The other night, I was attempting to squeeze in a few minutes of writing while Sweetie and Buddy were upstairs brushing/flossing/squirting toothpaste all over the counter/dropping the toothpaste cap into the toilet/doing belly bumps with each other/shouting, “Nipple!”
Eventually Sweetie, having tired of the revelry, plodded downstairs and peeked her head into the computer room. “Mama? I have a present for you!”
I forced a smile, keeping my eyes on the screen of my laptop. “A present? For me?”
Nodding, she tiptoed up behind me, all sing-songy, “Mama. Close your eyes and hold out your hand and don’t peek until I tell you to!”
I sighed, closed my eyes and held out my hand, and I felt her lay something cold in my palm. “Ummm,” I said. “This sure feels like a special gift!”
“OK,” she said, “OPEN YOUR EYES!”
I looked down. Sitting in my hand was something that looked like a wet, wadded-up piece of toilet paper.
“It’s for you!” she said, doing that little jumping fairy dance she does whenever she gives someone a gift. “It’s toilet paper that I got really wet and then squeezed it reallyreallyreally tight like this!” She showed me, doing that face she does when she’s dribbling the soccer ball or trying to beat Buddy in a running race. Or, apparently, squeezing moisture from a wet, wadded-up piece of toilet paper. “I made it just for YOU!”
I gave her a hug, but in my head, I was thinking about one of my favorite kids’ books: Traction Man is Here by Mini Grey. The protagonist, Traction Man, is the beloved, super-tough action figure of a little boy, a little boy with a well-intentioned Grandmother who knits him a jungle green unitard and matching beanie for Christmas.
Note the dismay on the boy’s face, Traction Man’s humiliation, even the concern on the face of Traction Man’s faithful sidekick.
Sweetie gives me and husbandio A LOT of gifts. Usually, a flower petal from the park or a piece of pink Styrofoam she finds wedged in the corner of the Safeway shopping cart. A mangy-looking crow feather. A pipe cleaner that she has bent into a circle.
For a wedding gift, my very dear and classy friend, Ann, received (from her in-laws) a glass-topped coffee table with little bear cubs, lying on their backs, holding up the glass with their little paws. Ann has always had an inordinate fear of bears. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if you’ve ever had a three-minute conversation with Ann about anything, you have somehow stumbled upon the topic of her Bear Fear. Ergo, bears holding up a coffee table? Not the perfect gift.
I have other friends who have received romantic gifts from their husbands (and these are real gifts, people; no bullshooting): a replacement glass screen for the fireplace, a turkey baster, entry in a running race in which my friend wasn’t even sure she wanted to run.
My friend Jodi received a book on computer programming and a vegetable roaster from her husband. To which she replied (for the book), “If I want a book about boring crap, I’ll buy it myself.” And the roaster: “Buy yourself your own damn veggie roaster if you want one.”
My friend Allison, an ESL teacher, receives some pretty hysterical gifts from her students. Once a student gave her a white plastic birdcage with a fake bird inside. From another student, Allison got this gift in the form of an Ode:
Allison is good
Allison is nice
Allison is teacher
Allison is happy
Allison is beautiful
Allison is NOT friend
As I told Allison, every great piece of literature has a twist or some cool surprise, as this Ode does in the very last line. Just as Alison is feeling loved, honored and appreciated, BAM!. There’s the reminder that even though Allison is pretty much the perfect woman, ALLISON IS NOT FRIEND!
So what to do with bad gifts? Well, you’ve come to the right blog post, ladies and gentlemen, because in writing this post, I stumbled upon a well-kept secret: The Bad Gift Emporium, a website that’s a cross between EBay and a Virtual White Elephant Gift exchange. Check it out people: let’s say you too are the recipient of a glass-topped, bear-bottomed (ha! my inner fifteen-year-old boy just laughed) coffee table, and you decide that either such an item doesn’t fit the decor of the rest of your house OR you happen to possess an Ann-sized fear of bears, you may post a photo of the table on this website, and, when someone who does have the decor that would support a bear-bottomed (I just giggled again) coffee table, that person can send you an email, requesting information on pricing and shipping and whatever else one with such tastes would want to know about such a purchase.
If you click on the website, you will see that Still Available is the following item: Belly Button Brush (“for getting fluff and other unwanted bits from your navel”). Bits? Bits of what?
NOT Still Available: a Bobble-head Jesus. The owner of the gift was selling it because, “I got it as a gift to add to my sports bobble-head collection. To my knowledge, Jesus never played any professional sports.”
Uh, yeah. Except that I’d call Loving Everyone No Matter What They Do or Say a heck of a lot more strenuous and challenging than putting on a little outfit and chasing after a ball for a few hours a week. But whatever.
Of course, when I pause to think about the concept of gifts, Sweetie’s gift of a clenched ball of wet toilet paper is not “just” a wet toilet paper ball. When Sweetie interrupts my writing time to give me a ball of t.p. or a germy crow feather or a wilted flower petal, she’s giving me a present, sure, but she’s also really reminding me, Mom, Just Be Present. Which is something I am SO bad at. So bad at. Bad at. At.
So where is that t.p. ball present? I admit that many, many of the Sweetie’s presents have found a home in the recycling or the yard waste or the garbaggio. That was where the t.p. was heading too. Except that, per Sweetie’s request, I put the t.p. ball in my pocket. And I forgot it was there and I washed those pants, then dried those pants, and here’s something that’s pretty exciting: if you leave a once-wet ball of toilet paper in your pocket and you wash your pants and dry them in the dryer, that present is totally unharmed, not a bit different than it looked before it was washed.
Not as practical as a bit-removing belly button cleaner, of course, but pretty close. Pretty darn close.
And now, I’m going to google “belly button bits.” Just to make sure I don’t have them.