Once I felt pretty comfortable in our relationship, I started sending Christmas presents to L’s brother and sister in China. It isn’t a holiday her family celebrates, but who would complain about an occasional gift? You would think that shipping a small present would be easy, but it has caused me endless angst and stress ever single time.
The first issue is finding gifts that will fit in a small enough box. This year, I shipped a box that was about 1.5 times the size of a standard shoebox and it cost about $80 just in shipping. If I am spending $80, I want to make sure that there is something worth the cost and effort in the box. On the other hand, giving L’s family very expensive gifts highlights the economic disparity between our two families, which adds to the awkwardness.
There is also the added challenge of getting a box to a village in rural China. There are no house addresses there. The kids live with their grandmother, who is both pretty old and illiterate, so if she gets a notice of a package being delivered, I don’t know if she can manage the process of retrieving it from the village head. The way you write an address for this part of China is like this:
- Name of Recipient
- Village name, Bigger nearby town name
- County Name, Biggest nearby city name
- Province, Country
- Postal code
No street number or address at all. Just your village name. Who gets the packages in the village and then distributes them? I have no idea.
It is unclear whether some of the Christmas packages I have sent in the past were actually delivered or maybe they were delivered with some items missing. One year, I sent Legos. On our last trip, I pulled up a picture of Legos on my computer and showed L’s sister. I asked if they have ever played with those (because I didn’t see them in her house when we were there) and she said no. Were they stolen? Did the box never arrive? It is a total mystery.
L’s siblings don’t have many toys or extras, so I try to cram as much in there as possible. An added complication this year is that L’s sister is spending her weekdays boarding at the local middle school, so I wanted to send something she could use or take with her there.
This year I sent L’s brother a nerf gun and a bunch of ammo, silly putty, modeling clay, a bunch of toy dinosaurs, pajamas, socks. I sent L’s sister pajamas, socks, gel pens, adhesive bulletin boards (for the bedroom at their new house), fancy pins for the bulletin boards, a purse, chapstick and a wallet. I also included candy and gingerbread cookies. There was not an inch to spare in that box.
They may open this box and think it is the lamest collection of junk ever. Or they might like it?
What I really want is for the kids to be thinking of L from time to time. I want them to get a little treat and have some small benefit from having an American sister. I want to be a nice auntie.
I worry and worry over the Christmas box.
I know it is silly, but it feels like I am putting my hopes and dreams for connection in it, with the full knowledge that it will never be enough. I know the message I am trying to send will never get through or if it does, it will be altered in translation. Taping closed that little box means acknowledging the limits of the work I am willing to do, the money I am willing to spend and the fact that I will never be adequate for the task of inviting L’s family in enough for her.
There is a lot of worry wrapped up in that little box.