Thursday, January 12, 2012

At least we all like Starbucks, so we've got that going for us

Well, the holidays are over, and I’m happy they were so uneventful.  My immediate family spent several hours at my grandparents’ house before relocating to my parents’ house to spend a few more hours.  My grandfather wished that we had stayed longer, but although we didn’t tell him this, we had all had about as much as we could take of the central heating.  My grandfather, now that he is in his 80s, has succumbed to the elderly-person habit of cranking up the heat high enough to make his house suitable for incubating baby animals or growing tropical plants. He’s always been on the cold side—I can’t remember a time in my life when he didn’t wear a cardigan all the time, even in summer.  But lately, it’s worse. My grandmother has always liked the house cold, so we could count on her to keep the house temperature lower than, say, how hot my paternal grandfather liked to keep his house—a temperature that guaranteed limited visits because we could only stay for about half an hour before becoming too physically uncomfortable to stay longer.  It was oppressive.  Sitting across from my dad in the living room, I’d gauge when we needed to leave by how close he looked to passing out.  As soon he’d start looking wilty, I’d start making the departure talk.

We’d always been spared that at my maternal grandparents’ house thanks to my grandmother, but since she returned from the hospital, she’s a changed woman as far as her body temperature.  She was our last line of defense, and she’s been breached.  So far, it’s not “no, really, you’ll die after an hour” temperature, but it is “Are you sweating? I’m definitely sweating” hot. 

Gift giving didn’t take up too much time, as my family has mostly gone the gift card route due to a standoff over what kind of gifts we’ll buy and when they need to be purchased.  RR and I flat out declined to give a wish list this year because they never want to buy us what we really want and because we thought we should focus on family rather than presents.  My family is not so much on the “spirit of the season” bandwagon, though, so we got gift cards.  Don’t worry, we had our revenge.  I’m sure that my teenage cousins, parents, brother, and grandparents were all thrilled with the flock of chicks that RR and I purchased on their behalf from Heifer, International. 

I’m not normally a fan of making a charitable donation as a gift unless it was a request or if it’s for someone who you know will appreciate it.  As with all gifts, the key is knowing the recipient—the Kiva gift certificate I got as a gift one year from Hils is still one of my favorite gifts ever.  But most of my family is more on the materialistic side.  Wanting a physical present at Christmas doesn’t make you a terrible person, since that’s the expectation we’ve encouraged people to have, but I feel like with my religious family, it should be easier to counter.  I wouldn’t mind more gift-giving because I love giving presents, but my family takes what should be a fun activity—buying something to give to someone you love—and makes it on the same level of fun as doing your taxes or changing your tire in the rain. 

We’ve tried lists, but then my family members shop from their own lists before Christmas, so that you have to either expect to make another days-before-Christmas to the store for an exchange or wait and buy your gift at the last possible opportunity to make sure that they haven’t already bought what you want to get them.  When we try to buy them something not on the list, then with the exception of my dad, they are visibly unexcited about their gifts.  But actually getting them to tell you what they want at any time more than a week before Christmas takes an excessive amount of nagging.  And my brother often waits until mere days before Christmas before deciding that he (a) thinks us siblings should go in together on a gift for the parents and (b) should probably call us to see what we want to buy.  None of us are organized, so I wouldn’t fault him for the last-minute-ness, but about 95% of the time, RR and I wind up being the ones going to the store to buy the gifts, a chore we've come to loathe.  And I don’t know why he bothers anyway, because he always has a better idea of what they’d like than we do, and yet our parents always assume that we picked out the good gifts, so it’s not like he even gets credit for it.  Maybe if he bought his gifts on his own every year, he’d have a better gift-giving reputation. 

This year, my sister and I suggested a gift to my parents, and they seemed agreeable to it, but then, days before Christmas, we got the brother phone call, which ultimately resulted in the Day of Disappointment, as I have decided to call this year’s Christmas celebration. 

Him: What do you want to get them?
Me: We’re getting them a membership to the [local museum we all enjoy].
Him: Hmm. [Pause]  Mom said Dad wants a Shop Vac.
Me: Oh. So . . . you don’t want to do the membership?
Him: I don’t know. It just seems like they won’t use it that much.
Me: But they said . . . [banging my head against the wall] Ok, I’ll ask them again.

So I called my parents, and days before Christmas, they decide that yeah, they’re not sure they’d use the membership that much.  Mom: Your dad wants a Shop Vac?  Me, cracking under the weight of frustration: I’M NOT GOING TO THE MALL ON CHRISTMAS EVE! 

I may or may not have said this is a raised tone of voice, standing,with my parents, outside of the museum that my parents thought they would probably not visit very often, on our way into said museum.

Of course, I didn’t want to be a total killjoy, so I was willing to contribute to a Shop Vac, just not to brave mall craziness.  Would brother step up to the plate and take one for the team?

Me to my brother: They don’t want the membership.
Him: You want to do the Shop Vac?
Me: I’m not going to the mall on Christmas Eve.
Him: [pause] We can get them Starbucks gift cards.
Me, in my head: I KNEW IT.

Every year, RR and I try to get our family to focus more on doing activities together or starting a new tradition to celebrate Christmas rather than focusing on presents, and every year we get rebuffed.  I guess spending more time together is not something anyone besides RR and I looks forward to.  That’s all fine and good, but neither RR and I really want more stuff, so every year we tell our family that they can make a charitable donation in our name, or they can give us a gift from a list of practical items that we need to buy anyway, or they could, you know, not buy anything.  But they never want to do any of that.  They always want to buy us stuff, which we don’t want. 

One year my sister tried to talk my grandmother into making a contribution to buying diapers for orphans, and my grandmother shot it down immediately, saying “they’ll be plenty of time to buy diapers for you later.” This despite the fact that (1) the diapers weren’t for her, (2) she doesn’t want kids and plans to never have any, so there won’t be any reason to buy diapers for her later, and (3) this was the gift she actually wanted.  But my grandmother didn’t want to buy RR the gift she wanted.  She wanted to buy RR the gift she thought RR should want.  And that’s how my family operates.  You should want this e-reader, and therefore I will not buy you the gift certificate to the used book store that you’d actually like to have.

So this year, RR and I cracked and decided that if they would force gifts on us that we don’t want in the name of doing something nice for us, even though it’s the opposite of what we want, then turnabout is fair play.  Hence the Heifer, Int’l donations.

Have you bought anything from Heifer? It’s fun. We had a hard time choosing.  You can buy a flock of chicks, a flock of geese, a flock of ducks  . . . but as RR pointed out to me, there’s no flock of seagulls option. 

Anyway, the holidays are over, and hopefully we’ve all learned something.  I’ve learned that if I want gift buying for family to not raise my blood pressure, I have to pin them down early, whether they like it or not.  And hopefully they’ve learned that if they don’t cooperate, they’re going to be awfully disappointed on December 25th.  But I think what we’ve probably all really learned is that next year, we’re all getting Starbucks gift cards.

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