I was looking forward to the year-end, as the generous employer of mine doled out The Bonus. It was by far the best that I’ve ever received, and I wanted to share it with family and friends. Naturally, I transferred a token sum to The Mother, asking that she spends it wisely.
All was fine until one Sunday morning, when I woke up to the shock of my life.
The dining room chair was laden with at least twenty different types of bedsheets, stacked neatly upon one another.
“Mum, what are you going to do with these?” I asked in passing, while reaching out for my Nasi Lemak breakfast.
“I’m going to send them for laundry cleaning,” was the reply.
“What? Why not just dump them in the washing machine? They will be ready in 30 minutes. I can help you.” I replied, casting the packet of Nasi Lemak to one side. (If I had to compile a list of household chores that I aced in, washing clothes would be the top of them. Washing toilets would be the last.)
“No, no. With you and your sense of reliability. I’ve got to ask you repeatedly to help me hang them out later.” The Mother replied.
“But Mum, I’m not <>. I’ve been washing my plates and cups after using them! I could help you hang those bedsheets right after the machine stops!”
The Mother refused to be convinced and cited some black marks in my rather spotless report card of doing household chores as examples of my unreliability.
“Okay, Mum, think about the money. You have about 20 bedsheets there. If one bedsheet cost $10, you’ll be paying $200. $200 can be used to buy a lot of other things.” I said, trying a change of tact.
“No. It’s my money. I do whatever I want with it.”
Now at that moment, the “token sum” of money which I had given her floated in my mind. When I think of the days of hard work I had to put in to earn that moolah, and it literally, going down the drain in exchange for fresh, clean bedsheets, my heartstrings tug a little.
I wished The Mother would have used that ‘token sum’ to pamper herself like other mothers would – indulge in a little perfume, new clothes or a Gucci bag. She could treat herself to a nice spa trip to Bangkok with her friends, or invest in a mahjong set. (The latter would have been very much approved by her daughter).
But no. She chose to spend it on laundry.
Now I was pretty desperate. “Mum! We are not some atas (up-there) rich family living in a private house. $200 can be used to buy new kitchen appliances (like a Philips air fryer), or be pooled into a bigger fund for renovating our home. Or you could save the money for retirement. I can wash the bedsheets for you!”
But alas, the cries fell on deaf walls. The Mother was not to be persuaded.
I admitted defeat and went to my room to calm myself down. With Coldplay playing in the background, I had a good think about this.
When a gift is given, especially a monetary one, does the giver have some say in how it is spent? Rationally and ethically, I think the answer should be no. (Even though The Giver is only human and would appreciate some sort of fiscal prudence from The Recipient.)
The Giver even started to wonder if channeling monetary gifts to a mutual fund might be a better idea. A mutual fund that would reap a decent 7 per-cent returns and with the concept of compounding interest, The Recipient would have a pretty solid retirement fund to get by…
But yes, Christmas is just round the corner and I concluded that the true spirit of giving should be to give without expectations.
Giving is about respecting the receiver’s decision to spend the monetary gift as he/she deems fit.
If sending a huge pile of dirty bedsheets to the laundry service provider gives The Mother as much happiness and satisfaction as how a Bangkok spa trip would make another mother happy, then I suppose, that works as well. After all, there are freshly cleaned bedsheets to look forward to and not just a TOTO ticket from a Singapore Pools outlet.
I should also think that I will feel extremely annoyed when thirty years down the road, a Naggy Daughter start hounding me by saying that I should save for retirement when I’m about to book flight tickets to Bali with my group of friends…
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Should a monetary gift be given without expectations? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.