I sat in my office in front of my laptop, facing the screen listening to the voices coming out of the speakers sent magically around the world through the air no less, on what is called wireless or wi-fi. Two voices came from Edmonds, WA, another from Portland, Oregon, and yet another from all the way across the United States of America in a small town in Virginia. I, here in Seattle, could also be heard when it was my turn to speak. All of our voices sounding as though we were in the same room together, talking, sharing, commenting, laughing, and sometimes catching our breath, our hand at our throats, our head shaking as we tried to convey the grip what had been read had on our hearts.
The pocket door that separates my office/writing room from the rest of our home rattled as someone on the other side slid it open. They were hesitant, not rushed and I could tell they held the hope that they were not disturbing me. My head turned to find my sweet son, a smile upon his 9 year old face with his father close behind so that I could see the apology in his eyes for their interruption. The corners in my mouth already turning up and I hoped they could see the sparkle in my eye as I watched them slide their feet across the hardwood flooring without a sound. My attention went back to the laptop as one of my fellow writers once again was speaking and I thought I heard my name.
It was my turn to share my thoughts on the second piece submitted to the group for critique, unless I wanted to defer as they had all just critiqued mine. Maybe a moment to let their words dissipate was a good idea. I jumped at the chance to go last, muted my microphone and turned back to where my son and my husband were donning their jackets. Michael, my sweet little boy, mouthed coupled with a very soft whisper, “We’re going to the mall so I can shop for you for Valentine’s Day.” His father behind him raised brow, lips moving without sound, “He insisted.” I nodded and waived a good-bye before turning my attention back to the group waiting for me. Having not heard my acceptance to go last they awaited my thoughts, I fumbled to pull up the word document and forged ahead.
Drawn into the Galapagos Islands and the adventure my writing partner was on, my thoughts held no room for what the boys were off doing. Easy for me as I am not one to try to figure out or guess the gift another may be giving me. There is something in not knowing, not expecting, that makes a gift that much more delightful to receive. I find myself unwrapping what the giver wanted to portray in the gift rather than the item itself. At times it is where they went or what they went through to find and purchase the gift. The place they chose having meaning from our or their past. Other times the gift itself reminds them of me, something I have said or expressed an interest in, or so they thought. Then there are times that there is no real rhyme or reason, it is just that, a gift, purchased and given. And yet, without expectation, even these gifts bring a joy to fill the space within me that had opened as my fingers removed the tape or tissue that held a covering over the item inside.
Our online group came to a close with the promise of two more pieces to be submitted via email by the morning for our critique meeting the following week. I savored the final sip of my soda water and rosemary vodka as I lingered in my chair, comfortable with the cushion beneath my bum, the aroma from the diffuser continuing to waft through the air around me, and soaked in the silence of our quiet home devoid of the usual hustle and bustle. A light rap on the side door window pulling me from my thoughts. On the other side out in the cold of the now dark evening, stood my sweet boy who had knocked with restraint we often think he knows nothing of. I leaned to remove myself from my chair then settled back in as my husband, Tom, approached the door key in hand.
“Hi guys. Perfect timing my class is over.”
Taking in the relief in Michael’s eyes, I turned my chair towards to the door and sat watching him remove his shoes and jacket. Pushing himself up to his feet, Michael grabbed the bag which held his gift to me. Standing there across the room from me as his body wiggled, feet shuffled, and his eyes danced.
“Come on Mom! I’m giving you my present right now!”
I got up out of my chair, turning off my computer and essential oils diffuser, and gathered my things to shut down for the night. My back turned to him I said, “Oh no, honey that’s okay. You should save your gift to give to me tomorrow night when we have our special family dinner with Sissy. Besides tomorrow is Valentine’s day.”
I have this thing about gifts. First I am a not a huge fan of them, I do not need gifts. Not a true minimalist, but a follower of the idea that I only want to have things I actually use. Not a collector of things, I have a hard time giving gifts as much as receiving them. If you are going to give me a gift though that is meant for a particular holiday, anniversary, birthday, I prefer to receive the gift on the day or at least at the event in honor of the day. Not before.
“No, mom. I won’t hear of it. I am giving you your gift now.”
