Which Santa comes to your house?

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One day in the future, when people (Ok, maybe just my own kids…) look back on things I have written, they will see that I somehow – and unintentionally – ended up with an annual Christmas rant.  It’s not like I plan these things; it’s really just too easy with the material I’m given to work with.

This morning I stumbled upon a post on social media that involved a parent seeking a professional gift wrapper she could pay to wrap the Santa gifts and write out the tags for her kids because they knew what her own wrapping style looked like.  Yes, I read it twice.

Pause… Breathe … Regroup.

(If you really suck at gift wrapping, go ahead and pay others to do it if you must.  Or if you have a need for all your gifts to look like Martha Stewart wrapped them, you are entitled to that.  I’m addressing the idea of having to go this route because of a situation created that could have been avoided altogether.)

Now I’m not going to tell anyone how to do their Santa thing in their own family because that’s everyone’s own business.  (I do have some opinions about how some of what you might choose to do affects other children, but that’s in another post already…)

If you enjoy running around like a headless chicken for the month of December embellishing with ever increasing fervor the commercialized and over active Santa Claus of 2016 – in between trying to find new and exciting ways for your shelf elf to appear on each of twenty-four busy mornings and hoping the comparisons done by children will rate your efforts worthy – then you just go for it and have fun!

However, when people share their complaints about stress during the holiday season, and then talk about things like having to buy special paper just for Santa gifts – or in the above case, actually paying someone else to wrap and write on tags – I have to ask what the heck you are thinking getting yourselves into this mess.

I think that once you have to start farming out your Santa duties because you can’t fake out your own kids anymore, you’ve dug your hole too deep and maybe it’s just time to  fess up already.  Why didn’t you just start with unwrapped Santa gifts the first year?

But now you’re paper committed; it starts with having to buy special paper every year and hiding it strategically, hoping the kids don’t see it, because if they do, you’ll have to take it back to the store and exchange it for new stuff (true story from a retail clerk).  Then they start to recognize your wrapping style.  What a bummer! No chance at all that these uber observant probably borderline genius kids you’re trying to fool just might have heard something in the air about Santa not being real?

(I don’t believe my adult children – after 28 and 30 years – would be able to pick my own wrapping out of a pile unless they knew which paper I used, but perhaps they missed out on that gene.)

It’s too late for many.  But for what it’s worth – from my life experience and subsequent observations – here’s my unsolicited advice for new parents contemplating the variety of options:

KEEP IT SIMPLE FROM THE START.  Seriously.  Your kids will still have lots of fun and you won’t get migraines.  They don’t need a lot of extra balderdash to make Christmas special. They will come to appreciate what YOU make it, and what society says won’t matter if YOU don’t care.

Tell your kids about the REAL SANTA, not the fake one.  It’s so much easier to deal with over time and it teaches your kids to share and to give.  The real Santa lived hundreds of years ago – St. Nicholas – and he did deliver presents to kids, and everything we do now under the name of fake Santa actually started with him, but it’s gone far beyond a kind and loving gesture.  It’s turned into a commercial cash grab and parents are jumping down the rabbit hole every time something new comes along.  Why embellish?  Why build on lie after lie until you can no longer find enough ways to keep it going any longer?  Why not just tell the truth up front and have fun with it and let everyone enjoy sharing in the spirit of Santa?

Kids like suspense and anticipation. You decide what they’ll be waiting for at Christmas.

Will it be some guy in a red suit who delivers big expensive gifts to some kids and no gifts at all to others?  The guy who actually visits some homes in person but never visits others, or who phones certain children to chat while others never hear from him?  The guy who after many decades now needs to depend on stuffed elves to keep track of kids and entertain them for a month before he comes himself?  The guy who painstakingly wraps gifts for certain kids in special paper they’ve apparently never seen anywhere else while simply tossing the gifts of other kids under the tree as if he had no time left to decorate those?  This 21st century Santa is no longer the wonderful character of old fashioned movies.  He’s probably in therapy trying to keep up with the parents of today.

Will it be the guy you have to explain about every year because the rules keep changing, society is constantly upping the ante, and nobody wants to feel left out of the excitement that is supposed to be about making kids happy rather than competitive and greedy?

