For instance, two years ago, my mother gave me red ruffled panties. They were large, bright red, and covered in obscenely fluffy ruffles, the kind that you see little girls wearing under their fancy dresses in old-timey pictures. They were the type of panties that I imagined, if worn under clothes, would make the wearer look like she was wearing a lumpy and quite full diaper. As I held them up, mystified by the bow in front, my mother remarked, “You know, because you’re dating now.”
Over the years, my mother’s Christmas presents have become infamous for the amusement, bewilderment – and sometimes – horror that they could evoke. New members of the family, like Lindy, soon find themselves smiling, confused and slightly scared, like they’ve been asked nicely to open Pandora’s box.
I was used to getting text messages from my mom around the holidays with gift ideas for members of the family, including my sister-in-law. I would laugh or sigh or roll my eyes and answer “neat!” or “what?”.
I’m not sure why I drew the line at leather chaps and not, say, the gift card for erotic massage she gave my sister one year, but maybe it’s that I just couldn’t imagine springing that on my then future sister-in-law so early.
The other day someone asked me what I hoped to get for Christmas. “Oh nothing,” I explained, “I’m a single mom. My kids give shit gifts, and my mom, well …” You don’t “hope” for gifts from my mother. They’re coming – whether you want them or not.
My son eventually started using the downstairs bathroom more and more, and then refused to take a bath if the head was in the room. We both endured its presence in our lives until one day, as I was doing dishes, I heard a series of bumps and then a large crash. I walked over to the staircase and there, at the bottom, was the clay head, broken into a dozen pieces. At the top of the stairs my son looked down, triumphant.
“For Lindy!” The message said. “They’re in her size!”
But this time, as I looked at a picture of pair of black leather chaps hanging in the dressing room of a thrift store I simply answered, “NO.”
I stared at a text message in disbelief. The attached photo scared and confused me.
She never did remember to bring The Clapper to Aham and Lindy, so her clapping demonstration ended up being their only gift.
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We soon learned that the dolls were not going to murder us in our sleep – they were, instead, planning on killing us when we were wide awake. Nothing takes you from zero to heart attack faster than coming home from work and seeing a life-size replica of your child lying face-down on the floor.
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Each gift is handed to us with the unspoken message, “This is me, and I love you” – and maybe there’s no better gift to give a child than the knowledge that they can be weird or awkward and still feel unconditionally loved, the way she knows that she is.
But the weird, clueless, endless and enthusiastic love embodied in my mother’s weird gifts is the same love with which she raised my siblings and me, and it’s hers and hers alone. She has always loved us for our boring, reserved personalities unconditionally, and we – with all our eyerolls and exasperated sighs around the Christmas tree – love her unconditionally as well.
Besides, one day – many long years from now – when our mother is gone, we’ll pass these gifts on to our children and grandchildren. We’ll stare at them with goofy grins on our faces while we say, “Get it? Clap on. Clap off. THE CLAPPER.”
When you get a less desirable gift, people like to say, ‘It’s the thought that counts’. But with my mother’s gifts, we wonder, What thought was that exactly?
Several years ago, my mother spent days working on handmade clay sculptures for my brother, my sister and me: lovingly crafted, grotesque interpretations of our heads. We each got a garish caricature, each a little different: “I made the nose extra large so you can rest your glasses on her face at night,” my mother explained to me. “Keep it on your bathroom counter.”
When Christmas finally arrived and we were exchanging gifts, my mother realized she had left The Clapper at home. “Oh Aham, Lindy – I can’t believe I forgot the best part of your Christmas! I got you THE CLAPPER.” Then she looked at them expectantly.
I took the clay head home and placed it on my bathroom counter as instructed; I soon discovered that few things terrify a two-year-old child more than a small, grotesque version of his mother’s decapitated head just sitting, staring at him while he poops. He’d forget it was there and then see it out of the corner of his eye and start screaming.
When you get a less desirable gift, people like to say, “It’s the thought that counts” but with my mother’s gifts, you’ve really got to wonder What thought was that exactly? My mother is the type of person to see a pair of plus-size leather chaps and say, “They’re in her size!” without ever once saying to herself, What would my future daughter-in-law do with a pair of leather chaps?
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Still, my mother’s presents are never given with malice or mischief; they are always presented with wide-eyed, innocent excitement. “Do you like it?” she always asks expectantly, and we nod our heads while we try to figure out what “it” is.
“Oh, cool mom!” my brother said, slightly strained and a little relieved. “Ahh!” Lindy managed. But, The Clapper wasn’t there; it was just my mother excitedly clapping twice, and then twice again, to demonstrate what they could look forward to.