The joy is in the giving. They have their pocket money to spend on gifts for their dear old mother. There’s a temptation to intervene. To say ‘don’t spend your only little bit of money on me, sure I don’t need anything at all, at all, make a wee card and that’ll be just lovely’. To do this is to rob them of much, as I see it. Of the excitement of the trip to Tiger (a godsend of a place). Of the thought that goes into the choosing. Of the empowered feeling of paying out of their own money. Of the secretive wrapping and stashing. Of, as marque 1 once put it, seeing the look on the face of the recipient, which, in his book, is better than receiving yourself. Until my birthday. I think he may have changed his mind courtesy of an overly, can’t quite put my finger on it, something not to be proud of, mother.
The joy is in the giving. And so it is as the four younger ones line up to deliver their wares. Marque 5 goes first – a wooden bracelet, a candle in a glass, a heart-shaped post-it pad – all right up my street and we’re both laughing. It goes on until I’m bedecked and bejewelled, shimmering under the blue light of a paper lantern, sitting in new fun slippers and writing in a purple velvet notebook. Oh, and should I get the urge to go about darning their socks I have a brand new kit. We’re off to a smashing start.
The joy is in the giving but it is also very much in the receiving, even if the potential recipient says otherwise – a lesson I learnt at my peril as a small child. It was approaching Mother’s Day and my mother was telling us not to be wasting our money buying anything for her. That it was a commercial money spinner and she did not wish for us to be caught up in. Little did she know that we had already made a gift in school – a decorated yogurt carton with a handle added on, filled with foil wrapped chocolates. On her denouncing her interest in said commercialism I set about devouring the chocolates. I ate them all except one. In case, just in case, commercialism had a bit of allure after all. The near on empty gift was given and met with silence. The sort of stoney silence that chills a child to the core. It seems that the lovely heartfelt decorations did not quite do it for her on the day. She was disappointed. Deeply so. I raced around trying to grab something to make it up to her. I had two identical Puffin Books of Verse – if I wrapped the newest looking one quickly… It didn’t work. She was not a woman about to be fooled twice on the same day.
‘But you said you didn’t want anything at all’ I said trying hard to make sense of the adult world.
‘Yes, but I didn’t mean… ‘ So I learnt a valuable lesson or two then. I hope.
The joy is in the giving and I have scuppered his joy a little today. I’ve had a long term affection for the notion of clinging on to a bit of zest via a soft leather biker’s jacket. Highly original, I know. I think my mother had the same desire at roughly the same age. Oh well. I’ve cooked up this idea over the years and this is the very year it must come to fruition. Except the birthday has arrived and I have not spotted one for him to get me. I have particular ideas. It would be dangerous for him to go it alone. Dangerous indeed. He’s looking a little forlorn at not being able to join in with the kids’ gift giving. So we strike a deal. It is, I say, such a special purchase, a gift for a life-time that we must bide our time. To buy in haste under pressure would be foolish. We will make it a birthday and a Mother’s Day gift combined (hell, when is Mother’s day writ large on his face) which gives us another couple of weeks. Relax. This is my wish. No pressure. His jaw slackens in relief. He believes me. I am my mother, it seems, after all.
We head into town with the crew for a meander and a bit of birthday brunch. H&M is sporting biker style jackets in their window. Which gets us thinking. Browsing. Browsing fervently. To hell with the food. Get thee to TK Maxx he suggests, forcibly. It is while we are there, sniffing out the leather from the plastic that marque 1 appears from the sidelines. He hands me a large white box with a happy birthday bow stuck on it. Something feels not quite right. The box is too big and too heavy. He’s looking at me waiting for that moment of joy when my face lights up at the surprise. Now anyone who has met him might wish to throttle me for my next move. Rightly so. I open the box and a pair of black boots, complete with fur and zips, greets me. I inhale deeply and hold onto the breath. Voices in my head tell me that this is too much. He has spent too much. You will not wear these. Even if they fit. For while they are stylish and in a shape very much to your taste they are not leather (a bit of a theme on the day). You cannot wear footwear that is not leather. Simple as. You must speak. Speak up now. This moment is going on too long. ‘They are really lovely, sweetheart, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to wear them’.
I’m trying not to look at him. I’m on pretty shaky ground here.
‘Why not?’ he asks, mystified, the twinkle gone from his eyes.
‘They’re not the right size’ the father says, offering a save.
’38’ he says looking at me. I didn’t know he knew my size. Feck.
‘You’re right, no it’s that I’d be sort of allergic to them, they’re not leather, even if they look it, so thank-you, it’s so thoughtful, and they’re really lovely but I want you to get your money back’.
Harsh harsh mother. I’ve probably put him off gift giving for life.
‘Get your money back and get me something small instead’. He totters off and I’m left in the aisles with a barrow-full of mother guilt. The appetite for sniffing out the real from the plastic has left me. We follow him. Just as well as the shop keeper is pawning him off with a credit note. For a shop full of ladies bags and boots. Cheek of her. He bought them 3 minutes ago. Give him his money back now you, you…
If I had that moment again I would accept the generous gift graciously. Permit the moment of joy. Like any other wise parent on the planet. I would not fret about him spending too much. I would not try to guide him. I would not look at what material they were made from. I would find a way to make sure they got worn. On mountain walks. On beach walks. So that he could be secure in the belief that he has done well. Where was that wise mother in that moment? Still learning on the job, obviously. As I’m busy beating myself up worrying about the damage caused, marque 1 re-appears and hands me a coffee and walnut ice-cream cone. My favourite. I smile like a Cheshire cat this time around. There is joy in the giving and receiving of the simplest of things. He pops into Tiger to supplement the ice-cream. All is restored, fingers crossed.
With sugar fuelled vigour we re-enter the chaos of the shop to sniff and fumble. There, well disguised in amongst piles of polyester, it lies. He plucks it out and knows by the weight that he is onto something. He waves it in my direction. I clamber through to him, grab it and sniff like a dog. Up and down the soft sleeves. Heavenly. I throw it on but I know before reaching the mirror. By how it feels on, like the caress of a long lost friend. By the clang of the heavy zips. By the look on his face. This is it. This is the one. It’s a steal. Oh sweet moment of joy.