Or will you have your kids wait for the special surprises that will be left for them by loving family members who are carrying on the tradition started by a real person of playing Santa to make others feel happy and loved?  No lies to cover up, no extravagant commercial trends to keep up with, just the spirit of Santa Clause that lives on in truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook Memories

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You know that annoying new feature on Facebook that regularly shows you memories from years ago?  Yeah, that one.  The one that’s constantly showing me pictures from a sad and tragic experience, pictures I only look at in my home on occasions when I’m able to do so without bursting into tears.

I guess it isn’t enough that Facebook asks me every single time I log in “What’s on your mind?” (like they really want to know) it now feels the need to PUT things onto my mind that weren’t already there in Kodak living color in that particular moment when I might just have been having a very happy day remembering all the nice and fun things I have to remember and avoiding giving too much time to those thoughts about how sometimes parts of my life just suck because my husband is gone and I miss him terribly.  Every. Single. Day.

And then, BOOM! There’s a picture I deliberately keep tucked away.

Doesn’t Facebook know that our lives go through cycles and that when we post something in the moment for a specific reason, maybe three years later we don’t need it flashed back at us because we can look it up ourselves if we really really REALLY want to?  I mean, we’ve already shared it once, is there some need at Facebook’s end for us to share it again?  Of course, there’s always a nice little note that it won’t be seen by anyone else as a past memory unless we choose to share it.

Thanks, but I CHOSE TO SHARE IT THREE YEARS AGO WHEN IT HAPPENED, NOW PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!  Are they running out of data or traffic or interesting shares?  Are people just not posting enough stuff anymore that they’re turning to reruns? Geesh.  Maybe other people get a wide variety of memories brought back up in their faces, but my stream seems to follow the same path every time, right into a Kleenex commercial.

That’s what is on my mind, Facebook.

(Before anyone feels the need to tell me, yes, I do know I can turn off the memories that appear, and yes, once in a blue moon there is one I enjoy seeing but I’m not a fan of reruns unless they’re ones of my favorite old TV shows.)

 

Rebel with a cause, part 2 of 2

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It was a dark and stormy night…

Ok, I won’t make you wait any longer.  Just make sure you’ve read part 1 before you go any further.

Grade eleven Social Studies:  We were given the assignment to write an opinion essay, remember?

I chose the school system as my topic.


I’m pausing here so you have time to laugh or gasp or choke or whatever you want to do.


Better now? OK.

I don’t remember all the details, but I touched on some very current and pertinent points for the time period, respectfully but honestly, including something about independent thinking being encouraged unless it led to questioning or criticizing “the system”.  It was a great paper, no bragging intended (I can’t necessarily take credit for the things that came easily to me).  I did hand it in with some concern about how the subject would be received, but I was damn proud of it.  I got an A.

Fast forward to grade twelve English, same teacher, Mr. Cramp. (Let me pause here to give him credit for being a far better English teacher than my previous one had been!  I liked him during Social Studies and I liked him for English, until …)

It was time for our big novel study to be done as a class and Mr. Cramp chose George Orwell’s 1984.  The first day we were to start reading, we had a substitute teacher and a double block class – usually silent reading for one block and then a regular class for the second.  I opened the book, read up to page 16, was disgusted by the scene described there, closed the book, and put it on my desk.  I took out some other work and quietly passed my time.  Not long after, the sub noticed and then started walking up and down the rows of desks until she got to me.  She asked quietly why I wasn’t reading the book.  I answered quietly that it offended me and I didn’t want to read it, but that I would continue working  and talk to my teacher when he got back.  There was no fanfare; everyone else continued reading.

My dad called that evening from Vancouver where he was for a meeting, I explained the situation to him, and he assured me that I did not have to read the book if I didn’t want to read it.

The next day, Mr. Cramp returned, and I was asked to stay after class.  He told me that the sub had left a note saying I refused to read the novel and that I had caused disruption in the class.  I assured him I hadn’t caused anything of the sort, that I’d answered her question respectfully, and that I’d worked quietly so as not to disturb anyone.  He then wanted to know why I refused to read the book.

