Great Gifts, Nasty Packaging

When I first met my husband, I think I kept going out with him because he was just so… strange. He was sweet, kind, loving, generous, funny, witty, smart, objective, fair, patient and different.

He wasn’t different in a “come from another planet” sort of way; he was different in a completely different way. He was so different, I could not even define what “his” different was. Honestly, I think I continued dating him to figure out what that “different” really was.

He’d do things I found strange such as decide to get take-out and assemble the dinner from 3-5 different restaurants. He’d buy off-the-menu chicken tenders from Houston’s, fries from Five Guys, a slushie from Sonic, and then would go someplace else to grab a cheeseburger for me or sushi for his daughter.  This was entirely opposite of anything I had ever thought of; I found it a bit ridiculous but also wonderfully generous.

Another thing he did that made me shake my head – but with curiosity – was the way he gave gifts. Our first holiday season together he gave me several things including a bicycle and latte machine. The gifts themselves were puzzling as I already had a bike and didn’t drink coffee… but it was the wrapping that made me think “now what in the world is this dude thinking?” We had been dating about two months; a few weeks in he looked over at me and said “I would like to try this without either of us dating anyone else,” so I suppose we’d been dating for about one month “exclusively.” This may be a good place to point out I got many other gifts from him and his very kind family, and his sister made sure he gave me some form of jewelry – so I received a lovely pair of pearl earrings as well. But this isn’t about the earrings. This is about the bike, the latte machine, and their weird packaging.

The puzzling thing about my gifts is that the bicycle was wrapped in black trash bags held together by duct tape. Sorry to say that I do not have a picture, however, use your imagination. It’s Christmas. You’re with your new boyfriend and his family is sizing you (and your two-year-old) up. There is an oddly shaped mound on the floor wrapped in black trash bags and silver duct tape, and the person who is handing it to you has a huge grin on his face.

You never know what’s inside… it just may be great.

I come from a family where the presentation was everything. Gifts were perfectly wrapped. Mama taught to always use double-sided tape, OR if that was not available she would make little single-sided tape “loops” to make her own double-sided invention and have no tape show on the exterior of the wrapping. Now a long, wide mound of black bags with duct tape crossing them at odd angles was being shoved at me. It looked like the mafia had wrapped a corpse that was then flattened by a steamroller.

Then, a square-ish (and super heavy) thing was placed in front of me. I say square-ish because while it seemed that whatever was inside this interestingly compiled collection of Whole Foods shopping bags had a defined shape, the outer wrapping did not. It did seem, however, that this time my beau found the regular tape, so this looked slightly less like a crime scene and a bit more like a kid’s school project. This was the latte machine.

While at first I did not think I would want the gifts because of my bias of wrapping perfection, they both ended up being quite valued… eventually.

When I ripped open the body bag… I mean garbage bag… I looked up at Bob and said, “…but I already have a bike.” He just smiled and said, “I know, but I wanted to give you this bike. It’s so we can go on the trails together. Your other bike was not built for that.”

What he was giving me was the gift of time together. He was giving me the gift of “I think you’re great, and I want to spend more time with you so I’m giving you something that may make that happen in a fun way.” It wasn’t a bike, and it certainly wasn’t garbage… it was quality time and exercise (two things we both greatly value).

The latte machine came next. When he plopped the large and seemingly heavy mound in front of me I believe my response was, “I’m a bit scared of this one.” He just smiled and said, “You’re going to love it.” The brown paper bags were sort-of shoved over and around the box they were concealing. The box was bigger than they were and it looked as though this wrap job took 12… possibly 13 seconds to complete. This was a far cry from my Mama’s gift wrapping station we enjoyed using together- with everything perfectly organized. Her gift wrapping station reminded me of the fabric cutting station in a fabric store… open, organized, and precise. Even the name tags were filled out with perfect penmanship and thoughtfulness. This was the opposite of that. Scrawled on the paper (seemingly AFTER it had been mangled to surround the box) was messy writing which I assume was made via red Sharpie, “To Jane, Merry Christmas.”

Was this a joke? Was he testing me? Is that what this completely different guy was doing? Was he an experimental dater who liked to see how weirded out he could make other people and capture reactions? Was I on Candid Camera… the extended version?

