Contemplate. Theorize. Analyze. nap. snack. create. Deconstruct. Talk to self. Write. Delete. Write again. All over a bottle of whiskey. Or a couple bottles of wine. Or both. Here’s a small window into that time.
THE COOKIE HATER
Re-gifting. It’s the unspoken of, frowned upon, lazy-man’s ritual that has gained infamy over the years with holiday fruitcakes, wedding toasters, birthday picture frames and other generic gift atrocities that one deposits on acquaintances. The only rule that applies to this dumped donation is don’t get caught, something that pretty much goes without saying. Or so I thought until December 24th 2006. In less than five hours of first meeting my boyfriend’s mother, I witnessed the re-gifting of my excruciatingly thought out present. Instantly, I was rejected. As I stood in my carefully picked ‘make a good first impression outfit’ my jaw hit the ground.
Here I was, the brand spanking new girlfriend visiting for five days with their son during the most celebrated holiday on the calendar for Christians, I guess. However, I’m Jewish. Strike one. Most people meet the significant other’s parents over dinner. I was going for five dinners and five who-knows-what-nativity-activity filled days in a row on the day when my people supposedly killed Jesus. I may have been a soon to be newly anointed Christmas caroling Jew, but without manners I was not. Along with my medium sized expertly packed luggage I proudly toted shiny papered holiday presents that I hoped would magically put me in his parent’s good graces. At the very least, they were my entrance fee.
First impressions are important. This is something that was drilled into me at a young age. If my table manners weren’t perfect at my house, then my mother assumed I would publicly go through life eating with my hands, chomping my food and slamming my elbows on the table. The same etiquette rationale was applied to shaking hands, introducing myself clearly, sending thank you notes and remembering to bring something small to whoever dared invite me into their home for a weekend.
Twenty years later, my mother’s psychoses had mutated into my own. A hurricane of groundless fears and invented scenarios bombarded my short-circuited brain as I prepared for what felt like an impending inquisition. Somehow I managed to work myself into a frenzy of psycho, a special skill of mine that my boyfriend was getting a glimpse of for the very first time. Yes, what exactly had he signed up for? But more importantly, what on earth was I going to bring his mother? For most, this task would take up little thought. Most wouldn’t let this menial chore turn into the quest for the Holy Grail of gifts, and on Christmas no less. The irony did not escape me. But no, crazy had set in.
I frantically started contacting all of my other gift conscious friends, Jews, Christians, Hindis, Christmas loving Jewish Hindis, whoever would pick up the phone or answer a 911 email, asking for advice on what one brings over the holidays. I wasn’t comfortable bringing something traditionally Chirstmasy since, well, I don’t really subscribe to that. After a lot of stressing out, over-reacting and exaggerated made up concerns, I settled on the simple idea of two bottles of nice wine and some generic “holiday” themed cookies. Not too much, not too little. Generous, but not lavish. Thoughtful, but not over doing it. It was a gift any asshole could have thought of in three minutes. It took me a week.
Now the hard part: the cookies. After scouring the Internet and following up on friends’ recommendations, I finally settled on a cookie company known not only for their superiorly decorated cookies, but also for the tastiness of their treats. These were not bland sugar cookies that left your teeth feeling furry. To top it off, they were packaged in impeccably designed boxes, a detail other, less obsessed people, might underestimate or overlook. The wine was recommended and wrapped by my local wine store. Done. Swooning on my own psycho fumes I did a mental victory dance. I relished the thought that this holiday grab bag of goodies was my ticket in; they screamed this girl is thoughtful and gracious, this is the kind of girl our son should date. Sanity aside, I was now ready to descend into the winter WASP wonderland of Santa sweaters, mistletoe and Christmas carols – AKA: suburban DC.
His parents met us at the train station and we drove to the house. Everything was going smoothly. For some reason this shocked me despite the fact my boyfriend had told me his parents were laid back and easy to talk to. He was right. Who knew? But then it came. The severely awkward moment I had actually not been prepared for: the bizarre reception of my gifts. The wine disappeared into the kitchen, never to be seen again during my five days. The cookies, still in their holiday gift bag, were shoved in a dark nook behind a bowl of fruit under some cabinets, like they were the “troubled” cousin nobody ever mentioned in front of polite company.
But that wasn’t the shocker.
