The Basket

1.
N’s aunt corners me and asks me if I have “il cesto.”

“Which basket?” I ask her.

She turns to my brother-in-law, who is sitting on the sofa. “Explain to her what basket means,” she says. Brother-in-law looks annoyed. He knows that I can speak Italian and that I don’t need to have the word basket explained to me.

“I know what basket means,” I tell her. “Which basket are you talking about?”

“You don’t have the basket! We use baskets. Do you want a basket?”

Great, I think, she’s going to give me something I don’t want. I look at my brother-in-law to try and gauge his reaction to the idea of the basket. He is completely uninterested in the conversation. I ask the aunt to describe the basket.

“It’s for the baby,” she says. “It has things for the baby in it, like creams, soap, shampoo. We make it beautiful, with ribbons. Blue for boys and pink for girls.”

I hesitate. My experience with the aunt tells me that she and I have radically different definitions of beauty. Pink ribbons? I think of the basket’s contents; they might be useful. While I’m considering whether a few tubes of diaper cream make it worthwhile to accept a gift that I don’t want from a woman who treats me like an idiot because I speak with a foreign accent, she makes up my mind for me.

“Don’t worry, I’ll have a basket made for you.”

2.
Several weeks later, the aunt leaves the basket in the hallway outside our door. She calls to tell me. “It’s in the corridor,” she says.

I had forgotten all about it but as I’m about to ask, “which basket?” a vague memory of pink ribbons resurfaces. “Oh, thank you very much,” I tell the aunt.

I open the door to find a large basket wrapped tightly in clear plastic. The basket is completely covered in pink gingham. There’s a floppy bow on the handle. The basket is hideous. And empty. I bring it inside. Something compels me to remove the plastic wrapping. It smells faintly of cigarette smoke.

About an hour later, N calls. His aunt has just called him and asked him to remind me that she’s left the basket in the hallway. N tells me to call his cousin’s wife to thank her for the basket. Apparently, it belonged to her sister-in-law and she asked for it as a favor to the aunt. I feel embarrassed that the cousin’s wife has gone to the trouble of procuring an unwanted basket for me.

Now that I have the basket, I realize the utter impracticality of it. Even if I liked it, I wouldn’t know where to put it. I laugh when I think that in order to use it, we’d have to buy a table for it. But the basket has to go somewhere. I bring it into the bathroom where Pata’s changing table is. I notice that the ledge behind the bathtub is just the right size. I leave the basket there, still empty. Months pass.

3.

One day, the aunt walks into the bathroom while I’m changing Pata’s diaper. N walks in behind her. The aunt sits on the edge of the tub and notices the basket sitting unused on the ledge. “Why aren’t you using the basket?!” she demands.”Honestly, it’s easier to keep everything in one of the drawers under the changing mat,” I tell her.”Mica tanto,” she barks, “not really.”

I imagine Pata throwing herself off the changing table and cracking her head open on the hard tile floor as I lean over the wide, jacuzzi-sized bathtub to reach the basket.

It seems that N has imagined the same scene. “You have no idea how much trouble this baby can get into,” he tells her.

But this childless woman still wants to dispute the best way to change our daughter’s diapers with us. “Everyone uses a basket!” she protests, obviously angry.

“Well, I don’t use a basket,” I tell her unapologetically. She isn’t angry because I’m ungrateful, but rather because I have dared to deviate from her idea of how things are done. I am tired of being expected to do things the way everyone else does and I am tired of gifts that come wrapped in favors and officiousness and with strings attached. When I give a gift, I give it freely and hope that it will be pleasing and useful, and if it is not, I am disappointed and embarrassed at not having been a better judge of what was wanted. But none of this means anything to a person whose false generosity is a mask for a profound and entrenched narcissism. So I add nothing, finish changing Pata, and leave the room.

4.

