The Gift of Not Gifting

Over the course of time I have become enamored with the idea and action of gifting.  There are so many rewards to the heart with the act of giving.  What people tend to forget is that there are also so many potential setbacks.

Here’s an  image you are likely familiar with if you have been on the internet longer than five seconds.  It is a silly but accurate reminder of what I will be alluding to with this post.

free_candy_van

When my children were here with me over the summer, I wanted to do so much for them.  Any parent should understand how hard it is to be apart from their children even for a short time.  So, when the time came that they were finally here, I wanted more than anything to give them the world.  To get them here in the first place meant the world to me.  In that regard, I am thankful that I was privileged with the company of good friends to facilitate that visit happening including getting them here (despite my ex husband moving cross country without any notice so he could be with the newest woman he met in a video game) and even getting them to Disneyland.

While the material things themselves were wonderful, especially as I was beyond broke and having to tell my children that unfortunately I could not buy them everything, the act of it was far more meaningful to all of us.  Or… at least at that moment.

As more moments passed where my children have been distanced, I have began to abhor giving.  Not because I don’t want to… but because I see the little acts of bribery and compensating techniques that are actually happening.  Giving, especially to children, gives less when it is done all the time.

Both of my sons have had birthdays since my last postings.  I have found myself taken back with disgust for the reactions to giving and lack of giving done to them.

A little bit of a super personal background:

My oldest son is currently living with my father.  It was a decision made years ago as a temporary solution to my ex husband essentially leaving me in a very desolate space.  So desolate, in fact, that I am finally gaining the momentum to…

My younger son and daughter are living with their father.  That situation is extremely delicate and frustrating.  The man stole my children and ran off with them after emotionally and physically abusing me.  My last visit was the first one I had been able to get in YEARS as the man had: told them someone else was their mother, refused to take phone calls, and jumped states and cities several times while he leeched off some woman.  I have been working on this- without assistance- for a long time now.  As you may know, however, Los Angeles (and most of California in general) is a very difficult place to get on your feet.  I have suffered and learned so much from this grand place.

Since that visit, things have been progressively different.   My children know again that I am their mother.  They are very young and are starting to question the world around them.  This is something I have been encouraging and my ex has been discouraging.

(No guy like that wants to hear: Why did you keep me from a mommy that loves me so much and wants to be in my life?)

As the years and bits of time have passed, I have seen first hand how damaging both of the environments are for them.  One of the biggest reasons?  It’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to do a ton due to the lack of free flowing finances… as I have been working to recover from the financial shackles I allowed my ex husband.  Giving has been a cross to bear actually.

My younger son, when here, showed a major addiction to video games.  This is not completely surprising.  I met his father at a gaming company I worked for years ago.  His father has met two women in online gaming since me.  He is clearly focused on gaming…  it is… at a frightening level.  I fear that my son might…

A friend of mine loaned me a Game Boy for the plane ride and while they were here.  As my son didn’t have a portable gaming device, he was enamored with it and didn’t want to let go.  Combined with his learning and developmental problems, this only made me more nervous.  Near the end of the visit, I didn’t want him to have anything to do with the device.  He couldn’t handle the responsibility on even a sharing level and would break down when it was taken away.

As his birthday approached, he voiced to me on a webcam visit that he wanted a portable gaming device for his birthday.  I told him no.  I explained that he had not been able to handle it and, when and if he could show me differently, I would reconsider it.  At this point, he broke down.

“I don’t like you Mom.”

Can you guess what happened after that?  Yep his father and his latest girlfriend bought him one.  They had overheard the conversation.

It was one instance of many with regards to gifts that has bothered me.

When the calls were to initially start, and the kids had left here, the gifts and things I gave them were mysteriously lost.  I sent two cameras out to even get the visits.  They never arrived and there was an excuse for several weeks paired with talking down to me and telling me that my confirmation slips and testing of equipment were simply not true.

Something important given to my daughter also went missing.  One of my grandparents sends jewelry found at thrifts every so often. I found two butterfly pins in a bag of jewelry and decided to do something special for the two of us.

