What Happens When the Gifts Disappoint


This is how it begins. Once the paper is off, though, the smile does not always remain.
This is how it begins. Once the paper is off, though, the smile does not always remain.

Last night, we lit the candles in the menorahs, sang the blessings, and the kids dropped to the living room floor to choose a gift to open.

Shaya tore off the blue wrapping paper and found two wood model kits he had requested – excited! So when they proved too difficult for him to assemble, tears spilled down his cheeks.

Asher opened a gift from a cousin, which he had requested – earbuds and a cube puzzle. Happy teen.

Eliana opened the crepe paper of a gift I ordered from Etsy and which had just arrived – a stylish oversized handmade shower cap. Yes, a funny gift, but she’d been wanting a shower cap so she didn’t have to ruin her hair in the shower, and I thought this added some panache to an ordinary item.

Plus, the girl just celebrated her bat mitzvah, cashing in on all the loot and cash that came her way. So, she doesn’t need anything.

She looked at it, and then looked at me. Her gaze said, “Really?” I thought it was a clever gift.

She did not.

The night before had been pajamas – cozy, waffle-texture cotton pajamas with a cute saying on the shirt and a fun pattern on the pants. The same gaze: “Really?”

I mean, what did she expect?

This time of year always seems so over the top. We do not really need gifts, anyway.

I’ve never been good at buying when I am supposed to. I like to find something perfect for someone I love and, regardless of the calendar, buy it as a gift just because. 

Perhaps I haven’t raised my children well, to show gratitude even in the face of an unwanted, or unexciting, gift. But we’re talking about eight nights of have-to, eight nights of what-do-I-get-NOW?

That’s a lot of pressure on parents! And when the kids are older and little baby doll bottles and board books no longer suffice, the pressure increases.

There is no preparation for being the parent of a teenager. It’s uncharted territory that everyone traverses but no one can really tell you how it’s going to unfold.

Our menorahs one night this week.
Our menorahs one night this week.

Here I am in this house with individuals I love and have loved from the minute I met them. And now they are different, retreating within, concerned with their own concerns, their own desires, their own vision of the world – which does not necessarily match up with mine.

In my vision, a pair of new cozy pajamas is a nice gift. It’s typical at this time of year, and something to appreciate. A nice gesture. Practical. Depending on the color and pattern, even fun.

A gift, any gift, is something nice and kind and sweet and generous. Wow, you thought of me! How amazing!!

I don’t remember being a surly teen. I remember thinking my parents were uncool and yearning to run free, to leave this place, to have relationships without people looking over my shoulder.

I’m not sure what I envisioned life in the real world to be like, but I remember knowing it would be better, more exciting, on my own.

The reality wasn’t quite that.

When I buy my daughter pajamas as a gift, I think of her as a cuddly little girl like these. I forget, she is a tween, aching for independence.
When I buy my daughter pajamas as a gift, I think of her as a cuddly little girl like these. I forget, she is a tween, aching for independence.

When I finally moved away from home to go to college, I missed my parents terribly. The first time home that fall, I threw my arms around them and suggested we hang out together. I remember surprise registering on their faces – pleasant surprise – and us settling into an innocuous night at home together.

And when I moved out of state, it was my father who drove me and my stuff there and helped me set things up.

It was also my father who drove home with me four years later, when I decided that a place is just a place and home is an internal place.

My kids are just now playing with independence and identity separate from me, and I am having a hard time with it. I can feel my grasp on them slipping. It tears at my heart, because I want to remain close and cuddly with these people forever.

And yet, I know they must assert and expand and reach out to the world that they believe is waiting for them.

I only hope that when they get there, they reflect on something like a gift of pajamas with fondness. The memory of oh someone bought me something so useful and warm, that I could be taken care of every night because someone loves me, registers fully as important and meaningful.

For now, all I can say is that I’m striking out with the Chanukah gifts. Thank goodness it’s only eight days.

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