My back still turned, the small voice inside of me spoke. ‘Let him give you his gift. It’s what he wants to do. Don’t squash his excitement and make him wait. We don’t always have to wait for the right time, the right place, do the right thing, do we?’
“Alright, let’s do this.” I smiled overwhelmed by the feeling welling up inside of me, this was right and for once I was going against all things me and just letting the moment unfold as it may.
“Yes! Okay, come into the living room. Come on dad, let’s go.”
Michael hurried into the other room, whether from excitement for the gift he was about to give or to be certain I would not change my mind or his dad would not step in and decide that we were in fact going to wait until tomorrow, I do not know. As I stepped through the doorway into the living room I caught sight of Michael already on the sofa, one hand holding the bag from Macy’s the other patting the seat next to him.
“Here mom, come sit here next to me on the couch.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming”, laughter bubbled up in my throat as I went to sit next to him.
“Dad, tell her the story.”
Tom chuckled before responding, “Well, I have to say I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was set on what he was going to get you before we ever left the house. I tried to get him to go to Ross or Fred Meyer but he wouldn’t have it. We got in the truck and he said he wanted to go to the mall. To Macy’s in fact. He was resigned, wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, so I said okay. You can tell her the rest buddy.”
Tom looked at me once again with those eyebrows raised. I’ve come to know that look from him when it has to do with Michael. It’s the ‘Hey, I tried to talk him out of it but you know how he can be when he has his mind made up about something’ look. The corners of my mouth remained turned up as I soaked up the excitement radiating from every pore in Michael’s body.
“Okay, Mom, I went to Macy’s and got you this. Here open it. Then I will tell you what happened.”
He handed me the white paper bag with large red star on it. Not a wrinkle in sight the only fold being the one at the very top, the sales lady having turned the top down and creased the fold tight before handing his purchase to him to bring home. I sat holding the bag for a moment, my hand stroking the smoothness before unfolding the top and reaching inside. A receipt slipped out and fell onto the couch as I pulled out the square box inside. I raised my hand to my lips and glanced at my son as he picked up the paper.
“I’ll show you it in a minute.” His eyes sparkled as he held onto the receipt and looked at me.
Savoring the excitement he was feeling and the joy I was receiving, I held the box before lifting the top off. There lay the most exquisite silver chain on a pillow of white batting.
“Feel it mom. Isn’t it heavy?”
I picked up the thick rope chain. It was heavy with a coating that made it smooth as silk to the touch. Breaking up the monotony of the rope chain were round circles snug on the chain every two inches or so. The clasp. also unique, was a larger circle on the one end and a bar at the other.
“Put it on mom! Do you need help?”
I held the two ends in my hand and they met behind my neck as I put the chain on. My right hand positioned the bar so it would go into the circle and through, then releasing it perpendicular it was held through the circle so the necklace would stay put. As I did, my mind flashed back to another necklace that I have upstairs in my closet with the same clasp. It was my mother’s. A bit flashy, layers of black beads that hold a charm that hangs in the middle of chest. The charm is a clear glass square that has several diamonds, fake, the gems float in the square that is edged with diamonds all around it. I have worn it a few times with a cocktail dress, otherwise it stays hanging in my closet.
“Do you like it mom?”
Without waiting for my response he goes on.
“Look at the tag.”
Ignoring my thoughts that want me to explain how it isn’t appropriate to look at the price of a gift nor is it appropriate to tell someone the price you paid for the gift. I instead listen to the small voice that is telling me to do as my son is asking of me. Grant him this moment. I pick up the tag and look at the front and then the back. Eyeing my husband who once again has that look on his face followed this time by raised hands of mercy hovering just above his lap, I tell me son the sales lady covered the price with a return sticker. I explain they do this so the gift recipient doesn’t see the price of the gift. Then I hush my own voice reminded by that small voice that I am saying too much.
“Oh, okay, well here, look at the receipt.”
My eyes grow big and my fingers caress the thick chain laying against my neck. I look at Tom, a look of disbelief as he nods his head.
“Oh honey! You spent sixty dollars on me? Wow! That is so very generous.”
“I tried to talk him out of it. In fact, even the sales lady who wasn’t all that, let’s say good-natured with kids, she even tried to persuade him to buy a different necklace that was on sale for less. He made his choice.”
