Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

When we got married, he gave me a wrought iron bistro set for our tiny little patio, along with a promise of breakfasts on the patio every weekend.

The table is rusting, but Andy still makes fantastic breakfasts of eggs benedict, pancakes, Dutch babies, or apple crepes on Saturdays and Sundays.

After we got dogs and got a mortgage, gifts got more practical. He gave me special visors for walking dogs  and sunglasses.

Once (SPOILER ALERT) Baby D was born and life got more stressful, Andy slacked off.

Our first Christmas without my family, Andy blew it. Andy’s stocking and Baby D’s stocking were filled with their favorite goodies.

Mine was empty.

Forgotten. The recovering middle child’s worst nightmare. 

I felt like I took it well. I didn’t throw anything. I didn’t cry until I was alone walking the dogs. Later, when Baby D was asleep, I expressed my sorrow to my husband. I was upset, but I got over it.

Andy had a different perspective. He called it “The Worst Christmas Ever,” and told a friend, “You know how long that woman can throw cutting comments into conversation? Months. I’d say, ‘Hey, honey, can you give me a list of what spring flowers you want for your garden?’ and she’s say, ‘What was that? You want me to give you something? Are we giving each other things again? I thought that stopped last Christmas?’” Andy shuddered and added, “I am never doing that again.”

My friends offered strategies on the apparently common “husband sucks at gifts” dilemma.

JM told me that starting in October, she would casually leave catalogs on her husband’s desk with post-its next to desirable items: “So pretty!” “I bet this would be even better in GOLD.”

A Most Practical Mom Friend told me she buys herself presents from her husband. She even wraps them and put them under the tree, addressed to “The Best Wife Ever.” She says, “It’s easier that way. I get what I want and I don’t have to return anything.”

Some friends opt to skip personal gifts in order to afford a joint purchase like a new refrigerator or car.

Others don’t do gifts at all, either to save money because times are tough, or so they can give better gifts to their children.

I understand a mutual, no gift policy. But gifts don’t have to be expensive. The stocking stuffers my siblings and I give are usually candies and Chapsticks. Thoughtful gifts are a way of reminding a person that you listen to them, know them, or understand the winter weather calls for purse Chapstick and car Chapstick.

When I’m getting gifts for Andy, I might drive to multiple stores while trying to find his favorite Lake Champlain peanut butter and chocolate truffles. I might scheme and lie about why he has to babysit a friend’s kid to get him out of the house so I can get an estimate on a home/yard repair that he wants, but doesn’t want to spend the money on. Then I arrange the work and put the estimate or contract in a wrapped box under the tree.

I feel like he should do the same for me. Like he used to. 

Too often, women–-especially Moms—take care of everyone else’s needs. We put our own wants and needs last. We’re exhausted. It’s easy to excuse a husband when he whines, “I didn’t know what to get you and I’m so busy.” We let the man out of doing all the research and emotional labor that we do for them.

Until we find our husbands playing videogames on the couch on Sunday afternoon after we’ve either braved the mall or spent hours ordering online gifts for mutual friends AND HIS FAMLY.

After the Worst Christmas Ever, my husband learned that an empty Christmas stocking is unacceptable in our household and there would be no sex for months hell to pay. 

If we weren’t visiting my family, I told Andy it was his responsibility to fill my stocking and put some gifts under the tree for me. He would also help our child buy me a gift. Because every boy needs a male role model to show him how to give back to the women in their lives, rather than just taking. (I am sure I put it exactly like that and was very mature and did not shout, “I am not the goddamned Giving Tree, okay?! He should never take me for granted and neither should you!”)

This year, we stayed in Los Angeles for the holidays. I found lovely Lush bath bombs in my stocking and some excellent chocolate, so I forgave Andy for forgetting Chapstick. 

There were also presents for me under the tree: pastry bags, gardening gloves, and a new desk chair. 

The pastry bags were silicone, less likely to break and easier to wash than plastic bags. An excellent gift that went straight into my baking cabinet.

I tried on the gloves and immediately rhapsodized, “They go all the way up my arm, to protect me from roses! They fit my long fingers, but they aren’t too big in the hands like other gloves! And they are so thick! Where did you get them?”

“I found a company that makes gloves specifically for women and I estimated your finger length compared to mine,” Andy explained, very pleased with the gloves and my reaction. 

Then he put together my new chair, which he had expertly hidden for weeks under a tarp and potting soil in his greenhouse. The chair was very comfy. Andy told me he’d tested multiple chairs to find one that was cushiony and had a seat suitable for long legs. 

“How did you do it?” I marveled. “How did you figure out the perfect gifts? It’s so hard to find gloves that fit, and my old chair’s pneumatic height adjustment wouldn’t stay where I put it, and my old pastry bags were a real problem with filling eclairs. But I never asked you for any of those things as gifts.”

