Receive, Receive, Receive!

hands holding flowersI wrote yesterday about Perri Klass’s books, one of which was written with her mother, and how I totally understood her struggles to get her mother to accept any kind of gift or help. There’s a long section in Every Mother Is a Daughter about Perri’s project of knitting her mother a beautiful vest with hand-dyed wool and handmade buttons.  She has to plot and contrive to get Sheila to pick out the yarn, valiantly trying to keep her mother from seeing how expensive it is.  Her mother keeps saying, “Oh, don’t go to any trouble.  Don’t spend too much.”

I went online just now to see if I could by any chance find a picture of Sheila Klass wearing that vest and instead ended up putting a couple of books about knitting on hold at the library; this is very, very dangerous for me, as I love handknit sweaters and got pulled into the knitting realm a couple of years ago before realizing that it probably wasn’t for me.  Knitting bothers my hands in a way that cross-stitching doesn’t, but there’s a limit to how many cross-stitched items I can hang on our walls.  Right now there are five large, beautifully framed pieces in our house, with a sixth one on the way.  At some point I’m probably gong to have to find a new handcraft.  And I do have this knitted vest pattern . . .

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, which is the art of receiving gifts.  I am firmly on record as saying that I do not want people to give me useless gifts, especially the kind of thing that I think of as “obligation gifts.”  Please, please, please, don’t bring me a gift just because I invited you to dinner! Don’t bring a gift to the birthday party when the invitation plainly says, “Please, no gifts!  Your presence is your present!”  I have been so pleased and grateful that my sister-in-law has taken on the job of organizing our Secret Santa gift-giving at Christmas, a great system that involves prying a list of desired gifts from everyone and then notifying each person’s Secret Santa what those desired gifts are. So when we open our gifts over at my brother’s house we know we’ll be getting something we really want, but we don’t know which item from our list it will be.  It’s great.  (I think I’ve written about this system before, but it’s well worth repeating.)

There seem to be two wrong attitudes about gifts.  One is what I displayed above:  wanting to control what people give you.  Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.  I do usually spell out for my husband what I want for various occasions, and he’s quite willing to go along.  So my Mother’s Day and anniversary presents this year were plants:  rosebushes and hollies.  One could make the argument that these are actually gifts for the whole family, indeed are simply home improvements, but they’re honestly what I want.  It all works out fine.  And I don’t feel one twinge of guilt over buying them!

The other, more problematic wrong attitude toward gifts is the one displayed by Sheila Klass and my own mother:  “I don’t deserve anything.  I don’t want anything.  Please don’t go to any trouble for me.” It sounds good, doesn’t it?  Very humble and unselfish.  But really (and I say this kindly and non-critically, I hope) it’s not unselfish at all.  Where is the focus?  On that person’s feelings of inadequacy and guilt.  In other words, on . . . her.  Not on the other person, the gift-giver.  The principle needs to be “respond to the spirit of a gift.”  The gift itself and the person who gave it are two separate entities. How you deal with a truly unwanted gift is a thorny issue but outside the scope of this post.  If someone gave me a magenta vest, no matter how beautifully knitted, I just don’t think I could bring myself to wear it.  But that’s a subject for another day, although I’d welcome comments about how others have dealt with it.  In the meantime, for today, I need to accept the gifts that come my way with a gracious, receptive spirit.

PS  As I was sitting here after writing this post my husband came downstairs and started making pancakes for breakfast.  He asked me if I’d like to have a couple, and I squelched my first impulse which was to say, “Oh, but you should have the first ones since you made them” and instead just said, “Great.  Thank you.”  He wanted to give them to me, and he’s a grown man and won’t starve to death in the few minutes it takes to cook the next batch.  (And they were very good, by the way.)

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