Monday, November 24, 2008

Bah, Humbug!

Different families have very different traditions, and being married, I've learned that there are times when you just have to learn to compromise.

My husband's family grew up very differently from the way I grew up. He never had a birthday party. His mom made him only two birthday cakes that he can remember. Things like this just weren't a big deal to them. And for him, he doesn't get the celebrations that people do for their or their kids' birthdays.

Gift giving, in general, is the same way in his family. People hand each other lists of what they want, and they expect that you'll buy from them what you're told to. There's no creativity. There's no showing that you know a person well and figured out something that you know they'd love that they never even thought about. It's really less a present than a completion of a shopping list, and it always feels a little yuck to me. What's the fun and surprise and point even of exchanging gifts when you've told the person exactly what to get you?

It first started when I married into the family and drew my SIL for the gift exchange that year. She announced that she expected whoever drew her to purchase her the Season Whatever Buffy The Vampire Slayer on DVD. Ok. Did you want me to give it to you just in the bag? When I told my husband that I intended to get her something else, something that I thought she'd like, my husband warned me against this. Given the cattiness I've seen previously, I acquiesced. Except that I made him buy and wrap the DVD because I couldn't quite stomach it. And I bought her a couple of other cute small things that I thought she'd like.

Unfortunately, this means of "shopping" for people has resulted in people who don't know how to shop for people without a specific list. As year after year went by and my husband continued to miss my very unsubtle hints and instead purchased items for me that were inevitably returned, I realized that I had to make a compromise.

The next year, I started creating a list in May. I wrote down all sorts of things that I wanted from a big NU flag to an immersion blender to a fuzzy logic rice cooker (ok, I'm realizing how boring I sound with my list). I created a long, long list, with the clarification to my husband that these are simply ideas. I don't expect nor want to receive every item on the list, but at least it gives him some options.

He purchased the first six things on the list.

After the holidays I clarified the element of surprise bit and also that maybe some items were gifts that maybe I'd want more than others and that he should peruse the list a little. That actually seemed to work, and the gift giving really improved for him (and his family).

This year has been a bit busier, and while I continued to drop my not-so-subtle hints throughout the year, I didn't update my wish list. I'm discovering that this was a mistake.

When we were in Seattle last weekend, my husband asked me on Monday (the 17th) what I wanted for my birthday. I listed off a few items before realizing the implications of his question. My birthday is today (the 24th). We weren't getting home until the 18th. Six days before my birthday, he would not have even started shopping for me.

On Wednesday, the first package arrived from FedEx. The box prominently listed that it was from something or other lids company. Ahhh, the new lid for my Cuisinart has arrived. When I showed my husband the cracked plastic top to my very old Cuisinart that I use regularly, he nodded sagely, and I thought I was getting a brand new way cool Cuisinart. Nope, I'm just getting the top.

On Thursday, a second package arrived, with a prominently placed logo about something fitness. Whooo, I now have a new heart rate monitor. I'm realizing that I really made a mistake. And that it's really hard to not look at the return address of a package that comes as you're trying to determine who it's for, especially since there are items that I've ordered online that I'm waiting for.

Lesson learned. I'm already starting on the list for next year. I'm thinking about just taping it to the refrigerator to make it that much easier for my husband. But that really takes the fun out of it, doesn't it?

Oh, and I got a nice birthday dinner last night (since it's a school night tonight and I'm working in the office and won't be home until later). We went to my Monday night sushi place and did the hibachi. I forgot they actually make you wear a balloon hat and turn on the colored disco lights and play the birthday song. And, lucky me, they now memorialize it with a photo on their "Kobe wall."

At 5:37pm today, I'm officially 33 years old. With a new heartrate monitor and a Cuisinart lid for my efforts. And yes, I do already know what I'm getting my husband, and no, I don't let him make me a list!


