01/02/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Lame Christmas Gifts: It Is Harder to Receive Than to Give

After Christmas, my refrigerator door has more macaroni art than a Sicilian pasta factory. Right after New Year's, I'll date each child's industriously crafted artwork and store it in the attic, hoping mice don't go for dead noodles. We grownups must make the traditional fuss and enthusiastic acclaim, largely because we don't want to be riddled with guilt if our kids grow up neurotically starved for attention and appreciation. Still, pasta art favorably compares with what older kids give to their parents. Perhaps this was the origin of the expression "faking it."

The stress of late Christmas shopping is nothing compared with the stress of manufacturing fake pleasure when we open a present we really don't need, want, or even like. I doubt my Mom liked anything I ever gave her, especially when I spent my allowance on stuff from TV commercials. "Why thank you," she'd politely say, "I really do need a clay head that grows grass out of the skull in case I ever get tired of watering the front lawn." One Christmas produced this gem: "What a beautiful can opener, and so much newer than the one I bought last week," or, as I wrote in my teen diary, she said, "What a pretty rhinestone bracelet ... so much brighter than real diamonds." Served me right for buying her jewelry for Christmas just because I wanted to borrow it for New Year's.

Her responses weren't quite as I'd hoped, but I didn't figure out the meaning under the controlled sarcasm until I was in the same position myself as a mom. My kids want to please me as much as I wanted to please her, and this presents a dilemma best expressed in the old saying, " ... Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive ... "

This year, my wary son asked what I wanted for Christmas, and I was both cooperative and specific: I needed to replace a white terrycloth shortie robe that had been worn smooth after 20 years of wearing and washing. I showed him a sample of an identical, reasonably priced one on the Internet. What did he do? He bought me a long one not short, Navy blue not white, and velour not terrycloth. I hate velour because it fails to absorb drops of water, and know full well that I will end up ordering the one I want, and paying for it myself. It also means that, in addition to hypocritically saying I liked it when I didn't, I had to come up with a way of rejecting the gift without rejecting the giver. So in the future, if he asks where it is, I can say, "It's in the wash." After all, that's what he says when I ask him, "Where's the sweater I gave you?"

I am like the mother who gave her son two ties for Christmas. He went to the hall mirror, put on one of them, and turned to show her how it looked, "What," she said disappointedly, "You didn't like the other one?"

Moral of the story: Both giving and receiving gifts are beautiful and loving gestures, especially if love is simply spelled out in macaroni.