Giving Until It Hurts

My sweet J is a giver. She is a classic second child, going along with whatever her elder sister says. When friends argue, she plays peacemaker. But she also literally gives stuff all the time. For any holiday, she’s always coming up with gifts, either homemade or store-bought. Remember that time she bought Cute W “love dice” for Valentine’s Day? This year he got a soccer-ball tin of candies, I got chocolates, and M received a teddy bear.  She also frets quite a bit about the presentation of the gifts, including elaborate wrapping and hiding. It is very kind, and sweet. But I also feel bad for her sometimes: she spends, she worries, and she frets, and obviously, she doesn’t need to do that. Especially when M rarely reciprocates.

But generally, she likes it. The other day she was recalling our ski trip with friends. At one point she’d left the big girls to accompany the toddler-preschool set down to a game room with their grandma. The grandmother had asked for someone to help shepherd the kids, and at the time, I worried that J was sad to be leaving the cool crowd to help. I’d motioned to her that I’d go instead, but she said it was fine. So, weeks later, she started telling Cute W about going to the game room.

“So, I was giving the little kids bunches and bunches of quarters. . . .” she started.

“Wait, were you giving them your own quarters, or were you just helping to hand them out?” I asked.

“They were my quarters. And they were so excited that they kept coming to me. . . .”

“You know,” I pointed out, “they had their grandma with them. That’s exactly the sort of thing that grandmas are for, to give little kids quarters.”

“I know!” she insisted. “But that was what was so fun about it. I had mints with me, too, and with all of the quarters and mints in my wallet, I felt like I was a grandma. It was fun.”

And she showed us her wallet–a hand-me-down Vera Bradley from our neighbor–and damned if it didn’t look just like a Grandma Wallet.

Josie grandma purse

She had plenty of money and she was happy to give it. Really, she has a huge savings for a 10-year-old, and it’s because any money she spends goes toward giving either presents or charities (she gave $100 to Safe Passage after learning about it at a church service). I swear it comes back to her, just like karma. And she really does like it, so I suppose I just have to chill.

But meanwhile, sometimes she needs to chill. Like last Thursday night, after gymnastics, which was also Cute W’s birthday eve.  In keeping with tradition, J had a present for Cute W. This was particularly unnecessary, because after receiving an expensive camera for Christmas, he kept insisting that he didn’t need any gifts from anyone. At the time, we thought that his parents would be around for the birthday, and I finally managed to convince him that if I followed his wishes and presented him with nothing, I’d look like the crappiest wife ever. So I’d ordered up a couple of token items. When J found out, she scolded me for taking all the ideas, then insisted on buying one of of me so that she could claim it as her own. But it was not yet wrapped. Which I should have thought about, but didn’t.

So, you may recall that there was headache and drama on the way to gymnastics, and practice itself went worse. Apparently, she was falling off the beam and messing up skills that she knows how to do and becoming increasingly miserable. She arrived home weepy, tired, and hungry. Between showering, eating, and getting composed, it was probably an hour later when I went to check on her up in her room. She was supposed to call me for a final tuck-in after teeth were brushed, and she hadn’t called. When I got upstairs, my heart sank.

J was surrounded by scraps of paper and ribbon and an unwrapped CD.

“Want me to get you a gift bag?” I offered.

“No.” I expected that answer. I love gift bags, but I know that she thinks gift bags are lazy. But for the life of me, I had no idea why she’d gone with such stiff paper. Or why she hadn’t asked me for help.

“How about tissue paper?” She agreed to that one. I brought it up and prayed it would be quick. I should have known that mere tissue paper wasn’t enough. She started struggling with the ribbon.

“I bet that this would be a lot easier in the morning,” I started.

“But his birthday is in the morning!” she exclaimed.

“But, honey, he’s not going to wake up in the morning and demand a present immediately. . . .”

“He’s up before me! And if I’m not around, he’ll know I’m working on his present!”

“Okay, so first: what if he knows? Isn’t it kind of fun on your birthday to know that someone’s wrapping a present for you?”

At this point she was crying: the present looked horrible, she was so late, everything was terrible.

“Honey, you didn’t even need to get him a present. You are a present to your Daddy every day. Giving him a hug is a present and smiling at him is a present and telling him about your day is a present. He would much rather have a daughter who’s happy and no extra presents at all. I bet he’d be really sad if he knew how worried you were about this.”

She was unconvinced.

“It looks great right now, I think. Heck, M didn’t get your Dad anything. Please stop being so hard on yourself.”

. . . .

“In fact, I think you’re too tired to see how pretty it is. Everything looks better in the morning. You’re officially not allowed to work on this anymore.” And then I confiscated the gift, the wrap, the ribbon.

In the morning, Cute W was hard at work making his own damn birthday breakfast. Can you believe that? He is the morning person and the breakfast-making person. It’s sort of like with long-distance driving: with limited exceptions, actually driving the car himself is easier for Cute W than watching me fret and stress my way through driving the car when we’re on trips. I was not entirely useless: I’d made chocolate mousse and edited W’s article on his birthday eve. Also, I am patient. Realizing that J was missing, I reported up to her room, where she was tearfully struggling over making a bow.

J gift back


There was a bow, a lovely note, and a drawing on the other side of this gift. By the time I managed to convince J that Cute W would rather have her hanging around and helping her with waffles than have any more refinements to his gift package, he was running late. He’d expected that we’d be helping him instead of spending 20 minutes moaning over the imperfection of the wrapping paper, so all of us were behind schedule. And he didn’t end up unwrapping any gifts until later that night, which was long enough after the drama that I had to remind him to fawn over the wrapping job. He did, then tucked the tissues away as a keepsake.

On Friday we heard that SICM was collecting items to put into Easter bags for local kids, and we went shopping to donate some things. There was also the suggestion that kids could help decorate the Easter bags, as in, Oh, what a lovely idea! What a great activity for your kids, la, lah, lah. . . . And I absolutely agree. But not for my kid. We’re going to just stick with shopping. I can’t handle any more craftiness for at least a few days.

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