Ripping into the grocery bag wrapping, I began to see the word “Starbucks” revealed and then saw the picture on the box of a (rather large) thing I was certain was a mistake. I did not drink coffee, did not have a coffee maker at my house, and had no plans to have a coffee maker at my house. (An aside… as I typed that last sentence, he walked up beside me and handed me a morning latte… he has no idea what I am writing. HA!)

I looked at him with confusion, “…but I don’t drink coffee,” I said. His sweet grin just got bigger, and he confidently informed me, “You will in ten days.”

I’m not a girl who likes being told what to do. At all. Ever. This gift took a little bit more time for me to warm up to because I really did not want it. Not only did I not want it, but he gave it to me in grocery bags. With no ribbon or name tag, and messy Sharpie writing on the bags.

Where were my beautiful ribbons? The delicate paper that rips perfectly apart and crumples just as perfectly when you’re done admiring it hiding your new surprise treasure? What about the name tags?

The latte machine was mine, so I took it home. I did not have a bike rack, so my boyfriend promised to deliver it to me later at my house. This was also by design; he wanted some time alone with me outside of the protective gaze of his family. He’d been verbally abused, cheated on, and then was left by his former spouse. His is family was rightfully protective.

When I got home, I set the unwanted contraption on my dining table and stared at the box. “I do not want this,” I thought. I left it there to sit. A while later I walked past it and checked out the box a bit more, reading the features of the machine. I really like gadgets and enjoy figuring out how to make them work. “What the heck…” I thought, paused, and gently opened the box so that it could still be eligible for return because I most certainly was not going to want this. I took the machine out and started to read the owner’s manual (because I’m one of those people who actually reads owner’s manuals) and instruction guide. Why was I doing this? I didn’t even have any coffee in the house.

When my bicycle deliveryman showed up later, he solved the coffee problem, “Have you started to play with it yet?” he excitedly asked. “Um… sort-of, but you know I don’t drink coffee… why would you give me this?”

He explained I never said I did not like coffee; I had only said I was not a coffee drinker. He really likes coffee, so wanted to give me this because I may end up liking it as much as he does, and also he would like to spend more time with me and due to his great love of coffee, he thought we could spend time at my house and share lattes. “So, you got it for yourself?” I asked. “No… I got it for you, but if I’m here, then we have coffee and wouldn’t need to go to Starbucks to get some, so it’ll be more convenient,” he explained, “plus, I’ve seen how much you like fiddling with gadgets, so I got a new gadget for you to play with. This isn’t just a coffee maker- this also has a steamer on it which can be used to steam milk so we can make hot cocoa for Holland, too. She’ll love it!”

Different. Wonderfully different.

The latte machine was not a latte machine. The latte machine was his way of telling me he wanted to spend time with me more than just a bike ride, more than just a few dinners with our kids. The latte machine was him telling me that he knew my daughter – my sweet, squishy 2-year-old gift – was part of this. The latte machine was him telling me he observed my behavior and knew that I have a gadget geek somewhere down deep inside. The latte machine was quality time – alone – together, privately and outside of the watchful eyes of people wondering if this previously hurt man and previously abused woman would somehow make an unlikely but beautiful match.

What’s the point? I have two:

  1. Really awesome gifts can come in really ugly packaging. I was once laid off from a position after a company restructuring. A single mom with a mortgage – this was scary.
    I was not yet coaching full-time, my mother was dying from bone cancer, and I felt alone. Without that lay-off, I would have never become part of the marketing team for the most famous rock star of all time. Please tell me you don’t have to ask me who that is… do you know where I live?
    That layoff was a gift. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was. Without it, I would have never had that unforgettable experience of working for Elvis Presley.
    Without the body bag bicycle, I may not have figured out how insightful and thoughtful my boyfriend was.
    The packaging does not really matter.
  2. Gifts may not be what they seem. The bicycle was not just a bicycle. It was quality time and exercise; the latte machine was a message and was for more than just me and more than just coffee.

Give your life some time to play out ugly events. There are gifts hidden in there.

Move more slowly, take deep breaths, and wait to judge. You may find usefulness and meaning you otherwise would never know.

Two and a half years after that Christmas we got married. The odd gifts and strange packaging has not changed, but our lives have… for the better.

Learning how to slow down, develop judgment-free awareness, and find meaning in the different aspects of life is not easy, but I know you can do it!

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