To say that narcissists are crappy gift-givers would be a major understatement. Their gifts are often useless, sometimes landmines, and always come with strings attached.
I remember once, during one of the last times we saw NMIL, she came to our house with some dusty old wicker wine bottle holder. It looked like she scooped it out of the trash on her way out the door and decided to "gift" us with it. I don't know what the story behind it was because I was in the kitchen cooking when she arrived and my husband answered the door. He came walking into the kitchen with the thing and asked me if I wanted it and I barely glanced at it and said, "Yeah sure, I guess." Had I spent longer than a second thinking about it, I would have taken it from him, handed it back to her and said, "No thanks." I was taken sort of off-guard by the thing, because I hadn't at all been expecting getting anything from NMIL, let alone some piece-of-shit, barely-held-together, dusty old wine-rack that I wouldn't use and didn't like. Hell, not only wouldn't I use it, but I couldn't use it: I was eight months pregnant with DS, and DH doesn't really drink wine.
I didn't really think about it until the next day and I thought, "Oh well" and threw it out. I remember having the thought that maybe NMIL gave it to us because it was just junk to her anyway and she simply didn't want to have to deal with throwing it out. In essence, I thought, maybe we were just her dumping grounds.
But the whole thing puzzled me, even though I totally get the whole "narcs are crappy-gift-givers" thing. I suppose that it's a bit futile coming up with theories about NMIL's piece-o-crap wine rack, except that it ties in nicely with my "how-to-deal-with-narcs-during-the-holiday-season" theme. I have found that it's much easier to properly deal with shitty N gifts when you more fully comprehend where they are actually coming from and that YOU aren't a reflection of the value they've assigned you.
So, having pondered this particular gift for a while, I've come up with some ideas about it:
If memory serves me correctly, this particular "gift" came to us the second to last time we saw NMIL. We saw her in October of 2010, which was the first time we had seen her in over four months. Then, she came to DD's first birthday party, ever resplendent in her phoniest of all narc-masks. That same month, she came for a short pseudo-Thanksgiving meal (at which I made sure she only got to see DD for a limited amount of time and she left as soon as DD went to bed). And the last time we saw her was for her fifteen minute visit at the hospital the day after DS was born. (Wahoo! We're approaching our one-year-anniversary of being NMIL-free!) Anyway, I believe that the day she brought us her crappy wine-rack was during that pseudo-Thanksgiving visit.
So, it went like this: We didn't see or hear from NMIL for over four months (she was giving DH the cold-shoulder for his now-famous declaration of independence), we had a short visit with her at her mini-mansion, she came for DD's birthday party, she came for a short "holiday" visit, she came to the hospital to see DS after he was born. During the visit at her house in October, she "gifted" us with her cooking. During DD's first birthday party, she made sure to point out that her gift to DD was in "that really really big bag," signifying, naturally, that her gift was the best. And naturally, she brought along crappy, insignificant, and other-wise meaningless gifts to the hospital when DS was born.
I'm fairly certain that the dusty wine-rack was gifted to us because A) She has ALWAYS attached gifts to every single interaction we've had. (The above mentioned are just the most recent examples). B) She was determined to show us how much she "loves" by coming with a gift in hand. And C) She was always on a quest to show us, in ever-so-subtle means, exactly what we were "worth" to her. ("Here, Son and Daughter-in-Law, you are worth this dusty, crappy wine rack"...see what I mean?)
I've created a list of some of the things I consider to be her "gifts" to us that I haven't previously talked about. To define our terms: By "gifts" I mean anything that NMIL gave willingly, in the hopes that she would "get" something in return, be it NS, the pain & suffering of her target, or the humiliation of her target.
