We are excited to feature another guest blog from mom, youth minister, and writer Erica Hunt.
The top shelf of the closet hadn’t seen a dust rag in months. At least six had passed since the space had been sorted or attended to in any way. Stretching my arms overhead for a quick cleaning, a plastic leg fell past my right eye on its way to the floor as I haphazardly moved and removed items from that top shelf.
As a child of the 80s, I knew this leg. It belonged to Barbie, ™ one of my own childhood companions. My arms still in the air, I held my gaze on the dismembered leg, trying to figure out how it got there. We hadn’t bought Barbies for our girls, yet here was this leg, unmistakable in its origin. I retrieved a stepstool for a closer look and quickly found the rest of the poor doll. She had only one limb still attached and even her head hadn’t managed to stay connected to the nub on her torso. She was a mess with tangled, matted hair and a sloppy make-up job.
As soon as I saw her face, I knew exactly who she was and where she came from. At my daughter’s 8th birthday party several months before, one of the girls had given her this doll as a gift. It was a knock-off from the Dollar Store and broke within hours of taking it out of the packaging. I thought it had long been thrown away since even careful, repeated efforts at putting her back together were futile. It was almost like it was made to break and stay broken.
I collected the pieces of “flesh-colored” plastic limbs and brought them to my daughter. She explained that they were from Melissa.
She repeated herself, a hint of irritation in her voice.
But the doll is quite obviously and permanently broken.
Squaring her shoulders to add emphasis, she continued to explain. Melissa gave her the doll for her birthday. Melissa is one of her best friends. The doll’s condition is irrelevant. The doll needs to stay in her “special spot,” undisturbed.
My daughter took the fragments from my hands, climbed the step stool, and reverently put them back on the top shelf. The broken doll meant something to her. It needed to be kept.
Six years after finding the broken doll, not much has changed. My daughter is the same girl who gets up early on schooldays to write long birthday messages on homemade cards, bakes a favorite dessert for a friend, or gathers streamer remnants to decorate classmates’ lockers. She delights in customizing a gift for someone she deeply knows and cares about. Her room is a physical catalog of prized possessions and trinkets from her loved ones.
I admire this in her, but I don’t really get it. Gifts have never been my thing. Of course, I appreciate the thoughtfulness evident in gifts and occasionally enjoy shopping for others, but I would rather take someone out to lunch and spend quality time than give a present. My husband is wired much the same way, which is why we stopped giving birthday gifts to each other years ago. Now we celebrate by spending the whole day together, doing whatever the birthday person wants.
My daughter and I had a weekend together recently…sort of. She had a birthday party sleep over, so she spent a lot of time preparing the card and gift and then was gone at the party for the night.
I had plans for us when she got home. Walking the dog, making dinner, talking about the party. In a word, togetherness. So when she called to ask about staying longer to help a friend with a project, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my throat swelled up and tears stung my eyes. The sense of rejection was keen, but I tempered it as we spoke, knowing it was unfair to hold her responsible for my unspoken expectations. We compromised and she came home earlier than she wanted. Tired from the sleep over, she still walked and ate with me and told me snippets of the party.
The compromise felt like each of us could unwrap and share something special given by the other – Gifts we’ll both hang onto for a while.