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Holidays are anniversaries of a sort. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus like we do every year, by getting together with our families, eating huge meals, watching TV, and giving gifts. These holiday get-togethers are usually hectic and always chock full o’ nostalgia—we miss those family members and friends who are no longer with us and we reminisce about the events of past holiday seasons. We can’t help it. It’s either something in the air or those tasty gingerbread lattes that everyone mainlines this time of year.
At the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark commercial, as I stood in a favorite coffee shop debating the merits of hot spiced cider versus said gingerbread latte, I came to the conclusion that life is short. This silly decision shouldn’t have required the amount of time and brainpower I was giving it. So, I’ve decided to make my new year’s resolution early this year—or late, depending on how you feel about Rosh Hashanah. It goes something like this: Don’t waste time sweating things like mortgages, waist circumference, and whether anyone at future class reunions will notice my ever-deepening crow’s feet. (Of course they will. And they’ll all have their own sets, too. Oh, the joys of aging.) Enjoy the time here because it is a precious thing that should be spent it in the company of loved ones and friends. Engage in enjoyable tasks, not tedious ones.
Why the platitudes, you may ask? You can chalk it up to holiday-related nostalgia, but, as with many things, you can also blame Facebook. Thanks to a status update by one of my cousins, I was recently thinking about the last words of famous people. It got me curious, so I googled some of them. You’d be surprised how many pages are devoted to the subject. By and large, there were three themes: One, I’ve been a bad, bad person and am going straight to hell, so don’t bother praying for me (aka Repent Sinners! The end is near!). Two, I’m going to say something funny because I fancy myself a renegade and humor at this point seems inappropriate enough to cement my irreverent persona (see: Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas). Three, most applicable here, life is so short that I would give anything I possess to have just a few more minutes with the people I love. My dad falls into this latter category, so I find it especially poignant. (Sidenote: cancer sucks.)
This is what was on my mind while searching for just the right toy for my kids this year. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet to think about death while in a toy store at Christmas time, but really—what‘s the point? Is it worth giving yourself an ulcer worrying about whether Toys R Us will have enough of this year’s cool toy so your kid(s) won’t curse your name on Xmas morning? And what exactly does that teach your kids? What’s the point of walking around in a Norman Rockwell-inspired fog of idealized family life when in reality the same idealized set of people tend to drive you past the point of rationality in a mere 20 minutes? Of course you’ll have a profanity-laced meltdown a la Clark Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” if you set yourself up like this. Who was it who said that TV is the only thing that keeps families from killing each other over the holidays? Whoever it was was surely a modern day sage. (Now that I think about it, perhaps it was Bart Simpson. Yay, Simpsons writers.).
So, why do we delude ourselves into thinking materialism or notions of perfection are remotely important? And why do they always enter the forefront of our collective mind this time of year in particular? I realize these questions have been asked ad nauseum—Miracle on 34th Street, anyone?—and, because I’m not terribly clever, I’m asking them one more time. Seriously. So I’ve decided to dare my readers (all three of you—Hi, Mom!) to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible. Find the thing that drives you craziest about the season and neutralize it.
Hate buying useless crap for people just because it’s the holiday season and you think you have to? I dare you not to do it. Maybe buy one really nice gift, or, better yet, make something for your loved ones (DIY!! DIY!!) and leave it at that. It will be much more meaningful to the recipient(s) than a truckload of junk du jour and you will escape the mall zombies and subsequent stress, not to mention the amount of money and resources you’ll save on wrapping accoutrements. Your relatives will thank you and so will Mother Nature.
Hate cooking a huge meal for everyone—or worse, cooking a huge meal and then having people gripe about it? I dare you not to do it. Start your own tradition of pizza and/or Chinese take-out at holiday gatherings. I know I give thanks for my local restaurants all the time, why should the holidays be any different? Or have each of your guests bring a favorite food for dinner. Sure, you may end up with an entire table of donuts, goldfish crackers, and peanut butter cups, but is that really such a bad thing? At the very least it will be memorable, and isn’t that the point?