These are not in order, and I'm sure that I'm missing some, but this list should paint a fairly accurate portrait of the types of strings attached to the she-devil that is my husband's NM:
1. At our wedding shower, NMIL came with a shower gift that was actually appropriate. She also came with another gift for DD (who was about six months old at the time). It was a bathing suit that was several sizes too big. BUT, that wasn't the part that got me: What tickled the back of my mind ever-so-slightly was the comment she made as she handed me the little pink bag: "It's [DD's name] first bathing suit!" I remember thinking a couple things all at once, "How do you know we haven't already gotten one for her?" And "Bitch, step-off. I won't allow the boundary-pushing that so many others let you get away with." For anyone who knows narcissists, you know well how they continually push boundaries because they expect little resistance, and because they don't recognize others as being valuable, significant, or having any worth. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I just knew that this particular gift was one with the barest tendril of strings reaching out to my DD. There was something in the way she said it, something in the attitude in her posture that told me if I accepted this, she would continue sending out her tendrils until they solidified and actually reached their intended target: the being who I am sworn to protect, cherish, and love...our daughter. I knew well that people like NMIL started small, ever-so-subtly grooming their targets to accept their abuses, until they didn't know any different and were too afraid or unaware to cry out against the injustice of it all. Some might say I was making a mountain-out-of-a-molehill. I know that I wasn't. It starts with a bathing suit. And that's just the beginning. The following weekend, I returned the one that NMIL picked out and bought one that I liked instead. I've read about far too many Narcissistic mother-in-laws to believe that her "gift" to my DD was anything less than a first attempt at planting the seeds of boundary-crossing within the mind of my infant daughter. Those were not seeds I'd be allowing in my garden.
2. A few weeks after we first announced our pregnancy with DD, DH and I were having breakfast with NMIL to discuss the possibility of moving in to the apartment she rented. We didn't yet know that she was lying to us, or that her plans for us involved what she no-doubt hoped would be the ultimate sabotage of our newly-budding relationship. In the parking lot of the restaurant where she "treated" us to breakfast, the subject of my bra-size came up. I think she asked me if I had gone up in size at all since becoming pregnant. If you think that's intrusive, just wait. At the time, I hadn't realized that I had in fact gone up two bra sizes (no wonder why my bras had become so uncomfortable!) and so I said, "I'm not sure. Maybe a little." In an "I-know-best" sort of tone, NMIL told me that she had bras at home that were much too big for her now, and that I could have them, if I wanted. Here, Dear Reader, is where I have to shake my head at my three-years-ago self and smile. Poor little unsuspecting Jonsi. If only she knew THEN what kind of monstrosity she was dealing with, she might not have overlooked this bra-giving-extravaganza as such a "little" thing. But this was prior to my enlightenment, and I thanked her and said I'd try on the bras at her house. Like so many other unsuspecting targets of narcs, I pushed my feelings of discomfort aside and graciously accepted her very first (and...was it also her last?) "offer" to help "poor little me." In hindsight, I can now put a finger on what I was feeling at the time: uncomfortable (did my dear boyfriend's mother just offer me her bras? Icky.) uncomfortable (I'm so worried she's going to cross my boundaries and just walk in to the bathroom where I'm trying these bras on) and...surprise, surprise: uncomfortable (Did she really take on that, "I-know-better-than-you" tone about MY boobs, all the while subtly criticizing the way I look?) In all, the whole event was short, but felt awkward. I didn't know what to make of it at the time because I wasn't yet fully-aware that she was a full-fledged narcissist. But if the feelings I experienced at the time weren't sure red-flags, then I don't know what would be. I ended up taking a couple of her bras and, though she never brought them up again as a means to invoke the NS that had no doubt been originally attached to them, I believe she would have if I hadn't shortly thereafter been made aware (oh, so aware) of the level of her evil. This particular "gift" actually makes me laugh though, to this day. Thinking of NMIL trying to get all "chummy" with me by insulting me, worrying me into thinking she'd walk in on me while I was half-naked in her bathroom (I remember desperately trying to find a lock on the door and couldn't), and giving me her hand-me-down bras has got to be one of the more comical scenarios of our whole relation-shit.
