Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day to all the not-my-mothers!

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. Unless you’ve been in a coma since stores started advertising pink stuff (right after they marked the Easter chocolate down by 75%), you know that. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to show your mother that you appreciate her. If you are a mother, hopefully, you felt appreciated. Because being a mother can be a tough task (if you’re doing it right, anyway). Those little angels start by wrecking your body as they exit, and they spend years metaphorically drinking your blood, sweat and tears – and, at least for the first little while – they can’t say thank you. In fact, until they’re about four, they don’t give a damn about you and wouldn’t say thank you even if they could. As far as they’re concerned, you’re like the sun and the moon. Up all day and all night, shining for them – it never occurs to them that it could be any different. Bridget expressed utter shock, and a healthy amount of skepticism when she found out, at the age of four, that I actually sleep. And children are expensive! The amount of money I’ve spent on wine and anti-wrinkle creams since becoming a mother could have bought me a yacht by now, I swear.

For years, Ryan did the heavy lifting when it came to making me feel good about being a mother on Mother’s Day. He still gives me a beautifully worded card, and flowers or garden trinkets, makes food and does housework – and, of course, brings home a big ol’ bucket of fried chicken for dinner because nothing tells this Beth she is loved like disgustingly, deliciously greasy food. Now, though, my girls are old enough to treat me well on Mother’s Day – and they do. They gave me fancy bath junk and flavoured teas, two lovely cards and a collection of homemade coupons for everything from dishwasher emptying and lunch-making to a spa day. I had a nice chat with my mother and my mother-in-law. I scrolled my Facebook newsfeed (yes, I’m back) and marveled at just how much people had to say about mothers. Boy, do we ever love our mothers! (Well, on Mother’s Day on social media, we do, anyway.)

Yesterday had me thinking about a different category of women, too, ones that I didn’t say anything about because I didn’t want to take Mother’s Day away from all the deserving mothers out there. I owe my mother alot. More than I’ll ever be able to properly repay. But she isn’t the only woman who mothered me. Over the years, my aunts have spent hours listening to what I have to say. They’ve offered comfort and advice and encouragement. They’ve put me up in their homes and generously shared their fine cooking with me. They’ve celebrated my milestones with me. Likewise, the mothers of my good friends. I ran in and out of their houses, grabbing snacks and making messes and staying the night more times than I can count. They schlepped me to Brownies and piano lessons and figure skating and youth group events right along with their own kids. They took the time to listen to me in a way that showed me they really cared about me – they didn’t have to, and they already had their hands full with their own family, but they did. Even their grandmothers knew who I was and welcomed me at their table right along with everyone else if I happened to be there at dinnertime. Sweet ladies who gave me a hug and kiss just as if I were their granddaughter. My mother’s friends showed up without hesitation when I called them for help (which I did more than once). My mother did the same for my friends. Many of them called her “Mom Two”, and she still asks about them when we talk. I have no doubt that if any of them turned up at her house she’d be thrilled to let them open the fridge, grab a snack and slouch on her couch like they did all those years ago.

I had a series of long-suffering babysitters. My energetic, mischievous, saucy arse surely made them question how badly they needed the money my parents gave them. Yet, they made me feel like I was one of their own children whenever I was dropped off at their house. They’re still cheering for me today, from miles away, complimenting my photos and asking about my vacations and saying “I remember you when”.

I had wonderfully involved female teachers – strong role models, all. They didn’t put up with any bullshit, but they encouraged me to think critically and question what didn’t add up and proudly express myself.

Fiona and Bridget are now benefiting from the same thing – aunts who listen to them, teach them things, make crafts with them, and watch movies with them. Their Auntie Di is even letting them use their baby cousins as test dummies on which to sharpen their babysitting skills. Great-aunts who spoil them from a distance with a little gift for every occasion. Friends’ mothers who kindly open their home to them, offering gentle discipline and encouragement and endless granola bars and popsicles. Friends of mine who rarely show up at our house without a treat for the girls, chat with them with genuine interest in their thoughts and lives, send cards and letters at Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthdays. I am certain these friends would be there for Fiona and Bridget without pause, if ever they are asked. They have had wonderful experiences with daycares of various types. The women (and, yes, they were mainly women) looking after them treated them with a tenderness and concern and emotional generosity that made it clear that Fiona and Bridget were more than just a job to them. Their teachers, from kindergarten all the way to today, have been more than just educators. They’ve been carers. Channelling Fiona’s exuberance into positive change for other students. Reaching through Bridget’s shyness to draw her out of her shell and show her how strong she really is. Taking the time to make sure neither girl is ever left behind in any subject. Finding the best in each of them, and helping them polish it to a high gleam.

