Some Parents Finish Last on Kids' Lists of Who's Important

"I'm skipping Christmas this year," my daughter said on the phone, in her crisp and clear lawyer voice. I knew that I was in for something disappointing from her tone.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing. I just have too much to do."

"Rushing is part of the excitement. You can only do what you can do."

"Exactly. So I'm skipping Christmas. Hal and I have business trips. Hank has soccer every Saturday, killing half the weekend. Then the Williamses are staying the following week."

I'm getting the message: No time or room for you, Mom.

I tried a new tack.

"I've been having such a nice time, getting ready for the holidays. I feel warm and happy. I wish you did."

Getting no response, I went on.

"I've already bought all the gifts and even have them wrapped, my Christmas cards are addressed and now I have time to make some nice presents for special people. I'm having fun."

"I'm too busy to make anything and I'm too broke to buy anything," my daughter said. "I just had to buy two new outfits for some embassy dinners we're going to. They cost a fortune."

Translation: Don't expect any presents.

"We wanted to go to Hawaii but can't get away," she continued. "My boss is going, staying in our condo. That means selecting his business gifts as well as my own. It's pushing too far."

So, the people who matter would be getting gifts. Hawaii condo. House guests. Gifts for underlings. Big parties. Funny kind of "broke."

"I'm sure you'll manage just fine. You always do. Give Hal and Hank my love--and love to you, too."

I hung up before my voice quivered.

I'm angry. I come in last on the list of who's important. That's the hurtful reality.

I dialed the phone and dumped my mournful tale in the ears of my friend Emily.

She was aghast. Good friends respond that way. I felt better--not accepting, just better.

A few days later, Emily told her own tale of woe while we splurged on early-bird dinners.

With tears in her eyes, she reminded me that her birthday had taken place while she had been away at her daughter's house for 10 days. She had gone there to oversee the house and four children while the couple was on a cruise.

"And do you know what my birthday present was? A cruise picture. A lousy $7 picture that everyone gets as a souvenir.

"What do I want with a souvenir of their cruise? I'm angry. More than angry, I'm hurt.

"They have that beautiful home, boat, cars--everything they want. . . . And I get a cruise picture."

I raged for her. We were the forgotten generation.

But my own frustration wasn't over. Should I bother finishing the presents? Should I take everything back? I explained my dilemma to my neighbor Laura.

"Imagine. After I've saved and bought things for them that I would never spend the money on for myself. I even have presents wrapped and ready to go."

Laura was outraged--the best kind of sympathy.

Then she confided what had happened to her last Christmas. She hadn't been able to speak of her hurt to anyone, not even to her husband.

"My daughter-in-law always asks me what I want for Christmas, and I suggest some little thing or other. She never once has paid any attention. It's always something I don't like. But last year's gift was the pits.

"In a letter, I asked for a light blue sweat shirt, small size, to go with the outfit I had just bought for lounging around. I even drew a picture and wrote the measurements for the length of the arms and body because I'm so small.

"Guess what I got? Bright red. A bright red sweat shirt, size large. It came over my knees. She had done a beautiful patchwork design on the front, but what good was it? I went to bed and cried."

I know the disappointment. We don't get many gifts anymore. Our kids are our only hope. We act like kids ourselves, anticipating the big day.

"When they came to visit in spring," Laura went on, "she asked if I enjoyed the sweat shirt, and I put it on for her to see. You know what she said? 'Oh, I thought it would shrink because it's a second.'

"She's so frugal, it's ridiculous. Mac and I don't expect them to spend a lot of money on us because they don't have a lot. But couldn't they afford a decent sweat shirt?" The tears ran now.

It helps to know there are others in the same boat. In fact, maybe my boat isn't any rockier than most.

I'm through feeling sorry for myself. Well, almost.

I'm finishing the wreaths I'm making for my children's doors. Money can't buy wreaths this beautiful. I hope my loved ones notice.

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