3. When we moved in to our apartment, several weeks after having dealt with her lies and her sister's heinous crimes, NMIL called DH and said she had a "great idea for a house-warming gift for us!!!!!!!" (I didn't hear the conversation directly, but I'm sure there were exclamation points abound). When he got off the phone, he relayed her "gift-idea" to me and added that he wanted to ask me about it first because he didn't know if it was something I would want. She offered to buy us a digital camera** like the one that she had. In talking about the incident in the present, I told DH that I think his instinct to ask me about it first was right-on-the-money and that he knew me (even then) better than he realized. I was happy he'd put off answering his NM (narcissists hate that, they like to pressure their targets into answering NOW) and was happier, still, that he wanted my input and wasn't going to make the decision alone about accepting any of his NM's future "gifts." I told him, "You can tell her thanks, but no thanks." The plain truth was that I would have gladly accepted a digital camera like the one that she was offering, just not from HER. Not only was there no guarantee that she would actually follow through on this "promise" (never trust a liar folks), but I had absolutely no interest in allowing any further manipulations from her, not even if they came in the form of rather expensive digital equipment. I valued myself, and my DH far FAR too much to play those games.
(**The digital camera she owned was no small expense - it wasn't just a point-and-shoot digital, it was the real-deal. You're talking several hundred dollars for the equipment)
4. When DD was born, in spite of several requests that people not buy baby clothes for our infant because I had already been blessed with an overabundance of them, NMIL and her sister "gifted" us with several batches of new baby outfits. The first few came the day after DD was born. Along with a huge robe for me**, NMIL gave us two baby outfits for DD: One in pink and one in blue because "she had bought them before the baby was born." (We had chosen not to find out DD's gender during the pregnancy, so that part could have been legitimate). The next set of clothes came a few days later when NMIL and Naunt came to visit us at our apartment. After I had already told NMIL (yet again) in the hospital that we didn't need any girl clothes, she and her sister gave us several more brand new baby outfits and pretty but useless burp cloths. I remember thinking it very funny that I had been sorting through a mountain of baby clothes just a few hours before they arrived and they'd had to walk past the piles of my work-in-progress in order to get into our apartment. And before they handed me their frilly gifts, they'd asked me if there was anything I needed for DD, to which I replied matter-of-factly, while indicating to the piles, "NOT clothes." I wasn't even slightly embarrassed when I opened up their packages. Another important note: They had brought along DH's youngest cousin, who was about eight at the time, and I remember her contribution to the gift-bag as being the most heart-felt out of everyone's there. Her gift, even though it was also an article of clothing, outshone those gifts of her narcissistic family-members as the sun outshines a broken light bulb. I suppose it's not hard to imagine, Dear Reader, that an eight-year-old little girl could put more thought and heart into choosing a gift than a Narcissist can, but her gift was proof. I remember how excited she was to share it: the outfit that she had taken hours to pick out (she told me.) And MAN, she couldn't have picked out a better gift. In the short time she and I knew each other, she had a better idea of who I was than NMIL or Naunt ever would. The outfit she picked out for DD was a reflection of her own thoughtfulness and proof (at least to me) that she may someday escape the narcissism running rampant in her FOO. The gift she picked out STILL remains my favorite article of clothing that DD ever wore, and I packed it away in DD's box of special things in the attic. Anyway, I pointed out the thoughtfulness of her gift as a means to show the UNthoughtfulness of NMIL's. Where DH's little 'cous hit one out of the park, NMIL failed to even show up at the ballgame.
**I must say at this particular juncture: I think we all know that any of the "gifts" NMIL gave me were not actually for me...they were for DH. He was the one she was really trying to impress (and from the beginning, the only one it had ever really worked on. DH has come a LONG way since then).
Dear Reader, I feel the need to share with you that NMIL is not yet done with her "gift" giving. She is not yet done because she still thinks my husband has strings left to be pulled. He doesn't. But she hasn't figured that part out yet. In the case that NMIL-and-Co. find our blogs, DH and I have decided to play her most recent gift-giving shenanigans close to the chest, but rest-assured that they are not fooling us.
And I have no doubt, Dear Reader, that the narcs in YOUR life won't be fooling you either. Here's to the upcoming holidays: May the narcs realize that their days of pulling your strings are numbered!