs in a box.
Two sizes too small and I really can’t think
what I’m going to do if they happen to shrink.
A new shirt from Santa Claus too for my sins,
all fastened together with sixty four pins.

And then down to breakfast and what should appear
but some skates on the stair and I fell on my ear.
So I sat on the stairs, with the skate sitting under,
saying “Dash it!” and “Darn it!”
and “Lightning and Thunder!”
Which I shouldn’t have said, as I figured too late,
but it’s hard to keep calm when you sit on a skate.”

When John first gave me that mop, I was a youngster. I would not be so feisty now. In fact, recently I was in a group of women getting really animated about their new vacuum cleaners. Jewelry is nice when I actually have somewhere to go that doesn’t involve groceries, but hey, I vacuum every day.

I still have the hand carved barrettes John made for me on our honeymoon. I take them out and remember our dreamy, wifty beginnings. But the present that still holds first place in my mind was when John gave me a beautiful oak filing cabinet with a note that said “To the woman who helps me find things, including myself.”