Sunday, February 13, 2005

gift trauma

Okay, maybe this is part of why I hate the whole gift thing so much...

When I was about10 or 11, we lived on a street that surrounded a grassy area about half the size of a football field. The neighborhood boys would play football, baseball, soccer, or hockey out on this little field. It wasn't a wealthy neighbourhood, but between the various families somebody had hockey goals, somebody had a soccer ball, somebody had a good bat or gloves -- if one of the guys wasn't out playing, we would just bang on his door and borrow what we needed to play. Our family had very little money, but our contribution was the one nice football in the neighbourhood.

Aaaanyway, one of the boys down the street invited me and my brother to his birthday party.
As I said, our family had virtually no money, but we knew we needed to bring birthday presents, so my mom went to the store to find something.

Now, my mom is a wonderful person, and I love and admire her very much. But she's not really a sports nut. To her, one ball looks much like another -- her main concern with them is that they not fly around the living room so much. So she came back with
a) a model ship, and
b) one of those rubbery plastic balls a little bigger than a basketball, covered with red and pink swirls. The kind you're pleased with if you're 2-4 yrs old, but have outgrown by the time you're six. Wesley was turning 11. This was not good.

My brother and I didn't know what to do. We said we didn't want to give Wesley the plastic ball. Mom got a little testy about it (was she sad/frustrated that she couldn't afford more? did she just think we were picky and spoiled? who knows?) -- she said "Well, they're always over here borrowing balls - why wouldn't he like it?"

To put it in terms Mom would understand, it was as if someone liked to borrow your copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and you gave them the assembly instructions for a playpen made in Malaysia, written by a person with only a rudimentary knowledge of English. ("Well, they're always over here borrowing words, aren't they?")

So we were stuck with the ball. But then we had no way to wrap it. Eventually we found the only box we had that was big enough to hold the ball -- about 2' x 2' x 3' -- and put the ball inside surrounded by crumpled up newspaper.

When we showed up at the party with the big box, Wesley's eyes lit up -- that must be one BIG present -- but he looked puzzled and disappointed a minute later to find nothing but a toddler's plastic ball inside. My brother and I said that, um, it was... a joke. Yeah, it was a joke -- the point was to make Wesley think he was getting a really big present, but then all he got was the ball. Which might have been kind of funny if we'd really gotten him something good -- but his other present from us was the model ship which was the cheapest of all the other gifts he got. My brother and I got a few funny looks from the other guys, and we didn't blame them.

And I think that might be part of why public gifts are hard for me. They take me back to all the emotions I felt that day:
- shame at being poor
- embarrassment about the gift, the huge box, the stupid story we told
- anger at my mom for making us give such lame gifts
- disgust and pity for Mom for not being able to tell the difference between a football and a plastic baby's ball
- guilt and self-loathing for having those feelings about Mom, who loved us so much and gave us so much, and probably sacrificed the milk money just to get Wesley what she did, so we could go to his stupid party

So yeah, it's dumb. It was 30 yrs ago, and I'm almost certainly the only person in the world who still remembers it. On the grand scale of life events, it's virtually non-existent. Even on the scale of Social Misery From Being Poor, it's miniscule.

But emotion is funny, and some things sort of stay with us. When I think of presents, I think of Wesley's party, and it's not a happy memory.
Bottom line, I'm not a big fan of gifts. So sue me.

7 Comments:

At Sun Feb 13, 12:52:00 PM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

The gift thing makes perfect sense now. Thanks for digging through your mental file cabinet to further explain.
Lois Lane

 
At Mon Feb 14, 10:07:00 AM PST, Blogger mamacita said...

I hesitate to reveal my identity, but did the plastic ball have any instructions with it (written in poor English)? That would have at least made it more interesting from a linguistic point of view. ;)

 
At Mon Feb 14, 01:26:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Sounds like you were so poor that your mom couldn’t even afford to pay attention.

 
At Mon Feb 14, 02:37:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So yeah, it's dumb. It was 30 yrs ago, and I'm almost certainly the only person in the world who still remembers it."
Ya wanna bet? I remember it well and I remember you and your chincy brother trying to fob your cheap presents off on me. So it left you with scars, huh? Well, boo hoo! How do you think I felt and still feel after all of these years? Can you say, "group-therapy"? It was hard enough getting up enough courage to even have a birthday party--you can imagine the utter humiliation I felt when I opened the packages with that crappy ball and the stupid model ship. I sobbed for days!! The low self-esteem I took from that experience has manifested itself in so many ways I don't even know where to begin --the drugs? the depression? the cross-dressing? self-flaggelation? I'd go on but what would you care? Someone as thoughtless as you has probably stopped reading this by now and is back to feeling sorry for himself instead of the real victim in all of this. Thanks for wrecking my life, you creep. ---Wesley

 
At Mon Feb 14, 02:37:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So yeah, it's dumb. It was 30 yrs ago, and I'm almost certainly the only person in the world who still remembers it."
Ya wanna bet? I remember it well and I remember you and your chincy brother trying to fob your cheap presents off on me. So it left you with scars, huh? Well, boo hoo! How do you think I felt and still feel after all of these years? Can you say, "group-therapy"? It was hard enough getting up enough courage to even have a birthday party--you can imagine the utter humiliation I felt when I opened the packages with that crappy ball and the stupid model ship. I sobbed for days!! The low self-esteem I took from that experience has manifested itself in so many ways I don't even know where to begin --the drugs? the depression? the cross-dressing? self-flaggelation? I'd go on but what would you care? Someone as thoughtless as you has probably stopped reading this by now and is back to feeling sorry for himself instead of the real victim in all of this. Thanks for wrecking my life, you creep. ---Wesley

 
At Mon Feb 14, 03:18:00 PM PST, Blogger Erik said...

Well, at least there were no long term ramifications for Wesley. That's one good part. :)

 
At Mon Feb 14, 04:18:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Wow. Poor Wesley. It looks like he is suffering from a little short-term memory loss as well from this trauma.

 

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