Monthly Archives: December 2009

Who Is Your Family?

IMG_5893.JPGNow that Christmas is over, I can finally say it:”I hate Christmas.” I know many people that feel the same way, and it has nothing to do with it being a Christian holiday. Instead, it’s about the idea that “family” should get together once or twice a year to binge on food and “be there” for their family even if throughout the year they couldn’t be bothered. I can’t speak for everybody’s family, and I’m sure I’m exaggerating with my own family, but it’s just that being of the same blood doesn’t mean all that much to me when I don’t even see these people most of the year. That may be the modern lifestyle, but that just means to me that we have to redefine the meaning of family and, with that, the meaning of Christmas. Family, to me, are the people that were here for me during the tough times, on a day-to-day basis. Christmas can be any day of the year you choose to give of yourself to others.

Raise Your Hand If You’re A Single Mother

Being a single mother, as it is with many single mothers, Christmas and Thanksgiving were not times of joy for me in the past. They were times of extreme hardship. If it wasn’t the lack of money, it was the fact that many times my daughter was spending time with her father during the holidays, even when it was my turn. Others have their families all together, and they think that this is the atmosphere I want to be in when Christmas time rolls around? This is not my idea of a good time, and I doubt anyone would think it is if they were in my shoes, but people rarely put themselves in your shoes.  Instead, because Christmas is a time to make merry, they insist that you participate too, whether you like it or not.  They don’t realize that letting me out of their festivities would be the kindest thing they could do for me. I even tried to get out of Christmas one year by telling my family that I was not available because I was taking a trip. They just showed up earlier. They just don’t get it. I don’t want to be around them during the holidays. It’s not personal, it’s just not pleasant for me. Now, I’ve finally said it: I’m not showing up for Christmas, no matter what the reason. If they wish to show up during the rest of the year to be there on a day-to-day basis for tears as well as laughter, they are more than welcome. Otherwise, Christmas is not the time I want to get together with people who don’t share my life in this manner, whether they are blood-related or not. I’d rather spend it with the others who showed up when times were tough.

Are People Getting Why Christmas Is A Farce?

During the recession, I’m sure many other people got a hint of how tough it is to celebrate a season when you just don’t have the funds, when people expect you to put on a show, when the gas or electricity is being shut off and no one is noticing. Even so, those that still have their spouses and kids are blessed, as I am, to have that connection around, and I also have connections in the neighborhood with other people who aren’t even close relatives that I consider my true family. Why? It’s because even though I don’t mention it, I notice the small things they do to support me and my daughter in every day actions. Sometimes it shows up in a filled up tank of gas, a dinner invitation, or even free clothes. It’s really not about the material benefits of having other people care throughout the year, it’s knowing that someone actually does care and that they are willing to sacrifice some of their own time and effort to make sure my daughter and I are well taken care of. It’s a feeling of having an extended network of people within the city, my community, that is caring and sharing their resources, and not just showing them off. It’s the phone call I get to talk about what they can help me with (even if I don’t accept), not about their new job, baby, or whatever. The phone call is appreciated when there is obvious caring behind it. It’s also about the follow up where they show up at my door and get rid of hornets in my yard, or replace a worn carpet, not because they need the work and want payment, but because they saw a need and they wanted to help. Those are the people I feel connected to, and those are the people I call family.

I Love My Adopted Families

To be honest, in almost the past 30 years, the only time I’ve seen my actual blood relatives has been when they were celebrating something. I have to shell out money to show up, and you know, most of the time I’m not in the mood to celebrate. It’s a major effort for me to show up, it can cost me work time which I need to keep solvent, travel costs, and money in gas, lodging, and food. I am generally completely obligated to show up, even if I just don’t want to, even if I had the money.  I have to sit and listen to people who I have little in common with. It’s not that I dislike my family at all, it’s just that there is not the same connection I have with others who were more caring during the year and available within the same city on a day to day basis. Why would I suddenly feel the urge to be with somebody who I haven’t seen in person during the entire year, and who was very busy with their own life? A year is a long time to be left alone. If I left my cat alone for a year, I don’t think it would ever forgive me, yet people do this to other people all the time because it’s a modern way of life that values this sense of disconnection and distance. We really don’t want to hear about the tough times, we just want to talk about the fun things. We have no idea how to create community, even when these are people within our own blood relatives.

