Daily Archives: December 23, 2014

The Perils of Presents

Gifts003Presents are another seasonal minefield, whether birthdays or Christmas. The anticipation invariably ends in anti-climax. We probably try to compensate for the children’s shaky start in life  by giving them too much. We used to tell Billy that the best present was a hug and a kiss, and that he was a much-loved boy. He was never very convinced about either of these propositions. We cope with the continuous demands  by suggesting that they keep a birthday or Christmas list. That way we can avoid saying “No!” which can so easily be mistaken as a rejection of the child, rather than an attempt to curb excessive material wants. Billy at 16 is much better at gauging what he can reasonably ask for and expect, and is generally pleased with it. He is a master at extracting one more thing out of us. He doesn’t like surprises. He wants to choose his presents and see them when they come into the house, so that he is reassured they are really there. Jo is more reflexive about the existential nature of her wants. She knows that material goods will never really fill the hole she feels inside. She is already anticipating ‘the worst Christmas ever’. Almost every birthday and Christmas are the ‘worst ever’. However carefully chosen the gifts  they will be a disappointment. If she is given money Billy will pressurise her into getting something he wants, and she falls for it every time, lured by the promise, seldom kept, that he will play with her. She used to break all her presents as soon as they were unwrapped, then be left distraught, surrounded by the debris. I would spend hours battling with almost impossible to open plastic and tiny screws in order to assemble, charge, and re-wrap toys. I would read and memorise instructions. If they couldn’t be played with immediately they would likely be trashed or discarded. It was more difficult with relatives, as Jo would usually break her gifts in front of them. It wasn’t generally intentional. She  would take things apart, yank and pull at them, and yes, sometimes smash or cut them up to deal with the pain inside. This displacement was probably another aspect of the self-harming that has dogged her since she was small. She would then complain that Billy had far more things than her, and we would patiently list or remind her of all the things that she had been given but subsequently broken. The first real success, about three years ago, was an iPod we gave her for her birthday. Maybe she was just growing older, or maybe it just hit the spot, who knows.

The kids have never yet shown any inclination to buy or make a present for anyone else and don’t do thank you letters (I do those still on their behalf). Jo does like giving gifts to friends. When younger this would generally be my stuff taken from home – jewelry, books, knickknacks. I would only get to know when occasionally a mother would ring up and ask whether Jo really had permission to gift an unusually valuable item. Other things just disappeared. An odd assortment of things also miraculously appear, ostensibly found abandoned somewhere. I’ve done my share of trying to trace the owner and return stuff. The school grounds must contain a wide selection of curiosities judging by the items discovered at the bottom of Jo’s school bag.

IMG_0562There is also the rivalry concerning cards or gifts from birth family members. Billy could not help pointedly asking Jo what she had been given on receiving a card with £20 in it from his birth dad. Luckily I could point out that Jo had received a lovely mouse mat with photos of two of her (half) siblings on it, from the family who adopted them. We used to have regular, if not frequent, face-to-face contact with this family, which meant a lot to Jo. Unfortunately they feel their kids need time to get used to Jo’s gender transition, and don’t want to meet up at present. It must be tough being true to yourself at times.


Christmas Decorations

Jo had complained that our house never looks Christmassy enough. The truth is it takes a lot of energy to source the decorations, put them up and then dismantle them. I did my best – we have the usual wreath on the front door and Tony and I selected a Christmas tree that now adorns the drawing room. Billy was happy to help decorate it and put on a couple of baubles. Jo put the angel on the top and then the family, including three large dogs, watched as I did the rest. What passed as happy family banter would probably have this blog blacklisted. The kids have spent their lives honing their insults and aren’t about to stop anytime soon. We then went to Jo’s room as she was getting into the spirit of it. With the help of picture nails and a hammer she wound coloured lights around the top of her room and put up a small artificial tree, producing a pleasingly festive effect. Billy hung around, practising his insults, deftly lobbied back, fiddling with her stuff, but too nervous to either go back downstairs or up to his room on his own. The three of us then went up to Billy’s room on the top floor with some more lights, the hammer and tacks. He preferred to quickly drape the lights over the curtain rails, battery pack hanging off the end. He did allow me to rearrange things a bit, but the two children could not be more different. One careful with a definite aesthetic, the other not quite in control and doing everything hastily as if it had to be got out of the way; or maybe just planning a sequence and following it through is too demanding. I had managed to get into his room earlier in the day when the boiler engineer needed to gain access to the pump in the loft space. While Billy decamped to the spare room I had extracted dirty plates and cutlery, a large bag of rubbish and pile dirty clothes. I also dusted, vacuumed and spent about half an hour just untangling the nest of wires from a TV and XBox, controllers, headphones, computer, mouse, speakers and several cables I couldn’t identify, that formed a huge electronic ball by the bed. He’s only been home three days. Heaven help anyone he might want to live with in the future! If there are any obsessive cleaners out there looking for a challenge, Billy might be your man. image