母親的怪禮物

收到我媽的禮物時,你真的會懷疑她到底在想什麼 Ijeoma Oluo◎撰 from the Guardian

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Illustration by Nishant Choksi

我瞪着那則簡訊,覺得難以置信。附帶的照片讓我既驚駭又不解。訊息寫着:「給琳蒂!正好是她的尺寸!」

我已經習慣在假期前收到母親的簡訊,說她打算送家人(包括我弟媳琳蒂)什麼樣的禮物。我的反應通常是大笑、嘆氣,或者翻白眼,然後回她一句:「很讚!」或「什麼?」但這次我看着照片中那條掛在慈善二手商店試衣間裏的黑色牛仔皮褲,直接回她:「不行!」

這次太誇張了。

收到不合心意的禮物時,一般總是會說:「情意最重要。」但是當收到我媽的禮物時,你真的會懷疑她到底在想什麼?她看到一條超大尺碼的牛仔皮褲,心想「剛好是她的尺寸!」卻不先問問自己,我未過門的弟媳要拿這條皮褲做什麼?家母就是這樣的人。

但母親送禮從來不帶惡意,亦非惡作劇。她拿出禮物時總是激動得睜大眼,一副天真無邪的模樣。她會充滿期待地問:「你喜歡嗎?」我們則是一邊點頭,一邊想弄清楚到底是什麼樣的「禮物」。多年下來,她送的耶誕禮物因為又有趣又令人手足無措(有時甚至感到恐怖),早已惡名昭彰。像琳蒂這樣的家庭新成員會面帶笑容,但感到一頭霧水又有點害怕。

兩年前,媽送我幾條紅色荷葉邊內褲;尺碼很大,色澤艷紅,整件滿是引人遐想的蓬鬆荷葉邊,就是你會在老照片裏看到小女孩穿在漂亮洋裝底下的那種內褲。我想像把這種內褲穿在衣服裏面,看起來會很像包着鼓鼓一大包的尿布。看到我把內褲舉高,對前面的蝴蝶結大惑不解,媽說:「你知道的嘛,因為你已經在跟男生約會了嘛!」

去年耶誕節,她買了拍手開關控制器給我弟和琳蒂——你知道的嘛,「拍手開,拍手關,聲動開關控制器。」表面上看起來,這種一九九○年代初在「電視上見過」的禮物似乎無傷大雅(甚至有復古風),但在我母親眼裏,根本是天才之作。耶誕節還沒到,她就成天掛在嘴上好幾個星期,她會說:「你有沒有聽說我買了什麼送給你弟?」我還來不及回答「有」,她就會自己說:「聲動開關控制器。你知道的嘛,『拍手開,拍手關』?」然後自己呵呵笑說:「他一定很喜歡。」

等耶誕節真的到了,我們互換禮物,媽卻發現禮物忘在家裏了。「亞罕、琳蒂,真不敢相信我把你們耶誕節最精彩的部分給忘了!我買了拍手開關控制器要送你們。」然後滿臉期待地看着他們。

「好棒喔,媽!」老弟說得有點勉強,還有些鬆了一口氣的感覺。我媽興奮地拍了兩次手,然後再拍兩次,預告有什麼東西在等着他們。但老媽後來一直忘了把拍手開關控制器拿給亞罕和琳蒂,所以他們收到的禮物就只有她的親手示範。

數年前,媽花了好幾天的時間捏製黏土塑像,她用滿滿的愛心依照我和弟弟妹妹的特徵捏出模樣古怪可笑的頭像。「我把鼻子做得特別大,晚上你可以把眼鏡放在上面。」她把頭像拿給我的時候,附帶解釋道:「擺在浴室洗手檯上吧!」

我把頭像拿回家,謹遵母命擱在浴室。我很快便發現最能嚇到兩歲小孩的,莫過於屙便便時看到媽媽俗艷的縮小版斷頭正盯着自己瞧。有時候他會忘記頭像在那兒,一旦眼角餘光瞥見,便放聲尖叫。

我兒子越來越常到樓下上廁所,到後來只要頭像在浴室,他就不肯進去洗澡。我們繼續忍受頭像的存在,直到有一天我在洗碗,聽到一連串碰撞聲,接着是響亮的碎裂聲。我走到樓梯口,就在那兒,在樓梯底下,頭像碎成了十多片。而我兒子得意洋洋地站在樓梯頂。

但是母親送我們的禮物當中,最恐怖的無疑是二○○四年耶誕節的那一回。她花錢請手工藝創作師傅為我兒子和弟弟的女兒製作仿真大小的布偶,成品和孩子一般高,有同樣的膚色和鬈髮,穿的還真是兩個孩子的衣服(我媽從我們家偷走的)。布偶扁平的臉龐還畫上張大眼睛的瘋狂笑容。如果有哪個布偶會在睡夢中謀殺你,一定是這兩個其中之一。

我和弟弟很快就明白,布偶不會趁我們睡着時殺了我們,而是計畫在我們醒着的時候行凶。要讓你心臟病瞬間發作,還有什麼方法快過下班之後回到家,看到和你孩子一般大的仿真布偶俯臥在地板上呢?

話說回來,母親奇特的禮物裏蘊藏着無厘頭、無窮盡且熱切的愛,她就是用這樣的愛撫養我和弟妹。她始終無條件地愛着個性無趣又拘謹的我們;而我們呢,就算在耶誕樹旁翻白眼和嘆氣,也是一樣無條件地愛着她。也許父母能給孩子最好的禮物,就是讓他們知道可以當個古怪或笨拙的人,但依舊能感受到別人對他們的愛,愛他們原本的模樣。此外,將來有一天(很多、很多年後),當我們的母親不在了,我們可以將這些東西傳給兒孫,還可以一臉傻笑地看着他們說:「懂了嗎?拍手開,拍手關,聲動開關控制器呀!」


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.”

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