Hers is the only stocking that is empty. And as her family’s gifts keep on coming – “We got the piano from Big!” her teens scream, while dancing on life-size piano keys – Wiig says, with a wan smile, that she’s burnt her hand on the stove while making them breakfast “in my brand new robe”. “It hurt pretty bad but I didn’t even scream, because I keep the pain inside of me,” she says.
The world howled in recognition.
“This is my favourite thing,” wrote New Girl star, and mother of two, Zooey Deschanel, on Instagram, echoing thousands of similar comments. “It is magnificent,” The Office actor and mother of two, Jenna Fischer, pitched in. “I’ve sent it to everyone I know!”
But it was the regular mums, regaling the world with stories about crappy Christmas gifts gone by, and long-simmering resentments, that generated a conversation seemingly a millennia in the making.
“One year, my husband flew upstairs and wrapped crap that was in our medicine cabinet because mine was the only empty stocking,” wrote one woman on Instagram.
“If I want to look like a marshmallow, there are better ways,” another woman chipped in, reflecting on a lifetime of receiving fleece jackets. “Like a vest made of actual marshmallows.”
“Feels good to be seen,” wrote another, who said she watched the video 15 times.
My girlfriends and I, who forwarded the video to each other while cackling with glee, felt the same way.
“I once got a bathrobe,” said one of them, a mother of two, about one of her most underwhelming Christmas presents. It was sized extra-extra-large, though she is not. “Apparently they were all out of the sizes, and my husband figured it wouldn’t matter. Honestly, I felt like I was wearing a tank.”
It’s a universal affliction. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’m no slouch when it comes to gift-related baggage that’s so multi-faceted, it should have its own entry in the DSM.
‘Honestly, I felt like I was wearing a tank.’
On Mother’s Day this year, I chucked down my bagged lunch on the boardwalk at a beach, in front of my husband and children. One kid didn’t want to go to the beach, and just wanted his own pet coconut; another kept asking me when we were going home.
“Happy Mother’s Day to me,” I muttered to myself, as I stormed off, walking past a young blonde mother and her toddler.
Afterwards, I apologised to my kids, and thanked them for helping me to teach them that this is what life is: not just joy, but sadness and disappointment, too. Inside, I felt like tearing my hair out, in a Hulk-ian fit of rage.
I’d always assumed my celebration-induced tantrums – there have been others – were a crappy gift, as it were, passed down from my own mother.
She was usually underwhelmed with the gifts I gave her, when I was young – spoiler: dinky porcelain trinkets – and was not shy in telling me so.
It left me with a fear of shaming my own children, for their gifts. Which is why I’ve always told them that all I want is homemade cards. This is mostly true. I’ve just forgotten to add that what I also want, and need, is a few hours where nobody complains about what they want.
And it’s this omission that is behind countless tantrums that clients of Melbourne clinical psychologist Lillian Nejad have thrown over feeling neglected, by family, on special occasions.
“A lot of women, they give people what they want and need, and they just think that them modelling that behaviour means they’re [family members are] going to pick that up and give that in return, and that’s just not the case,” says Nejad. “What they’re actually learning is ‘Mum gives me what we want and need.’”
The Internet is awash with less-than-optimum tips on how mothers should respond to underwhelming holiday treatment. (“Divorce him,” wrote one woman, on Instagram, in response to the mother whose husband gifted her wrapped up medicine cabinet contents.)
Nejad has other ideas.
“What can make them [your family] feel like crap is, after the fact, you received something [you don’t like] or you haven’t received something, and now you’re pissed off, and are like, ‘What the hell?’ Prepare them beforehand. ‘Oh, I really like this. I wonder what holiday’s coming up where you could get me something like that?’
“And tell people directly how much you would appreciate them being more thoughtful around special occasions, or even in general, all year round,” she says. “The more you reinforce something, the more likely it’s to occur again.”
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your kids, if what they want interferes with a special plan you’ve made, for yourself. “It’s fine for them to know you’ve got needs and wants and likes, sometimes, that are not going to meld with what they want and like,” says Nejad.
And above all else, mothers, know that you are not alone.
As one grandmother posted on Instagram, below the Saturday Night Live skit, about a Christmas gift gone by, “I got a ROCK!!”
Get a little more outta life
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Samantha Selinger-Morris is a lifestyle writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.