I used to marvel at my mum, wrapping presents at Christmas. She used string and rulers to cut the paper into a razor straight line (scissors were far too messy) and each parcel was neatly finished, with bows and frills, cards filled in with her impeccable handwriting.
I took after my dad’s school of wrapping. I’d start off with good intentions but then the boredom would set in and I’d get that nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, the one usually reserved for waiting in queues. Sellotape ripped off by my teeth, covered in fingerprints, paper scratched and worn from too many retries, I’d give in.
Coupled with the fact that my gifts were often rushed and late, I was sure my present giving habits attested the fact that I just wasn’t a very thoughtful person. People like my mum, they care in a way that I simply can’t, I would tell myself.
I began to resent receiving presents. I felt too guilty to enjoy them. Cards were worse. That someone could remember to fill in a card and post it to me in time for my birthday genuinely blew my mind. I’d feel so special, and so so ashamed.
Then the oddest thing happened. I had a baby. And the avalanche of presents took me by complete surprise. I received presents from people I didn’t know, from relatives I rarely heard from, and it didn’t stop for months. Our house was filled with so many cards I didn’t know where to put them. But this time, I didn’t feel guilty. These weren’t presents for me after all, they were for my son.
But then the thank you cards still weren’t done four months later and Mr Wawa was upset. We have to thank everyone! He said. Can’t I thank them in person? I replied. I wondered again, if gifts and cards and thoughtfulness were simply not part of my identity. This seems to be something that everyone else gets right.
One of my closest friends, someone who knows me very well, unexpectedly lost her mum shortly before her baby was born. I sent a card into the black hole of grief. I didn’t hear from her. I knew she was surrounded by her large, wonderful family. I waited to hear news on the safe arrival of her daughter, and when it came I could hear her bubbling up with joy, wanting me to meet her.
I bought a soft pink sleep suit with a matching hat and rabbit. And I thought this time, this time I cannot do my usual shambles of a wrapping job. Of all the things my friend deserves, the very least she should have is a pretty package that entices the anticipation of something lovely inside. A tiny gesture, I knew. Unnecessary, my cynical side told me.
When I saw her, she was beautiful in her purple dressing gown and slippers. She told me about the birth whilst feeding her gorgeous little girl, and then we cried together and she told me of the last time she saw her mum.
When she opened my presents, she smiled. You’ve always been so good at wrapping presents, she said, I don’t know how you do it. You’re so thoughtful.
I waited for the hint of a joke. She wasn’t joking.
All those years of scrunched up embarrassments, muttering apologies lightly under my breath, vanished just like that. And with her words, I decided I wanted to be the person she thought I was.
That I wanted my son to one day admire his mum, calmly measuring squares of paper with love and precision, thinking of each person as she goes. And enjoying every second.