The Forced Gift – a guest post by Linda Berkery

MumsAlong with common autumn tasks — dragging out warm clothes, cleaning windows, planting mums — is my personal fall ritual. Every October, I review the year through photos and journals. Then, in the spirit of St. Therese, whose feast day starts my birthday month, I pray for one simple word to focus the days ahead. “Gracious”, “delight”, and “patience” once served.

The word “downsize” rises in my mind. It doesn’t take long to gaze through that lens.

I notice two long bathrobes hanging behind my bedroom door. Both are mine. One is a faded cobalt blue, threadbare on the cuffs and neck, but comfortable. I bought that robe many years ago to wear after giving birth. Memories fill the torn pockets, along with tissues that dried tears, a penny from the stairs, and ink stains.

The second robe, a lovely cranberry shade with satin braids at the collar, looks perfect. But it remains a stunning symbol of selfishness — a reminder of a motherhood tantrum.

160518-M46644LOne October when my children were young, my birthday fell on a Sunday. I anticipated homemade cards, sweets, and a gift — something small, but wrapped with love. I imagined a family party and chocolate cake after a nice Sunday brunch. But as the morning progressed and nothing was prepared, I reluctantly began cooking.

After lunch I pulled out a bit of ice-cream left at the bottom of a container, and jammed a candle in it. The children sang. I pouted. There should be cake. Why did I have to plan a celebration for myself?

I smiled at the gluey card from my little ones, the effort organized by my nine year old. There was nothing from my husband — he simply forgot. This was a new experience for me — my husband Jack never missed a birthday. But there were no gifts to open.

Self-pity took hold and I complained. Jack, always sensitive, saw my tears and brought the children to a neighbor. “We’ll go shopping,” he said. “You can select a nice present.”

Jack never shopped with me before, but clearly, he was making an effort. He was uncomfortable wandering around Macy’s. I took my time browsing through sweaters, pocketbooks, and jewelry. I wanted something special.

When I tried on a gorgeous red bathrobe, I knew I had found the perfect gift. It was expensive. I justified the cost. This lovely robe can replace the worn out blue one. I deserve to curl up on the couch and relax in luxury.

I cut the tags as soon as we got home and modeled it for the children. I was careful not to let anyone touch the robe to keep it “birthday” clean. My indignation over being forgotten — the martyr mother was soothed. Or so I thought.

The following nights I wore the lavish velour robe watching TV or reading in bed, but memories of tears and tantrums seemed to linger like a smudge on a window I was sure I cleaned — until the sun appeared. The soft rich fabric failed to mute my petty, whiny voice. You forgot to get me a gift? There are no presents to open on my birthday?

m29V0Yyqbv7UFBif2tti_4wI pulled out the old bathrobe more often, saying that I didn’t want to ruin the new one. But truthfully, I felt more loving and gentle wearing the old blue robe. The forced gift remained on the hook.

Both robes still hang together like dual parts of me — loving and demanding. However, since “downsize” is my focus word this year, I know it’s time to give one away.

I reach for the cranberry bathrobe — my reminder of weariness and drama — and fold it tenderly. I will give away the robe, but the lesson lingers. Even on days when no one else pays attention, I am gifted with God’s love. On birthdays and ordinary days, I am always wrapped with a grace that’s never forced and never frays.

Linda Berkery grew up in a  funeral home (in Troy, NY) and married her high school sweetheart. She is a Pastoral Associate at Our Lady of the Assumption, in Latham. Linda is a spiritual director, mother of four grown children, with five grandchildren. She has published faith reflections in Liguorian, CATECHIST, and local newpapers. (Times Union, The Evangelist) She is a contributing author for the book, “Let the Clock Run Wild: Wit and Wisdom from Boomers and Bobbysoxers (2014). Thank you Linda for sharing your work here today.