Archive for November, 2015

The contradictions of the Christmas list

It’s right around this time of year when an assignment comes due. This isn’t an assignment at work or at the career center where I volunteer — it’s one I owe my family.

Thanksgiving hasn’t even hit, and it’s Christmas List time in my think-ahead family. When I complete the assignment of emailing my mom some things I’d like as gifts, I’m sure to feel the same way I’ve felt each year after sending that email: materialistic.

There’s no avoiding it. I will have just sent a message about, you guessed it, material goods. And I will have thrown out the window the idea of need and listed a bunch of wants, unnecessary yet fun things like new Ugg boots, expensive running tights and back massage certificates.

Listing what I want for Christmas makes me feel selfish and spoiled — things I’ve worked hard throughout my twenties not to be. I’m blessed to have a supportive and stable family, but I try not to take advantage of that.

Throughout the year, I pay all my own expenses and try to do little things, like send real thank-you letters, keep in good touch with close friends, share candy and goodies at the office and call my grandparents occasionally, that show my appreciation for all the fantastic advantages and privileges in my life. In my heart, I’m thankful.

On Thursday when we go around the table and list things we’re grateful for, I’ll have plenty to say — my mostly enjoyable, challenging and important job, my reasonable and understanding boss, my simple ability to move all of my body parts and function fully, without disability, my enjoyment of physical activity and healthy eating, the friends I know will always be in my life, my faith, my fiancee and plenty more. I have so many things to be thankful for, but I know I don’t show it enough.

And then Christmas rolls around. And there are so many celebrations. Believe me, I’m not complaining. Just listing all the occasions for which people want to buy me gifts, even if I don’t need them, makes me see the blessing and the curse of it all.

There’s the real Christmas day, on which my family still has managed to celebrate with gifts in the morning despite three twenty-somethings working new-kid schedules that often include holidays. Then there’s Christmas afternoon, when my fiancee’s family gathers for a gift extravaganza that hasn’t scaled itself back to a Secret Santa or a cards-only occasion. Before the big day, my mom’s side of the family gathers over the weekend for a variation on the Secret Santa theme, and it’s a grand fiesta of family and festive foods. Before even that, it’s my fiancee’s family at it again, gathering for the German tradition of St. Nicholas Day.

It’s a first-world problem, for sure, but the spectacular celebrations of Christmas always make me feel materialistic along with blessed and loved. I’ll make some donations, but somewhere inside I’ll still feel selfish. I’ll give plenty of gifts to others, and I’ll put as much time and thought into them as I can. But I’ll still feel some guilt about the nice things I’ll gladly receive regardless of need.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for materialism. So it’s time to change the focus. When my Christmas list comes due, I’ll find a way to complete the assignment — I am a rule follower, after all. But maybe, gradually, I’ll also find a way to work less material goods into the picture, leaving more room for what the season truly is all about: love, family, support, charity and a fresh start. Wishing you all that and more this holiday season.

Speak soon. Stay lucky.

Marie

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One wish for a better world

I wish people weren’t so hypocritical. And I wish it most when it comes to our families.

There are times that bring families together. Births, birthdays, religious ceremonies, coming-of-age occasions, graduations, weddings, retirements, deaths. Aside from the obvious downer at the end, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Then there are things that tear families apart: insults, grudges, slights, distance, time, selfishness, laziness. I don’t know which is worst.

But families remain central to our lives, even as we progress through our twenties. Even as more time passes from the days when we lived with all of our immediate family, those relatives are a rock and steadying factor. Even as time progresses and some of us start our own families or come closer to doing so, those who raised us remain central.

Yet we let our families slip down our priorities list all too often, taking for granted that they’ll always be there for us. I’m guilty, that’s for sure. In fact, my family’s dependable presence and unconditional love are things I take comfort in assuming will be there forever, even when I’m not showing the most kindness, caring or consideration, even when I’m being selfish and putting my own thoughts, needs, wants and interests before those of the people who matter to me the most. Even when my selfishness takes so much precedence that I lose sight of the priorities I place on people, loyalty and dependability. Family is still there.

And when is this sad selfishness most apparent but at the time of a loved one’s death. Inevitably, there will be a lot of family time around a death, and this can be good and bad. Good because family can offer comfort that only those who truly understand you can provide. Bad because family time around a stressful and sad occasion can lead to old tensions flaring and new battle lines being drawn.