I gave my daughter a pink butterfly pin and I kept a green one. I told her where the butterfly came from. That it was from her great grandmother.  It would be a reminder of each other no matter how far away we were each time we wore it.  I told my daughter:

“No matter how far away we are, when we have these on especially, remember how much your mother loves you and that you are always with me, even if you’re not physically there.”

“You’re not just my mommy.  You’re my friend.”

It was a way to remember the love we shared no matter how much distance was between us.  It was nothing fancy material wise but it was a special bond between the two of us.

In addition to the butterfly pin, I gave her a jewelry box with other little costume jewelry. I told her to make sure she kept the pin safe in the box.

For a couple of weeks after the visit, it was a wonderful and special shared moment. She told me that she had worn the butterfly to her first day at the new school.  I wore it en route to a prospective client.  It was the magic and love of giving.

Not too long after she returned she told me that her father lost the pin.  We had talked about it on our phone calls prior.  He had to have known how special it was to us.  But there it was, coincidentally missing.

Another instance with my kids has been that the kids are always showing me gifts on my weekly webcam visits.  They then ask me when and if I will be sending them things.  It happens every single week.  Items are shoved in front of the camera.

“Mom look at what Tuffles got me.”

“Mom look at this [thing given by my ex husband & his girlfriend]”

It’s always something.  And it was always followed by:

“Mom when are you going to send us more things?”

I found myself responding more and more:

“Gifts are not the measurement of love.  I show you how I love you in ways beyond gifts.  Material things are  great but they’re not important.  Hearts and genuine love are what matters.  Those are the real gifts.”

My ex husband and his girlfriend didn’t like this very much… and the consistency has not faltered.  I await tomorrow’s gift.

Now back to California and my oldest son.  My oldest son knows I have an affinity for fish.  After some casualties, I found myself with an extra small tank.  I wanted to give him this tank and get him some betas.  There had been a whole economical discussion about it and some comical adventures with his siblings (to be written about in a future piece).  He told me that he couldn’t have fish because his grandfather said no.  The tank topic stopped and we went to birthday requests.

My son’s birthday present came from some great timing as I assisted my friends over at Loot Crate.  The box included a Ninja Turtle action figure amongst other geeky treats.  Since this son was named after one of these figures, it was absolutely perfect.  To add to it more, there was a blind box key chain from Futurama in there as well.  There is a very embarrassing story of when my son was a toddler that revolved around the character Bender.  We didn’t know it at the time, but Bender was in that blind box.

For several weeks leading up to his birthday I tried to coordinate something to assist with it.  I wanted to have a pizza party and make decorations with my Preval vFan Airbrush System and center the experience around that (albeit small) gift.  It didn’t happen.  My father wanted to do everything and spared no expense to get the biggest, most unnecessary amount of tokens and gaming for my son and his friends.   Oh and about the fish?  I arrived at my father’s house to find that my son now had a goldfish… and that my father had bought a big tank specifically him now.

My father gloated about all of it.  My son was happy, but ungrateful.  It was frustrating.  I couldn’t say anything until after the fact.  I wanted my son to have an enjoyable time with his friends.  I watched, but kept my distance.  I wanted to allow for some independence and freedom.

When I was to go back to Los Angeles, my son had an attitude about him.  He was unappreciative and showing it.  I explained to my father that this was part of the reason I didn’t want things to be so extravagant.  He didn’t agree.  He just kept gloating about how much he’d spent.

My son and I discussed his gifts when we got back to Los Angeles.  There had been talk of me taking things away as a form of discipline for him being ungrateful.  The talk helped a lot.  I saw my growing little boy in there.  After our talk, he apologized and went back to tell his grandfather that he didn’t like how he was treating his mother.  He remembered that gifts, while great, were not everything.

I have a stack of material things I wanted to give the kids.  I wanted to share some small things with them to show them that I think of them constantly.  But now?  I am now in a position where the act of giving has soured me from wanting to do it… at least in one way.

“I believe more and more in the words I spoke to my children.  Of the importance of the heart and compassion that are far more material than any material possessions.  I struggle daily trying to get to the point where I can give them everything I dream they would want.  But perhaps, especially in this instance it’s for the best.  Perhaps the best gift for them is what I have been doing all along… the real one that they need the most…. and that’s holding back and not giving. 

