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Yesterday was of course Christmas Day, and since my children are teenagers there are no longer little people jumping on my bed waking me with squealing excitement.

I had strategically donned my sexy Santa dress two nights earlier when the kids were at their dad’s to continue the tradition of Christmas dress up festivities, and asked if the Producer had been a good boy. This is the second year, so it’s now a tradition. I’ve gained a couple of kilos but the dress still had the desired effect. I did realise later I’d forgotten to don the stockings but still, it had the desired effect!

So Christmas Eve we, along with the gorgeous ones, watched Love Actually (once a favourite film, I was a little shocked at how sexist and crap it was…yes, I really said that, but that’s a whole other post!) and drank egg nog (except the Producer who will not let it pass his lips). By the time we went to bed I collapsed in a post work, shopping and wrapping presents coma.

We agreed the night before that 9am seemed a sensible start time for festivities. I was awake by 6.30am coincidentally and I snuck down the hallway to wish Mr 14 A Merry Christmas knowing he would also awake, and went back to bed to read the news on my phone while the Producer slept beside me.

As you may have gathered, Christmas is a big deal to me. I sincerely try to put a lot of thought into the gifts I buy my children, and my partner. The Producer had asked me for ideas of things I might like and seeing him struggle, I gave him a list of things from which to choose a gift. I’m not good at that. To be honest I like to give presents more than receive them. I like surprises.

Having asked the producer for ideas and coming up blank repeatedly, I put my thinking cap on. I wanted his first Christmas shared with the kids (and us living together) to be really special. I helped the kids choose gifts for him I really thought he would enjoy. He seemed to like them. A Fitbit bracelet, which is a waterproof electronic gizmo that measures exercise stats for you such as calories burned etc. The Producer loves to cycle and swim. My daughter gave him a beautiful book on H.P. Lovecraft which made him smile.

Then there was my gift. The words Epic Fail spring to mind. He had spoilt me by buying several things on my reluctant wish list, leaving me feel overwhelmed but grateful. I felt loved.

The kids had been spoilt completely. The producer and I had bought them lots of presents and then the Producer had bought them additional gifts which was very sweet and generous.

Then I handed the Producer the gift I had bought him with the kids excitedly looking on. The gift I had ordered in, so convinced he would love. The gift I thought would be a statement piece in our home and something he would be proud to own and gaze upon with admiration knowing he was loved.

Something I thought was a little quirky but would suit his intelligent and strategic mind.

As he unwrapped it however, his face dropped. The look on his face I think will stay with me forever. A look of disappointment and dare I say it, distaste? My heart fell out of my chest cavity.

I had bought him a chess set. Complete with an Italian made board and designer pieces. Not a small chess set, but an expensive designer statement piece chess set.

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He barely looked at the medieval pieces, closed the box they were entombed in, politely said thank you, and set it aside.

The kids and I had all witnessed that look and although he put on a smile, it was painfully obvious he really didn’t like it. I admit that a piece of my heart snapped off. So much thought and effort and what I felt like was that I had disappointed my partner at Christmas, and worse, I didn’t know him like I thought I did. Or maybe he’s just impossible to buy for.

When I said we could take it back if he didn’t like it, he nodded and said
“Yeah, I’ll have to think about it”. In that moment I knew that chess set would never see the light of day. I was crushed. The kids looked at each other and then at me, saying nothing. I, in shock, went off to make pancakes to be served with blueberries, syrup and butterscotch cream.

I have never had anyone so obviously dislike a gift I had bought them. Like, ever. It was a huge shock. Maybe people are just polite. Maybe I’m a really crap gift giver. That is of course possible but too hard to think about. Even if he had not liked chess, I had thought the board and the pieces are quite lovely. That in itself would have been worth looking at, right?

I don’t play chess often, but I can admire beautifully crafted pieces when I see them. There was no polite banter about them. There was no “they are beautiful, but I’m so sorry, sadly not my thing”. There was no acknowledgement of the effort or the thought of ordering in a set of pieces that are some of the most iconic in the world.

The original pieces are split between Scottish and English museums, having been unearthed on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. They date back to the 11th century and no one can be certain who owned them but it is believed they are Nordic in origin.

See? I did my research! My man is a history buff – another reason I thought he’d love these little figures of foreboding Norse like Kings and Bishops. Instead they failed to impress.

Ouch. Big time.

While I cooked he turned his attention to the gizmo fitness bracelet, read the internet, looking a little disappointed.

Later, I told him I was sorry that he didn’t like his present. I truly am. When he responded “that’s okay”, I burst into tears. It was official. He hated my gift. Try as I did to be ok with that, reasoning that it’s good he can be honest, It hurt like a bitch.

We’ve all received a gift we may not have loved. Sure. However, I’ve never disliked a present so much that I couldn’t muster some gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the person who gave it to me. He couldn’t even pretend to like it!

Did I want him to lie? No! Absolutely not. But I think there are ways of letting someone down more gently when they have bought a gift from the heart and with love. To be gentle and gracious is a lovely thing.

I had been stymied by a bloody chess set. Checkmate!

So in the cold hard light of Boxing Day, I, like thousands of others, will be returning a gift, knowing that what it is replaced with will not be as heartfelt.

Still, It’s too expensive and big to just sit in a box gathering dust. I would rather he get something he can use or might like. What ever that may be. It will be up to him.

As an act of self preservation, sadly I don’t think I can or will ever try to surprise him again. For me that’s part of the joy of Christmas – thoughtfully buying presents for those you love – but I can’t go through that again. It’s too painful.

His birthday is coming up. I’ve asked him to write a list which pains me to my core. Surely the joy is in receiving a heartfelt gift and loving the gift someone you love gave it to you?

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He hugged me when I cried and told me that he loved me. I know that he does. Last night he told me again that he loved me and apologised for being hard to live with. He’s not hard to live with. He’s just different to anyone I know. He didn’t hide behind a veil of politeness and he was honest. I will always know the truth. Which given my past life is important. This time it just stings a little.

I just have to readjust. The Christmases of my future will not be full of surprised looks on the faces of my family. We will all receive gifts picked off lists we have made ourselves. That’s not the end of the world. There are worse things.

As a single mother who has struggled financially without a close knit extended family, I know that truth only too well. I don’t want to end up a Christmas cynic. It’s not who I am, and I feel something about me would be lost if I was.

In the end, being together for Christmas is the most important thing, and I know I am loved and honoured, and chess sets aside, we really did have a lovely day.

Have you ever bought or received a present that really wasn’t liked? How did you deal with it?