Yesterday was a day for mothers, and rightly so. But today I celebrate others. Hallmark has yet to come out with cards for some of these people. I have a few suggestions:

Thank you, sixth-grade teacher, for putting an arm around my shoulder and telling me I was doing just fine in gym class when I hadn’t made a single basket in four weeks of learning basketball.

Thanks, friends’ parents, for not throwing me out of your car on the side of the highway when I led the whole backseat in yowling “There’s a Hole in my Bucket” all the way from Robert’s Arm to Springdale and back.

Sorry for my sass. You didn’t get paid enough to listen to that.

Sorry I broke your stuff even though I didn’t live in your home, and won’t take care of you in your old age.

Thanks, Auntie, for picking up the phone every time, knowing you were going to listen to God-knows-what for God-knows-how-long.

And on and on. Maybe this is more of a Thanksgiving post, but my thank-yous were already long overdue – they couldn’t wait til October. Happy day-after-Mother’s-Day, not-my-mothers!

You can’t buy what I want for Christmas.

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Every November, as soon as Remembrance Day has ended, I start getting ready for Christmas. People tease me about Christmassing too early, but it works out well in the end. By mid-December, with decorations up, cards posted, gifts purchased and baking baked, I can sit on my duff with a cup of peppermint tea and an unbearably smug smirk because I am ready for Christmas and all the people who made fun of me back in November are not. In fact, in recent years, I’ve extended my gloating to a trip to the mall to eat lunch in the food court and watch people lose their marbles in a last-minute dash for presents. I did that just last Saturday, along with my family.

Located next to the food court is Justice (this is probably not random). Everything in Justice is covered in glitter and smells like cotton candy, which means that Fiona and Bridget love the place. The three female members of our crew wandered into the store to check it out, while Ryan wisely stayed at least twenty-five feet away and immersed himself in his phone. There was a Christmas tree at the entrance to the store, and stacks of post-its in six different colours. Customers were encouraged to write their first name and a Christmas wish on the post-it, and stick it on the tree. Most of the post-its were predictable: iPods, puppies, ponies, cool clothes and accessories (presumably from Justice). There were also wishes that couldn’t be granted using money. A happy Christmas. No more cruelty to animals. World peace. One clever little wag had written a wish for “JUSTICE for girls everywhere”. Out of the forest of pastel slips of paper, one caught my eye and squeezed my heart: a girl named Makayla wishing for a friend. A friend. Not a whole lot of them, just one.

Facebook is a fount of …. well, everything everybody is thinking at any given time, whether it’s fit for sharing or not. Some posts are solid, some posts are more like solid waste. One that I’ve seen a couple of times recently, though, resonates with me:

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What do I want for Christmas? I have been grateful for (nearly) every present I’ve ever received. I do remember a pair of mustard-coloured cords and a matching sweater that I might have worn once before “losing” them …. Even when the item hasn’t particularly tickled my fancy, I’ve appreciated the thought. I’ve no doubt what I unwrap this year will also be lovely. But, really, what I want for Christmas isn’t available in stores. (And, no, Canadian Tire, it’s not available online, either. If I hear one more stupid list of all the many varieties of the many things you can order from Canadian Tire I might just hit them up for one of seventeen different lighters and set the radio on fire.)

I want peace – in my mind, in my home, and on earth. I want hope. I want desperate people to look up and believe – and I want something for them to believe in. I want time. Time to sit and ponder. Time to organize my clutter, both literal and figurative. Time to have a conversation without glancing at the clock every few minutes. Breathe in, breathe out – soak in. I want health, both in body and mind. I want gratitude to replace comparisons and anxiety. I want kindness for others, and for myself. I want forgiveness. I want to let things go. Just let them go, and not look back. I want to be a refuge for the people I love. I want no judgement. Only love today, and every day. I want more hugs.

