There’s a book that came out in the 90’s called The Five Love Languages. The basic premise is that everyone of us gives and receives love through one or two of these five ways- gifts, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, or words of affirmation. Each one of us have a relational love bank that can be overdrawn when love is not deposited, but only given out. The way to be our best is to give and receive love, however, sometimes the people that love us deeply are trying to show love yet we don’t receive it. They are speaking one language and we speak another. It’s as simple as trying to speak to someone in English that only speaks !Xóõ.
I’ve never been a gift giver. I don’t care much for gifts, I don’t want to spend money on gifts, I usually delay gift buying until I’ve “accidentally” forgotten that I was supposed to get one. Tiffanni on the other hand was a gift giving, gift receiving fiend. For years she would buy me a greeting card on special occasions after carefully selecting the perfect one. Apparently Hallmark had someone on staff from the NSA profiling me and writing limericks and haikus for Tiffanni to use regularly. She would hand the card to me and stare as I opened it. I’ve always liked opening presents and cards in private because there is so much pressure. As she waited, my mind churned with thoughts of how I could react the way that she expected. I felt like the groom at the altar when the doors burst open for the bride to walk down. Everyone turns to look at him to see his reaction to seeing his bride for the first time (except that they’ve known each other for years and just took family pictures a few minutes before.) Cards and gifts take too much thought and work. I never reciprocate the emotion that was first invested in the choice.
Tiffanni would stare, I would pretend to read intently. She, content with her purchase, waiting on a simple confirming tear, would wait as I read. Except that I wasn’t reading, I was more trying to figure out what reaction I needed to have. Was I to laugh, sigh, cry, grin, wink, who knows, I couldn’t bother myself with reading when something so pressing that our marriage depended on it was hanging in the balance. Unfortunately, I’ve chosen wrongly as many times as I have chosen rightly.
I just wasn’t a gift receiver or giver. Now, I am blackhole for words of affirmation, but gifts- no thanks. I’d rather someone give me money and I go out and buy myself something practical.
However, there are a select few moments of my life where the gift was more than an exchange of commodity. The gift embodied my person, my personality, my interests, my talents- the things that were deepest to me. I’m scared to list some of these for the sake of offending anyone who has ever bought me a gift, but there are a few that come to mind.
When I decided a few years ago that I wanted to write, my dad spent days building me a writer’s desk. He spent time selecting the right wood, the perfect design, the stain- it would provide the setting of motivation for most things that I write. It’s sturdy, inspiring, and has an intrinsic magical component to it. Reflective words, sacred words, fun words flow from its hull.
I have a friend who has leather stitched and book bound me a journal every year on my birthday for years. I use these journals to write music, ideas, to capture thoughts, rough draft reflections, and to invoke magic. It might only be magic to me, but magic nonetheless. On every first page of every journal is the Joseph Campbell quote, “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world.”
I have friends who have gifted me with a meal, a great restaurant with great companionship, great conversation, and a nice evening. That’s someone who knows me. I don’t want a gift, I want rapport. I don’t want a knick knack, I desire meaningful kinship.
And that’s the problem with Mother’s Day. Not for me or my mom or even my mother-in-law. They’re easy. I have three children that don’t know their mom. Not their real mom. Not the mom they were born to, that first conceived them in her mind years before she ever conceived them in her body. She held them, fed them, played with them- nurtured every first- step, cackle, word, hug, song, craft. Every Mother’s Day, and birthday and Christmas for that matter, they give Tiffanni a gift or a card. And it means the best that they can contrive. But it doesn’t mean mom. Not their mom.
Gifts matter because the people that give them matter. And so there’s a sense of intention behind anything that they give to their mother. They give “World’s Best Mom” mugs and Happy Mother’s Day cards, crafty trinkets and clever novelties, keychains and massage coupons and stickers and door hangers and refrigerator magnets. But nothing says Tiffanni. None of it reflects her now hidden personality, her disease masked soul. Nothing exemplifies who she was, the woman that I married partly because of how amazing a mom I could already tell that she would be.
I’m just not a gift-giver, but there are three gifts that are worth the world. Tiffanni gave them to me 12, 11, and 9 years ago. While they can’t give gifts to her that reflect who she is, they do. They reflect who she is. Their laughs, humor, love, empathy, compassion, gifts, loves, looks, words, and lives remind me of their mom every day. They might not ever know their real mom, but because of them- my gifts, I’ll never forget her.