My fingers remaining on the chain, I handed the receipt back to Michael as I looked into his eyes. I saw a flicker of hesitation.
“It wasn’t all of my money. I still have over seventy dollars. The sales lady did show me another necklace after I found this one. It was a silver chain also. It was more dainty. I had her get it out of the case so I could look at it more closely. It was real pretty. And it cost forty dollars. Even the sales lady said the other one was more fancy, special. She said this one was more ‘every day’ kind of chain. That’s what I wanted, something you could wear every day. And I didn’t spend all of my money. I still have plenty.”
His eyes looked at me as he finished his last word. My heart caught in my throat as I removed my fingers from the chain and reached out to touch his leg.
“Hey buddy, I want to tell you something. I completely get what you are saying. You want to know what this makes me think of?”
“Two things actually. One is a very special necklace that I have upstairs. It is a thin dainty silver chain that has a heart on it made of tiny little diamonds. One year before Mother’s day a radio station ran a contest and asked listeners to call in to share a story of why their mom was the best mom. The stories were on the radios web page for a few weeks where listeners could go and read them again. Then people would vote on the story they thought was the best. The winner would receive this beautiful necklace to give to their mom for Mother’s day. Well, your sister called in and told a story about me and she won! I love that necklace and every time I wear it I think of what she did for me. It is fancy and dainty and I wear it now and then with special outfits.”
“Wow, that’s cool that she won it for you.”
“Yeah, but you wanna know what other memory this makes me think of?”
“Well, several years back before you were born, Mother’s day was coming up. Something inside of me really wanted to buy my mom a pair of diamond earrings. I had never bought my mom anything extravagant like that before. I wanted her to know that I loved her more than anything, wanted to give her something out of the ordinary, different than say your typical Mother’s Day gift of flowers or a candle. The only thing was, I was a single mom at the time and couldn’t really afford too much. I asked my boyfriend, your dad was my boyfriend then, what he thought and he said although it was genuinely a good thing to want to do it, my mom knew how much I loved her and didn’t need diamonds to express it. I believed what he said was true.”
Love threatening to spill out and poor down my cheeks welling up inside of me, I squeezed my son’s hand and smiled before telling him the rest.
“I spent time with my mom that Mother’s Day and gave her a card telling her of what I had wanted to buy her but hadn’t. My mom cried silent tears and hugged me close, telling me she knew how much I loved her. We sat and enjoyed lunch together on her couch until she was tired and needed to go lay down and rest. A month later my mom died. We didn’t know at the time that she was that sick. I didn’t know it would be our last Mother’s Day together. The thought never crossed my mind. What I did know was that I had wanted to express to her in a tangible way, a gift, the love that I held inside for her. To this day, there is a part of me that wishes I would have thrown caution to the wind and purchased diamond earrings for my mom. Not because she needed an expensive gift to know I loved her that much, but because I wanted to give them to her.
It means so much to me that you wanted to buy something very special, and spend your money, no matter the cost. You knew what you wanted to buy me and you did it. Thank you my sweet bugaboo. I love this necklace and I will wear it all of the time. There is a time to be frugal, to buy things on sale, to not buy gifts when we can’t afford them. And then there is a time to go ahead and be generous, be extravagant, and buy what we want for the one we love.”
I reached out and drew my son close to me. Wrapping my arms around him I felt the love from him that I so longed to give to my mother on that Mother’s Day so long ago.
And then my son, being the nine year old that he is said,
“Okay mom, now you have to put the necklace back in the box. Tomorrow at dinner I am going to give it to you again and you have to act surprised. Just like you are right now, you have to do all of this all over again for Sissy. You have to tell her the story you just told me and everything, okay?”
The small voice inside of me spoke once again, ‘Do it. Give this to him, it’s all part of his gift. Let him have all of this as silly as it seems.’
“Okay, honey.” My eyes met with Tom’s one more time, it was my turn to shrug my shoulders and raise my palms up in open willingness.
Michael took my necklace and placed it back on the cloud of batting, closed up the box and delicately returned it inside the still perfect, without wrinkle or crease, white paper bag. He folded the top down as the sales lady had and placed it on the dining room table where it would await the re-unveiling.