For Christmas this year I gave my mom a day of mother/daughter bonding: I was to head home and learn from her how to prepare a cherished family fruitcake recipe. Sure, I could have bought her a sweater. To me, this had more meaning. (And at 65, she seems to have everything she needs.) Come Christmas morning, she unwraps the preserved fruits I've bought and I can tell she isn't thrilled, even after I explain it all. The next day she calls in tears, upset that I gave other family members clothing or CDs and all she got was "preserved fruits - and the wrong kind, at that." But what really stung was when she said: "You think you're so damn special that spending time with you is a gift." Obviously, that's not what I intended. I know that I haven't spent as much time with my parents as I should have, and my present was partly an acknowledgment of that. Now I don't know what to do. Something I was looking forward to has been ruined; I don't feel like doing it at all. I also don't want to pick a fight with my mother, but I'm having trouble moving on.
Sounds like there's more than one traditional fruitcake in your family.
Ah, I'm just kidding. Actually, I should choose my words carefully here. You may be mad at her, but she's still your mother, so I know that if I insult the woman, you may wind up turning all your pent-up hurt and anger towards your friendly, neighbourhood advice columnist.
And I wouldn't want that to happen.
But I have to say that your mother is being less than ideal in so many ways it's hard to know where to begin.
First of all, every gift one gets, no matter how ill-advised, should be accepted with enthusiasm, gratitude, and grace.
I've mentioned it in the column before, but the classic in my family was the wooden tie my brother gave my father for Christmas - complete with little hinges so you didn't stab yourself in the 'nads every time you sat down.
After opening this present, Dad wore it for the rest of Christmas Day, and even speculated upon certain occasions and functions in the future where this timber tie might complete his ensemble perfectly.
(Say, paired with clogs and a straw boater.)
Of course, the tie was never seen again - but the point is, he accepted it with grace, see?
Secondly, your mother still has something to learn about bluntness and candour and how to speak to people without hurting their feelings. Even if her comments were justified, which it seems they weren't, there are such things as circumspection and circumlocution.
Third, she could also ratchet down the intrafamilial drama, a little, I would say. I mean, tears over a present she didn't like? Please. Save it for your community-theatre debut, honey.
Finally, how about a sense of priorities? I'm not an empty nester, yet, like your mother. My boys are 13, 10, and 7. This year all three of them gave us stuff for Christmas for the first time.
I didn't really want them to spend their puny loonies and toonies on little trinkets and tchotchkes for us. All I wanted was one of their heartbreaking, hilarious, and terribly spelled cards, in which they express their fierce love for us, their parents.
But obviously giving us stuff meant a lot to them. For that reason, I liked getting the presents. And our kids are special. And spending time with them is a gift, the best one I can imagine.
Same goes for you. Like all offspring, you are a present your parents gave themselves, a present which keeps on giving.
Somehow your mother has lost sight of all the above values and verities.
The good news is: Life, from beginning to end, is a learning experience. And it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.
Now, are you the one to teach her, to confront her directly? I would say not, in this case.
If your father is still in the picture, I would explain to him, and maybe he could pass along to her how you feel.
Or maybe a sibling could be an intermediary.
But if not, if these aren't practical suggestions, then perhaps a direct discussion between you and her will do the trick.
But don't get mad. Don't accuse. Just patiently explain to her that she hurt your feelings. That, unless she has a heart of stone, should be enough. Hopefully, she will see the error of her ways, the waterworks and histrionics will flow again; and she will apologize.
If not, well, then, for various egregious infractions and offside remarks, I think she needs to be put in the "penalty box" for a while. Cool her heels, think things over; without benefit of the gift of your presence.
Maybe then she will come to appreciate that your company is a present, and one she should be grateful for.
And then, after that realization dawns upon her, you and your mom can whip up the family fruitcake in high style, bonding up a storm.
David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published in the spring of 2010.
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