I ask myself this question every year. And every year, I come up with disappointing answers. I’ve gotten my mother gift cards. Additional pieces for her dessert china. Bottles of her signature perfume—White Linen by Estée Lauder.
But every year, no matter how politely Mother thanks me, I always wish I could get her something more personal.
I’m so good at picking gifts for everyone else. Gifts that make them exclaim, “Where did you find this?” and “How did you know?” Gifts that show how well I know them, how much they mean to me.
Everyone, except for Mother. For her, I always draw a blank.
I pause to pray-cess my quandary: Lord, why is it so hard for me to think of a good Christmas gift for Mother?
Fragmented memories reassemble into a decades-old scene: The linoleum-lined eating disorder unit, where I spent six weeks as a teenager. A group therapy session, with Mother, Daddy, and me awkwardly perched on metal chairs. My counselor urging me to share my feelings.
“You’re impossible to please! I try so hard, but nothing I do is ever good enough for you!”
My words made me wince. But Mother sat motionless, staring at the floor.
I shake my head as familiar waves of emotion wash over me: guilt for not being a better daughter back then, grief that twenty years later, differences and defensiveness still divide us.
She’s impossible to please, that’s why it’s so hard. What am I supposed to get for someone who’s impossible to please?
But this, I know in my heart, is the easy answer. The convenient cop-out. The excuse that lets me off the hook.
That scene in the eating disorder unit has been a defining moment for so long now.
But there’s more to her than that. There’s more to me than that.
I sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to listen, really listen, as I try to recall if Mother’s mentioned anything she needs. Anything she wants. Anything she wishes she . . .
Yes. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, yes!
As far back as I can remember, whenever Mother has talked about her years as a fifth grade teacher, she’s always said, “I wish I had kept a copy of our reading textbook, Engine Whistles.”
So I sit down at my computer, click on eBay, type “Engine Whistles” in the search box, and hold my breath. As multiple editions show up on the screen, I exhale a thank you prayer, and start to giggle.
I know what to give Mother for Christmas this year!
Christmas Day can’t come soon enough. For the first time in my life, I can’t wait to give my gift to Mother.
She slits the tape with a paring knife, and the wrapping paper falls away. Mother sits motionless, starting at the book cover.
“Where . . .” She blinks and clears her throat. “Where did you find this?” Tracing the title with trembling fingertips, she looks up at me. “How did you know?”
I give her a sly smile and a hug.
And I give a quiet prayer of gratitude for God’s gifts to both of us: a small step in a new direction.
A re-defined moment.