Monday, 8 December 2014

What if HO HO HO stands for "HOrrendous HOliday HOarding"?

If you close your eyes, take a really deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then have a long loud exhale through your mouth while still truly believing (cue in the music, please) "It's the most wonderful time of the year" -- please click on another page. Now. This week's post is not for you. Close this down. Thank you. Ciao! Just kidding... read on!

Disclaimer: No, I am not an #IH8XMAS weirdo. Nor have I been scarred for life in my early childhood -- making a wish list of sorts and then being ignored by Santa or his reps, getting both zilch & bubkes as a result, forever remembering that morning that forever ruined Christmas for me. All joking aside, too often in my coaching, I see this story repeat itself, bearing considerable grief straight into mid life. The same applies for "my parents used my Bar Mitzvah money to pay for my Bar Mitzvah". Disappointment is a universal beast.

How abundance felt
Diving straight to the place of major nostalgia for me, let me confess that I loved New Year's time when I was little. Born into Serbian Orthodox heritage during the communist reign meant fasting all day on Jan 6th, including the X-mas Eve and a food-over-loaded, yet gift-less X-mas day on January 7th. All the while making sure the shutters were closed and the curtains were down. None of this celebrating was allowed by Marshal Tito and his party. My mother still remembers some songs her grandparents sang for these occasions, and she will sing them beautifully, come January, adding hum's and la-la-la's in lieu of lyrics that have been long forgotten. We were a small yet loud and affectionate family of ten: Grandfather, grandmother, their two daughters with husbands and their four kids. I was the baby.

However, we did get the presents each Dec 31st - they were called "New Year's packages" - pre-paid at our mom's workplace. The employer's union meeting hall, with buzzing and randomly blinking neon lights, would fill up with good parents and excited kids. Despite our fanciest attire, we all looked greenish-blue. The fat dude in a red suit called Santa all around the world, had a different name here: Deda (Grandpa) Mraz (Frost). He was lean and tall like Serbians usually are, and he sported a white beard fashioned from cotton balls. He must have looked really creepy as I am hysterically crying in almost every single photograph my parents took, developed, printed and neatly placed in a family album. Although I have vivid memories of my early childhood, I don't remember a single gift I ever received.

What I do remember, however, is the smell of the live fir tree my father would bring on December 31st. My mom would get the ladder and from the farthest depths of the tallest shelf would materialize a few magical boxes filled with unique hand-crafted glass ornaments. Half of her career my mom was a lawyer at The Institute for Manufacturing Banknotes and Coins - the mint. Her work friends were designers and artists who 'played' with making one-of-a kind art. She started a collection, delighting my sister and me. She still has them. But what I loved even more than these unique shapes were the lights. My mom would string them first, place the shiny garlands deep inside the tree, then let us, kids, carefully slide each precious ornament into the place we chose. Every night she would flick the switch and the tiny colourful bulbs would warm up, inspiring the evergreen to cast its spell. The lights would stay on all night making our old and uneven walls glow with a magical hue. And although I was somewhat aware of how unglamorous it all looked in the daylight, that time of the year the nighttimes were sheer abundance. I felt wealthy.

Perhaps this is why my first experience of a North American Christmas had such a weird effect on me. My first step on the US soil was none less than New York, New York. The movie, architecture & art lover that I am, I didn't have time to notice the Rudolphs, wreaths and jingles. I was mesmerized by this city from my first breath. This hasn't changed. The second stop was Houston, TX, where we, my first ex husband (I'll call him F/X) and I, were to witness the traditional Christmas affair: the live Nutcracker performance followed by the maple-glazed ham and a ginormous stuffed turkey, and tearing through Neiman Marcus gift-wrapping paper. Da "works".

On the first day I met F/X's family, I also met a darling 3-year-old boy who was our host's grandson. With a Croatian father and a Chinese mother, this child looked both cute and interesting to me; I was unaccustomed to multiracial families. The only other race in Serbia were Gypsies. Immediately I owned the role of his aunty-in-love. We played everything: from peek-a-boo and tickle-toes to hide-and-seek and irresponsibly run-run-running around the house, filled with oversized golden statues and tacky porcelain figurines. When the moment arrived for all of the family to gather around the giant tree, I seriously expected a school bus loaded with orphaned children would be honking at the driveway any second, announcing their arrival. There were  s o   m a n y   t o y s  on the display for only One (1) three-year-old child. They could have done their own WestJet miracle. Seriously.