Andy said, “I made a mental note every time you swore at something this year.”

And there you have Andy’s (& Autumn’s!) guide to gift-giving and marriage. 

Women, don’t be afraid to use profanity at those things that truly piss you off.

And men? When your wife swears, take note.

Especially if it’s at you.

My new chair and gloves!

Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

When I was seven months pregnant, my Chinese-American father-in-law insisted on coming to visit. Jay insulted me personally and women in general. His ceaseless efforts at home improvement culminated in disasters and emergency home improvements for my husband and me. Jay refused to desist. I lost my temper and yelled some mean things at him (all the meaner for being true).

A good hostess never yells at a guest, no matter how trying. A smart wife sucks it up and stays on speaking terms with her in-laws, no matter how insane they are. And a decent mom-to-be will put the needs of her future child ahead of her desire to throttle her maddening father-in-law until he drops the screwdriver of doom forever.

So, yes, I apologized to my father-in-law: “Listen, Jay, I’m sorry for losing my temper and yelling at you. I shouldn’t have done that. But I’m really frustrated by the fact that your keep messing with the doors in our house. Can you please stop trying to fix things? I really need to be able to get into the bathrooms and it’s not possible when you keep breaking them or locking them from the outside.”

Jay nodded and said, “Okay. Andy and I will go work on the bedroom door now.”

He waved imperiously at my husband to follow him and marched down the hallway, still clutching the goddamned screwdriver.

“Aiyah!” exclaimed my mother-in-law, dropping into a chair. 

My husband sighed and whispered, “Are you gonna be okay?”

“Only if he locks himself IN the bedroom this time,” I replied. 

“If he does, I’ll wait a day to get him out,” my husband promised.

“Deal,” I said. “I’m gonna go walk the dogs.” 

“You sure you’re okay?”

“No. But I will be by the time I get back.”

Andy shot me a quizzical look. Like most men, he didn’t understand the healing power of my cell phone.

And my friends.

*****

Men usually say that their best friend is their wife/ girlfriend/ partner

Women only say their best friend is their husband/ boyfriend/ partner if the male in question is within earshot.

Most women have a least one gal pal as a close friend. We need them, and we’re healthier with them. Our pals are our sources of encouragement, our reality checks, and our emergency therapists/ marriage counselors. Especially supportive friends will listen while you vent about your infuriating relatives, many, many times. My BFF, M, had been both my therapist and my husband’s therapist the day before our wedding.

I called on her once again, telling her about my horrible, no good, very bad days with the in-laws. As I walked around our neighborhood with the dogs, M gasped in all the right places, occasionally following it up with, “Oh my God who does that?!” Her reactions mirrored mine. Validation! I stopped secretly wondering if I was the insane one, rather than my father-in-law.

M was raised by a pretentious WASP mother – she understood that no matter how great the provocation, simply not heaving a troublesome guest/ relative out the front door was Not Done. One couldn’t even hold the door for them as they stomped off to a hotel. Because appearances.

After talking with M, I felt a lot less alone/ insane.

But not quite ready to go home.

My second loop around the neighborhood, I called my friend and neighbor JK. She punctuated my story with a whole new slew of “OMGs” and “Are you fucking kidding mes”.

Then she jumped ahead to revenge fantasies.

“You know what you should do? Come straight to my house. I’ll have my husband bring back the dogs and tell your in-laws you collapsed in front of our house and we took you to the hospital. Then you spend the night here and tell them the hospital admitted you because they’re worried about preterm labor from all the stress – which is all their fault! Bahahahahaha, and you have to be hospitalized because they have to get your blood pressure down and your in-laws can’t visit because it’s really important to keep you quiet and stress-free!”

“That’s brilliant! You are an evil genius!”

“Right? And then they can feel guilty because they acted like assholes and upset the pregnant woman! Seriously, you should come over right now!”

I laughed. I reveled in thoughts of revenge. And then I declined. “I can’t leave — they might burn down my house while I’m gone. Plus, I’ve got this big BBQ with my family, too, on Saturday. Too bad. It was a great plan.”

Bolstered by understanding, evil scheming, and laughter, I went home. As I promised my husband, I was all right once again.

Thank God for girlfriends. 

Some of the bitmoji encouragement I get from the gals.

Dedicated to the friend and the phone call I missed during Christmas Eve insanity. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.

New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

A few years ago, a thirty-something couple moved into the house behind us. They had two girls under age five and another baby on the way. When the mom told me that her husband once danced and sang on a table, I assumed she was indulging in nostalgia rather than foreshadowing.

Until festive lights went up in the backyard. This was followed by a disco ball, loud music, and the chanting of “Drink, drink, drink!”

Another neighbor called and asked where the frat party was.

“At the newborn’s house,” I replied.

Continue reading New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)