And I want a friend for Makayla. May this be the year ….

The thing is, most of these things start with me. I can’t control what everyone else does (even though sometimes I wish I could because I know what is best for everyone) – but I can fix myself and my reactions and my priorities. Do I want them badly enough to break them down, make a to-do list, and work towards them? As life races forward, spins me around, and slips away from my outstretched hands, I feel less and less tolerant of anything less. Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

Have a holly, jolly Christmas! No, really, you can …. here’s how.

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It’s December. Even the greenest of grinches will agree that it’s ok to talk about Christmas now. So here we go …. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music (even the cheesy stuff) and Christmas decorations (even the tacky stuff) and Christmas traditions. (Except rock-hard, waste-of-rum fruitcake – that stuff can be tossed straight into the dustbin of history, with all the other things no one likes anymore. Marmalade and gerkins, I’m looking at you guys.) For me, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet it seems that, for many people, it’s anything but. Every day since the beginning of November I’ve seen at least one holiday de-stress guide. They have titles like “how to survive the holidays” and “how to handle Christmas stress” and “avoid your annual Christmas meltdown”. One author bitterly said “no wonder my mother got sick every January”, listed all the things she hates about Christmas, and claimed that this year she is toying with cancelling the holiday in her home. Why all the fuss? How has Christmas become something to panic and rant about, rather than a sweet celebration bringing us all together during the darkest days of the year?

I have a family, and a job (sadly, it’s not writing this blog or testing wine batches). I have a house and car that need regular maintenance and repairs. I have bills to pay. I have problems to work around, and bad days. In other words, I’m as stressed and tired as anyone else. But I refuse to let the trappings of Christmas make me crazy. I love it too much to let that happen. Because I know what’s best for everyone (yes, I do – that’s one of my reasons for blogging), I decided to create a list of ways to help you stay sane, too. Or, what passes for sane. That’s my standard, at least ….

Don’t buy in. One of the complaints I hear multiple times every Christmas is how expensive it is. What few people seem to consider is why. Why do we need expensive decorations? Want a dash of sparkle? Every dollar store currently contains aisle after aisle of trinkets, and enough red bows to brighten an entire city. Want old-fashioned charm? Make paper chains, or strings of popcorn and dried cranberries. Hand your children a stack of paper and a package of markers, and let them create Christmassy scenes for your walls. Why do we need to empty our wallets buying piles of presents? Ask a roomful of people their favourite thing from their childhood Christmases, and few – if any – will say it was the gifts. If you want to give gifts, keep it reasonable. Think of one or two meaningful things for each person on your list, and buy those things. If your budget doesn’t stretch to gifts, how about time? Offer to do something for your loved ones – or, better yet, something with them.

Love what you love (or don’t). Many people’s holiday complaints seem to be about Christmas-themed annoyances (again, trappings). They hate the dopey Christmas songs that seem to be on repeat in every store and restaurant. They hate the obnoxious commercials. They hate the schmaltzy TV specials. They hate the Elf on the Shelf (so do I – that smug little bugger needs to take an “accidental” tumble into the fireplace). But nobody’s forcing anyone to put up with any of this stuff! Christmas music isn’t your thing? Wear ear buds that stream your tunes straight into your head. And a little perspective might be helpful, too – it’s not as if establishments play only your faves all the rest of the year. And commercials are annoying all year long …. It’s not Jesus’ fault that morons in marketing decided to use his birthday to make everyone want fur coats and the latest electronics and Starbucks gift cards. Not a fan of Christmas programming? Just don’t watch it. None of these things are Christmas – they are just people’s response to Christmas. If you don’t like them, craft your own response and enjoy that.

