What's a gift that says, "I hate your uncle but I still love you!"?
April 16, 2018 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Inside: four missed calling opportunities, three French curse words, two nibling birthdays, and a final divorce decree.

My ex husband may be a fils de pute, but my twin niblings are absolute darlings. Unfortunately, ever since the break up, I have hesitated to "intrude" on "his" people and that has meant dialing my interactions with those kids waaaay down. Last year their birthday came two months into the breakup, so tensions were at their highest... and I only mailed them birthday presents, never called to wish them happy birthday. Later in the year, I didn't call to congratulate them on winning a karate championship, though I sent their mom an email. I did call at Christmas - but mon dieu, this is crazy to be cataloguing our meager contacts like this, I hate not speaking to them, and I want to be back in their lives like proper! They live very far away but I used to call them all the time and we would *talk*, you know?

The good news is, I get on with their mom, my ex's sister very well - she and I have not spoken outside of administrative/official type conversations but even then both of us have expressed a hope that I will be able to resume a relationship with the kids (and her!) when things calm down.

Now the kids' birthday is coming up again and I have NO IDEA what they've been up to this past year. What books did they read? What hobbies have they developed? What video games are they into now? And like a complete jackass, I have left this to the last minute. (Taxes, I tell you. Putain, je suis crevé.) It may be too late to ask their mom, I'll look like a flaky aunt who almost forgot the birthday in addition to having dropped out of the kids' lives. Also I'm super anxious about talking to her still. Chances are, she will insist that I should buy them nothing. To be fair, we had made a no-presents pact way before the divorce, because all our kids have too much stuff, yo.

I'm rambling. I must be more anxious than I realized. I just want to ask, what's a good present for 10 yr olds and how can I do this birthday thing without fucking everything up and perhaps even mending a wee bit of the damage done over the past year??? Bonus points if there's a way to do it secretly, like via a fifteenth dimension, so my ex doesn't feel intruded upon...
posted by MiraK to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to the mom and find out what kind of experience present they would enjoy! Not necessarily one that they need to do with you, at least this year, but maybe like Zoo/Escape room/Movie/Fishing/Segway tour type tickets.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:17 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

....May I ask why you're taking your ex-husband's feelings into consideration at all? Your ex's sister has already said to you that she wants you to resume contact with the kids, and you want to do that yourself. Why not start that process now by simply calling her up and saying "hey, so with the fuss I've been a little out of sync, what do the kids want for their birthday" and then sending that along?

You are divorced from your husband, and that means he no longer gets a vote in who you associate with. I know I'm simplifying that, and that there are some social niceties to be aware of, but I think you are well within safe boundaries here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on April 16, 2018 [28 favorites]

My 10-year-old nieces and nephews have appreciated (and asked for) gift cards to the places they like (Disney, Amazon, Video Game Stores), so that in a lovely card with a nice long note about how you hope they're doing well and they can always reach out to you (with your contact info) would be a good, non-intrusive way of making sure they can get what they'd like without having to go through too much fuss.
posted by xingcat at 7:19 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would do a gift card, but inside a card that says "I know there have been some changes, but I am still your adoring aunt and tu me manques beaucoup."

You don't say these things via the perfect item, you say them via words. You all will catch up and it will be okay. Hang in there, Tante MiraK.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:18 AM on April 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

If you made a no presents pact before the divorce and had been following it, then now is not the time to let your anxiety take charge. I would send their mother an email saying, "I would love to call (Skype) the kids to wish them a happy birthday, when would be a good time to call?"

Presumably she will support this and she can let you know when you can do this in a way that avoids conflict with your ex.

Then you can talk to the kids, find out about their lives, get reconnected to their energy. If you had a good relationship before, it is likely to easier than you fear. Kids are self-centered. They might ask where you had been (a simple answer is sufficient) and then will want to talk about their passions.
posted by metahawk at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would leave your ex completely out of it.
posted by brujita at 9:47 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Things have calmed down. Start dealing with the nibs' family directly, starting with the mom, and make your apologies once to her and once again to the kids, and then reengage as you are able and willing. Getting in the late birthday present is no problem especially if you can give a heads-up; kids will love having a late gift, particular if it's the right gift. Plus, you get the benefit of knowing what they already got, and maybe what they liked and disliked; use their mom as your source.

I've been a chronically late giver to my nieces across the country, but sometimes the gifts they have so far create a new need that wasn't apparent before. One of my nieces got an iPod one year when she was at the right age, and suddenly app-store gift cards were valuable in a way that could not be known, prior. Another niece got a bunch of books in a series she liked, but either the final book was missing, or a middle book was skipped, I forget, and ol' Uncle Sunburnt was able to fill the void and be the belated hero, or at least the better-late-than-never hero.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:30 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just want to say that you are awesome for doing this. A family divorce when I was growing up led to me losing contact with an adored older cousin, and I always regret that things turned out the way they did. I always thought as a kid, "He divorced my cousin, not me... can't we still be friends?"
posted by raspberrE at 2:32 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hang on, do you have kids? Are you a parent to their cousins? Then you damn well have to keep them in contact with each other. I don't want to be all gender essentialist, but men have been socialised to leave lots of family contact to women. Which may well mean he won't know to be proactive in keeping that relationship firm. You're a beloved Aunt. My son lost a beloved uncle in a divorce and it was heart wrenching.

Give the kids book vouchers to local independent bookstore and tell them to tell you what they choose because you'd like to read them too. You can phone local bookstores and organise vouchers with a credit card to be picked up by kiddoes. The store will even write on it for you.

Be kind to yourself. They'll always consider you an aunt. Don't ask anyone to keep secrets. Be open and warm and as unawkward as you can be.

I think you're a legend and would totally understand the emotional complications and explain as much to my kiddoes if I were your sister in law. Don't slag off her brother ever, don't let her tell you he's a turd and you'll be cool. You got this Super Aunt!
posted by taff at 4:28 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Deep breath. Reach out to their mom. It's better than the alternative.
posted by Lady Li at 12:53 AM on April 18, 2018

Took a deep breath and called their mom! She insists on no presents, not even tickets to shows or the zoo. Conversation was warm but I am being swallowed up by my own anxiety and awkwardness, and second-guessing her warmth. Does she secretly hate me? etc. Ugh.

But that doesn't matter I guess. I have hit upon a fantastic pseudo-gift idea (I'm writing them a story! Or a poem each, maybe. We'll see what comes out of my fingers when I type, lol) and I'll get my kids to write letters and make birthday cards this weekend. Plus a phone call on their birthday. On the subject of my ex, I think it's important to keep talking about him as warmly and easily as before. The title of this post was only an unfunny joke... this is a line I do already walk quite well, talking to my kids about their dad in fun/warm/loving ways to reflect THEIR feelings about him.

Thank you everyone for suggestions and morale boosting. <3
posted by MiraK at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

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