Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy birthday, Mom

I'm caught in a bit of a conundrum. I would really, really like this year to get my mother a decent (even great!) birthday present, but I have no clue as to where to begin.

You see, my mother is the most genuinely practical, sensible, selfless, unfrivolous person I know. She never put up my hair that well when I was young (she did try) because she never did it much herself. The only makeup she owns is a tube of lipstick I've never seen her wear. She has clothes over a decade old in her everyday wardrobe. She doesn't use purses or own expensive shoes (at all, at all). It's not like she's frumpy. She always looks presentable and has decent, albeit simple, taste in clothes.

When I was growing up, living with her, this seemed completely normal. To me, it was a "mom" thing. (A story: Five years ago, I went on a summer program to China, where I purposely did not buy my mother a souvenir. I had thought that she would say something like "I'd prefer it if you didn't spend money on silly t-shirts for me." I'd thought that she would truly want nothing at all, and I proudly told her this while I showed off my souvenirs. Of course she was sad! Who prefers to not receive a present when everyone else gets one?? I still feel stupid and guilty to this day.) It was only after spending much more time with other moms--my friends' moms, even my aunts and grandmothers, that I realized that my own was almost saintly in her practicality.

At the same time, my mom, who is currently definitively the main breadwinner in our household, has no qualms about the slightly less frugal spending habits of the rest of our family. When my father wanted to completely redo the yard, when he wanted a new couch, a new high-definition TV, a new Wii, some tools, camping equipment, boats (good inflatable ones. We are not rich.), an iPhone, she let him. "Let" is actually not the correct word. He didn't need permission. The money was shared money. And most of his purchases were, of course, not solely for himself--but he always thought of them first. My mom never says "Hey, you know what we need? More canvas chairs. Let's go buy some." My brother spends money on computer equipment, audio equipment. I spend money on ridiculous international trips and school. What does my mom spend money on?

The only thing I ever know her to splurge a bit on are facial lotions and professionally done facial treatments (intense moisturizing, anti-aging sort of things, I'm guessing). That's it. And I was even surprised when I found out. Mom, liking standard womanly things? Spending money on them? Then I got sort of excited because--yes, finally, an easy gift idea--lotions! But it was a dumb thought because she already had good set of lotions and a planned regimen. Last year, when I was in France, I bought her a mask creme thing because I figured that wouldn't already have a place in her plan, but she didn't seem too excited upon receiving it and I'm not even sure she ever used it.

Another thing I know my mom likes (but doesn't spend any extravagant amounts of money on) is gardening and orchids. It's not something I properly appreciate, but she really enjoys taking care of her pots of flowers, watering them, and watching them in general.

So, this brings me to my original problem. What am I supposed to get her? Her birthday was yesterday, but she, along with the rest of my family, is coming in three days to visit me (across fifteen time zones!), and I want to greet her with a nice, physical present. Lotions are apparently no good, plants are out because she won't be home, and I can only get her so many ceramic cups (she likes cute tableware! but I'm not 100% accurate in gauging her tastes). When I'm traveling, sometimes I'll see stuff and I'll think, ha ha, Dad would like that, Calvin would like that, but these thoughts rarely occur with my mother. The only time I remember when she immediately came to mind is when I saw the huge orchid exhibit at the Flora Expo. (I then proceeded to take an insane amount of poorly-focused orchid photos.)

I know now that my mother is a human being too, and there must be plenty of things she wants, but it's very difficult to know which things. I feel like I can't ask her. It's a vague questions anyway--What kind of things do you like as presents? I feel like I, who spent almost every day of the first eighteen years of my life with her, should know. But she is too good. It's so hard.

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