Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!!
Everything about birthdays is wonderful except for the part where you buy people gifts.
It’s not that I’m mean-spirited or that I mind giving gifts. It’s more that you usually can’t get someone a gift without going into a store and doing some kind of shopping, and that’s where the whole system breaks down for me. I’m not a gifted shopper. I am, at best, a remedial shopper.
I never get this thing about how all women are supposed to love shopping. That gene must have fallen off my X chromosomes or something. The phrase “retail therapy” leaves me cold … the only retail experience I can imagine as being remotely therapeutic would be going into Chapters with a gift card and buying a book and a rasperry mocha at Starbuck’s, then sitting down to drink my mocha and read my book.
Gift cards are a good thing. Make a note of that idea, we’ll be coming back to it later.
I can barely shop for myself. In fact it occurred to me the other day as I returned home from Seattle with the multiple pairs of Rider’s jeans I purchased there, that my subconscious, never-quite-articulated goal all my life has been to acquire all the clothes I need for a simple, basic wardrobe, and then never have to buy anything again. I feel the same way about furniture and all kinds of household accessories, though not about books, music or DVDs — in those cases I do understand the need to keep buying new things as clever people keep producing new things that are quite different from the old ones. But in general, the less shopping I have to do, the better.
Buying gifts is especially problematic. I work from the assumption that anything people really want or need, they’d probably like to choose for themselves to be sure of getting the right size/colour/model etc. Also, people generally like there to be some element of surprise around gifts. So what I’m trying to find, as I wander aimlessly through the mall with my eyes glazing over, is something the person doesn’t actually need, want, or expect to get, but which won’t be too unpleasant of a shock when they unwrap it.
Ideally, I guess, a good gift-giver should know the recipient so well, and be such a thoughtful — maybe even prescient — shopper, that they will pick out an object that the recipient didn’t even know he or she needed until they got it, but once having received it they will realize is exactly what they have always wanted. Some people can actually manage this kind of gift-giving. My mother, for example.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the odds of me pulling off this sort of feat are incredibly slim. Non-existant, in fact.
I’m a big fan of gift cards. Personally, I think everyone in the world should be happy with Chapter’s gift cards, which is what I would like to receive all the time, but I do try to vary my gifts to include restaurant gift certificates, spa gift certificates, even Home Depot gift certificates on appropriate occasions. I think this is the perfect idea — it’s like giving money, but earmarked for a particular purpose so that the person doesn’t end up spending it on gas or groceries.
This summer my cousin Jackie asked if I had any ideas about what to give her sister Jennifer for a birthday gift. I stared at her, open-mouthed. Jennifer is one of the few people, outside of immediate family, that I do buy birthday gifts for, and I give her the same thing almost every year. A $20 Chapters gift certificate, and a little note on her card saying I’ll take her to dinner and a movie at her convenience. Every year she gives me a card offering two free nights of babysitting. Works like a charm. I had no suggestions to offer for actual gifts.
Unfortunately, some people find gift certificates cold and impersonal, or feel that they indicate you didn’t put much thought into their gift. So occasionally, I have to shake things up a bit and buy an actual present for somebody. My mother’s birthday was complicated by the fact that two days earlier I had given her and my dad a restaurant gift certificate to thank them for looking after our house and van while we were away. Another gift certificate in the same week might have seemed — well, a touch too easy. So I went shopping. And believe me, there is nothing easy about that.
I have this problem with everyone, so I don’t want to single my mom out, but I do have to say that she’s especially hard to buy for in that 1) she has everything, and 2) she has impeccable taste. Her taste is often different from mine, and when it’s the same it’s objectively and demonstrably better than mine. So while the odds of her picking out a gift I might like are pretty good, the odds of me picking out something nice for her are vanishingly infinitesimal.
Friday afternoon found me wandering the mall in a haze of despair. I veered blindly from gift shops to housewares to clothing stores. I thought about eliciting the help of salespeople. “I need to buy a gift for my mother whom I love very dearly, and also, I would like to poke my eyes out. May I borrow your pencil?”
At one point I called Jason on my cellphone and reported, “I’m wandering through Winners looking at small painted wooden chests of drawers — that’s how lost I am.”
In the end I took the coward’s way out. I didn’t go for the gift certificate but I did the next best thing — bought a number of small items I guessed she’d like, to put together in a gift bag. When I go for this ploy, I always hope it conveys the message: “I thought of so many wonderful gifts for you, I couldn’t pick just one!” rather than the more obvious, “I had no idea what to get you, so I’m going with the scattershot approach and hoping that at least a couple of these things won’t horrify you.”
It’s also a ploy that works much better if you can bring the items home and arrange them in a beautiful gift basket decorated with tissue, ribbons and love. All I had was love — I think it goes without saying that I am not the gift-basket type. I transferred the items from the shopping bag to a birthday gift bag, where they looked just as forlorn and mismatched as they had in the shopping bag, except now they looked more official.
Of course my mom got the gift bag and ooohed and aaahed with delight (or at least interest) over everything. That’s another gift — being a gracious recipient. I think I will work on developing that gift, since I am obviously never going to be the perfect gift-giver. If anyone would like to give me things so I can practice receiving them graciously, that would be just fine.