Gift-giving must be as old as humanity itself. Among us social animals, it’s shorthand for “You are special to me.” Human communities have fairly elaborate gift-giving rituals. So why then, have I taken such drastic steps to eliminate this veritable torrent of stuff that well-meaning people are constantly pressing on Hart and Jeff? I can only report how repellent I find this continuous stream of presents. I must be the most awful, hateful parent to try to stamp out the gifts, toys, goodies and treats. I write memoranda (to all teachers every year), lecture to sitters and caregivers, email preliminary notes to camp counselors. All my efforts are fruitless anyway.
I have a few theories about my strong feelings about this.
The nightmare of every adoptive parent is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Untreated attachment issues are a straight road to sociopathology. Toddlers who have spent most of their early lives competing with others for care and attention, as Hart and Jeff did, are the worst opportunists: food and individual attention in an orphanage are scarce. They are survivalists because they have to be. I have spent over a decade reminding the boys in an endless litany that I provide things for them, because I am their mother and I love them, “that‘s what moms do,” only to be undermined by many well-meaning, but clueless, adults in their lives.
As a result of this early deprivation, the boys feel a sense of entitlement that is a source of constant mortification to me. If a caregiver brings a cookie once, you can bet that Jeff will ask, “Where’s my cookie?” before saying hello on every subsequent visit. To caregivers’ surprise, I step in, and announce gently, “That was very kind of you. Please do not do it again.” The boys’ habit got so bad a few years ago with a number of babysitters that I told Hart and Jeff directly many times, “She has her own children to take care of and buy things for. That’s how she uses the money I pay her. It’s MY JOB to provide things for you.”
One might think that with all this largesse coming their way, the boys would be gracious gift receivers. They aren’t. If I allowed it, every thank-you note Jeff ever wrote would begin “Thank you for the car. I have already broken it.” And if the goods aren’t forthcoming, Jeff will demand them. In fact, I considered writing ahead to our hosts in London and Copenhagen to warn them. I would have done it if I could have thought of any reasonably polite way to say, “Thank you so much for your hospitality. Jeff is sure to sniff out any toy cars in your house. Please do not give him any when he finds them.” Miss Manners and Emily Post are both surprisingly silent on this subject.
Would it be nice if Jeff donated or shared some of his extensive collection of cars? It would be, if he hadn’t outsmarted a number of adults with a clever ploy. When a respite worker suggested choosing a few (hundred) toy cars to donate, Jeff was eager to comply; I quickly realized this was an excuse for Jeff to spend three hours, lovingly going over each and every one of his cars before deciding he could not part with any but the completely broken ones. Scammed again!
When his little cousin visited, Jeff asked me if he could give Julian some cars. I was then appalled to hear Jeff evaluate each one carefully. “Here, Julian, take this one, it’s totally broken. And this one, it’s a piece of crap. These two, they are jalopies now.” Note to self: work on gracious gift-giving, too!
In a word, these unsolicited gifts are nothing but trouble. There’s a momentary emotional pay-off for the giver, I am sure, but I have had to deal with years of disciplinary measures related to the booty: toy cars, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh cards and toy horses. The cards and cars are contraband at Jeff’s school now, which explains why all his classmates unload them on him. This has driven the trade underground. The idea was to discourage the distraction at school, of course, but the result it that it has made Jeff wilier. If there is a troublesome toy in our home, you can bet it was from well-meaning classmate, teacher or caregiver. Large toy horse? Check. Furry blankets, the source of much twin hysteria? Check. $20? Jeff stole some of Hart’s cards and “sold” them at school.
Here is the real question: Are my children so needy, so pathetic that almost everyone who is in contact with them showers them with gifts? Do they imagine that the boys are consigned to life to want, despair and drudgery, if they don’t provide goodies for them?
Here is a question I want answered: I want to know if “regular” kids get this much unsolicited stuff, or are “disabled” children somehow more deserving?
Maybe I am jealous. I cannot remember a single time outside of a birthday party when non-relative bought me something. If memory serves, I still had plenty of stuff.