Growing up, receiving gifts from my mother made me happy.
I was the youngest of three daughters. My mother didn’t express her love or belief in us with exclamations of, “I love you,” “you’re beautiful” or “you can conquer the world.” She quietly demonstrated her love by keeping the house clean, preparing our meals and getting us ready for school.
And by giving me things that carried a price-tag.
She was very generous and I enjoyed the toys, games and clothing she gifted me. I experienced her giving as love.
When I was in grade school and junior high, she would purchase a new blouse or outfit for me on a weekly basis. When it was her turn to take my classmates and me home from school after orchestra, swimming or volleyball practice, she would give us all a bag of homemade chocolates from the candy store on the square.
Academically, there was always a monetary incentive: five dollars for an “A”, four dollars for a “B” and so on. Since I consistently made the Honor Roll, I felt showered with love.
After I graduated from college, I began earning my own income. With my approved MasterCard in hand, I realized I was able to reciprocate my mother’s material generosity. I thought that giving her the perfume, makeup or shoes she loved would make her happy.
And if I made her happy, she would continue to love me.
So I took her to movies and dinners. I bought her favorite Estée Lauder facial lotion with a complete makeup set for the holidays. Each Christmas she received a new winter robe.
She would smile for the moment, but I sensed an ongoing sadness in her. I found myself disappointed when I saw how my efforts didn’t result in the happiness or expression of love that I longed for.
But I kept trying.
When I moved to Chicago in my early thirties for a marketing position, I maintained my gift-giving from afar. One particular plan that fell through made me realize that I had gone overboard. My mom loved watching Luciano Pavarotti perform on television. She seemed transported from her kitchen in small-town Indiana to the palace when he sang “Nessun Dorma,” or lifted to a prayerful place with his reverent performance of “Ave Maria.”
One winter, I found out Pavarotti would be performing in Indianapolis and ordered the 75-dollar tickets as a surprise. My plan was to drive to my mom and take her to the concert, but as the date approached, I realized I couldn’t make the trip due to the winter weather forecast.
I called my mom, still excited to tell her about the surprise and hoping my sister, who lived nearby, could take her. I paused for the overjoyed reaction I’d been anticipating, but she instead told me that she didn’t like surprises or crowds—or the weather for that matter—so she wouldn’t be going to the concert.
The tickets remained untouched at the box office will-call.
In my mid-thirties, I met with a therapist who was helping me through a family crisis. She was attentive and kind, and as is normally the case, all I needed to do was attend and pay for my sessions. But at times I was overwhelmed with the insight and care I received from her and would attempt to show my appreciation with small gifts.
She thanked me, but took great care in explaining that gifts were not at all necessary and a simple “thank you” could express my appreciation. She helped me realize I was worthy of care and love just by being who I am.
At the same time, I was also practicing yoga with a deeply compassionate teacher. In her classes I felt liberation, discovering that I could feel grounded after just 90 minutes of flowing and breathing. Her message was one of honoring oneself and shining the light within.
She taught me to believe in myself—however my pose looked.
As she guided us week after week, I found myself expressing the poses with focus, strength and self-compassion. As we moved from Warrior II to Triangle pose, I absorbed the lesson of grounding and lengthening. To me, this meant that once I was able to ground myself firmly in who I am, I could extend my God-given gifts to others.
My mother passed away in 2012. I believe in my heart that she loved me, even without the gifts. But I am grateful for the guiding hearts who taught me that love comes from being who I am. Because of them, I was able to share several years with my mother, being more aware that her love was always there for me and my presence was gift enough.
Author: Rachel Alarcon
Assistant Editor: Nicole Cameron / Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Flickr/Steven Depolo