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.