Traditions and gifts have always been a big part of my family life. Every single Christmas we knew exactly what we were going to do, what we were going to eat and the order in which everything would go down. We knew that the presents would be abundant and that Mom would probably cry when Dad surprised her with one last gift – always a piece of beautiful jewellery!
Turns out, while traditions were also a big part of my husbands family, they were very different from ours. He was raised, for a time, on the other side of the world and so (shocker!) they do things just a little bit differently. On Mother’s Day they made their Mom paper flowers. She didn’t get fancy jewellery.
So, those first few years of marriage? They were interesting, to say the least. Actually, even pre-marital counselling was interesting. I’m happy to report we fought over only two things in those counselling sessions. One, whether we would have biological children or adopt and two, when we would celebrate Christmas.
Well, he got his way with the kids and I got Christmas. Win – Win!
In all seriousness, it’s that place where lives entwine, the intersecting of two completely different ways of doing things, traditions, gifts, even the way we load the dishwasher that all explode in the first years of marriage.
What I learned was that the collision of expectation and lack of communication only lands you crying in the bathroom on your birthday.
In those early days I just wanted my husband and kids to know. To delve deep into my mind and pluck out that image of a necklace I saw online that one time and order it early and customize it just enough to make it unique and have it wrapped in the perfect brown paper with raffia and a shipping tag.
I wanted them to hear the way that I pointed out that I liked that woman’s boots and somehow trail her without me ever knowing, find out what they were and where they were from, import them from Italy if need be and have them hidden as the last gift of the treasure hunt for me! Oh, and they somehow magically couldn’t throw off our budget either.
Basically, I wanted the impossible. I wanted perfection. And I wanted my family to know it without me ever having to say a word. Talk about unfair.
It took years of dashed dreams before I understood. It took tears and moments of feeling like they just didn’t care before I knew it wasn’t their fault at all. It was mine. I had a standard that was off the charts and I wanted a psychic for a husband. Both were wrong. Both were impossible. But that didn’t mean I was just going to let it go. Oh no!
It was a Mother’s Day morning many, many moons ago. I had littles that wearied my bones day in and day out. I wanted the morning to just sleep in. This was granted to me but not really. I was told to stay in bed and relax but as any mama knows when there’s crying and arguing just outside the door, there’s no relaxing. When I finally got up and meandered to the kitchen I almost lost it. All hell had broken loose.
There was someone crying with snot running down their face. The kitchen was a disaster. It was like a construction paper bomb went off and there were little cuttings everywhere.. I had a frustrated husband who was trying to keep everyone calm, make me some coffee and have a 4, 2 and 1 year old construct some flowers out of paper and straws that I’m pretty sure now, at 37, I still could not create.
In short, it was a disaster. All my mind could think was that I should have just gotten up and had a normal morning. At least then I wouldn’t have to clean all this mess up and spend my first waking moments consoling the unconsolable one.
I’m pretty sure we fought that day. But what we also did was communicate.
I had two points to make. First, I don’t want paper flowers. They don’t communicate love to me. They don’t make me feel special. Nobody actually wants to be making them so to slave labour our rambunctious boys into doing this project is actually doing more harm than good. Did I mention I don’t want paper flowers!! (I know there are some of you who weep over paper flowers. There are those of you who sigh and have full hearts at your children’s fingers crafting you a gift. I don’t know who you are or why your heart works that way but that’s not me. I want gifts. Like, real ones. Like money spent because you’re worth it ones. Like….okay enough. Just no paper flowers, m’kay?! Sue me.)
Secondly, forethought was everything. Constructing my gift the morning of the event was not okay. It didn’t show me that you put any time or effort or thought into this. It felt like you were scrambling and scrambling for the woman who birthed those babies and keeps them alive on a daily basis just did not feel like enough. I needed intention. I needed to know that this wasn’t a last minute deal. I needed to be wow’d!
Of course, none of this was fair. I’m not saying it was.
My husband, bless his heart, came from a paper flower family and so he WAS communicating love by doing what they had done for his Mom. My husband, the amazing provider that he is, worked long days plus commuted a ridiculous length, so when exactly was he supposed to prepare this?
I was being high maintenance and I know it now. But I had the chance to change that by simply speaking. By acknowledging that there were ways I wanted special days to go down. I had an expectation of what it would look like, feel like and how the ribbon would be tied. I could change it by actually speaking, like with words (!!), some of the things I would appreciate receiving as a gift. I could change it by relaying what I would actually like to do on my birthday. What I would like to eat for Mother’s Day brunch. What I wouldn’t mind opening on Christmas morning.
This may sound high maintenance but if you ask my husband he will assure you it’s not. Not having a freaking clue what to do to make me feel loved and being expected to pull it off? That’s high maintenance, baby! Having a wife that actually communicates her needs? That’s just freaking fantastic.
More tomorrow on how this actually looks in our life!