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.


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. 

Aspirations: I want to be like my Mommy

My son is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  He is my angel.  He saved my life… literally.  Ages before “scandalous” existed… well, things were a bit way more scandalous.  I was a dumb kid.  Fresh to California from the midwest.  I came out here originally to pursue an acting career (which still hasn’t happened).  I have a background in Drama and performing ever since I was a toddler.

I met Ethan’s father in a Yahoo chat room, back in the days where it was still fresh to be dating off this vast space we call “the internet.”  He was my age.  Tall.  Nerdy.  He loved Monty Python, soccer, and video games.  He was a barista for a local coffee shop in Larkspur, CA.  We dated briefly before I decided to take the visit up there.

“My family wants to know the address of where I’m going when I see you.”

“Sure its [redacted] would you like to call and make sure I work at the coffee shop too? Here’s that info [redacted]”

“You’re being silly now… “

“Would you like my social security number?  I’ll give you that too..”

I should have gotten that.  I found out later he lied about nearly everything he’d told me.  While yes, he did work at that little coffee shop, he lied about his birthday.  He lied about stupid things for reasons unknown.. that I will never know.  He also never told me that he was married…

liar, liar

liar, liar

There are two reminders of him.  A little stuffed Cheshire cat he got at Disney when he picked me up to go, and.. Ethan.

I found out shortly after that trip that I was pregnant.  I remember the day vividly.  My friend Tino brought me to a clinic to get a test.  I was trying to keep it a secret.  I was going to get some cigarretes after, providing the test came back negative.  Tino ended up crushing the pack of smokes I had at the time.

Upon informing him that I was indeed pregnant with Ethan, his father poofed.  He was never present in Ethan’s life in any form or fashion.  I found out a year ago that his father died of cancer.  He was 22.  I was destined to be a single mother.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

My family encouraged me to keep the baby, and told me that they would help me.  I am forever thankful for the people that are in my life… especially them.  Despite my tribulations with them, they have been there when it comes to Ethan.

My oldest son is one of the easiest children to care for and love.  I am very “blessed.”  After my marriage failed, I knew that it was in his best interest to go with my dad- a more 9-5 “normal” lifestyle- while I started on my journey to really get on my own two feet and really dive into the entertainment industry full force.  My other children are living with their father- my ex husband- currently.

I go on visits once a week down to Claremont (a little town 45 minutes east of LA)  to see my 6 year old.  He lives with my dad in suburbia.  The schools are better, and it’s the best situation for him.

My grandmother- one person whom is the foundation of much of my interests artistically, is the most important person in his life.  She is the exact opposite of dad.  Dad is black and white.  She’s full of color.

My grandmothers traditional and old fashioned values attributed to her time and where she grew up- the country areas outside of Chicago and her Roman Catholic background shaped my father to be this very conservative corporate man.  Dad understands business.  He wanted more than that country lifestyle.  He loves numbers.  He loves the things that are clear cut.  He’s great with other people’s money.  He’s horrible with his own.

Grandma is an artist.  She paints and gardens.  She loves all things whimsical.  She’s a packrat of awesome treasures.  She throws away nothing. She’s eccentric.  She’s wonderful with young children.  I remember the days of growing up and spending summers on the screened in porch painting side by side in pigtails.

My dad, whom I used to think was the coolest person ever growing up, has slowly but surely become… well, a scorn old man.  I represent much of what he has always feared and loathed growing up. I represent the never growing older aspect of things imaginary and artistic.  The same man who raised me on baseball, comic books, rock music, movies,  and Nintendo, despises any interests that I have of becoming part of the machine to make any of those things realities.

Years later… we are far away from home.  His “out there” daughter wanted to pursue the arts, and her first trip to the bay area resulted in her getting knocked up.  I have worked in entertainment and various writing gigs.  I’m… everything that he doesn’t understand.  However, I’m also my dad’s favorite because strangely enough, I’m most like him in personality. My dad will always see the little girl in pigtails.  But now, he sees her on a motorcycle with “dangerous boys” and knows that I will partake in all that dad tells me not to because, well it’s fun.

This weekend was supposed to be something wholesome.  He picked me up and brought me to my first Dodger’s baseball game.  They were playing San Diego.  Sorry LA, I had to root for my real “home” team.

