It’s Not All Mary Poppins

If you don’t want to know, don’t ask

Tricky thing, gifts. Trickier still to give gifts to people to whom you want to show your genuine appreciation, but who you don’t really know all that personally. Parents run into those a lot: a particularly helpful teacher, a coach, a Brownie leader.

Your daycare provider.

Every person is different, of course, which only makes it more difficult. One person will complain about toiletries — “Can they not think of anything besides shower gel and soaps?” — while another truly loves a decadent, scented soak, and would wilt with gratitude at a nicely presented basket of Body Shop products, or even just one luscious tub of Body Butter. Really. Who couldn’t love that stuff? (In this scent, if anyone’s curious.)

You? You’d rather have a nice pair of bamboo knitting needles? Or a gift certificate to a restaurant? Or an oh-so-versatile cheque?

There is no right answer, of course. Everyone has their preferences — and you know what? It would be really nice if the gift recipients understood that. I can’t think of the number of times I’ve listened to caregivers complain about gifts they’ve received. That whole toiletries thing, for example. She wasn’t just complaining about the sheer volume of soap she was accumulating. When you tend to groups of people, many of whom give you a gift, things can quickly get out of hand. The year I taught kindergarten, by the end of the school year I had seventeen cans of scented Avon talcs. Now I have nothing against Avon, and nothing against talc, but SEVENTEEN??? What do you DO with 17 cans of talc?

Let’s just say that it was years before I purchased a can of talc. Years. And my then-very-little children smelled very pretty after their baths for a few years, too. (At least until my son got old enough not to want to smell like a flower…) So, yes, there can be too much of a good thing, and a little good-natured chortling over the excess is not inappropriate.

But this wasn’t good-natured. The caregiver was actively annoyed, acting as if her clients had crossed some obvious line. As if everyone should know that toiletries are unwelcome. As if everyone dislikes toiletries.

I’ve heard other women make the same sorts of complaint about gift certificates to restaurants. “Why would I want to go out? As if, after an exhausting day of looking after their children, I have the energy to get cleaned up and go out!!”

Yeah, really. A night off from cooking. How unreasonable and thoughtless of those parents…

Why do we do this? It’s obnoxious. And ungrateful. People are not mind-readers. How are they to know what your particular quirks are?

Unless they ask, of course. When asked, I suggest a few items from varying price ranges. A few years ago, one parent asked me whether I preferred something for myself, or for the daycare.

“For myself,” I answered. “Presents for the daycare are work items. I like having them, but I have to have them anyway, and if I buy them myself at least I get the tax deduction. So, me, I prefer something a little frivolous.” And then I rhymed off a few possibilities for her, to give her an idea of my preferences. (Now don’t go taking this as a hard-and-fast rule. ALL caregivers don’t feel this way. Some are thrilled when their parents provide craft supplies or toys. I’m just not one of them.)

Not that the parents would ever know that, unless they asked. A gift is a gift, and it’s the thought that counts. It doesn’t mean, as other caregivers have complained, that “they don’t consider me an individual. All I am to them is ‘the daycare lady’.” It does not! It means that they appreciate you, and they want to express that… and possibly that they don’t really know you all that well personally. You’re client and caregiver, you’re not BFF.

So quit with the bitching. Honest to pete.

“Something for me,” I said, and gave her some suggestions.

“So, something for you,” she echoed, and I nodded. When the gift-giving event rolled around a couple of weeks later I opened my parcel and found… three wooden tray puzzles.

Okay. It’s one thing to give something that misses the mark because you don’t know a person’s preferences. But why ask if you’re going to ignore the answer?

“Aren’t they cute? And Ivan’s just loving puzzles these days. I know the kids will get a lot of fun out of these.”

Yes. The kids will. But you asked me what I wanted.

In the split second between stimulus and response, I had about six different reactions. Disappointment, first and foremost. Puzzles? Boo! On the other hand, if she hadn’t asked, I would have thanked her without a trace of negative feeling. On the other other hand, she had asked, so now I’m feeling over-ruled in the matter of my own gift. Disregarded, even. But then again, it would feel totally wrong so say “But I told you I wanted something frivolous and personal!” What an ungrateful whiner! But she asked and then ignored me. How rude!

You see my dilemma? My mother raised me well, though, so I pasted on a smile and thanked her warmly. When in doubt, be nice.

She presented me with another package a couple of months later. Clearly, she was a generous woman. Most of my clients give a gift at Christmas, and that’s that. Very few give gifts at other times, so this was a nice gesture, and the generosity was appreciated.

And it was… something else for the daycare. Okay. That’s twice now you have completely ignored my expressed preferences… after asking me what they were. Is this rude? I felt like it was kind of rude. Now I’m just wishing she hadn’t asked in the first place, and spared me all this angst. Because, really, what was the point?

I smiled. “Thank you! I’m sure the kids will love this. Do you think…” I paused momentarily, then continued. “Do you think I could have the receipt for this? Then I could claim it as a business expense.” (Yes, yes, I know. I didn’t spend the money, I shouldn’t make the claim. I wasn’t going to. I was making a point. A devious, indirect point, but a point nonetheless. Because, people, she had asked.)

She looked a little disappointed. “Well, I guess so, but then it doesn’t feel so much like a gift.”

In the meantime, as soon as the words fell from my lips, I felt acutely uncomfortable. She had given me a gift, after all, and even though she had completely disregarded the input she had asked of me, I’m starting to feel more than a little mean-spirited. I’ve given myself the opportunity to address my issue. I could look at her evenly and say, “No, it doesn’t feel much like a gift. Remember how I told you when you asked, that to me, gifts are for the person, not for their job?” I could say that… but, no… I can’t. I just.can’ it. She’s been thoughtless, perhaps, even a bit rude, maybe, but for me to say that would feel horrifically ungrateful and, worse, unkind. Can’t do it. So I decide to let us both off the hook.

“No, no, you’re quite right. Forget I asked.” We both sigh in relief.

And the next time I received a gift from her?

Doll-house furniture.

You know, there comes a point when you just have to Let It Go. And so I did. Hello, pretty, good-quality doll-house furniture, goodbye possibility of a nice pair of earrings or a concert ticket to the NAC.

After all, a gift is a gift is a gift.


October 5, 2010 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , , , , | 10 Comments