I sat down and wrote the first draft of this post a few days ago as I was trying to process what exactly was going on in my head. In the process of finishing it and hitting the publish button I had my eureka moment so I decided to revise and revisit it later.
This past holiday season has been a rough one for me. As dates and memories passed by I became frustrated and generally in a sour mood all around. For some reason my ex’s mom had been on my mind a lot in the midst of my emotional frustration and at first I couldn’t understand why. That only added to my frustration.
I never developed a relationship with my ex’s family. We were pleasant and polite, but being only one of the revolving door of women in and out of their son’s life no one took the time to get to know me, and I didn’t make much effort to know them either. Yet even still, there are several poignant memories I have with each of them. Most of which occurred during the two holiday seasons we spent together, which is really the only time I ever interacted with his mom.
In total, I believe I only spoke to/interacted with his mom maybe ten times in the entire two and a half years we were together. I can’t recall ever having a conversation that lasted longer than a few minutes, and the majority of the conversations we did have she was fairly critical of just about everything to do with me. My appearance, my job, my lack of social skills… you name it, there was something to be critiqued and “fixed” to meet her standards. She never came across as warm, maternal or caring in the slightest. BUT she was extremely observant and knew just what to say in minimal words to leave the biggest impact. My ex inherited this skill among his other more endearing personality traits from her.
When she gave me small trinkets as gifts for various occasions each one had a specific meaning behind it. I won’t call them sentimental because we never formed a relationship worthy of sentiment, but there was motive and purpose behind each. This woman who never really knew me still took extraordinary care to choose something for me during the holiday season. Or at least made it appear that way, even if she just grabbed something from the sale bin at the small gift shop she worked at.
Why did that hit me harder this year than any year before? Well it’s a culmination of several things really that have been building over the past few years with my current step mother in law. I’ve been with my husband for almost eleven years now. We have children together, our marriage has survived things that many other modern marriages would not, and I love him more and more each day. I’m not going anywhere. Still… to this day she has no idea what a decent sentimental gift for myself would be. And I’m not talking about her generosity at all. My in laws as a whole are all very generous when it comes to gifting things. The gifts we receive as a family unit are exactly what we need. It’s just that she asks me every year what I, personally, would like. One year I gave specific answers, which I didn’t receive. The next year I gave general ideas which were also ignored. Last year I stopped answering all together and got soap. Like… come on. I’ve been part of the family for over a decade and you still can’t figure out what would make a meaningful gift?
Yet my ex’s mom, who had no relationship with me what so ever, saw me for a total of less than 48hrs in two and a half entire years could figure me out enough to gift me things that held value for me? It stung. It stung a freakin lot this year in particular. The third year I’ve had to argue with my mother in law about my “gifts” for the holiday season only to get a giant lecture about how “family” shouldn’t be about gifts. Well no kidding!
It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if I arrived for the gift opening during the holidays and received whatever she intended to give me. I don’t need sentimental trinkets, high end appliances, or anything truly expensive. I do have brands which I prefer over others, but if money is an issue there are always gift cards. Don’t want to spend $160 on a pair of boots for me? Don’t have to. Gift Cards come in any amount. I get what I want, you can contribute what you’re able. Problem solved. I will appreciate the amount no matter how small or large.
What makes me irritated is to be asked five different times what I would like only to be ignored and given whatever the hell she wants to give me regardless. If you have a gift in mind? Give the damn thing, and I will happily accept it. If you ask me what I specifically want, yet don’t get it? Don’t be surprised if I’m disappointed and irritated when I don’t receive it.
The real kicker this year is that what I truly wanted more than anything else was time. I asked her to watch the kids so I could have a few decent nights out with my husband, or work on projects around the house that I can’t do with the children under foot. That’s what I really wanted. I got told “no” immediately upon asking for that, so I went a different direction and got denied that one too; then to top it all off I got given the one specific thing that I said NOT to give me because I don’t freakin need it! Icing on the irritation cake right there.
The entire fiasco made me miss my ex’s mom and her gifting abilities, which is why she’s been on my mind so much this holiday season. I’m not kidding myself into thinking that she cared about me beyond social obligation, but she sure could fake it in all the right ways. It makes the fact that the family I’ve been a part of for ages can’t seem to figure me out sting just that much more. How am I supposed to be able to judge how people care for me when the ones that don’t leave behind lasting memories and the ones that do give me soap?
I am a sentimental sap, okay? You could give me a damn rock with a story about how it meant something special and I would keep it forever. I wrote a whole book about tiny moments between myself and others that hardly anyone else remembers because they mattered to me. I have an entire chest full of trinkets worthless to anyone else that have been given to me over the years. I don’t want random stuff. I want people to listen to me when I ask for things and not dismiss it with a lecture about being thankful for what I’m given. If that’s the stipulation for receiving a gift from the family then I’d rather have nothing at all.