I told him it offended me, that there were immoral sections in it and it was not the kind of material I wanted to read.  At one point in our debate, I even reminded him that I knew he was a church going Christian and that he should understand why I wouldn’t want to read something like that.  He chose it because it was considered a “classic.”  I questioned what constitutes a “classic” and who gets to decide.  He wasn’t pleased and things got more heated.  I asked to be allowed to read any one of the many other books on the suggested reading list for our grade and was denied.  We debated for a while longer and we both left unsatisfied.  Again, to his credit, he wasn’t harsh or rude with me, but he was very upset and understandably frustrated.

So began the power struggle between us: the classroom discussions – unrelated to the book – that I remained quiet for even though I knew the answers to questions he posed and he knew I knew them (sometimes I was the only one who knew them) but wasn’t putting up my hand, and the various quizzes I was doomed to fail after assigned chapter readings (even though a few of my other classmates tried to give me daily summaries in Biology whenever it fell before English on our schedule!).  I was disappointed in him and while I wasn’t willing to be rude to him, I had lost my interest in participating energetically. He couldn’t break me.  I think he probably always knew he wouldn’t win but, as the teacher, he also couldn’t bring himself to bend.  Perhaps he even wanted to but wasn’t allowed to, who knows?  Regardless, though we had once shared a good rapport we were now just mutually respectful adversaries.

My biology teacher – an eccentric but fun little guy – casually teased me one day that he heard I was refusing to read a novel in English class.  I responded that I didn’t think it appropriate for teachers to sit in the staff room and discuss something like that when it had nothing to do with anyone else.  He just laughed.  I knew then that probably all the teachers were aware of my stand, but I was long past caring.  I was, after all, nearly old enough to vote, so I certainly had the right to stand up for myself and my values.

During parent teacher interviews it was common for students to walk their parents around to find their classrooms (huge school!) and I sat outside while mine went in to meet with Mr. Cramp.  The typical time slot was about ten minutes, so after half an hour, a couple of the other parents waiting in line were joking with me, asking just what kind of mark I was getting in the class (one of the other parents was, ironically, the principal from the junior high school science teacher incident described in my previous post!).  I told them I actually had an A.  That gave them all a good laugh.

When it was over, my parents said that he had expressed his concern over my refusal to read the book and the fact that he knew I was avoiding class participation since the issue began.  They expressed their support of my right to not read the book.  He made sure they knew that it would affect my mark because I wasn’t able to participate in the assignments or the quizzes.  We were aware of this and I did drop from a high B to a low B average for that section.  And, as part of his perspective, he then brought in the matter of the paper I had written in grade eleven about the school system, using that to further his point about my non-compliance.  Dad reminded him that he had given me an A for a well-written paper.  He admitted it was well written despite its indication of my tendency to rebel on certain matters.  I can imagine from what I know of my parents and what I knew of Mr. Cramp, that the whole meeting went off without raised voices or rude comments.  But it remained a standstill nonetheless.

At the end of all that came the book report I wrote in its entirety while working coat check at a New Year’s Eve parish dance.  I used class notes and came up with a paper that earned my teacher’s 87% grade – not up to my usual level (in my day, 87 was an A minus) but a very reasonable result for not having read the book.  And he knew I hadn’t read it, but he was reasonable enough to mark my writing on its own merit.

If you’re still here, good job paying attention!  I didn’t realize that I remembered so many things so clearly until I started writing them down.  It’s pretty obvious that I’m strong willed.  It’s also obvious that my parents stood with me when I stood up for something important to me.  None of these situations show that I “won” anything.  But I also didn’t lose.  I stayed true to myself, I was respectfully assertive, and I learned that even if you can’t actually beat the system, you don’t have to let it beat you.

I came away from my many years of school with two favourite teachers I remember fondly to this day.  Neither stifled my spirit; both showed me that being an effective teacher was about far more than the subject matter, and that respect is earned. It doesn’t just come with age or degree.

Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about kindergarten, when I was so bored and angry about having to use those big fat red pencils to print when I could already write my name in cursive script, that I deliberately scribbled outside the lines on all the pictures on a counting sheet, just to make a point.  THAT was talked about in a parent-teacher conference too …

Rebel with a cause, part 1 of 2

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I referenced a couple of school related incidents in my previous post about writing,  so if you remained at all curious, it starts here, with a few years of leading up to my final stand 🙂

When most people talk about rebellious teenagers, they’re referring to rebellion against parents, rules, societal norms, and authority in general.  Much to the relief of my parents and the disappointment of my children (no juicy stories to share!) I didn’t go through a rebellious stage at home.  I had moments of rebellion, but mine weren’t typical, and I always had my parents’ support in them.

