By: Marilyn L. Davis
“One thing which I can’t stress enough is that OCD is completely nonsensical and will not listen to reason. This is one of the most frightening things about having it. I knew that to anyone I told, there are Salvador Dali paintings that make more sense.” ― Joe Wells, Touch and Go Joe: An Adolescent’s Experience of OCD
Gifts – Required for the Holiday
Christmas is fast approaching, so receiving gifts, flowers, candy, and cards are excitant pour moi. Even dressing it up in French, I cannot make another large white terry cloth robe sound exciting.
Unfortunately, I have reached the age where bathrobes are an acceptable gift. My daughters forget that they gave me one last year. I, on the other hand, do remember, and I do not need another. Just give me a gift card instead of another robe; I already have three.
This post is not about me being ungrateful; it’s about my Mom, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, gifts, and memories.
Although my Mom received help for her Creative Compulsive Disorder when I returned from substance abuse treatment, her condition was not diagnosed and went untreated when I was growing up. Each of these hobbies allowed my mother to create; her CCD forced her to create too much.
Now, That’s a Good Gift
There was only one year where I liked the present I gave my Mom. I was 17 years old and working after school at my first job. Having my own money was the difference in how I felt about the present. Other years, I was spending my parent’s money to get them a present.
That Christmas, I bought an evening bag at an antique store. It cost me $100 in 1964, which was expensive, but I knew my Mom would like it.
Knowing that liking something often triggered my Mom’s need for more of the same, I questioned if buying this bag would then start another obsession. Giving gifts in our family was risky, we unknowingly might have created a new obsession, or we might get a gift back in a different creative form, so we had best like the gift we were giving.
When Make-overs Multiply
My Dad gave my mother a make-over for the basement one year. She had multiple hobbies that seemed to be her priority rather than participation in our family. Because much of her behavior resulted in compulsive collections and hobbies, my sister and I marked our time by the Year of the Egg, Macramé, Quilt, Decoupage, Oil Painting, Watercolors, Appliqué, and Crochet. Our house resembled a well-stocked but disorganized craft store.
My Dad liked order. My Mom created clutter and sometimes, confusion. He had hired a contractor to convert the basement into work-space for my Mom’s hobbies. In anticipation of this make-over, he bought cardboard boxes a week before the transformation. He then went out of town on a business trip.
Nothing Was Removed – Just Refashioned
Falsely believing that he had contributed to order when he bought the boxes; my Mom instead saw this as just another opportunity to be creative. Years before the trend, she covered all of the boxes that Dad bought with fabric in coordinating prints for each family member, so the shelves in her workroom would have splashes of color. My sister and I had boxes covered in material from dresses made years before that somehow did not make it into a quilt. We talked about the memories these fabric swatches prompted while Mom wrapped the boxes in the fabric.
Although she sewed for my sister and me, she did not make clothes for Dad. Therefore, this required yet another trip to her favorite fabric store so that she could cover his boxes in “strong and manly” fabrics. Then she got out all the odd boxes stored in various closets; all filled with papers from our lives.
Some of these papers were from my Dad; some were old colored pictures from my sister and me. She sorted and decided which would go into the newly decorated boxes, and others were piled for yet another project. We lived with piles of papers in the den for days.
From Paper to Project
We would talk about some of the papers as she sorted – the playbill she had made for our pretend Broadway show or a drawing my sister made at four or a science paper of mine where I made an A+ on a report. That did deserve to go into the new box since it was a fluke for me to earn above a C in science.
When she decided that a pile was worthy of a fabric covered box, she still had to determine which box. Therefore, the decorated boxes competed for space in the den. By the end of the week, she had her system working, and one large, plain box filled with different papers that would start yet another project.
The Devil Is In The Details And Decoupage
Mom used the additional papers from Dad, my sister and I to decorate barn wood, Kleenex boxes, jewelry boxes, plaster casts that she made herself to get the shape and size precisely right, and one time, a chair from my room that I used at my desk.
Who knew it would take two months for the decoupage overhaul? She wanted my Dad to know how much she appreciated her workroom gift, so she made him decoupage eggs, decorated with chickens and sayings reminding him of their trip to Italy.
13 Steps, But Who’s Counting?
In case, you do not know how tedious decoupage is, it is a minimum 13-stage process. Here is the brief description of what you need.
Next, you have to cut out the designs, using tiny manicure scissors to be exact. Glue the image to the surface, then varnish each image, lightly sanding between each coat, as the object has to look inlaid or painted on, not just glued on. This edict to blend meant that my Mom typically varnished and sanded between 30 and 40 coats before she was satisfied with the result, so I am not surprised that I was without my chair for months.
Never Throw It Away!
When my Dad came home from his trip, he told her that he thought she would use the boxes to remove stuff from the house. She, of course, said to him that she could not throw out such sentimental items, and although she could not fit everything into the decorated boxes, she had found another creative outlet for the overflow.
Rarely were things that my Mom valued thrown away. Remnants of cloth from sewing would eventually become a quilt or fabric pictures. Extra yarn from crocheting became a macramé plant holder.
Regardless of any project’s humble beginnings, all in their time became a part of a larger project.
Creating another Collection
On Christmas day, I gave my Mom her bag. She thought it was beautiful and started telling me about an upcoming formal occasion when she would use her new bag. Then she wondered if the hall area between the guest room and my parent’s room could use a new display.
She would like the contractor to give her an estimate on various sizes of shadow boxes. I knew then that my Mom and I would travel to antique stores in Atlanta, and she would get her new Collection. I had never helped her start one before.
However, it was not the last time I continued one. See that is the thing about collections, they must remain intact to be a Collection; otherwise, they are just a random piece of paper or an antique bag.
Collection Rules, Guidelines, and Order
“The good part about having a mental disorder is having a valid reason for all the stupid things we do because of a damaged prefrontal cortex. However, the best part is seeing someone completely sane do the exact same things, without a valid excuse. This is the great equalizer of God and his little gift for all us crazy people to enjoy.” Shannon L. Alder
This coming Christmas, I need to remember that I have also created Collections and sometimes they were not for me, any more than some collections were for my Mom. When my daughter was pregnant with my first grandchild, Bailey, she made the mistake of telling me that she wanted a bear theme for Bailey’s room. I justified buying all kinds of bear accessories as this was my first grandchild.
For Bailey’s first Christmas at four months, she got a total of 65 various bear items – pictures, figurines, toy boxes, sheets and comforters, outfits, embroidered and antique needlepoint pillows – not for the crib, but the antique rocker, and with that justification, I think you probably get the point.
If you are wondering about that evening bag from 1964, well it is part of a wall display in my bedroom. It did become a Collection for my Mom, one that I inherited and continued. My youngest granddaughter, Emma, has expressed interest in the bags, but she is only eight so we will see.
Understanding and Valuing the Gift
I learn something about myself and processing each time I write. Often, it is a reflection on the past and how it still influences today. I think I understand my daughter’s choice of the white terry bathrobe. Therefore, I may be my mother’s daughter, but I promise my daughters:
- I will not cut up the bathrobe and make other Objects d’art – it’s so passe; think of your last hotel visit.
- I will not make it my signature piece and wear it compulsively when we go out.
- I will not start a Collection – the Neiman Marcus, or Bergdorf Goodman’s version of bathrobes.
Moreover, I will understand and be thankful for the cards, the flowers and that safe to give, white terry cloth robe.
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