Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy Hellidays

Okay, calling the holidays, hellidays is horrible and I’ll probably go to hell for saying it. I vaguely picture myself being roasted brown on a spit like a large stuffed pig complete with apple in my mouth by Lucifer himself, who in my mind vaguely resembles a mortgage broker in a pink polyester suit. But honestly, the holidays can be hell. I feel them approaching with impending trepidation about all the things to be done – of which there are many, of all the money to be spent – of which there is not so much, of all the extended family issues to navigate – of which there will be too many. I was in Ralphs grocery store on Wednesday trying to accomplish an hour’s worth of shopping in the twenty-five minutes that I had before picking up my kids from music class and I realized that I was talking to myself. Shopping for Thanksgiving dinner had driven me to talk to myself. Not just a word or two, but a full blown conversation trying to talk my way through the list of over fifty items from granulated sugar to canned yams to dinner rolls. I was talking to myself and honestly, I’m pretty damn sure the canned corn talked back. The bad thing is, I realized I was talking out loud to myself, and I didn’t stop. I needed to do it in order to get myself through the task at hand. At that moment, I clearly understood why crazy people talk to themselves. It’s comforting. It’s like someone’s with you. You’re not alone on this treacherous journey (in my case down the dairy aisle) that you are undertaking.

The hellidays, those thirtyplus days from Thanksgiving to New Year’s - although it seems longer because all the retailers have had Christmas lights and garland in the stores since before Halloween – are a time where regardless of whether you feel thankful or merry or newly resolved, you are expected to behave as if you are thankful or merry or newly resolved. It’s a conspiracy. You have to go along with it because everyone else does. Maybe it’s the idea of faking it until you make it. If you force yourself to go along with all the holiday cheer, the merry sentiments of the season, then eventually, you really start to feel that way. You recognize the things you have to feel thankful for, find merriment even in the midst of all the chaos, angst and family drama, and you steel yourself to face the New Year with the optimism and resolution to face even the most challenging tasks and personal improvement projects. Maybe that is the magic of the holidays-- that you can be transformed by the spirit of the season, at least until January 2nd when you fall of that new diet and realize the can of creamed corn is still talking to you.

Enjoy your turkey, be thankful, and stay out of my way in Ralphs. Happy Thanksgiving – in advance.

Friday, November 12, 2010

So Many Reasons to be Thankful

November and the impending holidays always trigger more frequent conversations with my daughters about being thankful. Back when grocery stores would give away free frozen turkeys for purchases over $150 (they don’t seem to do that anymore), I would cook up two or three (because how many turkeys does a family really need???) and all the accompaniments – gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing, plate them, drive around my neighborhood looking for homeless under overpasses or by the freeway exits and handout the plates of food the day before Thanksgiving. I did it for several years before I was married and had children, but last year my husband, David, suggested that it wasn’t the safest idea. I really hadn’t had a problem and the response from the homeless who I gave the food to was always one of surprise and gratitude with the one exception of the woman who complained (and in retrospect, rightfully so) that there was no beverage to accompany the meal. So this year, I will be content with taking my daughters to pack food boxes for a shelter to hand out, rather than doing our own makeshift meal delivery.

But I struggle with how to teach my kids about need and want, particularly when they are surrounded by messages that confuse the two. Do they need an iPhone? A flat screen in their bedroom? Real Ugg boots? No, they want those things, but they certainly don’t need them. And yet in their world – being hit by ads, tv, music lyrics and friends who have and encourage them to want the same - they believe they are deprived without them. I had to bite my tongue from snapping at Natalie when she came home and rattled off a list of things that another child at school had, wants of hers which she considered needs that I refused (and in her mind stubbornly and maliciously so) to provide her with. They included a European vacation over winter break, horseback riding lessons and a credit card at Justice. Not that I could have done any of those things right now anyway, but even if I could, I wouldn’t. Yet, her seven year, old credit card toting friend had all those things and I was the mean mommy keeping my second grader from having them. Natalie complained that we must be poor because she couldn’t have those things. That’s when I regretted that I wasn’t making them come with me to take turkey to the homeless. Then they’d see what poor really was.

It also feels like what kids think they need nowadays has changed drastically since I was young. Maybe I’m having selective memory, but I don’t think I ever coveted lines of credit in elementary school. So, I’ve ramped up the being thankful discussions and all this talk about it inspired me to come up with a small list of my own:

Here are ten things – in no particular order - that I’m thankful for beyond family, health, friends and shelter:

Bubble wrap and the fact that popping it still makes me laugh

That JJ Abrams cast black people as leads in a television drama series that isn’t about race, even if NBC was silly enough to cancel it

Playdates that don’t end in children (or parents) crying

Dark chocolate

My ten year old telling a boy who asked her, that she was too young to be anyone’s girlfriend

Having ten minutes alone in the bathroom without someone under five feet tall knocking on the door and needing me from something

That even with my bad back, I can still touch my toes without bending my knees

Feeling energized after arguing politics

Getting old enough to realize that whatever it is, isn’t as bad as it seems

Being able to appreciate (and mostly accept) myself and those around me for who we are

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cheaper than Therapy

A few months ago, David looked at our cell phone bill and asked (in a rather suspicious fashion) who I was calling 3-4 times a week at 8am and talking to for a half hour on my drive in to work. I admitted that my friend (I'll call her Judith rather than put her real name and associated admissions out in the street) and I used that time to chat, talk about how are lives are going complain or boast about our kids, jobs, politics, you name it. We cry, we laugh, we compare and contrast our childhoods and family dysfunctions. We admit things to each other that we probably don't admit to many other folks. It is our own personal rantfest. Another friend, who I'll call WH, and I have similar exchanges but not as often, mostly because she works from home and doesn't have the leisure (or burden) of a drive in rush hour traffic to let off steam. But oddly, our exchanges seem mostly to revolve around health and sex and relationships - probably because she teaches that to teens - but also because she's very frank in a way that other women tend not to be. She'll call and tell me about her health or ask me about something very personal in a way that is disarming and freeing, allowing you to open up in a way that you might not even feel comfortable doing with your own doctor without blushing. Some people have a gift, or a curse depending on how you look at it. I have other friends who are my food buddies or my home repair pals, women I can chat with about those subjects and bemoan the house fixing up that never gets completed or the challenges of finding gluten free pizza in the valley.

But the point is, we have these discussions, often, because they are not only enjoyable (and helpful) but because they make us happy. I knew this already from experience, but then was surprised and pleased to find an article in the New York Times called, “Why Sisterly chats Make People Happier,” and felt that what I had suspected all along had finally been validated. ( And the great thing is, the sisters don’t have to be biological sisters, just women with whom you connect with on a certain topic or no particular topic at all – someone you just know you can chat with and even the most frivolous or benign conversation will bring you as much comfort as that call which helps you through a bad diagnosis or a marital crisis.

Now whenever David looks at the cell phone bill and sees Judith’s number showing up repeatedly, he knows better than to comment. He realizes my sisterly chats with my friends are vastly cheaper than therapy (and far more enjoyable).