I rebelled at school.  I didn’t rebel against rules or hard work.  I didn’t disrespect teachers, I got very good grades, I didn’t skip class, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t party.  I didn’t even stay out late at night. But I did rebel.  (Can you even believe it, looking at that face?)

I rebelled against injustice and ridiculousness.  I rebelled against having immoral ideas and material forced upon me.  I rebelled against anything sending the message that I had to conform to what teachers said, even if it was against my personal beliefs, just because I was a kid.  I wasn’t rebelling against authority;  I was standing up for a cause.

Just the beginning

I didn’t like my grade eight (or nine?) science teacher because he was a forty-something playboy type who thought he was “all that”; I thought he was a creep.  Along with his generally annoying ways, he made a blatantly inappropriate sexual reference one particular day while speaking to the class about something in the area of biology, and I reacted to it in a way that got me kept after the bell.  I don’t honestly remember what I did, but I do remember that once everyone had left except me – and a friend who stayed to support me – I was sure I was in trouble and I smirked.  This was my unfortunate reaction when I was nervous or in trouble for something, and it landed me in the principal’s office that day.

I was very disappointed because the vice principal (principal was busy) seemed much more concerned about my smirking at the teacher than he was about the teacher’s behaviour.  This was my first indication that as a student my guilt was assumed first and foremost, regardless of any truth I might be sharing.  Apparently, my previous record of good grades and respectful behaviour were either unknown or irrelevant to him.

I stood my ground that the teacher was wrong, and was then told that “they” would be checking in with all my other subject teachers to see how I was behaving in class.  I told him that was fine with me and that I had no concerns.  Just to be sure, I personally approached each of my other teachers after school that day to let them know they might be asked about my behaviour as a student in class (kept the details vague) and that if there was anything at all they weren’t happy about I wanted to know directly.  None of them had a problem with me and assured me that I was a good and respectful student.

I remember my dad coming to the school either the next day or not long after and going to the office with me to meet with the principal himself.  I wouldn’t give up my own position, my dad supported that, and when I asked the principal about the results of talking to my other teachers, he had nothing to say.  He decided to have my science teacher join us; the guy sat down and was acting all nice and trying to be casual about things, but I didn’t even want to look at him. When the principal asked me why, I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him and that what he did was wrong.  I don’t remember exactly what happened after that meeting, but it was near the end of the school year, and we heard over the summer that the teacher wouldn’t be returning to a school in our district.  There had been other complaints along the same line after the end of the school year, from people who probably weren’t wanting to rock the boat with him during school time.  Take that, administration.  I was not wrong.  I got used to standing alone amongst conformers.

Then came the videos

In grade nine we were all supposed to watch a video about venereal disease and how to prevent it.  The announcement of the start of the video came over the speaker when I was in English class and while the rest of the students were leaving their desks, I stayed in my seat.  My teacher came over and asked me why I wasn’t leaving, and reminded me that we were all supposed to go because it was an important educational video.  I told him that the only way to get VD was by doing something I had no intention of doing for a long time so I didn’t need to watch it.  I was “preventing it” just fine on my own.  He was a very nice and reasonable man, and he thought I had a point, so he let me stay and get back to my work.

When I got to grade eleven – a different school with a whole new set of teachers to surprise! – I found out one day during lunch hour that there would be a video shown during a class of mine later that day of an actual vasectomy surgery.  No, thank you.  I went straight to the pay phone and called my mom.  She agreed that there was no way I had to watch such a video; she called the school directly, backed me up and that was that.

Senior High, Holding my own

My grade eleven English teacher was a real winner.  She majored in English but couldn’t explain to us the proper use of who and whom (“I just do whatever sounds best”)  or the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, among many other points of study.  She had a sign-up sheet for students who wanted to help her with her regular marking and “earn” themselves a higher letter grade in the class. She spent a lot of time at the back where the guys were sitting and it wasn’t uncommon to see her sitting on the edge of their desks chatting it up, even though she was middle-aged herself.  I’m not implying that she had inappropriate intentions; she just wasn’t the most professional teacher I’ve ever had.

