My mother loved giving gifts.

As her only daughter, indulgences came my way that my brothers never received. 

Maybe this was because her relationships with males were more complicated than with females. Yikes. I can attest that her relationships with females were abundantly complicated so I cringe thinking about how it was for my brothers. 

Gifts from Mom were proof of the love she was minimally capable of expressing with affectionate words or hugs. 

For Easter one year, in her role as The Easter Bunny, she gave me my first garter belt and stockings. I was probably twelve, old enough to dress up according to her Rules of Girlhood. Easter was the occasion permitting her to nudge me a bit toward her vision of what’s next, Becoming a Woman. Unlike most families we knew, we did not attend any church services, and I was left puzzled, wondering why we made the special effort to dress up with no place to go.

In my late twenties when I lived in India, she sent me the maple syrup I specifically begged for, and a dress. It was stylishly baggy, full length and embroidered, pale yellow with ties designed to become a tidy bow behind one’s back. A dress with a label pronouncing “Made in India” that she had carefully purchased for me and mailed from the good old USA. This dress travelled many miles away from its homeland then many more to return. Maybe my mother wanted me to do the same, travel those many miles and return home. 

Over the years she knitted and sewed gifts for me. Sweaters, socks, table clothes, and curtains. And tiny outfits for tiny stuffed animals. She also gifted me the flower version of hand-me-downs from her gardens: day lilies, daffodils, and lilies of the valley.

Today I’m honoring a mug she gave me. Hand painted at one of those Paint-Your-Own places, it boasts a horse shoe on one side, properly oriented to catch some good luck. On the other side is my name in pale letters barely discernible under the coat of purple that colors the whole mug. On the bottom she scribed “Mom Xmas 98”. 

Here’s my dilemma: I don’t like it. 

It’s too small for a satisfying cup of tea. The colors don’t match my already mismatched dinnerware, or more importantly, don’t match my mood. And as a recovering ‘barefoot horse’ fanatic, seeing the horseshoe image complicates things with a surprising degree of unease. 

Perhaps it’s my mother’s apparent good intentions that creates my unease.

Meanwhile it’s got my name on it – and hers – so how can I give it away?

I am grateful for Mom’s generosity even while harboring a hearty dose of annoyance at how often she missed the mark with me. She gave me things I didn’t quite want while never ever giving me permission to say “No, that’s not it. That’s not me. Try again. Please, dammit!”

I’ve been her good daughter: dutiful, loyal, and eager to please regardless of the personal consequences. Many years after her death, I am seeking new ways to acknowledge her honorable qualities while setting myself free from a mug that represents those mother-daughter binds that did not serve us. 

I like to imagine a transformed Mom snooping from afar as I write. She’s smiling as she mumbles under her breath, “It ain’t that important, Kiddo. It’s just a mug.”