November 2009


Mother, must you go to the party?
Please, Mother.
Yes, Mother, you don’t have to go. Father can go by himself.
Please, Mother.

By himself?  Your father is a brave man, but he’s going to need the special kiss to face his colleagues tonight.

Father? Brave?

There are many different kinds of bravery.  There’s the bravery of thinking of others before oneself. 
Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. 
But he’s made many sacrifices for his family…and put away many dreams.

Where did he put them?

He put them in a drawer.
And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them.
But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer.
He does.
And that is why he is brave.

Tonight my son and I will be decorating our Christmas tree.  This is the first year that he’s actually had an opinion about it.  Most of the bulbs I’ve used for the last, oh, 10 years kicked it last year, so we went to get new ones today.  He wanted a gold motif (I usually do silver) and liked green bulbs (for some reason I think they blend in).  But I got them and we’re going to truly make it ours for the first time.

In the past, whether due to holiday stress or just my own perfectionism, I’ve actually gotten really touchy when decorating the tree.  It had to be just so.  In even just the last year I’ve come a long way (a LOOOONG way) in being more flexible, but I put a failsafe in place just in case: I told my son that if I misbehaved that he could send me to a time-out – which, if you follow the rule for a minute per year old, would be quite a while for me.  You have no idea how risky this is to do with an 8 year old boy: he might just do it out of sadism. 

This is day two of the apartment transformation.  Yesterday, I knew I wanted to clean up and decorate, but for once I didn’t put a schedule around anything or make a list on what I wanted to do.  We didn’t have any obligations and we had all day, so I just winged it.  I figured out how to get some furniture out of the living room to make room for the tree and it actually made my bedroom look cozier to have the displaced bookcases in there.  (We have a VERY small apartment and I’m still grappling with its configuration, so that was a nice side-effect.)  I stopped to put plastic over a window (I only ended up doing one).  I got the boxes of decorations from storage and went through them slowly, deciding what I wanted where.  I hung the lights.  I ironed a table runner; I didn’t iron a tablecloth.  I didn’t feel like making dinner so we ordered in chinese food; I did feel like making dessert so I baked cookies. 

And it was a really good day.  I was surprised.  No, I didn’t efficiently get everything done – I could have maximized my time better by doing things faster, but I got enough done and I was relaxed.  You don’t understand – I’m not usually relaxed.  Having a few days off has really done me good.  My son and I got along and had fun together.  He even volunteered to help me with a lot of work.  In fact, it was so good that I lost track of time and he ended up staying up way past his bedtime.

Today we’ve had a busier schedule but it’s still been fun.  I’m buying Christmas gifts slowly but surely.  It’s nice to see something at the store and immediately think of someone.  I hope to finish my “season’s greetings” cards tonight.  I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be very special.  I don’t know if it’s because they got off to such a good start, but I’m going with it.  I have vacation from 12/24 – 1/3 and I’m hoping that I’ll find something fun to do for the time off, but at least now I know how good it will be to have nowhere to be.

Today my mom found a spelling mistake in something I wrote.  It wasn’t misspelled, per se.  It was just a homonym for the word I was trying to spell.

That’s a terrible excuse.

I let her gloat.  I let her look it up.  I let her correct me.  My mom so rarely gets one on me.  We don’t always get along, especially at the holidays, so it was nice to have a laugh, even if it was at my expense.  I consider it a little gift to our relationship. 

I should be wrong more often.

Thanksgiving is over, I’m really full, and now I have the exciting challenge of figuring out the PERFECT GIFTS for everyone I love.

(If you don’t get a gift, I don’t love you – ha!)

Just kidding.  I’m just poor.  I’m sure I love you.

