Gifts of Gratitude: How a Simple Gift Reminded Me of the Importance of Celebrations
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Today, a coworker stopped by to drop off some toddler clothes that her own kiddos had outgrown, standing six feet away as she tossed the garbage bag towards my door. To my surprise, she dropped another bag on the porch next to it, informing my kiddo that this gift was for her mommy and daddy.
When I opened it, there were soft and delicate things for baby, a blanket, a onesie, sweet little gifts piled into the colorful bag, oh, and an herbal foot soak for mom. I read the card, congratulating me on baby # 2 and laughed at the front of it that celebrated and bemoaned the joys of pumping at work. Then I noticed that there was a second card tucked at the bottom of the bag. Inside, I found a message from a few of my colleagues, expressing their excitement about my pregnancy and that they would miss me while I was out on parental leave. It was humorous, simple, sweet. They got together to give me a gift card for the baby.
Rereading the card, I was struck by the strong reaction it elicited in me. By the tears in my eyes. I’ve known this group of people for a long time, our professional relationship is consistent and pleasant. Yet, the gesture surprised me. Caught me off guard, really. With my first baby, a different coworker and friend threw me a baby shower over our lunch hour on a pretty spring day. People came to chat, eat cat-themed cupcakes and snacks, and some brought gifts to celebrate baby. I had known it would happen and it was a regular part of the culture of celebration that she facilitated in our workplace.
Because this was my second pregnancy, I hadn’t expected a celebration from work. Even in your personal life, the current trend seems to be to have a “sprinkle” instead of a shower since you already got to have a party. Maybe so it doesn’t seem like we are asking for gifts? I am not sure where the tradition of downplaying celebrating subsequent babies came from. I had already been struggling with the idea that this pregnancy wasn’t as special because it wasn’t my first, and the physical separation from restriction related to COVID-19 only reinforced the isolation as my pregnancy progressed. No one can see my belly growing, see my stride switch to a waddle, or notice the gymnastics it sometimes takes to get off a low seat. There is no regular reminder to anyone besides myself and my partner that I am growing every day, that I am growing a little human in here.
A year ago, when my kiddo turned one, I got overwhelmed by the logistics of trying to coordinate schedules and travel with all the different members of our immediate family and ultimately deciding not to have a party for her first birthday. We had mini-celebrations with each set of grandparents and aunts and uncles, but no big party. As the time rolled around, I already started regretting not making it a more special event. I knew that kiddo wouldn’t know or remember, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I would remember and that I would be sad that we hadn’t made it a bigger deal. In all my considerations of scheduling, money, time, and effort, I forgot to factor myself into the equation.
So, for her second birthday, I decided early on that we were going to have a redo. We would have that party at our house and invite family and friends to celebrate the joy of our little human getting older. When we found out that we were pregnant, I realized that it was important to me to celebrate our new little human as well. No sprinkle here, we were having a baby shower for him. With their birthdays only a month apart, we conceded to combining the two events, having one big celebration with the people we loved for both kiddo #1’s second birthday and the birth of baby #2. I started designing invitations, imagining the Sesame Street theme and how I would, as always, defy silly gender norms with our Elmo and Abby decor. Everyone would be invited to wear tutus and fairy wings, like Abby Cadabby. Everyone would be invited to play... oh, I can’t even think of “boy” games, but the point remains that our co-ed, multi-aged party would be loving and special and exciting.
And then, early March, we started paying attention to how scary the world was. On March 13th, I stopped working in the office, transferring everything to a phone and a laptop in my studio in our house after finding out that my partner may have been exposed to COVID-19 (false alarm, fortunately, but a wake up call nonetheless). One of the first losses I realized would happen would be those upcoming celebrations. That party that I had allowed myself to feel excited about, that had become really important to me because of the love and joy it symbolized. The acknowledgement of our growing family and our growing daughter. It feels a bit shallow to say that I wanted a party to help experience that joy, but it was about sharing the joy celebrating big things, and allowing ourselves-- myself-- to ask for attention for our little family. Besides, the things that bring us joy don’t need to be justified; joy is a reason in itself to do something.
Now, my daughter’s birthday and the date of what would have been the joint party is less than two weeks away and I have yet to be able to bring myself to do any sort of planning for an alternate celebration. At the insistence of my mother-in-law, I made a registry for the baby and toddler’s birthdays, selecting the few things we needed and some more that we wanted to help us transition. I am secretly grateful that she is someone who not only acknowledges the importance of, but facilitates making time and efforts to celebrate the big events in our lives, especially as I am someone who is not good at asking to be celebrated. Without her urging, I am not sure I would have even gone online to create a registry because I didn’t want to ask anything of our loved ones. But, the gifts were about the kiddos, not me. And they are about the people who love those kiddos having a way to physically support our family and rejoice in their excitement. I was able to get out of my own way just enough to take that simple step in celebrating my little humans.
The love behind my mother-in-law’s actions was a reminder of the joy that can still exist, despite the disappointing circumstances. Everyone knows that a gift isn’t about the thing itself, but the thought and the intention behind it. Perhaps we only say that when someone gives a bizarre gift-- honey, it’s the thought that counts, I am sure we can find a use for those porcelain sea monkey collectables-- but it’s bigger than that. The thought, the emotion, the love behind a seemingly small (or hugely generous) gift is what often sticks. When I look back on my first baby shower and some of the beautiful gifts we received, I may not always remember who gave us what, but I look at the handknit blanket or think of a family friend who I know sent something, and I feel their love, regardless of if I can attach something material to it. Receiving gifts for baby #2 from our kiddo’s grandparents and aunts and uncles reminded me that people are thinking about me and us, even if we don’t get to see that in person, and that I am not as isolated as I feel sometimes.
(Also, don’t get me wrong, the car seats are a huge help. Thanks, grandmothers.)
Holding that card from my coworkers in my hands today, the one that happened to arrive tucked in a “happy birthday” gift bag, struck me with a multitude of emotions. I was overwhelmed that they thought of doing something so sweet for me in the midst of everything else happening in the world, in the midst of all the need and the incredibly demanding jobs we do everyday as psychologists and, for some of us, parents. I was saddened because it reminded me of the celebrations I don’t get to have-- that cupcakes at work or a card passed around at a team meeting wasn’t going to be a part of this pregnancy.
But mostly, I was grateful. Because their gift was so much more than a gift card. It was effort, it was thought, it was reaching out at a time when so many of us are struggling and dealing with grief and isolation from the people we love. Because they reminded me of the many people who care, whether or not I see them. They reminded me that I-- and my daughter and my pregnancy- do matter. That we are seen, even without physical proximity. And, finally, because they reminded me of the importance of celebrating, even if it’s different than what I had envisioned.
I think I am going to go find those doodles for invitations and figure out how many people our online video platform can accommodate at a time. Disappointing or not, this is not the time to sacrifice opportunities for joy.
Thank you to everyone who keeps reminding me of that. You are the ones who make this bearable.