Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bah, Humbug

I have a hard time at gift-giving occasions. I’d like to find a reason for this other than my own selfishness and pride, but I’m feeling a little squirmy because I’m afraid that that’s what it gets down to.

So here’s the deal. I have two problems: stinginess and a very sad lack of shopping skills.

First, I always feel like money is tight. It doesn’t matter how much we have, I am always aware of how much we owe, or the things we ought to be doing with money if we had more, and also how much I shouldn’t have spent last week/month in light of those things. I think I will ALWAYS feel that money is tight; it’s bred into me.

So, at public gift-giving time (and here I am talking about Christmas and also wedding and baby showers, not times when you give a present just because you feel like it and you know it won’t be compared to what everyone else is giving), I feel tense. As soon as the relatives start talking about who is giving to whom this year, and what the targeted amount-per-present should be, my muscles start to twitch and my body goes into fight-or-flight. Because any amount is always too much (here’s the selfishness), and because I am extremely deficient in “finding a good deal” or “making something small look big and fabulous” or even “picking just the right thing” categories. I feel humiliated when I have to give things to people in front of other people, because my present always seems cheaper/dumber than everyone else’s, even when I bite the bullet and spend MORE than I should just to avoid embarrassment. (Have you ever been to a baby shower, clutching your little hooded towel or baby bath set, and watched people give the expecting mother three designer outfits each? This always happens to me.)

I don’t speak the gift-giving love language. Giving gifts is never about love with me. It’s about obligation.

I hate this about myself. I don’t really know how to change it, either. In efforts to avoid wincing when I need to start dumping money at Shopko, we have begun budgeting money all year so that we have a Christmas cushion. It hasn’t helped much. I still can’t stand the feeling of spending, spending, spending. I try to think nice things about the people I’m buying for as I buy. I try to plan ahead and select things with care and love. I’m really trying here, folks. But I still feel nothing but churning stomach when it comes to trying to pick out, buy, wrap and publicly give presents.

Yes, I know it’s pride, this thing about being in public. I admit it.

The problem with public gift-giving is that there is never an option to sit out. Imagine what it would be like if I said to our relatives one year, “I’m sorry. We’re sitting out Christmas this year. (But feel free to give to us if you want.)” Or if one year I gave only cheapie presents—say, $5 presents, when everyone else was doing $15. Knowing my relatives, they would be very sweet about it and not feel bad. But I would be miserable. That’s the problem with parties at which people exchange gifts—you know everyone is going to see. (Pride, pride.)

Then there's always the kids in my children's classes at school who invite their entire class to their birthday parties. What's with that? I've never even heard of the kid, and now I have to find money in my budget for them? And since sending something cheap (a candy bar, say) isn't an option, I end up keeping my kids home from the party. Can you believe that? My own cheapness and pride keeps my kid from a birthday party.

And the other source of my paranoia is that since I hate shopping, I am sadly lacking in experience and knowledge about what a good price is or high value is. I know that even if I spend more than the requisite amount on a really cool (it seems to me) candle, for example, the person I give it to knows vastly more than I do about candles. Probably she will look at it and know (in some mysterious way) that it is the BAD brand of candles. Because probably everyone but me knows that a candle from anywhere but “Salt City,” for example, or some other place I don’t know about, is not worth burning.

Now, I know that several of my relatives and friends, to whom I plan to give and to whom I will always give, are reading this. I hope you all know that it really has nothing to do with my love for you, my gratefulness to you, or my desire to give you something you would love. I just wish there were some way I could sacrifice for you that would feel meaningful—to both of us. I wish I could get over this. I’m working on it. In the meantime, keep in mind when you open things from me, that I am groveling inside at my own stupidity for picking out whatever it is. Know that I still love you, even though I hate buying gifts.

Hey, here’s an idea: next year, let’s all spend a lot of time thinking about what we would give each other if money were no object. (We can take all year to do this, and we will do it for everyone instead of drawing names, because, hey--money is no object.) Then we’ll write our ideas on a piece of paper, wrap them up, and then open them together. It will be a mutual covet-fest. (But we'll be spending time together, thinking about each other and getting to know each other better.) And then we’ll take all the money we budgeted for Christmas and go out to eat somewhere fun, or buy sub-for-Santa gifts and donate them—or both. How would that be?


Jennifer B said...


I LOVE your idea. I enjoy giving gifts, but I don't usually like group exchanges--too much pressure. I have my own gift-related hang-ups. I usually get a nasty case of buyer's remorse, and when I don't get buyer's remorse, I suffer last minute panic that whatever I have chosen is not enough. Why do we do this to ourselves? I realize that I am trying deperately to avoid disappointing someone and also that I like to be well-thought of. However, is a less-than-perfect gift really going to injure anyone? Perhaps there's a 12-step program out there for us.
My other fear, I am ashamed to admit, is that perhaps I have been too critical of others in the past and I now fear the same scrutiny. Even this should not really matter, though. Anyone who is ungrateful and petty enough to look poorly on a gift doesn't deserve it.
So, just for fun,. I'm going to think about what I would give YOU if money were no object and I'll write it in your Christmas card.

Johanna said...

I love gift giving, but only when not obligated. My roommates and I used to give gift wishes, like you suggest. It was a tradition one of them had learned somewhere in Africa. The one I remember most, a birthday present--really, is it any different than if I had actually been granted the real thing?--was a giant bowl of fresh raspberries. I was born the end of January.