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I aspire to be a cat burgler minus the cat and the burgler-ing

In the silence, come the answers.

If you really want to get an idea of how someone’s life is, you can just go inside their home and let the stuff do the talking. They say that you can tell alot about a person by their home.  What they don’t tell you is that this is a pretty good gage at how their life really is.

You see, things contaminate our every existance.  The collection of ones “junk” and organizational systems show you more than you would ever imagine if you only pay attention.

For me, today marks a new direction of sorts.  You see, I didn’t end up in Los Angeles originally because I wanted to.  At least, it wasn’t my first choice.

After leaving San Diego and on to Bakersfield (the armpit divider between southern and northern california) I vowed that I would move back to the one place, despite having grown up in an entirely different state, that I was able to call “home.”  I even kept the same area code on my cell phone.  If you see the 858, that would be me.  I will always be an 858 girl.  Except now, I will also be a 310.

After my divorce, I struggled quite a bit.  I had been that “stay at home mother” working jobs that I could do from home and then when I hit the ground running, he just stayed in place.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that had met us or even see us together.  I was that wild horse and he was just… not the running type.

I remember the day it happened… or well, the “it’s time to realize that no one is going to give a crap about you but you” moment.  After I got let go from my game mod job due to being late because of spousal abuse, he hit me again.  This time, it was with an eviction notice.

You see, my ex husband fled to be with his new girlfriend that he’d met in a video game while I was away at a conference trying to find my next job.  I wish I was kidding.  Unfortunately, I am not.

A little bit different than your average Love tap

A little bit different than your "average" Love tap

He’d promised me a lot of things when first got together.  And I believed every single one of them.  Why?  Because I was an idiot.  Even after all was said and done he’d made me yet another promise-to pay the rent for the remainder of the lease.

Liar liar pants on fire.

I guess I should have saw that one coming.

I had so little money then.  I was but a broke artist, though when I was with him, I rarely was able to create.  But that’s another story.

I was a victim then because I allowed myself to be one.  While it is a part of my past, and thus, a part of my identity, I’ve come to peace with it.  There are so many stories that proceed this.  So many tales that I am forever thankful for being able to experience.  Even if it took a man hitting me for me to wake up, get started on the road to independence, and really live life again.

Dead eyes. Lost inside.

Dead eyes. Lost inside. Circa marriage 1.

When I moved to Bakersfield, it was rushed.  I never wanted to move back there.  I fought it as much as I could.  But it wasn’t time for me to be home yet.  And at the time, San Diego didn’t feel like home anyway.

I remember how much disarray my apartment was.  I moved from a 2 bedroom condo in a upper middle class area of San Diego (Tierrasanta to the locals) to a studio hole in the wall in Bakersfield. Why there? Nepotism.  My cousin was the landlord originally.

While I wasn’t completely unhappy in my time there, you could tell that inside I was miserable and my apartment showed it.

I looked for things to make myself happier.  The things that had the greatest effect were those of which were most childlike in nature. One of which, won me the nickname of “the mermaid” as this curtain hung over my bed (which ironically, is still over my bed to this day) because, well that was the only thing I could find to cover up the institution-like window.

These are a few of my favorite things

These are a few of my favorite things

I found it in a box one day somewhat randomly.  It had been something that my dad had given me for my first apartment years before I got married.  My husband and I thought it was too ridiculous to ever use.  I’ve come to realize that he was just a stick in the mud.

That curtain got me into trouble too.  I hung it in the window of my street facing apartment.  When the blinds were open or up, it was no mistaking which unit was mine.  In the mornings the sun would shine through it and the colors would pop.  Trudging along in Bakersfield, it would make me smile to come home to my one piece of sunshine.  My landlord didn’t agree.  She thought it was tacky.  She also dresses like shes ready for the nursing home and she’s not even 30.