That year, little Johnny* got a train set. A kick-ass train set, battery operated with meters of rails, traffic signs and a working ramp! He got a remote control operated helicopter. And a car he could sit in, with gears and shock absorbers. And a formula-one race track. I almost forgot a puny little Fisher-Price school bus, to round the transportation department offering under the tree. Add a mega Lego set - one of those we'd just seen in the NYC's flagship store -- we had checked out the price, laughed and said out loud: "Who buys this??!" He also got a bench with the mini Black & Decker power tools, each tool actually making a faint electronic noise so the kid is not confused which one he is playing with. Further in the sound category, there was a keyboard with a record/replay option and a microphone. A mini drum set. A kid walkman. Kid camera. Kid phone. The only thing missing was a kid's HELP phone.

Uninterested in this near vulgar display of reverence many friends and business partners felt for the powerful CEO Grandpa, although many gifts were no doubt purchased by the family as well, little Johnny impatiently yanked at my knuckles right after the adults had finished ripping the holly-infused wrapping paper, ooo-ing, aaah-ing and moo-ing to excite a reaction from the child.

"Mau-ina**!!! Let's go run, run, run!!! C'mon Mau-ina!!!" was the only reaction.

Soon after, when we were once again deeply engrossed in the play that cost no more than my cheerful presence, his mother appeared. She pulled me aside and forbade me to continue to 'engage with her son in this manner, as it will build an expectation that she is not willing to fulfill'. English was still a foreign language to me (I would immigrate to Canada only four years later) so I tried to repeat that statement in slow-motion in my head doubting I fully understood - she does not run, run, run and do tickle-toes with little Johnny??! No way! Then she ordered: "And no more wearing perfume when I am here!" Totally getting how privileged I am, I was the first to find out little Johnny was gonna be a big brother. Double the order for the kids' help phone, please!

These days there is so much buzz in place of finger-pointing about our young ones being spoiled, lazy and feeling entitled. This applies to generation Y, the millennials... I read an article this week how some bravely innovative parents cancelled Christmas for their unruly kids, giving them the gifts of consequences, perspective, imagination and family.

My take: Why now? Why should any day in an arbitrary calendar be given the power to dictate anxiety, depression, family drama, credit card debt and #PARENTINGFAILs?

In his book Flourish, Martin Seligman outlines the basics of happiness, the role of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin as well as easy to do techniques of how to influence their production by simple acts such as generosity and kindness. Or even just observing these.

But it's easy for me to say all this, only seven days before the first night of Chanukah, the Shiksa-No-More that I am. Right? X-mas does not apply to us. To cure my fir-tree nostalgia, we relocate to Florida every December. The ocean breeze and palm trees embroidered in thousands of golden lights trick me into forgetting the smell of the pine needles. I know. I am lucky. And my kids are spoiled, sometimes treating airplane travel as if it was a subway ride.

Welcome to my reality by design, compliments of Friend Like Me: there is no such a thing as shopping-days-countdown. No fighting for parking at the Mall. No Black Friday strategies. No credit card blasphemy. No anxiety. No reciprocity. No disappointments. No family feud. No entitlement. No cancellations.

Just a somewhat funny, blended family. A couple with a university freshman, Grade 1-er and a JK-dude, chilling on the beach, digging holes, collecting shells.

We do that all while at home too, aimlessly riding subway lines, exploring our local ravine or City "Gumping" (our signature activity named after Forrest Gump who was aimlessly running, while we aimlessly walk). Oh and there is a "Holiday To Do List" to follow:

Friend Like Me Holiday to do list
I wasn't kidding when I've hint-hint-nudge-nudged  "'Tis the Season to cut the credit card", in my first blog post.

Oops, I almost forgot! That first X-mas in TX, there was another gift for me, although I wouldn't become aware of it for the almost entire Happy New Year that followed. Call me Ms. Oblivious, but strategically placed right under the mistletoe happened to be the girl that would become 'my mistress'. Ho, Ho, Ho, indeed!

*not his real name     ** my real name :-)