Tired of having to move the basket aside every time I clean the tub, I remove it from the ledge and close it in a large plastic bag. Now it sits in a closet among other useless things, waiting for restitution to its original owner, or even someone who just knows better how to use a basket.
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12 responses to “The Basket

  1. Wow KC – this ‘basket’ thing is entirely new to me and I have a 16 week old baby. We’ve done just fine until now with diaper cream etc on a shelf near the change table which we got at IKEA. Do you think that you H’s aunt saw these baskets in baby shops meant as gifts and wrongly concluded that you were meant to keep all your baby toiletries in there permanently when in fact they were just ‘gift baskets’?Whatever the case, the amateur psychologist in me says that there’s something else going on with this woman- probably jealousy. Is she jealous that you’re a foreign ‘woman of the world’? Or maybe she’s jealous that you have an (adorable) baby?

  2. I haven’t figured out the basket thing yet, but I wondered too if it got started with the aunt seeing a gift basket. I thought it might just be a family thing, but someone I know from a town near here was also given one of these baskets to put stuff in. I think at most it’s a local thing. As for the aunt, she’s just a real basket case. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

  3. We have a whole STACK of baskets in our garden shed. They are the outer casings of the numerous gifts my husband’s patients give him and usually filled with bottles of wine, cakes, chocolate, cheese and all sorts of items but NEVER empty!Must be a campagnia thing because my totally OTT traditional MIL hasn’t ever mentioned one to me. Maybe it’s because she bought (among other things) the changing table with drawers in then stocked them full of the ‘right’ products I should be using (mine of course being the ‘wrong’ ones). How annoying about the basket though – and since she got it from someone else, you’ll probably have to hang onto it as well so that when someone else has a baby she can ask for it back!In the meantime, if you need any more empty baskets (senza gingham) please let me know : ) Vanessa

  4. that entire situation sounds beyond annoying.it was nice of you to even put that useless basket in the bathroom…i wouldn’t even be able to do that since i hate clutter and having things around that take up space but serve no purpose!i admire your non-dramatic behavior throughout the basketcase-ness!

  5. Mi dispiace that you have to put up with that mentality. Is la zia like a MIL? They do want to help, but have a funny way of showing how much they like you. They become obsessed. You have made me laugh in how you told the story.Una Siciliana living in the States.

  6. Thanks Vanessa, but one basket is enough for me, esp. since, as you say, I have to hold on to it because it belongs to someone else. It’s really big too, so it takes up quite a lot of space.

    Eryn, I hate clutter too, especially of the pink gingham variety. Now it takes up space in my closet. A marginal improvement. I hate that basket.

    Siciliana, you guessed it! Zia is just like an MIL. The aunt can get a little obsessive, that’s for sure!

  7. Poor you. This type of thing goes on in any multicultural family (we are English-German, living in Italy). Sometimes I just can’t comprehend why someone would want to give me something that’s ugly and useless, but as you have done, I just smile, say thank-you and just stash it away! One day, you never know, you might have an opportunity to pass it on to another hapless mother…

  8. Yes, the best thing to do is just smile and quietly find a place to hide the offending object. It may not discourage future gifts, but it certainly prevents arguments and rancor.

  9. So far I haven’t run into any of these situations. But, I think you handled it in the best way possible. Sorry you have to deal with that. :(

  10. Thanks, Mary. Don’t feel bad, I’m getting used to this sort of carrying-on by the aunt, and I’ve been growing a thick skin. Sometimes she does such odd things she just makes me laugh!

  11. Hi KC, I am a new mom too and I received an empty basket too! Haha! We live in Sicily (close to Vanessa), so it’s not a regional thing. My basket though is really pretty and I must admit, I am more of a basket-kind of person, so that probably helps. It was also handmade by the woman who gave it to us, but she didn’t pressure us to put it on display or anything! I filled it up myself with diapers and wipes, cloths and creams. I don’t have a special changing table with drawers, rather a dresser with a changing pad on top and my pretty basket goes next to it. Apart from it’s prettiness, it’s totally impractical and takes up way too much space and I am awaiting the day when my 6 month old throws it on the floor. Hilary

  12. Hi Hilary. I usually don’t mind baskets (we actually have a few scattered around the house) but the pink gingham was too much! It sounds like yours was a heartfelt gift and not an imposition.

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