The day was very well.  Despite the fact that I was melting from under the sun, and the Padres lost horribly, we had a really good time.  I went back to dad’s afterwards to spend the remainder of the day with my son, playing baseball and watching Spongebob.

My dad has new neighbors.  They’re a group of young musicians about my age. They were playing basketball when we initially got to dad’s place.  I wanted to go say hello but held back.  And then they started playing Green Day.

My son started dancing.  A smile crept up on my face… which was immediately shattered as if a magnetic force was in play- my dad came out to ruin it.

I’m sure in his mind he was thinking something along the lines of:

“I do not want to come home one day and hear someone screaming next door and it to be my daughter..”

Dad shooed my son and I into the house and closed all of the windows.

“You are not to talk to them at all or go near there.”

Suddenly I’m 15 again.  I don’t think my dad honestly thought this would work.  In reality, he just told me to do it.  I’ve found that everything that my dad has told me not to do, has generally been the best thing for me to do and vice versa.

For example (and I hold myself accountable inevitably for all of this):

Love & Marriage

My dad told me that getting married was the best decision to make.  I was pressured by my family’s old fashioned values to get married.  I could not possibly be happy with living with someone and having a family with said person without a piece of paper giving me a tax writeoff.  To me, I knew that this piece of paper to say “this is who I’m with” was not only relatively unnecessarry, but it was giving someone the tools to “not only fuck you in the bedroom, but also in a courtroom.”  This is coming from a man who is also divorced and married my mother because he got her pregant.  Pot calling the kettle black?  Yes the divorce was worth it.

Moving to LA

I moved a few times since my marriage broke up in San Diego.  I knew that ultimately, I wanted a career in the entertainment industry.  It was the first and foremost point of why I moved to California in the first place.  My dad saw the opportunities here as well, which is why he works in downtown Los Angeles. However, when I expressed interest in moving out of suburbia to the greener pastures of a city filled with more opportunities within my preferred industry of choice, dad said no.  It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Getting a motorcycle

Ok, so it’s only a scooter.  When  I told my dad about the multiple problems I was having with the beast and the potential offer to get my bike, dad immediately freaked (and bought me a car).

“You will die on a bike.  I give up. “

I decided to keep it under wraps that I did end up getting the bike until after my uncle was on the way out with the car dad had bought for me.  I felt like a kid hiding that damn bike.  It was peculiar because, well… I’d told other family about it (including my grandparents that drove the car out from IL.)

I’d gotten spoiled with it…  I elected not to go anywhere where it required me to take the freeway- and thus take the beast.  I’m not freeway legally as of yet, and well.. gas in a car is expensive, especially that car.

That bike has been the saving grace for the multiple instances I’ve gotten lost or when I’ve been frustrated.  There was even a really really phenomenal date that’s associated with that bike.  Whenever something is bothering me, it seems to be cured near instantly upon getting on that bike.

Even after driving home in a sportscar Monday, I still was a bit bummed.  Why?  Because I missed my damn bike.  Go figure.

But back to the rocker neighbors…

Instinctively, I knew that I was going to go over there.  I wanted to make sure that those guys were not intentionally messing with my dads yard like he was roaring about.  I stepped outside to have a smoke… my stepmother saw me and knew exactly what was going on.  She raised a finger to her mouth as if it were her little secret and opened the garage door.

My dad must have known.  He came outside 5 minutes later and proceeded to bitch at me like I was a child.

“I specifically told you not to go over there…”

“Yes you did.  I’m also [redacted] years old and you are not going to tell me who I can and cannot talk to.  You are embarrassing by doing this”

I went back inside and tucked my son into bed.

“Mom did you go over there because they were playing music?”

“Yes I did.”

“Mom do guys that play the drums or the guitar get the girls?”

“Yes son they do.”

“Mom I want to play the drums or guitar when I get bigger then..”

That a boy.  That’s definately my kid right there.  Take that one daddy.

I represent much of what he has always feared and loathed growing up. I represent the never growing older aspect of things imaginary and artistic.  The same man who raised me on comic books and Nintendo, despises any interests that I have of becoming part of the machine to make any of those things realities.