One day she had us move our desks into groups of four to do a project involving scissors, glue and cut outs from magazines to make collages for some stupid reason; she had previously sent a couple of people out to buy the magazines, telling us that there was still too much money left in the budget for her department so it had to be spent or they wouldn’t get it next year.  Thank you, taxpayers, for those magazines. (Meanwhile, the biology department was struggling to find enough money for the grade twelve fetal pig projects.)

Several ridiculous classroom events led me and five other students to get up and walk out of class one day because we were so frustrated.  We walked straight across the hall to the principal’s office and told him that we were learning nothing, that she was doing ridiculous things, and that we couldn’t take it anymore.  We wanted a proper teacher.  We were all A students.  He told us all about her qualifications and suggested we return to class of our own free will.  We must have eventually gone back but our uprising hadn’t been completely in vain because we had taken a stand for our own education and that was something.  It led to further discussions.

One evening not long after that, my dad took me to the school where we sat with my teacher and the principal around a large table covered with a blown up copy of the curriculum, and they tried using it to prove she was teaching us as she should be.  Interestingly enough, the way those things were worded (vaguely described and without proper explanation) we couldn’t prove her wrong by that piece of paper, but after a civil interaction, they both knew we weren’t being fooled.

I rode it out to the end of the year when, with three weeks left, she gave us our last in-class test, because she wanted to have everything all marked before the actual end of the year to save her time.  Yes, she voiced these things. The next time she asked us to do an assignment after watching a video, I asked her nicely why we had to do it.  Was it going to count for something?  She answered “no”, because the marks were done.  I suggested there was no point in wasting my time doing it then, she suggested that wasn’t a good attitude, and I sat quietly pondering her lack of logic while waiting for the bell to ring.

On final exam day, a few of us heard students of other English teachers talking about the poetry section on the final exam.  Poetry?  We had done nothing at all with poetry! Perhaps that was supposed to be happening during cut & paste time?  We ran to one of the other English teachers and asked for help so we could at least cram something into our heads before the test started.  Thankfully the other teacher was able to quickly go over the main ideas and assured us that there were only a few poetry questions.

I think she must have tried mending fences because I remember going with another friend to her house for tea one day over summer holidays.  She was probably a lot of fun socially, but students need teachers to teach.  That fall she was given a principal position at another school.  And we shook our heads …

Then there was the time in grade twelve that I skipped a pep rally on principle.  Hard to believe, I know, but the story went something like this:

Some of the teachers had actually been complaining to us in class about government budget cuts and how they were expected to cram so much more material into less class time, suggesting that they didn’t know how we were going to cover everything in the shorter time frames.  And then one afternoon there was a pep rally in the gym for one of our teams and all students were required to attend.  It was to be a two-hour event.  WE WERE EXPECTED TO SKIP AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON OF SUPPOSEDLY NOT ENOUGH CLASS TIME TO GO TO A SPORTS RALLY.  Just wanted to make sure you got that clearly.  They even locked the school doors so we couldn’t just leave school altogether and an announcement was made to that effect.  Un-freaking-believable.

So I went straight to one of my favourite teachers who wasn’t attending the rally herself and asked if I could please sit in her class and work on some of my assignments instead of wasting two hours at a pep rally.  She, being one of the sweetest and most dedicated teachers I had, completely understood my rationale, agreed with my sensible alternative choice, and at her own risk allowed me to sit in her classroom until it was over and the doors were unlocked for us to go home.  She was a tiny, sweet, humble, and unassuming English lady, but she was also a stand-up-alone-when-you-have-to kind of person, and we remained friends long after graduation.

And now, the story you’ve been waiting for …

Ok, you’ve only been waiting for it if you read my last post which hinted at my high school years.  This part – the best part – could be a whole post on its own now that I think about it.  I mean, this teacher deserves a whole post…

And really, you’ve already been reading for a long time here.  So yes, I’ve just decided to make it another post all on its own, Rebel with a cause part 2.  Stay tuned for tomorrow …

 

“Social” media?