Don’t exhaust yourself. You don’t have to decorate like Martha, even if you’re hosting. Uncle Pullmyfinger is going to be just as happy in his turkey-coma on your old couch as he would be on a new one. Nobody is going to inspect your place with white gloves – in fact, wait til after the holidays to clean up. January is a long and boring month. I love writing and posting Christmas cards. I do dozens of them every year. They’re beautiful. I treasure the ones I receive. Many people don’t enjoy doing cards. If you’re one of them, don’t do them. Think about who might really appreciate a card, and then give that person a call instead. Great Aunt Grouchy would probably rather pour out her complaints to you in person anyway, instead of dashing off a line in her card about how she never sees you anymore. You don’t like baking? Buy cookies. You can’t cook? Buy boxes of wings and breaded shrimp and sausage rolls. Or order several pizzas. Or hire a caterer. This is not a culinary competition – it’s supposed to be fun. Too many social events crowding your calendar? Say no. I love parties. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t drag myself from festivity to festivity like Eeyore searching for my tail. I’d stay home, throw on my flannel pyjamas, and curl up with a cup of peppermint tea and a good book – and I wouldn’t feel the tiniest sliver of guilt about it. If I thought my presence would be badly missed, I’d put in about thirty minutes of face-time, and then explain that I need a quiet evening to myself. People who really care about you will understand. People who don’t understand aren’t worth your free time anyway.

Downsize. You don’t have to do all the things, every year. Make a list of the things you consider Christmas obligations, and play with it. Put a star next to the ones you love. Then, look at what’s left, and put a star next to anything that is precious to your nearest and dearest. Your good friends enjoy a Christmassy trip to the mall? Your husband loves your homemade shortbread cookies? Your son’s Christmas is not complete without singing a few carols next to the fire? Do those things. Everything else, cross off. The things that are left will become more precious, and you won’t miss the things you were doing only because you felt like you had to.

Come together. The more, the merrier – especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas. I like to make chocolates at Christmas – vast quantities of them. This wasn’t much fun when I did it all by myself. So I taught some girlfriends how to do it, too. Now it’s a yearly event, with laughter and great food and wine. At the end of the evening, we divvy up the chocolates, and start talking about improvements for next year’s session. Shop with your sister. Decorate your home and wrap presents with your significant other. Recruit your kids to bake goodies with you, or arrange a cookie exchange. Encourage your co-workers to take on a charity with you. Christmas is a time to reach out to those around you, and give of yourself – and receive what is offered by others. Simple togetherness can be a lovely Christmas gift.

Disclaimer: This list is meant to help people who like Christmas but find it frustrating and stressful at times. If you don’t like Christmas, full stop, this post isn’t for you – try Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, or (if you’ve no time to read a novel) rum garnished with a cinnamon stick.

Year-round gifts for Daddy that don’t cost a thing!

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It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve read about a dozen Father’s Day gift suggestion lists since mid-May. Some of these lists were humourous (Dad just wants a nag-free day and an endless parade of cold beers), and some were serious. One that was written by a father with terminal cancer was a tough read. Then, there were the flyers, which seemed to be composed by people who have way more money than me. A thousand-dollar barbeque, a TV, a ride-on mower? I thought we were talking about a Hallmark holiday, not every birthday for the next eight years rolled into one …. Since I love to share my five cents (it used to be two, but now that the penny is gone, we round up), I thought I’d make a list of my own. I know Father’s Day is over – but that’s ok, because these gifts are welcome all year long. They don’t even cost money. If your Dad hammered the concept of frugality into you like mine did, you’ll appreciate that.

From the creators of TV shows and commercials, a little credit. Dads are not all beer-swilling cretins who don’t know which end of a mop to use. Dads are not all hogging the best chair, carelessly scratching in their boxers, belching and demanding sandwiches, unsure of how old their kids are. Most dads I’ve met work hard for their leisure time, and even then they don’t get it all to themselves. They know what their kids are up to, they know their way around the kitchen – and, yes, alot of them mop. With the fluffy end.