I was lingering by the stairs when his mother came out of the kitchen. She was packing up some home made dishes for the Christmas Eve dinner we were attending at their friend’s house. Facing me with my beautifully boxed treats in hand she asked, “Would it be ok if we bring the cookies over for the kids?” Insecurity roared and resurged. She was going to re-gift the cookies in front of me, and ask my permission to do it. The Horror. Desperately holding in, “Are you fucking kidding me,” I smiled and said, “Sure, anything you like.” And just like that my gesture of “thanks” was mangled into a “no thanks.” I quickly proceeded to locate my boyfriend and begin the interrogation.
“She hates me! She’s re-gifting my cookies! Does she think because they are snowflake themed that they are inappropriate for adults?! Do you know how much those snowy wonders cost me! My God, I am the dirty Jew sleeping with her son downstairs who brought children’s cookies as a gift!” I was mortified. Horrified. Traumatized. I was anything that ended in –ied.
As my eyes welled with tears, my boyfriend did his best to talk me off the ledge. I was reading into this too much. She liked the cookies and wanted to share them with everyone. I was misinterpreting her, overreacting. My already fragile and somewhat hyperactive emotions didn’t agree. I just didn’t get it. I had never felt so self-conscious before. I was the parent friendly friend. But for some reason the rules seemed to be different here, and I was on my own to figure them out. To avoid any suspicion by remaining downstairs too long, I sucked it up and climbed back upstairs to meet my and my cookies fate that evening.
The door opened and we were warmly greeted. Eyes turned to me, friendly and inquisitive. I felt like the new toy that everyone wanted to test drive to see if it was a keeper, or if they would write a letter of complaint to the manufacturer and demand their money back. I bee-lined for the wine. Not the wine I brought of course, that was tucked away in a closet somewhere unsuitable even for re-gifting. After some liquid therapy, I decided it was a compliment that I was such a fascinating transplant that I got taken aside for twenty questions by each of the ten people there. When dinner was finally served, I realized I had only made it through round 1. Further probing at this examination table occurred with every stab of a fork. My likes, dislikes, habits and vegetarianism were dissected along with the lobster and meat. Then dessert was served. There they were alongside the other holiday sweets, my perfectly crafted cookies. Cookies, might I mention, that were fantastic, and enjoyed by everyone of all ages. And to my surprise, I was credited for them. As snowmen’s heads were broken off I fought to keep mine screwed on until the end. Despite both of our displacement, my cookies and I had successfully weathered the WASP wonderland.
A few days later, after returning home to the safety of our apartment, I still couldn’t help drifting off into bouts of internal monologues doused with anger about the tossing aside of my carefully chosen sugary treats. Who re-gifts a gift in front of the person who gave it to them? Maybe his mother wasn’t a gift person? Maybe she thought it would be nice to share with her friends? After all, she did credit me for them. I was thinking too hard about it. But really, was I?
With no explanation in sight, I continued to flog myself with questions as my anger and insecurities duked it out. Somehow these five days had wrenched open what I thought was a well-bandaged melanoma of insecurity. I had no idea what my boyfriend’s parents thought of me. And more importantly, why I really cared.
Each subsequent trip down for the following 2 years, for whatever the occasion, my presents have suffered the final resting place of dark cabinets and cupboards and for all I know, the mailman’s table or the dog’s dish. But I have put my crazy aside for a feigned casual indifference. I’ve surrendered to the notion that there might not be a perfect present, or that the perfect gift is no gift because she really doesn’t care, or that maybe I cannot breach the gift barrier, or for that matter any barrier, with his mother. While we have interesting and thoughtful conversations and get along well, I still have no idea if she goes to bed at night wishing only for the gift of my sudden disappearance from her son’s life.
And then it happened this Christmas. I decided fuck it. Out of spite and resentment, I was going to bring more cookies and brownies regardless of their previously scorned reception. I would get them from another bakery I loved, and bypass the fancy holiday wrapping. And I would eat them boldly and without reservation, with or without accomplices. Let’s face it. I am never going to show up empty handed, so I might as well arrive with something I like. Selfish? Maybe. But after 2 years of failed attempts to woo his mother with food on food gifting holidays, I really doubted I’d ever find something that she would welcome warmly. The first evening there she asked me and my boyfriend if we’d like anything while we watched a movie. Without hesitating, I said I might have some of the brownies. Her reaction was as indifferent as it was to the gift. So for 5 days my boyfriend and I carved away at the sweets, finishing them before we left for home. His mother never had a crumb. Licking the chocolate off my fingers, I finally took comfort in knowing that it was her loss.