Things usually come full circle.  Sometimes there’s a bit of a tweak the second, third or fourth time around – like when the clothing styles from the 70’s made a comeback but there were a few fashion updates – but in essence, the basics stay the same.  It just seems that we need to go through cycles of varying degrees as new things come along offering us a little bit of something we didn’t have before.

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So I’ve been wondering a lot lately about social media and communication in our present day world, how it’s developed and where’s it’s headed, and what it has taken with it little by little along the way until we suddenly realize that we are back to where we started.

But first, I need to backtrack.

Seniors today will probably remember a time without telephones in every house when letter writing was the norm and mail took a long time to get from one place to another.  But I’m not a senior – yet – so my starting point is a little further on.  I do remember having only one rotary dial phone in the whole house.

I was a letter writer from a young age.  I was taught to write thank-you notes whenever someone sent a gift, and I had pen pals through an elementary school program.  I loved writing letters and getting replies and it was exciting to get mail addressed specifically to me.  I don’t remember being a “phone” person until I was a teenager and could spend an hour or two on the phone with a friend I had just said goodbye to after school.  How I did that, I’ll never understand because I’m definitely not much of a phone person now!  But it was a big deal then because it usually ended up causing some kind of issue when someone else needed the one and only phone.

Fast forward to the availability of extra phone lines, and the cordless phone, which allowed us to walk around the house, do dishes, laundry and cook all while chatting with a friend.  There was no more curling up on the floor under the wall mounted phone trying not to stretch out the cord; we could take the cordless phone out into the back yard and never miss a call.

We still wrote and received letters, though, and at Christmas, most people included a short note with their cards in their own handwriting and it was exciting to catch up on all the news from family and friends we didn’t see often during the year.  Then one day we got a photocopied Christmas letter.  My parents were not impressed, and I wondered – as a letter writer myself – why anyone would just write one letter and copy the same thing out to everyone as if we were all the same person with no individual relationships with the sender.  My mom continued to write personal notes and each year the photocopied ones grew in number.

Eventually, of course, once I was married and had gone through the rejection of the form letter to the pain in my hand as I wrote the same news to everyone, we developed our Walsh Christmas Newsletter, making it humorous, sarcastic, and something that would be fun to do.  We have a binder with a copy of each letter written over the years and it’s still fun to look back at them.

Then came the first cell phone.  I went shopping with a friend and came home our big black  Motorola flip phone (weighing in at about 5 pounds) and Pat shook his head.  I was generally the one who enjoyed technology; he used it as he needed to and I don’t think he would ever have used the word “enjoy” to describe his experiences….

Fast forward again to the internet and the onslaught of computers in many households. Our first desktop system had a whole 4 MB of RAM and a modem, which at that time was top of the line.  We had a printer and everything.  Now I could really fancy up that Christmas letter!  But the email idea was still a side show because most people we knew didn’t have computers and we used ours more for educational purposes.

Gradually email became a regular thing, our cell phone was upgraded to a smaller version with more bells and whistles (and then there were two) and we were staying on top of things, moving along in the changing world of communication.  But the regular mailbox wasn’t as full anymore, most of the envelopes had windows, and people started emailing Christmas letters instead of sending them in cards.

One day, I heard my kids talking about something called Facebook.  I couldn’t imagine what I would ever do with it myself, as it seemed to be for the younger set, and appeared to be replacing those long drawn out teenage phone conversations.  But because I wanted to learn and understand what was new and popular (and have a handle on what my kids were doing) I signed up and began my Facebook experience.

My new cell phone had a text feature on it and I wondered why people wouldn’t just call instead of working so hard to tap those annoying little keys just to say “hello there”.  And once I found out that it cost extra money every time a message went one way or the other, I made up my mind it wasn’t for me.

As often happens, though, life events threw me into a situation where my one constant means of communication was my cell phone, and I had to start using it every day, all day, for emails, calls, and eventually texts as I strove to keep in touch with family and friends from various hospital settings.  I became attached to it out of necessity and now it’s part of my life.  So I’m not immune to this shift from conventional communication to technological advancements that offer convenience and security in various situations.

Now I’ve noticed that emails are much less frequent as people are able to sign into Facebook daily and look at pictures and read snippets about what their friends and family are doing – all of which seemed very cool when it was first available but now makes me think that we’re losing out somehow.  The emails diminished gradually, to the point where the only messages I get anymore are things I’ve subscribed to and not from anyone I have a personal relationship with.

