Gifts aren't my love language, but I learned to appreciate the joy others take in giving - and being received graciously
’m not easily gift-able. Gifts aren’t my love language. I prefer words.
Somehow, I never felt good receiving things — presents, compliments, invitations. As a child, I waited anxiously for my birthday and for Chanukah, but when gifts came, I felt awkward, shy, unsure.
Perhaps I sensed my parents’ financial hardships. Maybe my ambivalence was a reflection of my uncertainty about my place in the world, my sense of belonging, of mattering.
Maybe I didn’t get the point.
And sometimes I didn’t get what I might have really wanted.
Once again, it’s the first night of Chanukah. We’re gathered as a family in our living room. The flames of the menorah are dancing in the background. We’ve handed out gifts to the kids, carrying on one of the few traditions that we could bring with us from our nonreligious childhoods.
And then my husband goes to the closet and pulls out another package. It’s wrapped in shiny paper.
“Something for Mommy!” he says with excitement, as he hands it to me.
I open it tentatively.
A new siddur.
But I have a siddur.
He noticed, he says, that mine was worn and torn and old and ratty. He thought I might like a new one.
And then the raw and familiar wave of disappointment hits. The ambivalence. What is this? What does this mean? It’s old, this feeling. It’s confusing. But it’s still here.
Time halts. The living room stands still. Thoughts tumble in faster than I can catch them.
I love my old siddur. We’ve been together for more years than I can remember. It has caught my tears and tunneled me to a place where I can sometimes feel what I long to feel and serve Who I long to serve. I don’t want a new one. I’m used to this one.
Okay, he knows I’m not a jewelry person. I’m not a clothing, scarf, or shoe person, either. I don’t really accessorize. At least he’s got that right after all these years.
(He’s had some success over the years. A camera, a new tablecloth, a dinner out.)
But a new siddur? Why? Couldn’t he have figured something else out? Doesn’t he know that I want him to intuitively know what I want? Even if I myself don’t know sometimes?
Unrealistic. But still.
The children are watching, the Chanukah lights reflected in their wide-open eyes. The rift of rejection is hanging over us. Hanging on my reaction, my words. Is this a beginning or an ending?
They’ll see. They’ll see who I am, what I do, how I do it. They’ll see and learn what marriage is. What it could it be. What it should be. They’ll see how we give. They’ll see how we receive.
They’ll see that you cannot give without receiving. They’ll see that this cycle is basic, vital to our very existence. To our connection to each other. To Hashem.
I say a silent prayer, send up an urgent request. Because my Creator gave me the ability to create. Or destroy.
The room comes back into focus. Time makes noise again. I pause for a second, smile, and smile bigger. “Wow!” I say. “You noticed! And you got this for me! And I love it. What a great idea!” I give him a look of thanks.
And then, his relief. His joy. I received. I took. I accepted. He can give to me. He wasn’t rejected. He was successful. And the little and not-so-little eyes in the room are still watching.
The room stands still yet again, just for moment, and I think: I’m a liar. I’m a faker. I’m not going to continue to build and grow and create and renew if I’m not truthful. If I accept this and if I don’t explain my needs, or my wishes for him to become more intuitive, if I don’t rally for openness and honesty.
And then I see her in my mind, the disappointed, confused, sometimes hard-to-satisfy little girl. We look at each other, she and I. And then she smiles and she nods — and she waves goodbye.
The room comes to life once again.
And you know what? I can use another siddur. And nothing, other than thank you, needs to be said. There is the old and there is the new. There is the past and there is the future. And there is my husband’s joy in giving, and being received, and his thoughtfulness, and his effort.
And there is my ability to be grateful and satisfied and to receive. From him and from Him. So that we can create and recreate.
This, this, is the present.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 673)
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