When we announced that we were getting married, the man and I began the process of registering for gifts. It felt odd to tell people exactly what we wanted. Somehow I thought the excitement would be taken out of the whole process by compiling our wishes into neat lists of scanned barcodes from stores.
I have always loved presents, big or small. Sometimes if the man brings home flowers or the can of coffee beans that I love, and it isn’t a birthday or holiday, I am elated. Simply because of the surprise in it all. In conversations with my mom, we’ll often talk about something I saw for the house that is nice, or something she saw and wondered whether I would want. If it is something practical that I’m putting off buying until I can find a deal or have some extra money, my mom will offer to get it for me. “Just put it on my credit card and say ‘thank you’ – that’s all I want” she’ll tell me. And at Christmas, I’ll tell her some things I’m thinking of for gifts, like a new wallet, to which she’ll reply “Tell me exactly what you want”. I drive her insane because in both cases, I usually say “just surprise me with it.” There is a certain joy that comes from getting gifts that aren’t expected, aren’t prescribed by me.
When the man and I began compiling wedding registries, we tried to pick practical things like towels and glasses. When it came to the fancier things like our china, crystal candlesticks, and vases – the pretty things that I cherish when it comes to entertaining and decorating – I felt guilty for scanning the barcodes, choosing things that were extravagant and asking people to indulge our whims. But together the man and I discussed what was practical, what we’d really use, and knew that if we didn’t get something, that was okay too.
As response cards began arriving, I found it odd when we would get a note with the reply card checked “regretfully decline”, apologizing that they couldn’t make it to the wedding and were sorry but they weren’t in a position to send a gift, but would later. We didn’t care who did or didn’t get us something. Invariably, we responded “just think of us on that day”. I wonder if people thought it was a trite response, meant to make them feel better. But the list of the people we invited wasn’t out of obligation, it was out of joy to share our own special moment with them. It was the list of people we had gone through college with, or served in the military with, or met by chance and formed an indelible bond with. And of course it was our family.
Since we moved into the house, we’ve been asked over and over what we want as a gift for a housewarming, the holidays or birthdays, or sometimes just because. It feels just as odd as compiling a registry list. “Surprise me” wasn’t often well received, and there was insistence on naming an object. When I said a gallon of paint, I got laughed at until I offered to give them the paint color code. How can we ask for anything else? We have been spoiled by so many people’s generosity – our parents and family especially – that we received so many amazing gifts when we got married and when we bought the house. They were all unexpected and wonderful. All the things that a new couple starting out need to begin building a life, a home, a sanctuary. And it didn’t matter how big or small – it was the fact that people who we haven’t seen in years, like my best friend from high school, sent us something. We were reminded how much we were loved, how much we mattered to other people out there.
I still make lists of things that I’d like, that I dream for. When I get a new job, I’ll buy that pair of shoes. When we get our tax return, maybe I’ll finally get the heat stripping gun. When I save some money, I’ll buy that special item for my mom, or the man, or my sister-in-law, or my friend in Arizona who I never get to see. I keep lists of articles that I’ll use if I ever start my PhD, and lists of websites that have tips on how to remove tarnish from door hinges. I have lists of dream jobs, of nail polish colors I want, of eco-friendly cleaning products, of cat furniture… I list my life away.
There are so many things that I take for granted on a regular basis, no matter how much I try to focus on what we do have, and not what we can’t afford to do right now. And I take for granted that we are much luckier than a lot of people our age, struggling just to put dinner on the table. We have so much beauty around us that I think I’m just going to start listing the practical things again, what we can use, what we need. And maybe start listing everything that is going right, too. And if someone gives us that extra gallon of paint, or that fancy serving dish, or that book that I’ve been coveting, then it will just be the lovely surprise on top of everything else.