For 25 years, my husband gave me birthday presents that he bought for someone else

Lisa S. Gerard

How hard is it to pay attention?

My 59th birthday looms.

I had grown to hate it.

For those that despise the aging process, birthdays are reviled. That’s not my story. I’ve never minded the number and ticking off yet another annual cycle.

My disdain for September blossomed due to the external forces around me.

My anxiety has lessened in the past few years, but I had to take charge for that to happen. Last year, I embraced being older, wiser, and finally in control of my destiny.

I’m back, baby.

I went to Sesame Street Land in Orlando, Florida.


My hatred of my birthday festered for 25 married years. No amount of butter cream icing or wine could override the bad taste in my mouth from ill-chosen gifts, ones never really meant for me. My resentment built. Anxiety would bubble each month prior, just to have my dread realized in real-time on the big day.

Not everyone enjoys gift-giving. My husband at the time liked the giving part, but the selection phase was too much for him. Choosing an ideal present for someone brings me happiness ~ a ready-to-burst-at-the-seams kind of excitement. Like a Cheshire cat, I unearthed items that people thought they’d never get or assumed no one was listening. I listened. Sometimes, I stockpiled memories for months ahead of time.

That’s just me, though.

The extreme opposite is the people who feign ignorance or pawn blame onto the recipient for never needing anything.

I truly never needed anything, and somehow that was continually misinterpreted as not wanting anything.

I didn’t play games, either.

I would clearly communicate that small gestures, memory creators, and doing something out of the norm, worked for me. Ideas and prompts were freely given. Horseback riding? Yes. Camping? Double yes. A hike, nature, any water activity, picnic, or just a dinner out somewhere unique would work. It didn’t matter how clearly I spelled out what I would love. Some sneers or smirks and upturned noses would follow.

Invariably, a gift was given to me for which I had no desire.

The pain of being invisible ripped through my soul. Each year, my annual celebration slowly erased a bit more of me. The ache of emptiness increased as my identity was replaced and overwritten by a man that tried to force-feed me to be someone different.

Wasn’t I enough? Just the way I was?

A Gift for Our Son

Our son’s birthday is three weeks after mine. Close. My husband and I talked about what to give him and a laptop was on his wish list. He did need it, too, as college prep courses required an upgrade to give him the best experience. He wanted a MacBook Pro and I was unfamiliar with Apple products. I loved my Dell and my Microsoft Windows. My husband had made the conversion to Apple. I tried it and hated it. No secret that I am old school and had my comfort zone.

My husband and oldest daughter loved their MacBooks and no matter how much effort they gave to convince me I would, too, I refused. You do you and I’ll do me was my stance. It was a no-brainer to let my husband pick out my son’s gift. He knew what bells and whistles to look for and what to ask.

Imagine my surprise to open my birthday gift and see I was the recipient of the same damn laptop that we purchased for our son.

One, I didn’t want it. Two, why would my son and I get the same gift?

The spirit eraser took a bit more of my self-worth as I smiled and murmured, “Thank you.”


A Gift for His Mom

I get it, he had shopped for his mom for years before we met. After a few years of marriage, even decades, the mohair pastel sweater that looked great on her, is still not a good choice for me. Yes, I know she always loved them.

The first few given to me remained unworn on a shelf for a reason. His mom is a fair-skinned blonde and favors powder pink and sky blue. I am an earth girl who always wears deep, committed, earthy hues. Know your recipient and if she’s not your mom, don’t buy a gift for your mom. Let’s not forget that mohair irritates my eyes and may be the only product I will never wear.

And so, the year of the mohair turtleneck, complete with wide stripes of both powder pink and light blue on a cream background, broke my heart and maybe the shelf. The pile of wayward sweaters grew and spilled over the edge until they made their way to a storage bin for Goodwill.

The spirit eraser took a bit more of my self-worth as I smiled and murmured, “Thank you.”


A Gift for Himself

My big 5–0 should have been exciting, personalized, unique, or at least a celebration of me, right? I was nervous but excited.

Everyone talks with great anticipation about the round-numbered birthdays. 50! My gift was beautifully wrapped. My husband was chomping at the bit to deliver something he just knew was special. His energy led me into the rabbit hole of delusional thinking. I believed him.

I carefully opened the edge of the box and removed pounds of glittery tissue paper. My heart raced. What could it be? The air was charged with excitement; apparently, the kids were convinced the box was magical.

Oh, a gym membership certificate, neatly folded at the bottom of the big box.

Oh, a gym membership for my 50th birthday.

Later, after performing the classic thanks in front of the kids, I held back my tears and asked him what made him consider the gift he had chosen. “I want to work out, it’s time, and I thought we could go together.” Now speechless in addition to crestfallen, I bit back my truth and offered to try. Ironically, it wasn’t even a nice facility. A rehabilitative area of an adjoining medical center, filled with the geriatrics crowd and older, ran a special deal that month.

I felt exposed, dirty, and selfish. I didn’t want to be any of those.

I never went a second time.

I’d been an early morning street runner for years at that point. No family would join me. I didn’t mind and never forced the issue on him or the kids. It was well-known that my preference was to be outdoors in the fresh air. I had never taken to gyms and they held zero desire for me. My family knew how much I didn’t enjoy stale, recycled air, filled with social requirements.

But, you know, he wanted to start working out and didn’t want to go alone. Happy 50th to me!

The spirit eraser took a bit more of my self-worth as I smiled and murmured, “Thank you.”


Last year, with my birthday PTSD slowly subsiding since the divorce, I decided to take the bull by the horns and orchestrate my own happiness.

Because I am enough. Just the way I am.

I no longer feel restricted by the confines of an old-world marriage where women simply conceded. Being shut down for professing your desires will either break a woman or make her stronger. My spine strengthened once I relearned how to breathe.

I replaced the parts of me that had been carelessly erased and refilled them with my own vibrant colors.

My birthday, my terms, and my desires are on the agenda again this year. I loved my birthday celebrations pre-marriage and I can love them again.

My grandson's birthday is three days after mine. We will do a combination birthday celebration. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than witnessing Ian’s delight while interacting with his favorite Elmo and other Sesame Street characters again. They will come to life in an amusement park setting and so will we.

That's exactly what Ian and I both want for our birthdays.

Yes, we are going to Sesame Street Land in Orlando, Florida. Again.

Colors, lots of colors to fill our souls.


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Writer | Memoirist | All Things Florida! Mental Health, Parenting, Life Over 50

Melbourne, FL

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