Monday, August 3, 2009

Receiving Gifts, With Strings Attached

My mother, as was her mother before her, is a very proper lady. We were always taught the strictest of manners. This was not limited to the simple please and thank you’s of a normal, polite society. No, this was extreme manners. Like eating with a napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and asking to be excused when finished. We were never to say, “I’m full!” when we were done. My mom would tsk and say, “Estoy satisfecha,” which means, “I’m satisfied.” We were taught to address all adults with a Mr. or Mrs., to RSVP as soon as we received an invitation, and to always – ALWAYS – write a thank you note when you received a gift. Mom even had a rule: before you can use your new gift, you have to write a thank you note. You can't wear that new sweater, turn on that new Walkman, or spend that gift card until the thank you note was signed, sealed, and mailed.

This became a habit I continued into adulthood. When Volcano was born, the gifts were in abundance. On my husband’s side, he was the first grandchild, and the first great-grandchild. Even on my side of the family, where he was grandchild number 3, he was given plenty of gifts: toys, clothes, accessories. And I was diligent about those thank you notes. Volcano nor I never used a gift until the note had been written and mailed.

So when Volcano was about 18 months old and received a toy from one of my in-laws, I mentally started writing the thank you note, remembering the item and giver even as he was still ripping the paper open.

“Say thank you,” the in-law instructed him, before he had had the chance to do it on his own.

“Tankoo,” he said, turning the plastic boat over in his hands, examining it excitedly.

Then she patted me on the shoulder. “And don’t worry about a thank you note,” she added, still looking at Volcano with a smile. “I know your family doesn’t do those things.”

Was she reminding a toddler about thank you notes? Nope. I knew she was speaking to me. And it wasn’t a reassurance, like “You don’t need to write me a note.” No, it was a reminder. She expected one.

Where did she get this information that my family “doesn’t do those things”? At that time, I had been in the family for almost 5 years. Did she know how many thank you notes I had written in the past 29 years of my life? Did she know the insistence with which my mom used to nag and nag and nag my siblings and me to write those thank you notes? After every birthday, Christmas, First Communion, Confirmation, Graduation… the thank you notes had to be written. After my wedding, I spent days and weeks writing thank you notes until my hand cramped.

I seethed silently, but dutifully sent that thank you note. To this day she must have thought it was her idea.

Years later, when Monkey received a gift from another relative, the same thing happened. As Monkey pulled the new dress close to her, twirling around in pleasure, another relative said, “You know what you should do, sweetie?” Again, she was talking to my 4-year-old daughter. Not to me, right?

“You know what you should do sweetie?” she sang. “You should go home and take a picture of yourself in your new dress. Then you could write a sweet little thank you note and send it to me with the picture.”

Ugh. She had taken the idea right out of my mind. But who would know I had thought of it first? I was already thinking that I could take Monkey’s picture, and have her write some words to send to this relative. I had already thought of that. But it was too late. It was now her idea. So, again, I seethed silently inside, plastering a smile on my face as I folded the new dress back in the box to take home.

At least I knew my mom would believe me. She had trained me well.


clemmy said...

Oh man, don't get me started on thank-you notes. The day after my bridal shower, I had an in-law cousin call my mother-in-law to be, asking where her thank you note was!! I was sooooo angry! Not only was she expecting-- no, DEMANDING a thank-you note, she had gone to my MOTHER-IN-LAW to ask for it!! WTF????

Lanxi said...

At least you have the satisfaction of knowing you were in the right - no matter what anyone else thinks.
I was raised the same way, and think it is not extreme manners, but a lost art in today's children (and a lot of their parents).