Parent's Anniversary. I catch one of them online, wish them "Happy Anniversary" and think nothing more of it. It does not occur to me that I should send them a gift or anything like that, since I have in my head that anniversaries are a between-the-couple thing and not a family-sends-you-gifts thing.
The Next Day. In the middle of a powerpoint presentation to a professor, a wee iChat window pops up because there is apparently a wireless network which my laptop has lovingly found and logged me onto and turned on iChat and advertised me as "Available". I am vaguely mortified, type out a quick "Ack - in a meeting - Bye!" before closing the window and shutting down iChat. I continue my presentation, feeling slightly addled.
An Hour Later. Checking my email, I see a message from my parents timed 5 minutes after the iChat window incident. It is a Formidable Insidious Guilt Trip (TM) from my parents. It has a "sorry we *interrupted* you [sniff!]" portion, a "look at how helpful and supportive we've been for you" portion, and a "you didn't send us a gift (WAH!)" portion which dovetails nicely with the "how thoughtless and insensitive you are! What a bad daughter!" portion.
I am mortified. My face burns. I have never been the Bad Child before. It is a strange feeling.
Several Hours Later. Having surveyed various and sundry surrounding peers, I determine that it is not, in fact, a generally expected thing to send your parents a gift on their anniversary. I conclude that the guilt trip stemmed from the curt response I gave during the iChat window business. I get quite angry and think this is decidedly (and surprisingly) childish of them to guilt trip me about anniversary presents when what they were really sore about was the curt response. Nonetheless, I send them a painstakingly warm and polite email back which includes a "well, this is why my response was so abrupt - sorry about that" portion and a "sorry you felt hurt and sad and unloved - I didn't realize you expected a gift in addition to warm anniversary wishes" portion.
I have heard nothing since. In fact, the three times they have been online, as soon as I have gone from away to available, they have mysteriously chosen that time to sign off.
I begin to think decidedly uncharitable thoughts about retired people who have far too much time to brood about not getting gifts from their ungrateful children and crafting subtlely acidic guilt-mail.
And still, I feel guilty. Which is the most aggravating thing at all. Well, besides the parental pouting. That's just friggin' unnerving. It's the sort of thing my parents complained their parents did to them and, oh, how they hated it.
I am chagrined (and vaguely chilled) by the thought that perhaps the retirement and being surrounded by people decades older than themselves has turned my parents into the sort of people they themselves used to despise.
And really, I just can't get over the pouting and the omnipresent sense of having my cheeks burn at the thought of that guilt-mail.