My family always wanted the “perfect” holiday. The problem is that such a thing doesn’t exist, hence the quote marks. Mom and Dad may have wanted me to remember fondly the Cabbage Patch doll for which they engaged in fisticuffs with other suburban parents when I was 7, the perfectly-roasted turkey at each Thanksgiving, and the lack of televised football at family shin digs each holiday season, and I do remember that stuff. But I also remember them freaking out about charred potatoes au gratin (Dear God! Now what will we serve our guests?!?), a tarnished silver coffee service set (Mom’s gonna be pissed! It never looked like this at her house!), and post-party stains on the rug (Goddamn that kid! He doesn’t understand the value of anything!!) Why? In the grand scheme, did any of that really matter? My dad’s last words were about how much he loved me and my mom, not about how much he wished he’d polished up that sugar bowl for Grandma’s coffee on Christmas Eve 1982.
So I dare you to have fun this holiday season. I dare you to let go of the stress and create something meaningful. Enjoy each other’s company as best you can. This is what I want for my kids. They will be getting toys on Christmas, but only a couple. They will be getting a tasty meal for Thanksgiving—sans turkey carcass as we’re vegetarians. And most importantly, they will be getting sane parents who show them that we care about THEM, not about stuff. I dare you to start your own traditions this holiday season—whatever you find most meaningful—and free yourself from needless pressure and corresponding regret. Enjoy yourself, because life is short.
You’ve got to fight for your right to birthday party! Hey ladies (and gents), it’s a Beastie Boy b-boy b-day for Mike D. So get out your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, put it on shuffle, then hold it now hit it, and share the first 10 tunes that come up with everyone.
We are incredibly excited to be a part of Music is the Weapon 2, a DJ event that showcases and benefits local non-profits. Come by Between Lounge at 1324 N. Milwaukee from 930pm to 2am on December 12, have a drink or two, and get into the groove while you show your support for CHIRP. We’ll be splitting 15% of the bar proceeds with Rumble Arts of Humboldt Park. The more you drink, the more money we make! Not a drinker? Not a problem. CHIRP will be taking donations all night, so feel free to stop by, drop a buck or two in our donation jar, and get ready to dance! You must be 21+ to enter Between Lounge.
It’s another Friday, and this time, we celebrate the birthday of the late character actor, who appeared in countless Westerns full of menace, and a lazy eye. In ol’ Jack’s honor, grab your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
One of the most fun parts of parenting is becoming proficient in all the stuff each of my kids thinks is cool. Winchie is very clear about his likes and dislikes. He likes trains, trucks, cars, baseballs, basketballs, and soccer balls. He also likes to dig holes in the back yard. That’s pretty much it. He loves to jump and run around, but will sit and read a book, too, provided the subject matter is something from his list of likes. Oh, and he also likes to build huge Lego towers only so he can stomp on them or crash one of his many wheeled toys into them. He loves his sister and his parents and we love him back. That’s all he needs to know. Give him a Thomas toy, toast with peanut butter on it and a lap to sit on when he wants it, and he’s the happiest camper in the universe.
I’m totally comfortable letting him engage in typically-boy activities like playing sports and crashing toy trucks into things because these activities bring him obvious joy and satisfaction. And I’m always more than happy to indulge him when he wants to engage in typically-girl things like playing with dolls or putting on lipstick. He’s open-minded and willing to try anything that looks like fun to him. He’s curious, but uncomplicated. What a great kid!
When it comes to my daughter, though, things are a little different. Of course, she is also a fantastic kid in my humble opinion, but she’s much more complex than her brother—or maybe it‘s just my relationship with her that‘s more complex. I’ll admit that I have the usual parental dreams of her turning out to be a little version of me (minus my insecurities and hang-ups, of course). So while I’m more than happy to let Winchie play with his trains and dig up the garden, I find it much harder to hold my tongue when Squeaky wants to do something that falls under the umbrella of “girl stuff.”
For instance, as those who know me well can attest, my everyday uniform consists of black, black, and more black, silver jewelry, chunky shoes (black, of course) and, now that I’m a mom, an industrial-sized canvas tote bag for all of the essentials like stuffed animals, blankies, and extra diapers. I wear so much black, in fact, that my husband will occasionally refer to me as Morticia and is visibly shocked when I wear anything in another color. I don’t do it because I miss the heyday of Wax Trax! or harbor secret vampire fantasies. Rather, I do it because I’m the laziest person on earth. Black matches everything and I don’t have to spend ten years searching my closet for something to wear. Oh, yeah, and I look good in black—all of us dark haired, dark eyed, olive skinned girls do.
