Parenting

Gift-giving: thoughtful but inconsiderate

Posted on January 17, 2018. Filed under: Family, Parenting, Suicide | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

The holiday season was interesting. It was the first without my husband, so of course, there was emotional baggage that needed to be unpacked, sorted, and put away to some degree. But the most fascinating thing I learned about this past holiday season was about the gift-giving.

I’ll admit, I was looking forward to the gift-giving! This was my young daughter’s first Christmas without her dad, and I wanted to make it special! I was looking forward to my friends and family helping me take care of her during a potentially trying time of year.

Instead, it was… well, not what I expected.

People are so wrapped up in their own lives, I realize. People are struggling with how to take care of themselves, so they have limited capacity to take care of others. This makes me a little sad. But it also confuses me: when people are presented with simplicity, they actively choose a harder route. I can’t figure this out.

My kid is really into games and space exploration and monster trucks right now. She prefers her National Geographic book about the solar system over a storybook for bedtime reading. I put together an Amazon wish list of gift ideas for her, and sent it out to friends and family.

All those friends and family were so very generous this past Christmas! Yet only one person bought something off the list. My kid got a TON of Christmas gifts, but only a few she actually enjoyed. I felt a little badly for her. To her credit, my daughter got over the disappointment at unwrapping dolls, and quickly pivoted to playing enthusiastically with the few gifts she liked. She was perfectly fine with my donating all the rest to charity.

All those friends and family were so very thoughtful – their gifts showed they loved and cared for my daughter tremendously. The gifts just weren’t very considerate. The gifts were obviously what THEY wanted her to have and enjoy, what THEY wanted to give, what THEY envisioned her playing with, despite evidence (and explicit direction) to the contrary.

One family member always waits until the last minute to Christmas shop, even though he got the list weeks prior. Why not just do a few mouse clicks to ensure my kid loves what she gets? No… instead there were a lot of text messages with photos of toys at the store in the days leading up to Christmas. “What about this?” I reply no. “What about this instead?” I reply no. “How about this?” I say, oh, she would love that! And then later, another text, “What about this instead?”

What the holy hell! Why are you making your life HARDER right now? I already said YES. Just buy and GO!

In that case, my daughter didn’t actually get a gift from him in time for Christmas. She got it about a week later. Something I approved of, that I knew she would enjoy. And it was something she is playing with LIKE CRAZY.

In another case, a very close friend and “auntie” got the list but made an excuse about not buying off the list, even though she said she LOVED the gifts on the list and would have loved to get one of those for her.

And you bought her something else not even remotely related to anything on the list because … why?


My thoughtful (and considerate!) daughter brought me tears by asking what I wanted for Christmas. Do you know that not one other person asked me what I wanted for Christmas? Not one. Not the family member who insists that she loves me and wants to know me better. Not the friends who insisted they would be there for me no matter what. Instead I got extremely thoughtful gifts that didn’t really serve me or help me.

I just wanted someone to get my car washed and detailed. There are a lot of crumbs I can’t get to from the kiddo eating crackers on long car rides, spiders in the side view mirrors constantly building webs even though I clean them off, and I can’t get the windshield truly streak-free. I was so prepared to provide that answer to the question of what I wanted for Christmas… until I realized I never got the question.


Eh. No time for a pity party. Thoughtful yet inconsiderate gifts don’t make or break anything. We love those friends and family as much as they love us – with abundance and abandon. But I learned an important distinction in gift giving that I hope to take forward into my own practices, and a little something to teach my daughter as well.

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My daughter’s process

Posted on July 28, 2017. Filed under: Family, grief, Parenting | Tags: |

My charming, delightful 4 year old is processing her father’s death in very normal and healthy ways. I think.

Mama, will we get a new Dada? Can’t you just buy one?

No, honey. That’s illegal.

But who’s going to shave and make popcorn?

I can do those things, kiddo! But yeah, Dada was the BEST shaver and popcorn maker ever, huh?

I follow you around the house because I don’t want you to die and suddenly I’m in a house of ghosts.