Also inevitable are the realizations. They’ll be different for each of us. Often they involve time. We’ll realize we should have spent more time with our families — the ones we were born into and the ones we choose. That’s what old people always say on those work/life balance surveys, anyway: they regret working so much and not spending enough time with their families. But why do we have to let this become a regret before we try to do something about it?

Time, I guess. It’s such a limiting factor that we blame it for our inability to balance our lives and put into order the things that are or aren’t important. Time is why we don’t see our families enough, but time isn’t the culprit. We are.

So if we value our families, let’s start showing it. If we love spending time with our families, let’s start doing it. Don’t wait for the next joyous occasion or tragic one. Don’t wait even for the next weekend. Keep the people who matter in your life central to it and do it now. Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, Y is for You

You’re the only you you’ve got.
You’re the only you there is.
You’re worth it.
You matter.
You’re loved.
You’re valued.
You’re cared for.
You can do it.
You can do it all night long.
You’re sweet.
You’re unique.
“You only get one shot to not miss your chance to blow.”
You are the reason.
You might be someone’s answer.
You never know.
You have the answers.
You’re able to find them.
You determine your future.
You are powerful.
You are strong.
You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
You are who you are.
You know who you are.
You remember.
“You is kind; you is smart; you is important.”
You are never defined by one thing alone.
You are not what happens to you.
You’re a winner.
You’re a fighter.
You can always make it better.
You rock.
You’re funny.
You make me smile.
You’re enough.
You’re you. And that’s all you’ll ever need.

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Why it’s awesome to have no plans on the weekend

It’s Saturday morning and I wake up just after 7 a.m., thrilled that I’ve gotten to sleep in. It’s midday Saturday and I’m making brunch after a six-mile run, leisurely sautéing veggies before adding eggs to make a breakfast burrito. It’s Saturday afternoon and my laundry is almost done, so is my cleaning. It’s Saturday evening and I’m outside on the balcony, reading a book in the surprising warmth. It’s Saturday night and I’m taking a walk on the path by my apartment.

It’s Saturday night, and then I realize … when did it become so awesome to have absolutely no plans on a weekend?

When I officially reached adulthood, I guess.

Growing up, weekends were family time, filled with activities governed by the parents, the park district soccer schedule and whatever the siblings or extended family might have going that day. In high school, weekends were important friend time to do a whole lot of nothing — watching movies in someone’s basement, piling into someone’s car and driving around aimlessly, or better yet, wandering to that reportedly “haunted” road on one of the many edges where suburbia meets a rural abyss and hoping something creepy happens.

Some anxiety entered into high school weekends, too. What if if was homecoming time and you had no prospect of a date? Or what if it was any old Saturday night, and you had nothing to do but stay home with your parents, listlessly chat on AIM and watch the 9 p.m. news on TV? Disaster! Weekends became something to be filled with friends to prove you had friends, with adventures to prove you had adventures, with plans to prove you had plans for your social success, and therefore, your life.

College was a vast improvement, but those few weekends when it was tough to find anything real to do still posed a challenge. Huddled with a few friends from the dorms on a cold Friday night, you’d scroll through your phones, wondering if you could scrounge up anyone who was having a party, anyone old enough to buy alcohol, anyone willing to bring you warm cookies without requiring you to walk outside to the late-night cafeteria. The weekend remained something to be filled — until Sunday afternoon became mandatory homework time, which blended into all of Sunday night and at least two hours of early Monday morning. Ahh, the 2 a.m. sleep cycle … Now that I don’t miss …

But when I suddenly realized, at the soundly adult age of 27, that it’s glorious to have a free weekend, I knew times had changed. When I admitted I don’t care if I have plans every Saturday, because me-time is important, it allowed me to place a little more value on having a moment. And really, we all need a moment. Maybe it’s a moment to chill, sleep in, catch up on some TV; to read, relax, get organized, clean; even to make plans for future fun-filled weekends and be active on our own terms.

A free weekend with a blank calendar stretching out before you with 48 hours of unoccupied bliss isn’t a social snafu, a popularity fiasco. It’s something to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fantastic free weekends could be coming up … in as few as three more days.

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