But more than that, even the Facebook communication has changed.  What used to be a place to read little things about a person’s day, something happy or something sad, or just something fun they shared, now seems filled mostly with “other people’s” stuff; by that I mean things that people on my list have liked or shared from other people’s posts, probably because they are only seeing these things too.  I enjoy using Facebook for buy and sell groups, sharing pictures and stopping to chat with someone I see online, so I’m not finding fault with it or with anyone who uses it.  I just rarely see a personal post anymore, and from the things I’m reading on the subject of social media, this appears to be a general experience, not just my own.

Yet this new lack of personal interaction hasn’t resulted in more emails, more phone calls, or more good old fashioned letters.  It’s like the personal communication has diminished altogether, while we have more and more means of engaging in it!  I can’t even wrap my mind around the need for Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus or any other thing I’ve heard about that just sounds like more of the same.

So, back to my introduction at the top:  things go in cycles.  I wonder if we’re getting to the end of a cycle when we’ll eventually stop and realize that we’re more involved in the circulation of online information, jokes, articles etc. than we are in our actual personal relationships?  I wonder if these systems which seemed to make personal communication more convenient have in the process drained something from that communication and made our experiences superficial rather than real and personal?

Let’s face it unless you are sunshine and flowers every minute of the day – which I don’t believe anyway – you can’t say what you really want to say in a Facebook post or comment without it causing someone some kind of upset, whether you mean to or not.  And then we learn from those experiences to guard our words, hide our emotions, or at least cover them in some way so they don’t come across quite as truly as they are felt.  And if “communication” goes awry, we limit what people can see, or unfriend them.  The only really personal things we can say have to be in private messages anyway, which shows me that the Facebook world is a sort of front that can be useful in some ways for certain purposes, but that it should all be taken with a grain of salt.

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I won’t be giving up my cell phone anytime soon, and I haven’t written a Christmas letter the past while because on one hand there just hasn’t been much happy news, and on the other, with all the Facebook stuff I doubt there’s anyone at all who doesn’t know what’s happening in my life!  But I admit I’ve been thinking that while it’s a fast and convenient way for me to catch someone online or share something, I don’t think Facebook is really helping me to stay “connected” with anyone at all.  I do think it’s showing me that real relationships are nurtured in personal ways, which for me might be getting back to basics.  I want to have real conversations about important things and to know the real side of others.  Social media has its place, but that isn’t it.  Just my two cents …

This I Know

marriage-quote-ecard I’m compelled to respond to certain comments that have become regular and flippant in our society when relationships go through difficulties or come to an end.  Often I see sarcastic pictures depicting the scorned woman whose man didn’t live up to her expectations, and either continues to make her life miserable or is no longer part of her life at all.  I’m no marriage expert, but I do know something of the dynamics between men and women, what works and what doesn’t work.  I’m not singling out women here to lay blame; it just happens that most of what I hear is from the women’s perspective, so that’s what I’ve chosen to address.

I’ve had people tell me that I was “lucky” to have such a good husband and be married for twenty-nine years, through thick and thin.  I had a very good thing, there’s no doubt, and I will be forever thankful for what I had, but I don’t believe it was lucky.  I think it had a lot more to do with character and commitment, and the fact that we knew each other well enough before we got married to know that we wanted the same things, that we shared goals and dreams together, and that we saw each other not only at our best before we married, but also went through times of trial and saw each other in our less than stellar moments.  We had an open and honest relationship before we decided to join our lives forever.

All relationships have irritations and annoyances because we’re all human.  There wasn’t anything that irritated me during our marriage that I didn’t notice before we got married, and I know Pat could say the same.  I wasn’t starry eyed and blinded by love, I knew I loved him and made the decision to be with him despite the human imperfections, and clearly he did the same with me because I was always much more of a handful than he ever was!

Yet, when I hear people talk today about things that went wrong, they often admit if questioned that they did notice things while dating – sometimes big things – but they dismissed them, thought the other person would change, thought that after the marriage things would be different.  How often does that really work out?  Yes, we sometimes mellow with age, but I’d just like to say that if the guy you’re dating is selfish, a drinker, inattentive, jealous, wastes money, disrespects you in any way, treats his family poorly or has family that treats you poorly, and any of these things – or numerous other possibilities – bother you, make sure they are things you’re willing to accept forever or don’t get married, and don’t make babies with him.  And if you do ignore them or the advice of others around you who try to help you see them, don’t be surprised when things don’t change and you’re left unhappy or divorced.