Melisa Wells November 24, 2008 at 3:58 PM  

Happy Birthday! Here's hoping you get at least a few surprise gifts...xoxo

Smoochiefrog November 24, 2008 at 4:08 PM  

Happy Birthday! I hope you have a great day!

Maybe you could make the list, cut it up, place it in an envelope and he could draw the items. Then you'd never know which items you'll be getting when?

I dunno, just thinking out loud.

Jen November 24, 2008 at 4:18 PM  

Happy Birthday! I think most husbands are clueless when it comes to giving gifts....whether they grew up that way or not! :)

Gina November 24, 2008 at 5:48 PM  

Happy birthday!

Beverly November 24, 2008 at 6:15 PM  

Happy Birthday!

Just think of all the areas in which your husband excels. This will pale in comparison to all of his wonderful qualities.


Mike November 24, 2008 at 6:23 PM  

Happy birthday as well. I"m with you in that it's much more fun to surprise people than to get them what they want. I think the Holidays should scream "be creative."

Cookie November 24, 2008 at 6:45 PM  

Happy Birthday!
I agree, I hate gift giving and I hate gift receiving too! Bah!

Mary November 24, 2008 at 8:20 PM  

Happy Birthday!

That's exactly how my husband's family does Christmas! "The List". It annoys me so much. I refuse to offer up a list. I also didn't give anyone except Santa a list of what my kids wanted. Yes, I drive my in-laws crazy.

Karen November 24, 2008 at 8:21 PM  

Men are all alike. My husband is in charge of buying gifts for the men in the family and I buy for the women and children. There was that one year that we showed up on Christmas morning to the family get-together only to realize Sam didn't buy any gifts. That was fun to explain.

morninglight mama November 24, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

Happiest of birthdays! From another Scorpio of 1975, here's to 33! :)

Michelle November 24, 2008 at 9:35 PM  

Melisa - Ummm, no. I'll be adding a recap. If only because it's healthier that I recap here and not at home.

Smoochiefrog - I thought I was sort of doing that with a list, but I was wrong. The cup may not be a bad idea except that then he'd take out the ones he bought and leave them around for me to see ;)

Jen - Good to know it isn't just me :)

Gina - Thank you! The wishes are cheering me up.

tchbev - Aww, thanks! And I do need to remember the good, don't I? Thanks for the reminder.

mike - Yes, screaming creative. I'm all about that! I've already been told that my husband didn't have time to get over to the Pilates studio. Oh well!

Cookie - Really? I like gift giving. Ok I like when I'm not told what to give. It's the joy of the surprise on people's faces when they open gifts that make it all worthwhile.

Mary - Thanks! Good to know I'm not the only one irritating the in-laws on the holidays. I just hope that the wee ones grow up to get the joy of giving a gift someone didn't know they wanted!

Karen - Oooo, that would have been REALLY fun. How do you get around that without completely throwing him under the bus? ;) I bet THAT didn't happen again!

Morningling Mama - Aww thanks! And ummm I hate to break it to you, but because I was 3 weeks late, I turned into a Saggitarius instead of a Scorpio. And trust me, my mom won't let anyone forget that I was three weeks late and supposed to be a Scorpio!

thoughts and ramblings November 26, 2008 at 2:18 PM  

Sounds IDENTICAL to my husband and his family!!! I'm learning the same lesson you're learning. Even though it is NO fun to make out a list and get stuff that you've specifically asked's even LESS fun to get something totally random and impersonal because let's just face are CLUELESS!!!!

oh boy could I tell you a story or two. lol

ps-I've been reading your blog but this is my first time to post.

Michelle November 26, 2008 at 9:51 PM  

Anne - Welcome! It's always nice to know who's reading my blog :) And yes, they're clueless. At the same time my new debate is whether it feels any better to get a gift only because I "demanded" it. Maybe I'm being petty but I'm thinking now that I'd actually probably prefer to just not get a gift at all if it doesn't come from the heart -- that's what gifts are about anyway, in my mind.

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