Wednesday, February 08, 2006


My mother-in-law's birthday was coming so I went to the mall in search of a gift. Not the usual sweater set or household item, not even a book (which I always give her.) No this time, I wanted something that could make a difficult season more palatable, something that would momentarily lift her out of the house where the TV is both a constant drone and a solace, and where various medical appointments fill too many of her days; I wanted to make her smile from her toes up. Turns out they don't sell stuff like that at the mall--or at least, I couldn't find it on this particular day.

Frustrated, I turned to one of my favorite forms of solace--a latte and a stack of shiny magazines in the bookstore cafe. So admittedly, I'm in kind of a mood. I'm not a big shopper in any season; and at this time of year, there's something particularly depressing about the mall. With all the prices slashed and the stores deadly quiet, it's as if the essential emptiness of so much of what we think we want is tangible. You can almost hear it clicking on spike heels through the hollow space.

Then I opened a health magazine and the first thing I saw was an article called something like "Four things to do this month." And the four things were something (though not exactly) like this:

1. Splurge! Buy yourself a dozen roses.

2. Make a commitment to take a multi-vitamin every day this month.

3. Stop thinking about your flaws and focus on your assets.

4. Reevaluate your friendships, and terminate those that are not contributing to your

So, okay, none of this is particularly bad advice, but the trouble is it's all addressed to the ROYAL ME. And as we all know, the royal me is insatiable. Give her vitamins and roses, and next month she'll want diamonds and trips to the spa. The worst part is, the more you cater to the royal me, the more her discontent multiplies. How about, just for a change, the list went something like this:

1. Splurge! Buy a dozen roses, and keep one for yourself. Then distribute the other eleven to friends, family, or even strangers.

2. Make a commitment to give someone a verbal multi-vitamin every day, in the form of a sincere compliment, an encouraging note, a few minutes of deep listening, or even a smile.

3. Stop focusing on your flaws, and start focusing on everything that's amazing and good around you. You've only got so many thoughts to think in this lifetime. Chances are you've probably wasted enough of them up worrying that your nose is too long or that you're a total flop at cocktail conversation. Practice thought conservation!

4. Work to jettison any habit or pattern of thought that is preventing your growth. Who knows? Maybe some of the friends you thought of abandoning might even be inspired to do the same.

Now if anyone knows the perfect gift for a mother-in-law...


Lorna said...

You should have your own magazine...

Fence said...

My royal me doesn't even need that much encouragement ;)

I've quoted you here, byw, but if you'd prefer me to delete let me know.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Patry. This is just what I needed to get my day going. The perfect paradigm shift. Now, I don't know your mother-in-law, but if I were her, this blog entry would be the perfect, and perfectly sublime, birthday gift.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Are any of these the words that were reported missing in your previous post? I find that when my words go missing, they are usually off with my subconcious, plotting something I didn't expect.

Whether you expected this post or not, I think you really did find something sublime at the mall. Congrats!

Sharon Hurlbut said...

A verbal multi-vitamin -- I love it!! I've always found great satisfaction in doing (and receiving) small, unexpected kindnesses for strangers. It's those unconditional smiles, the extended hand, that can sometimes change a person's entire day. Thanks for changing mine with this post!

robin andrea said...

I like what you did with that list. You changed the focus so perfectly so that both self and other are deeply considered. Beautiful.

If your mother-in-law lives where there is a senior community, you may want to find out if there's a spa where she can be pampered with massage, facial, all kinds of things to ease the tough times. It's like a one-day mini vacation, especially if she's a primary care-giver.

Anonymous said...

Write her a nice note thanking her for her son and telling her what a great job she did raising him.

I sent flowers one time to my boyfriend's mother on his birthday with a thank you note to her - boy was she impressed and grateful. ;^)

Matthew said...

"You've only got so many thoughts to think in this lifetime." this is a fantastic line, though i'm not sure why i love it so much. anyway, it's the kind of thing that will keep me coming back to your marvelous garden - no matter what you call it!

"Now if anyone knows the perfect gift for a mother-in-law..."

that would be bamboo windchimes. i found some for my mother-in-law this Christmas, and she almost passed out she was so excited.

Dave said...

A deeply subversive post. If everyone thought this way, the Consumer Confidence Index would plunge, Wal-Mart would tank, and the terrorists would win. Where do I sign up?

Anonymous said...

Wow, I love this post and everyone's comments that voice my own thoughts, too! May I suggest also some of those roses along with the other suggestions, her favourite music to relax by, gorgeous magazines (that I would never buy for myself). Does she like to do any crafts - if so, some supplies?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful rewrites Patry.

As to a gift: A day of beauty (even a mani-pedi-hairdo can work wonders; buy her a camera and get her interested in phtography (it would get her outside); if she has a computer, perhaps you could urge her to start her own blog or photoblog (there's a shortage of us "greybloggers"); always has some inspiring ideas (you have to dig deep thru "play"); a four-footed friend?

MB said...

I'm so sorry to hear you got malled!

Sky said...