From the retail industry, a little more love. Compare the selection of merchandaise on offer in celebration of Mother’s Day to that of Father’s Day. In May, stores are festooned with roses and hearts, and the message seems to be that mothers are angels in the flesh, sent down from heaven to heal the human race (and ensure that we all have sufficient kisses for our boo-boos and clean sheets on the bed). In June, there is a modest collection of cards tucked between the graduation and wedding cards, most of them flippant. Not that there’s anything wrong with funny cards – I’ve given and received my share of them – but surely we can have a wider selection and maybe a sign or two hanging from the ceiling. People spend significantly more on Mother’s Day than they do on Father’s Day. Yet the contributions of the average father to the average household are no less important or worthy of appreciation.

From their exes, respect and fair play. If you’re not with your children’s father anymore, there’s probably a good reason – and now you can’t stand him. But your kids adore him, because he’s their Dad and they know how much he loves them. Don’t spoil that for them. The more people who cherish a child, the better. Each person who loves your kids is a brick in a foundation that needs to be very solid, indeed, if you want them to be ok in this world. You may not like everything your ex does, and you may resent having to deal with him, but your children need him – and he’s half of them. Planting seeds of bitterness against him hurts them, too. If he’s not abusive or neglectful, if he’s doing his best to pitch in and be there for his children, save your nasty thoughts for your journal or an evening out with a bottle of wine and some good friends.

From their partners, some confidence – and space. Alot of fathers want to pull their weight in the daily grind of parenting but are repelled by the eye rolls and micromanagement of mothers. I’ve been like this at times, and I’ve seen how it undermines Ryan’s confidence. Alot of moms hang over their partner’s shoulder and coach and pester him – and they are quick to criticize if what he does is not what they’d do. Then, they complain about doing everything themselves. Maybe it’s become easier for him to stand back and watch Mom do it than it is to be shot down a minute or two into the task by an anxious hoverer. Sometimes, we are just a little overzealous in our pursuit of motherly perfection. Take a deep breath and ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen …. Is it a big deal if the diaper’s on a little crooked? Does it matter if lunch doesn’t include a veggie every now and then? So what if your son’s hair is sticking up or your daughter’s wearing tights with holes in them! Don’t underestimate the value of the relaxation and variety dads bring to the kiddie table – and how nice it feels to not be the only one doing it all.

From waitstaff, caregivers, the general public and old ladies in particular, equal billing with moms. So many times, Ryan and I are both right there, and whoever’s talking to us will leave him out of the conversation altogether if it’s about Fiona and Bridget. The waiter or waitress will offer a dessert menu “if it’s ok with Mom”. Some caregivers and teachers will call our home number, my work number and my cell number before bothering with any of Ryan’s contact info. They’ll write messages just to me, even though we’ve both provided our email address. Acquaintances will ask me, not Ryan, about the girls’ food preferences, and whether they like this colour or that book. Elderly ladies will compliment me on how beautiful they are, and ask me how old they are, and say I’ve done a great job raising them because they are so polite and well-behaved. Guess what: Ryan is going halfs with me on raising Fiona and Bridget. He’s not a mildly interested observer, he’s their other parent. He wants to be included in the communication loop. He knows their favourite songs, and what shows they like to watch, and how they’re doing in French class. He knows what they like to eat, and desserts have to be ok with him, too. If they are good little girls, it’s just as likely to be something they learned from him as from me. Judging by the fathers I know, he’s not an exception, he’s the norm. How about a little acknowledgement for dads’ very big and important role in the lives and development of their children?

From their kids, a World’s Best Dad mug and a tie. Ok, these two things do cost money – I guess my title contains a smidgen of false advertising. But they don’t cost much, so maybe we’ll let it slide this time …. Anyway. I know, I know: we are often assured that Dads don’t want these things for Father’s Day. However, I suspect that this claim is sponsored by companies who make barbeques, electronics and yard gear. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink their morning jolt from a vessel proclaiming their greatness? Who wouldn’t want another classy piece of neckwear, one carefully chosen and paid for in twoonies and proudly presented by your own darling offspring? Nobody, right? I thought so.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that there are many types of fathers and family structures out there. I may draw some flame for describing only one of them, the traditional set-up where Mom is usually the queen of the kitchen and the cleaning supplies and Dad is the bigger-money-maker and lawn-mower. This has been my experience, and I can only speak of what I know.