Friday, June 17, 2005

Present mirth hath present laughter

Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have!--And these are all for you."
Edna St. Vincent Millay, ll. 9-14, Sonnet xi, Fatal Interview

It's teacher gift season, since today was the last day of school. When I was in grammar school there was an explicit school rule against giving gifts to teachers, and only a few bold mothers flouted it. My mother disdained breaking this rule, but always had a luncheon party for my teachers because they were all her friends anyway (she taught in the same district). My mother comes to this issue from a complicated background (and thus so do I): my great-grandmother became a Jehovah's witness late in life, and because she lived with my mother and grandmother, her religion (and refusal to celebrate holidays or birthdays and exchange gifts) exerted a chilling effect on the household. My mother had one birthday party, her sixth; and she's weird about holidays and presents.

All this to say I don't know how many of my issues with gift-giving stem from that and how many are valid--although anecdotal evidence indicates I'm far from alone in my feelings. To wit: I hate feeling obligated to give presents. I hate feeling like presents have to cost a certain amount of money. I love picking out presents for people, and I hate watching people open presents I have selected, because I'm so afraid they will be disappointed--not just by the cash value, but also by what the present seems to say about them. I love receiving presents and I hate opening them in front of the givers because I fear that I will be disappointed (never in the cash value, but maybe sometimes in what they represent) and it will show on my face despite my best efforts.

Most people give the teachers gift cards, and I understand the desire to spare them more tchotchkes, but I hate hate hate giving anyone a present that has its monetary value literally written on it. And frankly, I don't know how other families can afford the amounts they hand out. So I had what I thought was a pretty good idea: I bought (at Burlington Coat Factory, which has the best accessory department among discount stores) packable sun hats and tied coordinating scarves around the crowns, put them in also-coordinating dollar store gift bags. S. came home reporting how her teachers Miss R. and Mrs. D. had oohed and aahed over their hats, the colors, the usefulness, etc. Raly said that his teacher Miss O. loved hers and had modeled it for the class. So then I asked, "Did Mrs. S. and Mrs. W. open theirs?"

"Yes." Beat. I couldn't help laughing. I guess three out of five isn't bad.

1 comment:

ergo said...

Hilarious story!

I often walk by the perfect gift for a person who I do not know intimately enough to get that sort of gift for. Gift giving should be simple but it can be so complicated.