Compared to some I am fairly new at the dance of divorce. On a daily basis I find myself confronted with or coming across some action or situation or comment that makes me pause in reflection and wonder not only how I got here, but what the hell I’m supposed to do now that I am. Nobody (at least not to my knowledge) has ever written a play book on how a nice girl with good social manners and skills is supposed to deftly and with grace handle some of the awkward scenarios that unfold as an ex-spouse.
Case in point…
My daughter recently graduated from high school. I had promised to host a party for her, and of course her father and his girlfriend would be invited. He was on the cusp of officially moving in with said GF, and rather than create a big scene over the guest list I decided to take one for the team and extend an invitation. I figured it was in my best interest anyway, as nobody really wants or needs to start a new chapter of their lives with dangling relationship modifiers, and perhaps someday the courtesy would be extended. The party went well, the weather was great and everyone had a wonderful time.
Everyone had a great time until…
Later that evening my daughter came home and began to open a vast array of gifts that she had received from friends and cousins and assorted family members. Very particular and with attention to detail, my daughter began to keep track of each gift and its donor for the purposes of writing thank you notes. A while into this I begged fatigue and went to bed.
The next morning my daughter came down and said breathlessly “…Mom…look what Rachel* gave me!…” On her wrist was a $400 watch from Kate Spade – a watch that she had been coveting for several months, one that had been on Christmas and Birthday and Graduation gift lists for about a year. It’s a lovely watch, a fairly practical gift for a young woman headed off to college and living on her own for the first time.
A $400 watch as a gift from her father’s GIRLFRIEND? As a graduation gift? I mean they weren’t even living together on paper, they had broken up and reunited a dozen times, and she had no official status in the tattered remains of our family, even if she one day might be given a berth on the extended family ship.
Girlfriend made privy to personal information…
My head was throbbing with tension as I tried to smile and acknowledge my daughter’s enthusiasm for a material object that she had wanted and received. But I could’t move past what I interpreted to be a slap in the face. Clearly her father had told Rachel what to buy, as one doesn’t simply pick out a Kate Spade watch randomly as a graduation gift. This sharing of wish lists struck me as slightly offensive, as if a stranger had peeked in my lingerie drawer.
Then there was the matter of the cost of the item. Personally, I think $400 is an excessive amount of money to spend on an 18 year old’s graduation gift. As a non family member and non close personal friend, there seems to be a mental threshold of $100 as a reasonable amount to spend on a gift for a young woman whom you really don’t know that well but need to get something so you don’t show up empty handed.
And then there is the jewelry aspect of things. A watch, in my playbook, falls under the jewelry category, and the same playbook states that jewelry of any kind is a personal – really an intimate – gift, and something that is reserved for truly special and meaningful exchanges. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not diminishing the significance of high school graduation, and had her aunt or grandmother given her the same $400 dollar watch I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but this was different.
Girlfriend trumps mom?
I felt like my personal space had been violated (right along with my lingerie drawer!) I found it offensive that she would give MY daughter a gift that could be viewed as nicer than what I had given her. In a moment of gorse personal insecurity I secretly hoped that my daughter wouldn’t like Rachel more than me because she had given her a more extravagant gift (foolish thinking I know, but lest face it, we all go there once in awhile.) And I couldn’t move past what Rachel might have been thinking with the selection of this particular gift.
Was she trying to buy my daughter’s affection? Or her father’s? Was she trying to establish alpha cat superiority by choosing something that was beyond my budget as a single parent? Or was she just clueless?
I tried to put myself in her (clearly expensive) shoes and consider what I might buy as a token gift to one of her children – bad example. It would never happen. Well, suppose I was in a relationship with some hot guy and his child was graduating…what would I give?
I would probably get some book related to their course of study (I know, I’m a bad gift giver) or more likely I would have defaulted to an Amazon gift card or some token from the classic elegance tray at Tiffanys where everything thing is under $150 and can be easily exchanged or returned.
Under no circumstances, even if I was the stepmother, would I get a gift that was more expensive or more significant than what either parent had ponied up for.
Clearly this is still bothering me as I just booked an airline ticket for my daughter to come home for the holidays during her semester break, and the party was 4 months ago. And I’d like to add that the cost of her round trip ticket over Thanksgiving didn’t cost as much as that damn watch….
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the clueless