While living in the apartment, I serendipitously met a wonderful pair of friends- Drew & Leah.  (Ironically, they lived across from my soon to be future bat from hell landlord.)  They helped to make that place somewhat bearable.  But unfortunately, they couldn’t make that place home for me.

beach balls are serious business

beach balls are serious business

Because only the raddest dare rock bling on their coffee mug

Because only the raddest dare rock bling on their coffee mug

My grandmother is a packrat.  She has amassed a great amount of wonderful junk.  So much so, that she has 2 houses full of it.  They say this behavior is generally inherited.  Hands raised for being a statistic.  I wonder if there are meetings like AA.

I later made  a brief stop in Claremont- suburbia upper middle class Los Angeles near the dreaded 909.  It was my dad’s compromise to not sending me back to San Diego, despite challenging me to find an apartment there in a few hours and well, I won that bet.

Claremont was… alright.  The village was a bit like a mini San Francisco.  Except San Francisco has a ton more and is a place I would actually consider living.

City of numerology

It hosts… the number 5.  Looking around you will see that it repeats numerous instances throughout the town.  There are 5 colleges.  There are 5 movie rooms at the theatre.

This is where I started to get a bit of OCD cleaning traits.  Part of me believes it may have been a positive after effect from my volatile relationship that I had with Big (the obsessive compulsive cleaning emotionally unavailable guy from San Diego).

I dumped quite a bit with the last move, and this one as well.  My roommate was also an artist (read: slob).  But here I found myself cleaning up after her.  Frankly the mess bothered me.  That, and she had animals.

And while I was happier there than I had been in Bakersfield, you could tell in my eyes if you were paying attention, that it still wasn’t quite right.

Porch sweeper, dream sleeper

As my lease came to a close I knew that I no longer wanted to be there.  I was working my ass off and reaping nothing in return.  I barely had time for me.  It was work work work.

“When you pay your own bills you can live wherever you want to.” dad told me.

“I already do pay my own bills dad.  I’m going home.  I’m not happy here.”

He shoved a pennysaver in my hand.

“There’s apartments in your price range right here.  Do it.”

But I’d already met Steve (my roommate) then.  Another after effect from dating that same OCD douchebag many of you all know and sometimes love.  I’m only half joking of course.  He’s got a good heart when he choose to share it.

But enough about failed romances, back to my roommate!  Little did I know from that fateful night- the tweetup in LA hosted by Greg Barnett, that I was on the way home.

Why hi, nice to meet you soon to be roommate!

Why hi, nice to meet you soon to be roommate!

Yes, I said it.. home.

I’ve lived here a year and yet, you wouldn’t know it from my room.  There are still quite a few bins out.  Clothes strung everywhere.  My closet is full of hangers.  My dresser is near empty.

Today is the day that that changes.  Consider me booked with being boring for the interim.  I was due for a responsible day or 3.  Have to balance with the karma and all.  I secretly aspire to be more boring (but never really boring) anyway.

I didn’t want to move here when I first got here.  I wanted to be in San Diego.  It is the one place that I’ve been able to call home.  But I know now, that it will not likely be where I hang my… wigs.

Dear San Diego,

I must profess my undying love for you.  You are the lover I will always come back to.  But you are also the one where I won’t end up with until possibly the end of the movie when my ashes are sent among the city after I expire.

I have fallen capture to Los Angeles.  It’s “cesspool” of fun carried me away.  My childhood dreams and fantasies… never forgotten but evolved into things you just can’t give me.

I’m “unpacking” today finally.  It took me a long time to get here.  This is my home now.  You will always have… pieces of my heart, but I’m afraid you will have to share me.

Ours is a tale that will live on forever.  Written in granite amongst the waves and never to be washed away.

Yours Always,

Jennifer

***

Dear Los Angeles,

I just broke up with San Diego.  I let her down easily.  I think she bought it.  She doesn’t know I’ve just been toying with her.  She’s wonderful but it just wasn’t working out.  I’m a terrible person.  Comfort me?

By the way, I have something else to tell you:

You have yourself another lifer now.

Cheers,

Scandalous

It’s time to take more ownership of my stuff and not the other way around.  But hey, at least I’ll have plenty of junk to send my mother right?