So between being poor and the pressure of finding the PERFECT GIFT, I’m a little stressed out by the idea of holiday shopping.  Black Friday truly scares me, but mostly I just don’t look at a $20 blender and say, “Oh my god my mother would LOVE THAT!”  It’s a great deal, but it doesn’t speak to me.  So I’m looking at the online ads right now and seeing what I can find.  Eventually, I always end up at Barnes & Noble.com, because as an avid reader, I believe everyone secretly wants books deep within their souls, but mostly that’s untrue, so I’m trying to be make sure that I only do it if something jumps out as the PERFECT GIFT for someone.

I just don’t like the idea of just getting someone a movie that I think might be up their alley (even less than I like the idea of using “their” as a gender-neutral possessive, but you’ll forgive me).  I feel like the love I have for the person all year long justifies my agonizing over a gift.  Usually this means I wander stores finding amusing stuff and end up getting a movie.  But not this year!  This year, I will find the best gifts EVER.  And people will talk about them for years to come!

Best gift I ever gave was a gravestone.  Beat that.

I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what to write about today.  I thought of about a dozen ideas, from pop culture to personal experiences.  I know I’m supposed to be writing about Thanksgiving.  What I am thankful for!  Really, all I can come up with is the fact that I desperately need to get laid.

I mean, not in a “I’m desperate” kind of way, but in a “I’m so less stressed out when I’m getting some” kind of way.  Wouldn’t it be nice to just have that “I just got some” relaxed day or two where nothing bothers me?  It really should be considered as normal a therapy as exercising or pedicures or prozac.  It would be nice to just pick up the phone, make an appointment somewhere, and get yourself taken care of.  Okay, that sounds terrible.  Apparently, I have no solution for this apart from prostitution.

I once had a terrible gynocologist who asked me why I was on the pill when I wasn’t in a relationship.  I didn’t keep her. 

Unfortunately, I got tired of one-night stands, so I’m kind of up a creek without a paddle.  It’s seriously time to reexamine my mores, since the guys I’m dating aren’t getting any cooler.  It’s so much easier to find them attractive and ignore everything else.  But to pay for a babysitter, half of dinner AND a hotel?  What do you think, I’m made of money?

I do have a gift certificate for a pedicure.  Oy.

This time of year, some people seem to get all heated up over the idea that recognizing other religions in December minimizes the importance of Christmas.  I was just listening to it on the radio this morning.  Where once we would see Christmas decorations there are many decorations, the cub scouts sell Hannukah candles as well as wreaths, and companies throw holiday parties instead of Christmas parties.  I remember everything being about Christmas when I was a kid, but I grew up in a Catholic household.  It seemed the older I got, the more inclusive the world got – not just at Christmas but in general.  Nobody expects vegetarians to eat side dishes at parties anymore.  Why is this inclusion so reviled?  I thought I’d look into it.

The 2008 U.S. census data does indicate that 76% of adult respondents identified as Christian, which breaks down into Baptist, Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal, etc. – even Jehovah’s Witnesses (who don’t celebrate Christmas).  For what it’s worth, that’s down more than 10% since 1990.  Only 4% identified as other religions, but 15% identified as not religious (5% had no comment). 

So I guess you have a pretty good chance that if you say “Merry Christmas” to someone between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they’re actually celebrating it.  But what about the rest of these “holidays”?  According to Wikipedia, the holiday season traditionally included: “Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day (in some countries), New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, [and] Three Kings Day”, but “in recent times, this definition has begun to expand to include Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving and Black Friday.” 

That’s three Christian holidays, three secular, one pagan, one Jewish,one African cultural, one American traditional, and…Black Friday?  A shopping holiday? 

I could pass over that as an anomaly, but I don’t think that it is.  In fact, I think that’s part of the evolution of the holiday season that’s occurring right now, and what people may be upset about.  On one hand, “Happy Holidays” is a nice way of being inclusive for six weeks without inquiring into a person’s religious beliefs (or in the case of Kwanzaa, how strongly they identify with their ethnic heritage).  On the other, if more than 1 in 10 who walk through the doors of the mall aren’t celebrating anything at all, “Happy Holidays” isn’t so much about the holidays anymore as it is a happy, general December greeting. 

