Chana Gittle Deray
Lost in the Gift
Published in the
The expression on the woman’s face drew me in as I drove by. I knew that I shouldn’t stare, but I allowed myself to pause and take in the scene in front of me. I drank in all the warm loving feelings as I shamelessly watched her husband proudly present her with an elegant diamond anniversary ring. Together, we relived all the moments of building a life together that brought deep knowing, love and connection. Until….
Jolted by the blare of a truck horn, I quickly extracted myself from lala land and focused back to my lane on I-95. Oh, those billboards. And I’m not even fond of diamonds.
The whole diamond thing eludes me. I don’t like being responsible for valuables while enjoying a full and busy life. It just doesn’t add up. Why burden myself with a diamond necklace when for a fraction of the price I can get a big colorful piece of junk – or better yet make one.
But make no mistake, the seed had been planted – and then watered with a touch of trauma – deep inside my psyche, and that of all the other women who get hijacked by these images on the way to the airport.
And what havoc they wreak.
I remember my neighbor’s “What did he get you?” as she flashed her semi-precious bracelet, with a look of knowing, while congratulating me on the birth of my first child. I was blank. “What do you mean?”
During 9 months of morning sickness, he brought home bags of infant diapers to excite me for where the sick was taking us. He took me to the baby store to remind me that it was all going to be worth it. He assured me it was normal to throw-up each time we went to the supermarket, oftentimes not getting past the “Cucumbers: 5 for $1” sign in the window. He cheered me on through labor, watching as the machine spit out its little chart, “Wow that was a big contraction!”, as though I couldn't possibly have known. And the night he called my name patiently and endlessly as I rocked my pillow to soothe it, too tired to realize it would not stop crying because the baby needed to be fed and was still in his crib. I was feeling complete. “You mean he was supposed to get me a bracelet?"
Life went on and many gifts were exchanged. I remember one of my birthdays, sitting at the counter with the busyness of our then 7 young children filling up all the space. I tightened my grip on the baby as I receive enthusiastic hugs and sticky kisses. I then noticed a beautifully wrapped gift. I looked over at my husband who was smiling at me with that look of knowing. The delicious chaos around me faded as I drifted into a feminine dreamworld of perfume, earrings, … a fantasy right out of a Macy’s ad.
With tzduka given, singing sung, prayers prayed, cake everywhere… I opened the box. The children’s eyes widened, mouths opened, and I held my breath as I pulled out a shiny black, carefully trimmed with silver accents, battery-powered bullhorn. My husband looked at me with such love and pride. I re-centered myself, thanked him gracefully, and put the children to sleep.
Then there was the time he surprised me with my own chicken. Not in a fancy restaurant. Not from a caterer. Not even for kaparos. But a 12 pound Buff Orpington Chicken. For my yard. Had the tables been turned, would I have been that thoughtful? I don’t think so.
Sometimes I think that with all of those kids going off to yeshivas, seminaries, camps, and back home again, I have made too many airport runs, swallowed too many billboard images and overheard too many conversations about what husbands “should” do. Perhaps there are other considerations that might be worthy of consideration?
You see, later in the evening of the bullhorn incident, when everyone was asleep, I came back to the kitchen and looked at my gift. I admired its clean lines, smooth black lacquer, and its siren option. My mind was everywhere. “What was he thinking? I try to be attractive and feminine. I exercise, wear makeup, perfume. This is how he sees me?”
I slumped deeper into my hopelessness. “I must really be failing at this whole wife thing.” With the last drop of strength my ego could muster, I poured my heart out into the bullhorn, begging the void…
“Don’t you see me?”
“Don’t you hear me?”
Well, I certainly did! That bullhorn was powerful. I sat a little straighter.
“Time for dinner children!”...
“We’ll be leaving in 5 minutes for the library....”
I smiled that look of knowing. That man heard me, loud and clear – as did some of the neighbors on occasion. That wonderful man heard my pain and solved my challenge. You see, when you yell for 7 children to come for dinner, each from a different direction – you are yelling. Once you’re yelling, YOU’RE YELLING! But with a bullhorn I could calmly speak...“Dinner is now being served….” Brilliant! Even loving and romantic.
And the poultry?
As our children grew and launched, good parenting was no longer about bath time, busy dinners and wet kisses. It was about pulling back, loving fiercely from the shadows while giving them space to make their own choices and manage their own lives. In my case, a painful and rather un-grounding transition.
