My Mother Gıves the Weirdest Gifts
I stared at the text message in disbelief. The attached photo scared and confused me. The message said, “For Lindy! They’re in her size!”
I was used to getting text messages from my mom around the holidays with gift ideas for members of the family, including my sister-in-law. I would laugh or sigh or roll my eyes and answer “Neat!” or “What?” But this time, as I looked at a picture of a pair of black leather chaps hanging in the dressing room of a thrift store, I simply answered, “No.”
She had gone too far.
When you get a less than desirable gift, people like to say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but with my mother’s gifts, you’ve really got to wonder, What thought was that, exactly? My mother is the type of person to see a pair of plus-size leather chaps and say, “They’re in her size!” without ever saying to herself, What would my future daughter-in-law do with leather chaps?
Still, my mother’s presents are never given with malice or mischief; they are always presented with wide-eyed, innocent excitement. “Do you like it?” she always asks expectantly, and we nod our heads while we try to figure out what “it” is. Over the years, her Christmas presents have become infamous for the amusement and bewilderment—and sometimes horror—that they evoke. New family members, like Lindy, find themselves smiling, confused and slightly scared.
Two years ago, my mother gave me red ruffled panties. They were large, bright red, and completely covered in obscenely fluffy ruffles, the kind that you see little girls wearing under their fancy dresses in old-timey pictures. They were the type of panties that I imagined, when worn under clothes, would make the wearer look like she was wearing a lumpy and quite full diaper. As I held them up, mystified by the bow in front, my mother remarked, “You know, because you’re dating now.”
Last Christmas, she bought my brother and Lindy the Clapper—you know, “Clap on, clap off. THE CLAPPER.” On the surface, an “as seen on TV” gift from the early ’90s might seem like a harmless—even hipster— gift. But to my mother, it was genius. She talked about it for weeks before the holiday. “Did you hear what I got your brother?” she’d say, and before I could answer “Yes,” she’d answer, “The Clapper? You know, ‘Clap on, clap off’?” Then she’d chuckle and say, “He’s going to love it.”
When Christmas arrived and we were exchanging gifts, my mother realized she had left the present at home. “Aham, Lindy—I can’t believe I forgot the best part of your Christmas! I got you the Clapper.” Then she looked at them expectantly.
“Oh, cool, Mom!” my brother said, slightly strained and a little relieved. My mother, excited, clapped twice, and then twice again, to show them what they could look forward to. She never did remember to bring the Clapper to Aham and Lindy, so her hands-on demonstration ended up being their only gift.
Several years ago, my mother spent days working on handmade clay sculptures for my brother, my sister, and me: lovingly crafted, grotesque interpretations of our heads. “I made the nose extra large so you can rest your glasses on her face at night,” my mother explained when she gave the head to me. “Keep it on your bathroom counter.”
I took the head home and placed it in my bathroom as instructed. I soon discovered that few things terrify a two-year-old child more than a small, garish version of his mother’s decapitated head staring at him while he poops. He’d forget it was there and then see it out of the corner of his eye and start screaming.
My son used the downstairs bathroom more and more, and he eventually refused to take a bath if the head was in the room. We both endured its presence until one day, as I was doing dishes, I heard a series of bumps, followed by a large crash. I walked over to the stairs, and there, at the bottom, was the head, broken into a dozen pieces. At the top of the stairs stood my son, triumphant.
But far and away, the most terrifying gifts my mother has ever given any of us came on Christmas 2004, when she paid a craftsperson to make life-size replica cloth dolls for my son and for my brother’s daughter. These dolls were the same height as our kids, had the same skin tones and curly hair, and were dressed in our children’s actual clothes (which my mother had sneaked out of our homes). They also had manic, wide-eyed grins painted on their flat faces. If any doll was going to murder you in your sleep, it was going to be one of them.
My brother and I soon learned that the dolls were not going to kill us in our beds—they were, instead, planning on killing us when we were wide-awake. Nothing takes you from zero to heart attack faster than coming home from work and seeing a life-size replica of your child lying facedown on the floor.
Still, the clueless, endless, and enthusiastic love embodied in my mother’s strange presents is the same love with which she raised me and my siblings. She has always loved us for our boring, reserved personalities unconditionally, and we—with all our eye rolls and sighs around the Christmas tree—love her unconditionally as well. Maybe there’s no better gift to give children than the knowledge that they can be weird or awkward and still feel loved, just the way they are. Besides, one day—many long years from now—when our mother is gone, we can pass these objects on to our children and our grandchildren. And we’ll stare at them with goofy grins on our faces while we say, “Get it? Clap on, clap off. THE CLAPPER.”