Tuesday, February 22, 2011

gift for you by nhuthanh

I have been operating under an assumption and yet acting contrary to what I have believed.
Since the discussion of baby showers has come my way my thoughts and expectations have been shaped by the understanding that baby showers are for gathering around new parents and helping them prepare for the burden of new parenthood.
As with getting married, the occasion of starting a new household, bringing a new life into the world can be costly. Helping new parents to me, seemed like showers were meant to aid the upcoming financial burden. After having a few discussions on the topic I began to realize that my assumption was not the assumption for all.  I had heard from many mothers is that they are always given more clothing than the baby could possibly wear before they grow too large for them (and given some things they would never buy themselves, while the vast majority of baby clothes are adorable the truth of all baby clothes being cute is probably about as true as every baby is cute. When Nolan was born the nurse told his mother to not worry as all of the ugly babies grow up to be the best looking people. He wasn't an ugly baby, but it just proves that everyone has a different idea of what is good looking). I also had enough clothing handed down from siblings and really don't need clothing. I had made this known and  so I suggested to others that maybe people could group buy or contribute to those but as it got closer to my due date I realized that people were waiting until after the baby was born so they could buy gender specific clothing.  Since most of the big ticket items would need to be bought before the baby was born I then felt panicked about the fact that they would all have to be purchased by Nolan and I.
It began to seem to me that if the point of a shower is for a community to gather around new parents and bless them then the point is defeated when the community does not endeavour to find out what the new parents actually need. Instead new parents receive things that they have more of then they can use and are given additional pressure in pleasing gift givers since baby outfits are like the "ugly vase" wedding present you got from your grandma. You go into a panic to find and display it when you know they're coming over. Except now you have  a much shorter span of time to show that you appreciate their gift and a lot more of them to display. Instead of blessing them the new parents are handed guilt and extra stress. I began to wonder if might be better to cancel baby showers altogether so that, even though parents have to buy everything themselves, they are spared having to please grandma by making baby wear the frilly, lacy, baby pink knitted sweater-bonnet-bootie set like what her babies used to wear. I know I'm picking on poor sweet grandma, however she is the only age group I can guarantee won't read my blog thus the greatest chance of avoiding insult.
Ok so I am outrageously exaggerating the dilemma, one for the purpose of amusement, but also to get around to making the point. I realized early in these thoughts that I have been equally guilty in how I go about giving a shower gift and I will never go about getting a shower gift in the same way. Also I should note that since the time of the above conversation I have had a surprise shower in which someone did endeavour to find out what I already had and asked what I needed. I also had family members take us out to purchase a few more expensive items which was such a blessing in helping us prepare. They were also incredibly patient as I changed my mind a million times about what I felt was needed. And finally as it turns out there is less that really needs to be bought then the big bad capitalists would like you to think. Anyhow I shall move forward as a greater thought was birthed through all this satire.
As I thought about my disappointment following the illuminating discussion -and also panicking a little about how we were going to manage to find all the money for what we needed- I began  to realize how this situation fit in with growing thoughts I had about gift giving in North America. The thought that overtook my mind throughout all of this is that people only care about what excites them to give. I had begun to realize this over the years when people have inquired from Nolan what I want for christmas or birthday gifts. Once someone  admitted outright that they would rather buy me something else because what I want doesn't interest them or they could understand why I wanted it. Another time someone wanted to buy something for me and Nolan (being the most attentive husband ever knows my taste inside and out) tried to redirect them to something similar as befitting to my style. He did everything but tell them that he knew I didn't like that style at all and then was then told that he was wrong and that I would like the first one better.
Deep down people want to have a shared experience through the things that buy for another, something that they can both be excited about. It doesn't necessarily need to be something that they are both interested in doing, for example I have recieved many gift certificates for wool stores from people who do not knit themselves. Though they do not share my excitement for that particular craft their world view allows them to accept my excitement as a viable hobby. On the other hand finding people who can understand my excitement for anime and manga is much rarer (It helps if you open your mind to the fact that their stories stem from a different history of folktales than our own Anglo-Saxon frame of mind. Also I just find the Japanese to have a hilarious if a different sense of humour).
The problem of gift giving arises in places like that of manga and anime, when someone can't understand why this is likeable. The problem arises when a detail or a portion of a persons personality is known but perhaps taken out of context. The problem arises when we try to mash that one detail into our own worldview.Which gives rise to situations where gift giver buys the anime lover a season of Dragon Ball Z (which is like buying me organic onions just because you know I prefer my food without extra hormones and pesticides; onions are still nasty). Where dear sweet grandma buys you a sweatershirt with wolves howling at the moon because she heard you think wolves are awesome. And if grandma didn't notice that Johnny never wears nature themed clothing what a parent would or would not dress their child in can easily become obsolete. Even though there is this desire to share an experience either the gift becomes something loosely connected to a persons interest (as with the anime example) or quite often the gift becomes about what excites the giver or brings them happiness. Gifts become about the giver rather than the recipient.
Before you claim that I am being equally self focused by not appreciating the gesture of goodwill or accuse me of being materialistic because all that I care about is getting things that benefit me. Hopefully you have not read that message from what I have been saying, however if you are there are a few comments I would make and one heart of the issue that I`d like to leave you with. I will start with admittals. If my only concern was that the clothing my child will have to wear are not something that expresses my taste then yes, I am being selfish. I should consider that my child will be well clothed and not all mothers have that assurance. Also although these observations arose from giftings to me, I am not just wildly pointing my finger at everyone else. I am guilty of not endeavouring to find out another needs. While I have been in the habit of investigating desires for birthdays and Christmas, I have realized that when it comes to situations like showers I am equally guilty of giving what is convenient or pleasing to myself. I too am guilty of letting my desire to have a shared experience in gifting. This same desire pops up in my relationship with Nolan even outside of buyig him gifts. I often will become pouty because he was not as excited about an old favourite or new discovery as I am (usually food). 
If either complaint (of selfishness or materialistic) were to be more true selfishness would win out. However I could see someone who is a real smartass would try to point out that I am being more of the North American materialist than grandma with her cheesy sweater. However my observations are driven by an overly functional perspective. Why would I want grandma to spend her pension cheque on a sweater that I don't want to wear. I'd be happy just to see her, she doesn't need to give me anything. If I know that most people get more clothes than baby can wear and my baby has an endless supply of hand me downs, it's needless to buy more. So why not avoid superfluous stacks of baby outfits and supply someone with things they don't have.
Besides those cursory ponderings the one thing that made me sad throughout thoughts of gift giving and how I myself have been operating in regards to showers is that despite a desire to share an experience we lose the opportunity of knowing each other better. Givers, when only giving gifts they can understand, gifts they could only like themselves, miss out on deepening the relationship with the person they are giving that gift. There is a whole other problem of gift giving in North America where when it comes to gift associated celebrations they draw up a list of the things they desire and givers just add it to their shopping list next to the eggs and milk. This isn't the aim I have in mind when hoping that people could give something that characterizes the receipiant; this method equally loses the opportunity to understand a person better.
I began to write these thoughts while my ornery pregnancy hormones were raging. Since then I have not only relaxed (despite being inedated with more baby socks than 10 infants could wear), I have also been humbled by how many people actually are concerned with our needs. However the situation did bring together budding musings. While over the years I have been saddened by how little a person knows me through a gift I have not come to these conclusions, nor am sharing them, because I feel that I am an expert gift giver. On the contrary it is because I have been blessed by an overwhelming amount of thoughful gifts (perhaps even spoiled with them) that I have come to think these things. My only hope is that now I will live up to the blessings I have received.