Thursday, January 30, 2014

In which Doris finally doesn't send us a Christmas present

You knew the gift drama wouldn't end that easily, right? So Doris commented that I had not really thanked her for the green glass pear - that I just thanked her for the gift but did not even mention it by name.

Tell me, dear reader, what should I have done? If I had lied and raved that I loooooved the green glass pear, I would have gotten more green glass pears. That is not what I want for my life.

But I do want to acknowledge that she made an effort on my behalf and sent me something that she - and here is where we remember that one of the tricks to writing well is that even the villain has a good reason for doing what he does - that you have to look at it from the antagonist's POV because for the bad guy, it all makes perfect sense - that she thinks is nice.

Blessherheart, Doris loves kitschy things like green glass pears and that's OK. Everyone is allowed to have her own taste. Lord knows there are undoubtedly people who look at how I dress and wonder to themselves if I ever look at a mirror. There are people like my sister who want to get their hands on me just to do some hair and makeup and when my sister does get her hands on me, I look sooooo much better. But I am lazy and don't want to spend all that time primping and I am working in a dead-end job and I already have a husband and it's so darn cold here that I think why even bother to try to look fabulous, I'm just going to cover everything up with layers and layers and layers of clothes.

Where was I?

Oh. Christmas. Presents.

And again, this is what I feel guilty writing because nobody is obligated to give anyone a present.

And I am trying to figure out why this bothers me so much. I have written about gift giving so many times on this blog that there could be an entire book. What is the deep trauma related to the Doris gift drama? Why can't I let this go? Why don't I let this go? This should not be such a big deal.

Except it is. There are rules and rituals in all societies about things. One of my grad school professors said there were three constants across cultures - something about hospitality, incest, and reciprocity.

I think he much have been wrong or else I am not remembering it properly, although when you hear a professor mention incest in business school - I was not in a psych or criminal justice program - it sticks with you. I don't think there is a taboo against incest in all cultures. Didn't the ancient Egyptians marry their siblings?

But I do remember him talking about reciprocity and perhaps that's the value I feel Doris is violating - that Primo gives so much more than he gets.

I deserve nothing from Doris. I give her nothing. But Primo gives his time and a lot of money. She is his mother and he loves her, but he takes care of her other than the other way around. Maybe that's what bugs me so much - she has forced a role reversal that I think is unfair, as Sly and Doris are capable of taking care of themselves - they have the resources - but they refuse to do so. Instead, they lean on Primo but don't even make an effort to understand what he might like in his life.

And then there is the absolute violation of reciprocity. Gift giving is fraught with symbolism. I was horrified at a work conference last year when my customer from Singapore presented me with a lovely Hermes scarf - wait, not Hermes but the next best fancy scarf he could get - and I had nothing to give in return. It hadn't even occurred to me that I should be giving gifts. This was a business meeting, not a family holiday!

But his giving me a gift imposed on me a reciprocal obligation that I frantically sought to fulfill.

Fortunately, our admin had brought gifts just for this occasion, so I gave him something - I don't remember what - but it surely was not as good as the scarf, which I wear at least once a week if not more. I love the scarf. It's one of the best presents I have ever gotten and it was from someone who had never even met me in person.

Whereas Doris has not only met me but she has been in my house and she has asked Primo what I want. Despite all of that, she has never gotten me anything I liked. (Except for the re-usable cloth grocery bags that roll up and fit in my purse. Those, I love. But besides that.) Maybe I get so bothered by this because I feel like she isn't even trying to figure out what I would like - that she shows her dislike of me by getting me presents I would never want. And this should not bother me, because I don't like her either, so we are even. But the presents she gets from me are Primo's visits - those come from his vacation time and from our earnings, both of which are zero-sum options - the more she gets, the less I get.

So I feel like I give her something she treasures and she looks around for the crappiest thing she can find to send me in return. Does that make sense? Or am I just a big fat whiner?

Anyhow. Primo finally convinced Doris not to send us any more crap.

So she just didn't send anything.

Even though when Doris has asked Primo what we would like, he has told her that we would love play tickets or football tickets or a restaurant certificate.

Doris' response is that she doesn't want to give us cash equivalents because

1. that's tacky
2. we can buy those things for ourselves

But that's not true. I mean sure we can buy those things for ourselves but the point is that we don't because we try not to be spendthrifts and we've already bought a new roof this year and I need major oral surgery and we have to save for our Old Age, when we will have no children to visit us twice a year and clean the mildew from our refrigerator and listen to us whine on the phone.

So in theory, yes, we could spend lots of money on ephemeral things but we do not because we - or at least I - fear poverty in my old age.

Primo tried to point out to his mom that my mom just sends us a check for $100 at Christmas and we use it to go out for a nice meal that we wouldn't otherwise have.

Which of course was the kiss of death - for Primo to cite my mother as an authority. Sly and Doris do not think much of my family. The family that "isn't close," even though Primo and I stay with my aunts and uncles every summer, which sure, is not as close as Primo's family, where he went to the funeral of an uncle he had not seen for 20 years.

So this Christmas. No green glass pears. No framed photos of themselves. No cast-iron cats.

Which is a victory of sorts. Less work returning stuff.

But just a note from Doris - a Christmas card - that I choose to interpret as snide but you all know I am completely unobjective when it comes to all this. Maybe there was no snideness at all in it. After all, unlike previous Christmas cards, this one did not lament that our country was being ruined by old white men and did not close with, "Everything sucks and I get despondent."

She wrote,

Dear GD and Primo,

I finally got the message loud and clear - NO STUFF! So you'll have nothing under your tree. We don't need any stuff either as we have far too much.

And I was thinking to my nasty, greedy self. "I wouldn't have minded a check under the tree to help pay for Primo's next flight there."