Trying to avoid gift-giving recidivism


THIS MOTHER'S Day, I could be in.

Or I could be doomed, consigned to a cruel, unrelenting hell of silence and bruised feelings.

It could go either way at this point.

Here's the story: Like every other guy in America, I was feeling enormous pressure with Mother's Day approaching.

What to get my wife? I always blow this. Whatever I get her, she returns.

One year, I bought her a blazer. She returned it. The next year, I bought her a blouse. She returned it.

"What are you, stupid?" a buddy of mine said. "Don't do clothes for Mother's Day. Guys can't pick out clothes for their wives."

So I went to accessories. Seemed like a good move. Safe, high-percentage. How can you blow accessories?

Turns out it's easy. Two years ago, I bought her a pocketbook. She returned it. Last year, I bought her earrings. She returned them.

Which makes me, I don't know, 0-for-15 on my wife's Mother's Day gifts, lifetime.

The thing about my wife is, you can't just buy her a gift.

I don't know where she comes up with these ideas, but she feels you have to put some thought into it. You have to put some effort into it.

Which means (if I'm interpreting this correctly) the gift-giver has to be a combination of Stephen Hawking and Vince Lombardi every time Mother's Day rolls around.

Who can deal with that kind of pressure? Not me, baby.

Then last week, just as the gnawing anxiety of another Mother's Day began rippling through my body, my wife and I went to buy patio furniture.

The old patio furniture was shot. The old patio furniture looked like something Herbert Hoover's butler used to grab a quick smoke.

Anyway, we bought a table, chairs, an umbrella. The table and chairs were wrought iron. I don't know if you've priced wrought iron recently. Think showroom-quality sapphire, only more expensive.

"This will last you 30 years!" said the sales guy, really laying it on thick.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking: Who cares? In 30 years, I'll be dead, pal. In fact, I've got chest pains right now looking at the price tag.

But here's the good part of all this.

As I'm writing the check at the cash register, tiny drops of blood forming on my forehead, my wife leans over.

"This is my Mother's Day gift," she whispers. "Don't buy me anything else."

And I'm like: Yes! Free at last! Free at last!

But then I get to thinking: Does she mean it?

Because you never really know about these things.

Look, I've been married 20 years, OK? I know how the game's played.

I know that when your wife says: "No, honestly, don't get me anything for my birthday," you're an idiot if you take that seriously.

I know if you don't get her something, you're a dead man.

If you don't get her something, here's what happens: All day long on her birthday, she seems quiet, distant, withdrawn.

Then sometime in the evening, maybe when the two of you are in the kitchen, a quiet sob escapes from her lips.

"What is it?" you ask.

"You know, I try very hard to ... oh, never mind," she says.

"No, tell me," you say.

"It's just that ... I mean you could have acknowledged in some small way besides a card that I'm a year older today."

"But you said not to get you anything!" you say.

"I know what I said. You don't have to tell me what I said. But some small token of how you feel would have meant ... look, I don't want to talk about it. I'm going to bed."

And for many, many days after that, you will lead the most miserable existence a man can lead.

In any event, that's basically the situation staring me in the face for Mother's Day.

Even with the patio furniture, I'm not sure I'm in.

I mean, I could be in.

But there's also the chance the furniture is not enough, and that some, um, additional expression of affection is called for.

To be on the safe side, I might want to get her flowers, for instance.

You can't return flowers, far as I know.

Although there's always a first for everything.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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