For my part, I actually celebrate secular Christmas even though I’m one of the 15% of non-believers.  I love it.  I love the lights and the tree and the presents and the crazy shopping and the cooking and the hugging and the family and friends and mistletoe and all of it.  I don’t put up a manger or sing “Silent Night”, of course – but there’s so much that’s pagan about all of it that I’m probably more accurately celebrating Yuletide than Christmas.  But nobody calls that stuff Yuletide anymore – they’ve wrapped it up in Christmas.  And since so few associate the trees with the pagans anymore, it’s all seemingly secular now.

Frankly, there’s so much that’s secular around Christmas that you could argue that it’s hardly a religious holiday anymore.  If I were a devout Christian, this would really concern me.  I think I’d want to “put the Christ back in Christmas” – I’d be offended by all the non-believers and watered-down Christians (the ones my mother notes attend church 2x/year and openly disagree with its tenets) walking around singing carols.  In fact, there’s a backlash among some Christians who want to return Christmas to a purely religious focus, And, from a religious perspective, I think they’re right. 

So is that why some Christians are mad?  The trivialization of their religion in the face of commercialism and media?  Or is it that they still think that the vegetarians should be satisfied with mashed potatoes for dinner?  That Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (and dare I add the winter solstice) should be recognized quietly and the Christians should do the shopping celebrating?  I don’t know.

I do know that Christmas is not “an American institution”.  Nobody off the Mayflower celebrated Christmas (Puritans disdained it).  Our founding fathers deliberately made it so that we didn’t have a national religion and that all religions would be tolerated.  Lately, I’ve been impressed with the American institutions of not just tolerance but inclusion.  For those who don’t know what to give, I think that’s the perfect present.

A long time ago in a place very unlike reality, a plain princess danced with a man and became enchanted.  He was very handsome and admired (and a few years younger than her), so she decided that a great way to stand out from the other girls in the kingdom would be to lose a few pounds.  Although she had always been happy as a size 10 and had never had any body image issues, she thought no harm could come of it.

Boy, was she wrong.

Although for some people 23 pounds isn’t a lot, it was for me.  It got me down to a size 6, down to a place where I didn’t hate photographs, where the clothes on the department store racks all looked great on me, and where compliments fell from the sky like rain.  Talk about fantasy – it was a dream come true!  People would say things like, “You looked fine before, but…” which actually translates to, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you weren’t pretty before and now you are.”  I liked those compliments – it felt like I’d transformed myself into someone new.  I exercised and it was fun and I felt like I could kick ass and take names.  And I was finally as skinny as my girl friends (some of whom told me I was too skinny, which really felt bitchy).

The weight loss program itself was easy – it was like a game where you tally up your points for the day and the prize is that you’re beautiful.  I didn’t concern myself with motivation or backsliding or my relationship with food.  What relationship?  It was food. 

At some point I realized that I’d gone too far.  My life revolved around my weigh-in.  If I didn’t exercise every day, I got angry.  If I gained 1/4 of a pound I’d want to cry.  I realized in the end that I was trying to control my crazy life, and I thought if I could control myself into attractiveness that things would change for me.  Of course, they didn’t.  Although I did end up going out with the prince, he still wasn’t interested. 

It took me about 6 months to lose the weight and 2-1/2 years to put it back on.  And the whole thing just messed with my head.  I never knew why people would get so bent out of shape about their weight and their self-worth.  I had never had a problem with it.  Now I do.  It’s ridiculously inane and I can’t believe an intelligent woman like me got caught in this trap.

Dieting is a horrible self-esteem disease.  Part of me wishes I’d never done it.  A lot of wonderful things have happened in the past few years, but my size has had nothing to do with them.  Anything success I have will have nothing to do with it.  I wish I could say I have a happy ending to all this, but the truth is not a day goes by when I don’t wish I had a magic wand to change myself back.

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