Monday, 10 April 2017

Just what I always wanted

Every family has its stories. Some of them are told over and over again.

My mom was fond of repeating stories, even before the dementia set in.  One involved the first birthday party I ever attended, the fourth birthday of my next door neighbour Ricky Kent.

Ricky Kent in the cardigan, me, far left
The story went that Ricky ripped open a gift and loudly proclaimed, "Pyjamas! Lousy pyjamas!"  This led to my mom giving me a lesson about proper etiquette when receiving a gift.  "You never want to hurt the feelings of someone who has given you a gift.  No matter what it is, you smile and say thank you as if it's the one thing you always wanted."

Continuing on with this tale, my mom related what happened at my own fourth birthday party just a few weeks later. 

When it was time to open the gifts, no matter what the present, I smiled a huge phony smile and exclaimed,"Thank you! It's just what I always wanted!"  My mom told this story over and over, almost every time I opened a present. And over the years, that was a lot of presents. Hundreds of gifts-some "exactly what I always wanted." Some surprises, like the binoculars she gave me for my birthday when I told her my dorm room had an excellent view of the playing field but it was too far away to see the boys. Or the flying lessons she paid for when I turned 21. 

Image result for ribbon candyIn our family, we have some traditions when it comes to gifts. For instance, everyone has a "favourite" Christmas candy. Mine was icy cups. Granddad got peanut brittle. My brother, it was widely known, loved ribbon candy. It became almost impossible to find and family members felt they had scored a coup whenever they found some for Doug. Last year he told me he hated ribbon candy. Fifty years of ribbon candy. And he doesn't even like it.

Gift giving is hard.  Searching for the perfect something to show how much you care, no matter what the cost.  Hoping you get it right and it will touch their hearts. What you really hope for is that you will come up with a gift they never even knew they wanted until you gave it to them. Gift receiving is harder. Because, as my mom taught me, you must be grateful even if you hate the gift. Someone thought about you and that matters more than any gift.

My mom gave me a lot of gifts over the years. Things I wanted. Things I didn't expect. Gifts tangible and intangible. Life lessons. A way of being. I'm not sure I ever expressed my gratitude. She's not here to give me anything any more. But I know she knows.

This life I live might not be the one I imagined.

But it's just what I always wanted.

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