It’s hard finding the perfect present for mom. I always miss childhood most when I ask myself, “What should I get my mom for Christmas?” As a kid, you could get away with making a construction paper chain with visible glue lumps and your mom would preserve it in a storage bin for 20 years “in case you want it.” Once you become an adult and you realize your parents are human beings with actual interests and hobbies, suddenly a cool rock you found or a stick figure drawing doesn’t quite cut it.
But a funny thing happens after a woman becomes a mother: She becomes incapable of thinking about anything she might enjoy. From that moment on, every item is judged by how much cleaning it requires and how much it costs. Moms devote their lives to taking care of another person, and even after that little person becomes a functioning adult, they have lifelong Stockholm Syndrome after years of putting everyone else first. They just can’t remember what it’s like to want things for themselves, so when you ask them what they’d like for Christmas, you’re stuck translating their vague answers into something you can order from Amazon. Translating momspeak for your holiday shopping list isn’t easy, but here are some ideas to get you thinking.
“Honestly, I don’t need anything.”
Focus on pampering the selfless mom that wants for nothing. You could get a gift certificate for a massage, for example, but the real present is the hour you’ll spend patiently listening while mom tells you about the masseuse who was too rough and used an oil that smelled like a cough medicine grandpa used to her give her when she was a little girl. If going to a spa isn’t your mom’s thing, get her a foot bath that will remain unopened for months – maybe years – after the holidays are over.
“Don’t go spending your money on me!”
It’s tricky shopping for the mom who behaves as though you haven’t had a reliable source of income since your allowance was cut off. You need to go the thoughtful route. Find a nice picture of you and your mother together and put it in a beautiful frame. Honestly, the frame doesn’t really matter, because as soon as mom sees the picture, she’ll launch a full investigation about the circumstances surrounding when it was taken. Was it before Uncle Gene passed away? Was the picture taken in the backyard at the house on Greene Street or at Aunt Kathy’s old house with the tire swing in front? What was the occasion: your birthday or little John’s communion?
“All I want from you is a nice card.“
This one is actually pretty straightforward: All you have to do is find a find a nice greeting card. No matter which card you pick, after your mom opens it she’s going to say something like, “Oh, this is beautiful. It reminds me of the Christmas card you gave me in 2002. I think it has the same trees on it. Do you remember that one?” But of course you don’t remember it, so your mom will disappear into her Mom Lair, where all your watercolor paintings, greeting cards, and old schoolwork are kept, while everyone wonders if they should continue opening gifts or wait for her to come back.
“I’ll love anything you get me!”
You’re doomed. Nothing you’re going to pick out is going to be right, so you may as well lean into it and really go down in flames: Get her a tchotchke, a candle, or a Keurig.
Okay, breathe. Remain calm. There’s a way out of this. You just need to find a very functional, practical present. A level-headed, no-frills gift is the only way to distract your mom from the fact she’s not a grandmother yet. Prove you aren’t totally incompetent by buying her some new house slippers or setting the time on her microwave after four months of a blank display following a power outage. If you get mom something too fancy, she’ll assume you’re too busy thinking about extravagant gifts instead of your number one priority: procreation.
Holiday shopping for mom is never easy, but with some practice, you’ll get better at interpreting what’s really on her list. And if all else fails, mom could always use another grandchild.