The lost art of gift-giving

by Ellie Grossman

If it’s a mitzvah for a Jew to marry, then it’s an even greater deed for a wife to put up with her husband’s annoying habits. One of my top 10 complaints about my spouse, Scott, is his inability to read my mind, especially when it comes to knowing what kind of gift truly makes me happy. And with the Jewish New Year around the corner, I figure that now is the perfect time to make a resolution to do something about it. After 13 years of marriage, the only person I can change is myself, right? So from now on, I promise to either hand Scott a detailed list of what I want for my special day, or I will go to Victoria’s Secret and buy the satin pajamas myself. That way, there’s no surprises, no disappointments, no hurt feelings.

Of course, I would love for my better half to bestow me with unexpected tokens of his affection, such as a handful of tropical orchids or a chunk of dark chocolate almond bark. Even though surprises like this make me feel special, I try to be realistic about a guy who wants to boycott Valentine’s Day because the roses shrivel up and die anyway.

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No matter what the occasion, I tell him that fresh flowers are always an option, even if the purple irises are grown in my own backyard and arranged in a vase. Plus, my mother taught me a long time ago that the presentation is as important as the present. Over the years, her gifts usually come wrapped in polka dots, stripes or some kind of fancy paper and are topped with a curly ribbon and Hallmark card. To this day, she still creases the corners and tapes the package so tight that I feel guilty if I rip it open. Then again, I get the same pleasure when I unravel anything that my kids cover in white tissue paper and a roll of Scotch tape.

My spouse, on the other hand, doesn’t understand why I fuss over the frill. His idea of going all out is a Chico’s shopping bag. This year’s birthday gift, however, is the icing on the cake. (What cake, by the way?) My point is that he sure enough wrapped my present — in a red fleece blanket that we use to sit on the dirty ground at sporting events. To give you a better idea of my predicament, I’ll let you eavesdrop on part of our conversation that went downhill from here:

Scott: “Do you want your birthday present a day early?”

Me: “That depends … Did you get a chance to wrap it first?”

Scott: “I hid the box in the trunk of my car so you wouldn’t find it.”

Me: “OK … well … then I wonder what it is.”

Scott: “Ta da! Happy birthday babe! Hope you like it!”

Me: “My gosh … the bulky box is so heavy. Why is there a dried leaf stuck to the blanket?”

Scott: “I didn’t get a chance to wrap it.”

Me: “Whatever … The outside of the box shows a hot water dispenser. What’s inside?”

Scott: “I thought because you love to drink hot tea so much, a hot water dispenser will save you time and make it easier because you don’t have to use the microwave or wait for the water to boil. Isn’t that cool?”

Me: “Well, actually it’s really hot. I hope the kids don’t burn their hands when they mistake it for the kitchen faucet.”

Scott: “Don’t worry. You can use the hot water dispenser to also make hot chocolate, oatmeal and even JELL-O!”

Me: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Scott: “What’s the matter? You don’t like it? I’ll take it back if you’re not going to use it.”

Me: “No, we can keep it. I guess I can always use another kitchen appliance.”

Scott: “If you don’t like it, you can return it to Home Depot and pick out something else you like.”

Me: “Gee honey, thanks a lot.”

Scott: “You never like anything I get you.”

Me: “That’s not true. What about the gift certificate for the body massage and facial that I picked up at the beauty salon myself and let you pay for? I really like that.”

Scott: “A spa package is boring, and I already gave one to you. The hot water dispenser, on the other hand, is something different and practical because you can enjoy it over and over again.”

Me: “I understand what you’re saying, but a hot water dispenser is not birthday material. It would have been more appropriate to give it to me a week before or after my birthday as a ‘just-because’ gift, and then maybe I would appreciate it more.”

Scott: “I can’t do anything right.”

The truth is, Scott does a lot of things right, like when he steam-cleans the carpet or takes the kids to soccer practice if I have another candle party to attend on our block. Besides, I try to convince him that I’m not a high-maintenance wife who needs diamond earrings to make me happy. He knows that I’m a sucker for sentiment, and I go nuts over those steppingstones decorated with the kids’ handprints. Even a travel mug filled with yummy Chai Tea mix warms my heart, as does a picnic basket filled with munchies and a note that says we’ll dine alfresco today.

Oh well, there’s always our anniversary.

The Mishegas of Motherhood is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to [email protected]

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