Friday, September 7, 2007


“It is better to give than to receive” I so hate that saying. It’s such a lie. It’s easy to give something, but really hard to be accepting of others gifts. That’s how I see it. “Charity begins at home” is another one of those platitudes, yet more often I hear people saying that they don’t want to be a charity case. My mother never wanted to be a charity case, that’s why we ate out of the garbage. She refused welfare, or so she said. We’d be dragged to nursing homes to speak with the elderly at Christmas time and shyly hand them gifts the church was donating, but we weren’t allowed the candy they offered. We were there to give to them.

I remember, when I was younger the “Speak and. . .” series were huge. They were by Tiger Electronics I think, some Eighties giant computerized portable games. My brother had Speak and Math and I loved it (luckily, he hated it. But it was bought to improve his math skills). I really wanted the Speak and Spell. Just before our trip to New York, my mother got it for me for Christmas. She said she had to sell off a couple things and then go down to the clinic and sell plasma. Now, off and on she had sold blood to help us, well, live basically. I don’t know if they do that anymore, but they did then according to her. Plasma, she said, was harder to do because they have two tubes going in and out of you.

“Merry Christmas, here’s the gift you wanted; I was in pain to earn the money to buy what you wanted.”

Admirable what she did, sticks with me what she said about it. (Yes, I felt guilty for wanting it so bad she had to suffer for it to be the good mom she told everyone she was.)

My brother didn’t do well with the holidays. He always got so worked up that he wouldn’t get what he wanted that he’d throw temper tantrums leading up to the day. One year he took these blue plastic horses my mother got as her gift (I actually think he got them for her) and, in front of her, snapped all the legs of one by one. Another year, when he was much older, he tossed the coffee grinder (this time I think I bought for my mother) down on the ground and cracked it. One Christmas my parents got so mad I got all his presents. I loved it because he always got ‘action toys’ and I got boring dolls. But, eventually, I had to give them back.

‘Giving things’ was huge in the house. And it was always a show, with the story of suffering behind it to give something so grand. Accepting, not so much. It got to such a fever pitch that at one birthday party I refused to allow anyone to give me a gift. I couldn’t handle it. We had a piñata, a Carvel Ice Cream Cake, and a lot of fun (oh yeah, and no mother or brother at that party). But no presents for me.

So here I am, writing about this, and reflecting back, and realize it’s all another great game of control and power. You are the one providing when you give a gift, and everyone in the family didn’t want to accept anything because it was some weird power over the other person. No accepting of charity, no accepting of food, of little gifts knitted by people in nursing homes. That was wrong. Always the giver, never the receptor.

That is doing such an injustice to other people. Everyone feels good when they give something of themselves, and if it’s left hanging in the air it’s a rejection of that person and their thoughtfulness. I’ve come to realize that gracious acceptors are few and far between. Hell, I have trouble even taking a compliment! “Oh, no, you look better today! The blue in your shirt really brings out your eyes! Ah, no, I just got it in the sale bin, it’s nothing special. You’re too kind, really, no, it’s all about you!”

But I see it’s not just me. Compliment someone on their clothes they’ll tell you the cost. Compliment a woman on her hair she’ll say something self-deprecating. At least, that’s been my experience.

What the world needs is more gracious acceptors. That’s what I’m working on (oh my, I have a long list of things to work on!)


Amel's Realm said...

ENCORE!!! SPLENDID message, Vic!!!

I can understand why it's hard for you to receive compliments due to your past. In my own country, false modesty is the "trend" and people aren't really generous in giving compliments, either. Only after I moved here I began to learn to give and accept compliments better. It's a long journey...

heavenabove said...

It is always good to give gifts or assistance or whatever but it is also just as good to be a gracious recipient. If you're never allowed to receive, you cannot know the full extent of what giving is about-it's a 2 sided ordeal.

It's a terrible shame that your mother tried to imbed all this in you. I can't understand a mother who would not want to give their child something at least once in a while to brighten their spirit a bit. Yeah, we do have lessons to learn about giving but she was wrong how she went about it-spiteful and demeaning.

Currently, I am struggling with not being to give my daughter the birthday party she wants and not being able to send her to dance lessons like she wants-I simply cannot afford it. Still, I will do my best for her.

honestyrain said...

i find it so hard to recieve. my sister has been very generous with comments about how helpful i've been during her awful awful divorce and i am VERY glad she appreciates me but it still feels strange to receive the compliments.

Rachelle said...

This entry made me sad. Victorya, forgive me if I am blunt in this comment, but I can't sit back and watch your heartache any longer without setting the blame firmly where it belongs.

True charity does not have strings attached, nor do gifts given from the heart. A mother's gift to her child should not be given with a laundry list of what it cost to acquire it. When I think of charity, I do not think of the Welfare program, I think of Christ washing dirty feet. A gift; selflessly given to another, without thought of anything in return.

We struggle all the time here, but I would never think of telling what was sacrificed to give my children what they need/want.

I give you a hug, for the child who should never have been put in that guilt ridden position.

A mother is only a mother when she earns that title, and (forgive me if I sound cruel) your mother didn't/doesn't deserve a wonderful, kind, sensitive daughter like you.

We both had so many things in common in our childhood, but you most definitely got the harsher end of the stick. I salute you for coming through the fire and continuing to trudge.
Love you my survivor compadre,

Paper Fan Club said...

No doubt gifts like those are the most precious, simply because you know and understand the balance between how much was sacrificed to give it and how much it meant to you.

Victorya said...

Amel - thank you! Both are good, but we focus so much on giving we ignore the act of receiving.

Heaven- it must be tough to not give your child everything, but love with no strings attached does go a long way! (Plus, I'm sure you show her so much in terms of wildlife, I'm envious of all those adventures!)

honesty - amazing, isn't it? We can so freely give and hesitate with each reception. I see it all over the place. Some people actually take a step back when I compliment them on their clothes or hair, lol.

Rachelle - (BIG HUG)I don't consider her my mother, and when I write to people (like to my grandmother) about my 'mother' I use he real name, not that familial moniker.