Throughout our life together, my husband had gracefully listened to countless stories of my first love, Brutus. An over-sized and very loving St Bernard. For my husband it was only logical that when he ordered a new flock of baby chicks for his coop, he would find the largest, most gentle breed he could to soothe his wife.
I named my chick Brutus. And as she grew, we would sit together on the couch – me patting her generously downed body while sharing my heart, her quietly taking it all in. As I cuddled and cried with my chicken, I thought about that wonderful man, and the kindness that went into this situation. It’s not a gift I could flash at another women with that look of knowing, and I doubt there will ever be a Hallmark card baring the image of a woman and her therapy chicken, but this was truly what my heart needed. Until....
One morning, my husband heard a commotion coming from the coop. He found Brutus flayed across the top perch, using the coop as an amplifier, crowing with all her might, as the other chickens looked on with great curiosity. You see, chickens don’t crow.
“Dan, do you hear a rooster”
“Ilana, don't be ridiculous, go back to sleep.”
With our neighbor’s home only steps away, needless to say, it was a great loss. And a little embarrassing – I had been sharing the intimate details of my life with a rooster – an uncomfortable breech of my female circle of confidants. Besides, had I know she was a he, I would have changed up the conversation: talked about my visit to the hardware store; gotten advice on buying a car.
While feathers may be forever, I will admit to succumbing to the allure of the billboards.
It was our 25th wedding anniversary, and I was deeeep in it. Each advertisement sang its part in the choir of “shoulds”, drowning out every reasonable voice in my psyche. After a good cry, I approached my husband. “This is silly… and I truly enjoy the creativity and deep thoughtfulness of your gift giving, but... you know how when someone works at Walgreens… and they’re there for 25 years... and they get that little metal button with the fancy enameled script “25” on their name badge... and this doesn’t make any sense, but I... I need one of those – I need a piece of jewelry. Something sparkly.” He understood, and was delighted to give me what I needed.
What is this gift giving folly all about?
Men are told to bring their wives a gift before each holiday. The gift is actually meant to be words. Words of knowing, love and appreciation. However, when Hashem split the virtue of speech, He gave nine-tenths to women, leaving only one-tenth to men. Therefore, men give us a piece of physical matter to represent all they have in their heart but may not be able to form into words. More often than not, our husbands may miss the billboard, but hit the mark. If you add points for creativity and uniqueness, some of us are married to Olympic gold gifters.
To receive is divinely feminine. I can buy myself things that I want, or ask my husband to – how else will he know? And self-worth – that’s MY work to do in this world. When I take care of myself in this manner, I have space to search to the ends of any power chord to find my husband’s words – words meant uniquely for me. And what I usually find is his desire to protect, solve, delight, nurture, or just some plain old fun – something I often forget in my drive to solve and accomplish. I get to know a deeper level of his psyche, how much I am seen and loved – I get to appreciate the man that Hashem designed specifically for me.
Recently, I spotted a bullhorn in a clearance section, unappreciated for its romantic appeal. I bought it to replace the broken one that opened my heart to how lovingly, albeit unusually, men gift. Along with the earrings, and a 25th anniversary bracelet I am too cautious to wear, it creates a feeling of knowing – how blessed I am.
To the world, diamonds may be forever, but for this girl, a large chicken from a man who holds my heart – now there's something worthy of a billboard.
Chana Gittle Deray's article in the Shevat Issue"Lost in the Gift," had my family, including my husband, rolling with laughter!
What magnificent, deep, and honest writing! And what a magnificent message! If Chana Gittle thinks her husband gets an Olympic gold medal for his creative and unique gifts, I think she wins the gold for this article, illustrating how she created a positive connection with her husband and hence shalom bayis.
Being able to re-center herself and see her husband's desire to make her life easier, rather than stewing in resentment, hurt, and “lack,” earns her gold medal in my eyes! She chose to focus on the “good” and change her beliefs around the “should.”
Even on her 25th wedding anniversary, when she admits having been captivated by the allure of the billboards, she was still able to express appreciation and admiration for her husband's creativity and thoughtfulness, and then to honor what she wanted by conveying her desire for a piece of sparkly jewelry. When articulated like that - valuing him, and then expressing her true desire without expectations - he was delighted to give it to her.
Thank you for printing such an uplifting, meaningful, and very very funny piece!