Gifter’s Remorse

The only gift is a portion of thyself.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Buying Christmas presents stresses me out.  Not for everyone – the kids are easy and fun to buy for, my sister-in-law is so laid back and genuinely appreciative of even the smallest thing, my grandparents send lists of very specific things they would like and will use, and my mom is also generally pretty easy to please.  I guess what I’m getting at then, is that it comes down to the men – my brother, David, and my dad.

Nate sometimes waits until the last minute to send a list of things he’d like, and I generally prefer to have my shopping done by mid-December, so that often means I’ve guessed on gifts for him, and I know he’s ended up with things I thought he’d like but that he’s never used. I hate that, especially because he and Molly are great at picking gifts for me – I always love what they choose.  This year, I procrastinated on shopping so long – for various reasons – that I was able to get him gifts from his list, so I feel ok, but still worry that they’re a little impersonal.  At least I know he’ll use them.

David is not really that hard to buy for, I don’t guess – he’s a gadgety, video game kind of guy – but those kinds of things don’t really seem to convey what I think a Christmas present for him should – Guitar Hero doesn’t really say “I love you more than ice cream.”

And my dad, god.  The anxiety of buying for my dad far outweighs the anxiety of buying for everyone else combined, and it’s been that way for quite some time.  I can’t remember when it started; maybe when I was old enough to notice when certain gifts got the obligatory once over and thank you, and then were put aside until they eventually ended up in the box for Goodwill (not just gifts from me, either).  I hated feeling like I’d failed; I’d work so hard to find something he’d love (he’s a late list-maker too, if you can get him to make one at all) only to be disappointed in his reaction on Christmas morning.  Last year I did great, at least on one gift, and the look on his face over such a small thing (a CD, actually) made all the fretting and anxiety worth it.

I’m the first to admit that this anxiety, particularly where my dad is concerned, stems from something deeper than just wanting to find the “perfect” gift.  It comes from my need and desire to take good care of the people I love, it comes from my need for approval from others in nearly everything I do, it comes from wanting to feel like I have enough – so much, in fact, that I can share it with my family. This year that’s a very hard one for me; there’s seems to be not enough, and even though I know no one’s keeping score, I can’t help but feel a little like I’m letting people down.

And the thing is, I’m not at all critical about the gifts other people give me, I’m just grateful to be remembered.  So why, when I know how I feel about receiving gifts, can I not ascribe the same feelings to people receiving gifts from me?  I mean, practically, I know the people in my family are not counting presents, or calculating how much I likely spent on them, or mentally figuring out who they’re going to regift my item to, or any of that.  So why is it so hard for me to just let all of that go and just relax?

Maybe that’s my problem in all of this – that my expectation of finding the perfect gift for everyone is unrealistic, or that I’m focusing on the wrong thing, that the gift doesn’t have to do all of the things I think it should – maybe I need to work on understanding that the gift is just a token, not a representation of the way I feel about the person I’m giving it to.  So I’m going to work on that.

Also, I’m going to Michigan for Christmas this year – any suggestions on a gift for David’s dad and step-mom (i’m good on his mom)?  I need something that says, “I hope you like me, since we’re going to be family one day, even though you don’t know it yet!”


One thought on “Gifter’s Remorse

  1. First I have to say….”WELCOME to MICHIGAN for Christmas!” We will have a white Christmas for you for sure. I don’t know where in Michigan you’ll be, but it’s bound to be beautiful.

    Secondly, you’re on the right track trying to figure out why you allow yourself to be so stressed out over buying presents, particularly for your Dad. I know from many Christmas celebrations that what your Dad wants more than anything is time with you. Maybe just you, one on one time with you. Especially now that you have David in your life, time alone with your Dad might appear to him to be something lost. So consider (if your relationship with your Dad is as good as I think it is based on what you’ve said about him) giving him the gift of time, tickets to something that you and he go to, or a handmade coupon for a summer picnic, or a photo shooting trip, of a fishing trip or a canoe trip or…whatever it is that your Dad loves to do…to be able to do it with you.

    I think the gift of time is the best gift of all. Because time is really the only finite asset we have. And the most valuable.

    Just saying.

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