Patry, this is a fabulous post! Love the redirection. We all need to pay attention to this!

Why not start with your mother-in-law's birthday? You could pick her up for a nice lunch and then drive with her to a facility like a local in-patient hospice or a nursing facility for elders or children and plant a tree in her honor. If you are physically able you could plant it yourself while she helps by throwing in some soil at the end to christen it! This is the time of year to plant trees and would be a way to publicly honor her and bring joy to others. You can have a metal stake made which contains the name of the honoree and the date (her birthday!)and carry it over and stake it near the tree later for another luncheon outing - and she gets 2 celebrations!

Other ideas: a garden bench or nice bird house or squirrel proof bird feeder in the same types of locations with a plate containing the honoree's name and the date.

Happy Birthday to your mother-in-law!

Patry Francis said...

lorna: I'd love to...maybe in my next life? p.s. Thank you for that.

fence: Much appreciated.

Susan M.: Always good to encounter you here--or anywhere. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a computer.

rebecca: You are so right. You don't know whether they'll come back stripped bare, or enriched beyond your hopes. Enjoy your comments.

sharon: That commitment to kindness radiates through every comment you leave and every post you write.

r.d.: She lives in a coal mining region--not nearly enough pampering going on there. But maybe if we drove a little. (We're planning a visit next week.) Then, of course, I'd have to go and experience it with her...

Donna: Yours is my husband's favorite comment, and truly a lovely idea.

Matt: Wind chimes--an excellent idea. So good in fact that we gave her those a few years ago. Listening to them in her garden is one thing I always look forward to when I visit.

Dave: I think you signed up long ago.

marja-leena: I have to agree with you. The comments are fantastic, each worthy of a post of its own. Also like your idea of roses and magazines. They are her favorite flowers and significant to her in many ways.

Anne: Love the kind of gifts you suggest--those that go beyond the material and open up unknown reserves inside the recipient. Marja-Leena's craft supplies offer a similar magic.

mb: Malled. I love it.

Sky: what wonderful ideas! When I start my "redirection magazine," will you be my co-editor?

P. A. Moed said...

This was a perfect gift for me. Thanks, Patry!

rdl said...

Yeah, if you're going to visit soon, i think a nice ladies lunch/tea & dessert and manicures/pedicures and massages. Can i come too?

DTclarinet said...

Sage advice, nice improvments on the original, more generous. But that doesn't surprise me coming from you.

Sorry, can't help with the M.I.L. gift.


Zhoen said...

You transformed tacky magazine advice into wisdom, how did you manage that?

I vote for the non materia, can't get it in a mall gifts.

Unless one of those email only computers would suit her, a gift of communication...

Anonymous said...

This is a really thoughtful post - thank you.

"The Royal Me" is never happy. If I think I "deserve it," I am miserable. But, buying a dozen roses, keeping one and giving 11 away sounds like a perfect, PERFECT thing to cheer up my day, except it will probably be hot pink gerber daisies.

Fred Garber said...

Patry, I like this post. About once a week my wife and I go to the mall and hang out. First we walk a few laps so that we can tell ourselves that we are getting fit. Then we buy a few things. Then we head for that bookstore with the coffee shop. Since all malls are pretty much the same and the stores are pretty much the same and I can only be at one mall at a time, I might be sitting at your table. Maybe there is only one mall...I like to get a stack of magazines and catch up on what I am suppose to be thinking about and wanting. My wife likes to read a book then hide it on a top shelf somewhere so she can find it next time. To me the Mall is like a strange magnet that attracts and repels at the same time. Ah, consumerism....

Mary said...

Patry, your reworked points strike the perfect balance. And I particularly like the first one as well There is something wonderfully abandoned and generous about giving away 11 roses.

sorry, can't help with mother-in-law ,,,

Patry Francis said...

Patricia: Thank you!

Garnet: Nice to see you here. Your presence has been missed.

r: sure, as long as you're up for an eight hour drive!

zhoen: An email only computer! You just might have a winner with that one. What a wonderful way to keep in touch with distant grandchildren...

Becca: I LOVE hot pink gerber daisies. Hope I'm around when you're passing them out, but if not, just thinking of them made me smile.

Fred: "Maybe there is only one mall." I never thought of that, though it does have the feel of virtual reality at times.

Mary: This Valentine's day, maybe!

camera shy said...


im still searching
for the perfect mother in law

Anonymous said...

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leslee said...

Patry, this is great. What everyone said. I particularly liked the 3rd one about having wasted enough time on all those self-critical thoughts. Amen.

I had a friend who wouldn't buy sandals because she didn't think her toes looked good (they were fine). I said "nobody's looking at your damn toes!" (It's those magazines that make you focus on your flaws to sell the magazine and its advertisers' products.) Anyway, people are wrapped up in their own petty details. Offering them something better - verbal multivitamin, or an attitude of seeing what's amazing and good - is the best gift you can give people. As you did here. :-)

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

I swear you are a holy person trapped in an urban life.

I love the way you think.


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