Then there’s my daughter. She LOVES frilly, puffy, sparkly pink clothing. If it’s not entirely pink or has pink on it somewhere, she won’t wear it. Because she’s only 2.5 years old, she doesn’t yet know that tiaras exist, but if she did, she’d want to wear one around the house at all times and expect her subjects to genuflect accordingly. Her best friend is a stuffed pink bunny named Pink, when she grows up, she wants to be “a mommy,” and she loves playing with the kitchen set at preschool.
I’ll be honest. All of this makes me want to gag. And, so help me, the day she asks for a Baby Alive doll or Easy Bake oven, I will need to strength of 1,000 Hoover Dams to hold back the verbal condemnation of such hyper-gendered products. Yet, on the same token, I have no problem buying entire train sets and various sport-related toys for my son.
It’s like I’m living in one of those Frosted Mini Wheats commercials. The feminist adult in me wants to destroy all Easy Bake ovens, princess-themed toys, and anything that comes in both a blue version (for boys) and a pink version (for girls). If it appears in that Pepto Bismol colored aisle in the toy store, I’d like to take a blowtorch to it. I know toys are supposed to be all about escapist fantasies, but Bratz dolls? Really? I’d much prefer my daughter pretend to be a construction worker or a doctor or a rabbit than an empty-headed, materialistic, boy-crazy prostitot.
On the other hand, the kid in me knows Squeaky hasn’t read feminist theory and likes frilly, sparkly girlie stuff simply because she likes it. I didn’t teach her to like pink. She has always liked it. I didn’t teach her to like baby dolls. She just does. When my grandmother bought me a baby doll when I was three, I took one look at it and told her to give it to my cousin Jimmy. I wanted a Dukes of Hazzard guitar! When my mom bought Squeaky a baby doll, her face it up, she hugged it tightly, and asked for another one so her baby wouldn’t be lonely. She likes dolls and inwardly, I seethe. Her brother likes trucks, and I’m all for it.
So what’s a mom to do? In private, I throw up my hands and wonder aloud what planet my daughter came from. In public, I talk to my friends who also have kids and ask if they are as bothered by this gendered-toy dichotomy as I am. As one of them (a very intelligent and doting father of an adorable girl) recently pointed out, the problem isn’t with the products themselves, it’s with telling girls that they don’t have a choice and that cooking and childrearing are their only options in life. They can play with that stuff as long as they know it’s not a death sentence. As adults, they will have other options.
Of course, he’s right. These kinds of toys are only one avenue of many available for girls to explore. This may just be a passing phase for my daughter en route to another set of likes and dislikes My hope is that when Squeaky grows up, she will have even more avenues to choose from than those available to me or my mom. Fortunately, society seems to be moving in that direction, it just isn’t reflected in the toy aisle—yet.
And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I am a homemaker, so I shouldn’t be shocked when Squeaky asks for kitchen-related toys because she sees me cooking something everyday. My days consist of adult versions of the Easy Bake oven and child-sized dolls. But I don’t revel in it the way my daughter does and perhaps that’s the source of my ire. I did, however, choose this life (for now), and I know that it is temporary. Once the kids go to school full time, I plan on devoting more time to the business that I am just now starting up. (It would be off and running if I only had more time…) So I am definitely one of the beneficiaries of societal changes wrought by First- and Second-Wave feminists. I made a choice to stay home and I still have the option to work when I want to, how I want to.
But all that doesn’t stop my blood from boiling at Target when I see the face of a smiling little boy on a Doctor toy set (in a red and white box) on the shelf above the face of a smiling little girl on a Baby Care toy set (in a pink box). Yes, I can tell my daughter she has choices, but how can she believe it when faced with an option like this in the toy aisle? As a kid, I decided to reject all things pink and frilly when selecting my preferred toys and maybe that will be Squeaky’s decision as well. A mom can dream. Until then, I’m off to write a flame latter to Fisher Price, creator and distributor of the previously-mentioned toys on the Target shelf. I mean, really. How difficult would it be to use a picture of two kids—a boy and a girl—to sell both products?