This year I decided I would no longer show up to family functions. My kid is grown up, and I don’t feel obligated to show up to visit with people whose connection resides in blood, instead of actual support and sharing. It’s not that I have something against my relatives, it’s that I value the community of people that were present with me all year long more. It’s the presence I value, not the blood. It reminds me to be present too. It creates an environment that can sustain me and my daughter, and others likewise, whether we celebrate Christmas or not.  I’m also thinking I am going to nurture and grow my adopted families more, even though the relationship is already mutually beneficial. I just think I understand now how to help others a little more, and it has nothing to do with a dollar bill or bloodlines, celebrations, or Christmas. Sometimes, all we need is for someone else to be willing to be present with us during the tough times, not just the good ones, and that creates a bond of community stronger than blood.

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Do you care?

Broken WindowWhen someone comes into our lives for a season, sometimes you get far more from them than what they take. That was the case with Sergio, a Hispanic boarder who spent five months in my home. I’ve spent a lot of time in contemplation over Sergio, after he left, and now I’m ready to tell you what I learned most from Sergio. I learned I care. However, it’s not the type of personal caring you might be thinking of, no it’s something quite unusual that I never noticed until I saw it manifested in Sergio’s every move within my household. You see, I didn’t understand it at first, but Sergio cares. About me? Not so much. I think he cares about life, and that’s what truly puzzled me.

Taking Time To Notice And Heal The Past

You see, Sergio had some odd personal habits that I realized were to my advantage to emulate, but no one had ever modeled them for me. I explained to him when he first came into the household and he started discovering broken items hidden away in cupboards, closets, and sheds, that I knew they were broken. It pained me so much to be unable to fix them, that I hid them away rather than have to look at them. Then, I would forget about them, until something else broke. I attributed this behavior to a lack of money, but Sergio just shook his head and took it upon himself to start to clear out all my cupboards, my closets, my sheds, and one by one fix everything. The broken weed eater: Fixed. The broken pipe: Fixed. The broken washing machine: Fixed. Then, came the cleaning and re-organizing. My daughter said to me:  “Sergio’s obssesive-compulsive.” I told her in all seriousness that he was giving us a gift and that we should pay attention, appreciate it, and try to emulate these behaviors instead of criticizing them. However, I too was puzzled for a while.

Why Don’t We Do It Ourselves?

Finally, Sergio sat me down and asked me why I never did these things myself, and I told him the truth. I had no idea how to. No one had ever taught me to care. In the garden, for instance, I had tried to grow tomatoes the previous year and failed miserably. It wasn’t until he told me to be careful with the watering that I realized my mistake with all my vegetables: I had to water underneath the plant in the morning or in late afternoon instead of mid-day so as not to get water on the leaves and have them burned when the mid-day sun evaporated on them. No one ever told me that, until he came in. Instead, what made the most sense to me was that the plants were “thirsty” in the middle of the day when the sun was brightest, and they would be cooler if I sprayed them all over, thus effectively killing off all my vegetables. All I had to do was take more care, not earn more money or waste more water, and I found I produced more than enough to eat during the summer months.

The Spiritual Lesson Of Poverty

Where did Sergio learn all this? He grew up dirt poor in Mexico, the eldest of four children from a single mother who worked in a factory to support them. His grandparents had orchards to sustain them. However, he was so poor, his school backpack was his mother’s worn out purses and he had no shoes. From this life of what we consider extreme poverty in the US, he learned to care for each and every little thing in his life. He learned to appreciate it and make it last. He learned to fix it, when it broke. I can’t help but think that this is what is missing in our American culture. We’ve forgotten how to care in the same way that Sergio cares. Millions of Americans are facing hard financial times. Instead of cursing the darkness, let’s look at how we can care more about our lives. If we would open our hearts and look at everything from the smallest blade of grass to the large houses we live in, and really care in a deep and intimate way that respects all of life, I’m sure even a lack of money would be no obstacle to creating a life of pure joy and perfection.