Ghosts can be cool, so if you see one, let me know because I’d like to meet it. But you can certainly follow me around anytime. You’re my mini-me!

I’m sad because Dada’s spirit hasn’t visited me yet, like Moana’s grandma visited her.

Sometimes their visits are just a feeling. Does anything remind you of Dada? Guess what – he’s there when you think of him. It’s MAGIC!

Mama I’m afraid of the dark because of ghosts and monsters. But I can defeat the monsters. Will you take care of any ghosts?

I’ve got your back, kiddo.

Kids are so cool.

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Conditional support

Posted on July 21, 2017. Filed under: Family, grief, Parenting | Tags: , , , |

One thing I’m learning in the aftermath of my husband’s death and navigating this new life of single motherhood is that friends’ and family members’ grand declarations of, “I’m there for you,” is TOTALLY conditional.

I’m there for you…

  • If I don’t already have plans
  • As long as it’s the same way I’ve already been there for you in the past (this is a big one, it turns out)
  • If you pay me to babysit
  • When I suggest/ offer the interaction in question, like dinner out at a restaurant or something starting at 7pm (but I decline when you make the suggestion, like an hour at the park in the afternoon or just hanging out in our backyard)

Each and every one of these conditions has come up for me. It is beyond painful because it expands the feeling of aloneness that I already have because my husband/ partner/ lover/ roommate is dead.

It is embarrassing, too. It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. I have no problem doing it, since you never know unless you ask, and especially after my husband’s death, I needed a lot of help, and I asked all over the damn place. It still doesn’t mean that asking is easy. So when I go to the people who most emphatically told me that they’re here for us, it’s because I really need it. I’m not going to abuse your offer. I’m not asking in the same way your other friend down the street might ask you to check on their cat while you’re on vacation.

Actually, that might be a good reference point. If you would decline someone who asked you to watch their pet, don’t tell me you’re there for me and my kid, whatever I might need. (And especially don’t add at the end, “And I really mean it!”) I would have been 100% fine with, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Leave it at that.

And whatever, I get it. This is really on me. I misinterpreted the offers of support to mean that these people are willing to have their lives disrupted, when that is absolutely NOT the case at all. My bad. The healthy way to look at this is (1) they are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want, they do not actually have any obligation to me or my daughter, and (2) disappointment and hurt is what I feel, but I can choose to have different thoughts and feelings about these rejections.

BUT. In case it would ever help anyone reconsider what they tell someone after a tragedy, or how they respond to a single mom who just asked you for something, then this post. I’m going to have to work on the other stuff about resetting my expectations and managing my other emotions on my own.

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I’m alive

Posted on April 25, 2017. Filed under: grief, Parenting | Tags: , |

Husband’s funeral is over. I survived it. Waking up the next day was a good feeling. He might be dead, but I’m ALIVE. My daughter and I, we’re going to try moving onward (somehow). 

I gained another pound this week. (I’ve lost 25 pounds in the last year, but I fear I’m gaining it all back.) I’m going to try to slow/stop the backpedaling. Today, I went back to tracking my food. I’m drinking water. I did some reps on the resistance bands. Just one day at a time of self care, so my little daughter can see how it’s done. 

I have intense, incredible, immutable sadness, but I can’t just throw away my own life because I feel sad. 

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Self recrimination > helplessness

Posted on April 6, 2017. Filed under: Family, Parenting, Suicide | Tags: , , |

I feel guilt sometimes – did I do enough to keep my husband around? Especially in the last 24 hours of his life. I could have called him, reached out to his friends and family more, forced him to communicate more, said all the things I thought of since then.

But then I learned that guilt – a result of feeling that you actually had the power to do something but didn’t – is *easier* than helplessness – a result of knowing that ultimately, you don’t really have the power to guarantee the health, safety, and life of the people you love most. Allowing ourselves to open up to our own helplessness – that scariest of all things – is supposed to help with the grief.

This concept of helplessness is most uncomfortable when I think of my young daughter. That I can do my very best – that I can even do all the very exact, right things – and still harm can come to her despite my best efforts. What a frightening thought.

 

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