Birthdays and holidays come around every year, But, do you ever feel a little awkward when it comes to getting gifts?

Yesterday, a girlfriend called to invite me and my husband to celebrate her birthday with a few friends, drinks, dancing. For a last minute gift,  I look in the closet,  hoping to grab the perfect gift from a shelf where I collect things for just this sort of occasion.

I originally started this collection when I was Chrismas shopping in July at a music festival. Cool stuff and good deals, thought I would  pick up a few gifts for uncertain recipients, maybe keep one for myself, maybe  take some pressure off when dealing with the inevitable upcoming holiday or birthday. All that  I am finding here are things that other people got for me. Uh Oh, No hidden treasures…  The only gifts here are the ones that everybody gets when somebody does not know what to give them.

There are a few scented soaps to choose from, one of them custom engraved with the names of the couple who got married. I missed the wedding, but they gave me these soaps for Christmas. I guess they had extras. (smell it.) Um, maybe not. Why do people always give me soap? No, I am not going to take it personally. Some people just LOVE scented soaps. I can give all of these to my girlfriend who always gives everybody soap. She LOVES this stuff.

There’s also these scented candles – I don’t use candles much, but I did like the one Day of The Dead Altar candle with a picture of Jesus with the Dinosaurs. I already gave that one away, though. What about this bag of philanthropic flat bread flour – a charity door prize from an Indigenous People’s fund raiser attended by my sister. I hope you are not listening, honey, but I am gluten free, and I have no idea what to do with this gift.

They always say that you can give a gift to someone if you would like to get it yourself. I am not sure that formula is working for me. Or rather, I question whether these gifts that were given to me were ever gifts that the giver would have gotten for themselves. More likely, they, like me, got these gifts from someone with no idea what might be appreciated, so they passed it on to me straight from their own gift giveaway bag.

This gift thing is complicated. I remember I was so traumatized as a teenager when I asked my parents for a Futon, and got a folding foam chair instead. I’m thinking of this incredible Japanese quilted bed I had seen, and instead I got this huge wrapped present of the wrong thing. When I opened it, I just didn’t know how to fake my emotions. I  felt terrible because I was SO disappointed, and even more terrible  because my Dad had really tried hard to honor my wish!

Do not expect other people to see things through your eyes! I mean really, WHY did I expect my Dad to know? This guy gets me a pet rock, and a book of Big Mac coupons from MacDonalds for Christmas. Dad, rest in peace, but you sure helped me  lower my expectations.

I guess that futon thing  started a familiar pattern where I feel guilty when I get a gift I don’t really like. I just don’t know what to say. Hate hurting people’s feelings. It’s really hard around my birthday. I just feel like hiding. I tell people “your presence is my present! and I mean it! I love it if someone sings me a song, but if they put a poem in a birthday card, half the time I can’t read the handwriting, and the rest of the time I can’t find my reading glasses. I have to admit, I think I am really bad at the art of receiving.

You know, I have heard that in China, people do not open presents in the presence of the person who gave it to them. I should really start doing that.I am so glad my step mom did not see me open her last present to me.  It was right around Chinese New Year that a gift arrives in the mail. I look at the address. She got the zip code wrong, so even though she sent it in December, it arrives in February. I open the box, and inside is this rainbow jacket – this coat of every color you might find in a crayon box. Really? Do I dress like this? I mean, do you THINK I dress like this?

I resist the instinct to put the new coat back and rewrap the box. But first, I put this coat next to a pair of batik pants and a fringed shirt that some other friends got for me on some other occasion. Its sweet that they think of me when they are out shopping for festival clothes.  Interesting how well this coat gift matches this other rainbow outfit. I see a pattern here.  I guess people really see me this way… sort of young at heart. Bright colors and the fashion sense of a flower child.

I decide to try on all these clothes, and wallah!. It looks like my friends and my stepmom went shopping together! I look for  my reading glasses and  when I find them, I look at my 57 year old self in the mirror. These  clothes of a teenager feel to me like they are  calling attention to my grey hairs, wrinkles, and the extra twenty pounds I have gained since I was in my twenties. There was a time when I might have been proud to go out in public dressed like this. Right now, it is definitely  a test for my comfort zone. I hope you’re not listening right now, my dears, but if you are, I want you to know I DID get a lot of personal growth out of the present you sent me. I just so happens that I was attending a self improvement workshop the day the gift arrived.

On day One, the group leader said, “To get the value out of this weekend, you need to take responsibility for your own. transformation. If I feel uncomfortable, I need to Own it, and Out It.” Then everyone in the group will “Support” me by focusing all their attention on me and my comfort zone. I am noticing a feeling that I need to avoid eye contact so he doesn’t call on me. This kind of support sounds positively cringeworthy to me, I’m receiving about all the support I can handle from the comfort of my invisibility in the third row.  Day Two, I decide to ENGAGE. Long story short, I wear this outfit out in public. It’s an exercise in self awareness. These clothes represent the way that other people – people who actually love me,  see me, even if it seems a bit weird or surprising or even embarrassing for me. So today I am  watching to see other people – in this case, new acquaintances and strangers, react to me… I mean, these clothes.

Hmm. Yes, I learned a lot..  I find out that dressing this wild attracts certain people, especially the other folks who are themselves dressed in TyeDye and festival ware. Their smiles are extra warm for me today, while yesterday they didn’t even notice me. And shocker, people, who are dressed in the overwhelmingly common black or some shade of corporate grey don’t want to notice me, or am I just projecting? An Australian girl holds the door for me at the restroom long enough to enthusiastically tell me that my fancy coat just made her day!

So thank you, all you lovely friends who are seeing me today in all my rainbow colors. I find myself feeling the full range of proud to paranoid, but I am honoring the love which was behind these gifts.

Hmmm. Things I don’t want, don’t need, don’t know what to do with them. My little bag of early shopping bonus bargains has become a pile of guilty gift rejections. I should pass it all on to the good folks at good will. I’m just going to buy my friend a drink and give her a nice toast for her birthday. We are really getting too old for gifts, anyway. Except Flowers. Am I the only one, or does every woman still always appreciate it when someone gives her flowers. Yep, flowers. Cool.

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