With the holidays approaching (and with them, the birthdays of most of George’s little friends), I’ve been waist-deep in production and all the stuff that comes with it. Trying to figure out what to make. Pick fabric. Choose trims. Do it right. And once it’s made, hope the recipient likes what I’ve done. Anyone who handmakes gifts has made something that was poorly received. My own favorite story — the word ‘favorite’ being a relatively recent development, as the multi-level bummer finally wore off — is of making something for someone who probably thought she was being tactful by tasking someone else with the chore of asking me for the gift’s receipt. Whether I should’ve taken the fact that the thing passed for storebought is the only possible positive of the whole deal, because when the middle-woman asked for the receipt, she turned what may have otherwise been a somewhat laughable oh-haha-err-awkward! situation into a fight. “It’s HOMEMADE?! What were you thinking? You should’ve just gotten her NOTHING. Can you at least get her a real present now?” Seriously. If you will, dear reader, please imagine my response and make it as — ahem — colorful as you’d like.
Regardless of how shitty that lady was, the sting of disappointment is harsh when you’ve worked hard on something that isn’t well received. It can feel like a personal affront; your choices and efforts are entrenched much deeper in a handmade present than one bought in a store. And sometimes that fact falls on deaf ears…or into unappreciative hands.
When I was pregnant with George, I told my mother — a longtime smoker — that she could not continue to smoke and have a relationship with my child. As a child myself, my parents’ smoking was a constant embarrassment and nuisance. Like when you give someone a homemade gift (George is, afterall, about as homemade as gifts get), the gift my mom got in her grandson was not customizable after-the-fact or exchangeable for another size or color. But the gift she got was good. The only appropriate reaction, in my book, is akin to mine when I was given my first, beautiful handknitted wool sweater: what do I have to do to keep this gift as perfect as it was the day I got it?
My mother’s reaction was… not that. Over the past year and a half, she has lied about giving up smoking, told me the cigarettes in front of her weren’t hers, insisted the smell on her clothes wasn’t smoke, and snuck away during Thanksgiving festivities to light up in the bathroom, bringing with her upon her return a foul stench that required my entire family to bathe when we got home. Before we could collapse into bed with a tired infant whose sling also reeked of cigarettes, who was exposed to third-hand smoke for an entire day. And that was my last straw.
I love my mother. We have our issues, most of which revolve around situations just like this one, wherein she has sold me out in favor of someone or something more important to her. But there will be no selling out of my kid, and I didn’t hesitate for one hot second when I called to say we’d made it home through the snow to add that until she stops smoking, she will not have the privilege of seeing George. Because she’s setting a bad example. And even if you don’t believe the studies about third-hand smoke, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that a baby should not smell like cigarettes.
I wish I could say that my mom’s reaction was a hearty hey-whatever-it-takes-because-I-love-that-kid. But it wasn’t. And my feeling was similar to the one you get as you watch your friend or family member’s face go from I’m-opening-a-present-this-rules! to ummm, WTF? when they peel back the tissue paper on your homemade table runner and matching napkin rings. But, like I’ve had to do with people who felt my gifts missed the mark, I’m letting go of my mom’s complete lack of appreciation for what she’s been given. If she chooses to throw it out, that’s entirely up to her.