Different families have very different traditions, and being married, I’ve learned that there are times when you just have to learn to compromise.
My husband’s family grew up very differently from the way I grew up. He never had a birthday party. His mom made him only two birthday cakes that he can remember. Things like this just weren’t a big deal to them. And for him, he doesn’t get the celebrations that people do for their or their kids’ birthdays.
Gift giving, in general, is the same way in his family. People hand each other lists of what they want, and they expect that you’ll buy from them what you’re told to. There’s no creativity. There’s no showing that you know a person well and figured out something that you know they’d love that they never even thought about. It’s really less a present than a completion of a shopping list, and it always feels a little yuck to me. What’s the fun and surprise and point even of exchanging gifts when you’ve told the person exactly what to get you?
It first started when I married into the family and drew my SIL for the gift exchange that year. She announced that she expected whoever drew her to purchase her the Season Whatever Buffy The Vampire Slayer on DVD. Ok. Did you want me to give it to you just in the bag? When I told my husband that I intended to get her something else, something that I thought she’d like, my husband warned me against this. Given the cattiness I’ve seen previously, I acquiesced. Except that I made him buy and wrap the DVD because I couldn’t quite stomach it. And I bought her a couple of other cute small things that I thought she’d like.
Unfortunately, this means of “shopping” for people has resulted in people who don’t know how to shop for people without a specific list. As year after year went by and my husband continued to miss my very unsubtle hints and instead purchased items for me that were inevitably returned, I realized that I had to make a compromise.
The next year, I started creating a list in May. I wrote down all sorts of things that I wanted from a big NU flag to an immersion blender to a fuzzy logic rice cooker (ok, I’m realizing how boring I sound with my list). I created a long, long list, with the clarification to my husband that these are simply ideas. I don’t expect nor want to receive every item on the list, but at least it gives him some options.
He purchased the first six things on the list.
After the holidays I clarified the element of surprise bit and also that maybe some items were gifts that maybe I’d want more than others and that he should peruse the list a little. That actually seemed to work, and the gift giving really improved for him (and his family).
This year has been a bit busier, and while I continued to drop my not-so-subtle hints throughout the year, I didn’t update my wish list. I’m discovering that this was a mistake.
When we were in Seattle last weekend, my husband asked me on Monday (the 17th) what I wanted for my birthday. I listed off a few items before realizing the implications of his question. My birthday is today (the 24th). We weren’t getting home until the 18th. Six days before my birthday, he would not have even started shopping for me.
On Wednesday, the first package arrived from FedEx. The box prominently listed that it was from something or other lids company. Ahhh, the new lid for my Cuisinart has arrived. When I showed my husband the cracked plastic top to my very old Cuisinart that I use regularly, he nodded sagely, and I thought I was getting a brand new way cool Cuisinart. Nope, I’m just getting the top.
On Thursday, a second package arrived, with a prominently placed logo about something fitness. Whooo, I now have a new heart rate monitor. I’m realizing that I really made a mistake. And that it’s really hard to not look at the return address of a package that comes as you’re trying to determine who it’s for, especially since there are items that I’ve ordered online that I’m waiting for.
Lesson learned. I’m already starting on the list for next year. I’m thinking about just taping it to the refrigerator to make it that much easier for my husband. But that really takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it?
Oh, and I got a nice birthday dinner last night (since it’s a school night tonight and I’m working in the office and won’t be home until later). We went to my Monday night sushi place and did the hibachi. I forgot they actually make you wear a balloon hat and turn on the colored disco lights and play the birthday song. And, lucky me, they now memorialize it with a photo on their “Kobe wall.”
At 5:37pm today, I’m officially 33 years old. With a new heartrate monitor and a Cuisinart lid for my efforts. And yes, I do already know what I’m getting my husband, and no, I don’t let him make me a list!