Yes, there can be something big that arises out of the blue that wasn’t foreseen by anyone, but I’m speaking here about the most frequent situations where people can identify something early on and look back later and know they saw it, or at least signs of it, but went ahead anyway, or rushed in before they had enough experience with each other in various situations to have a pretty good idea of how things were going to be. If women rush into relationships even despite advice from family and friends to the contrary – and they have many reasons for doing this that I don’t claim to understand – they often end up in marriages that aren’t fulfilling and they either feel trapped or they’re alone again after it ends.  The sad thing is that frequently they become bitter and resentful towards men, marriage, and relationships in general, without recognizing that perhaps it’s their own life and way of approaching dating and marriage that is causing their choices and resulting unhappiness.

I wasn’t perfect, but I did take the time to know my future husband, to know his strengths and weaknesses and how those meshed with my own, and nothing in those areas really changed for us in all the years we were married, except that we grew and matured and developed our relationship together and over time it became stronger.  The irritations didn’t disappear, but we learned how to better manage them and sometimes each of us was able to make changes in our attitudes and behaviours to please the other.  And we always understood that we would be together until the end, imperfect as we were, disagreeing here and there, arguing once in a while, and loving each other more and more as we aged.

I never complained to anyone but Pat about things he did that bothered or upset me and he gave me the same respect.  Even my own parents weren’t privy to information about our private relationship. Too often today this privacy isn’t respected and before there’s a chance to resolve an issue, family and friends are all aware of it, giving input and taking sides.  (As a side note, I was pretty sure that if I ever was inclined to complain to my parents they would take Pat’s side and send me home because they knew me well!)

So was I “lucky”?  Was I living some fairytale? No.  I lived in a real life marriage with ups and downs and hard work and many rewards and lots and lots of love.  And we know that even the characters in good stories don’t end up with happily ever after, because eventually one of us is gone forever and the other is left behind to mourn the loss.

I just find it sad to see how many people today don’t seem to get it.  They either rush in, or rush out, or repeat patterns of behaviour that give them disappointing results over and over again, and they miss out on what they seem to really want but never find. I think somewhere along the way maybe they need to change themselves and their way of doing things before they can expect their story to change.  Just my two cents.

I want the real Santa back!

It doesn’t matter to me when you put up your Christmas tree, or which Christmas greeting you use.  I’m not even going to rant about the real meaning of Christmas because, let’s face it, we all like the presents and the food even if we boast about Jesus being the reason for the season.  
But I do want to say something about Santa because this society has taken him from a never seen or heard mysterious and magical part of Christmas to a sports car driving techno dude in a sleigh tracked by satellite who does guest spots on the radio, and kids are glued to the internet on Christmas Eve instead of sitting on someone’s knee listening to a classic storybook and it bugs me.
 
Yes, we did the “Santa” thing when our kids were young.  Would I do it again? No.  I do believe in “Santa”, just not this one.
 
Magic comes from mystery, something really unique and exciting we can’t ever quite put our hands on or wrap our minds around.  Things that are everywhere, embellished and adapted to suit individual ideas and activities are not mysteries.  They become overload and quickly take the magic away.  Drink eggnog every day for a year and see if you care two hoots about it on Christmas Eve!
 
When I was little, Santa was the guy no one ever saw.  He showed up magically to deliver presents on Christmas Eve after we were asleep.  We didn’t have to write letters because he saw us when we were sleeping and knew when we were awake, so he just knew stuff – important stuff – like what we wanted for Christmas.  In our house we left him beer and pepperoni, because we knew he would be tired of eating all those cookies along the way. It was a simple mystery.  It was magic.  It was exciting and fun.
 
Then he started showing up at the store.  And after that, at several stores.  Soon explanation that the real Santa couldn’t be everywhere at once so some of the guys in red suits were elves helping out and you just never knew which one was the real McCoy was necessary.  OK, fine, I bought it for the short term.  But why did Santa have to be in the stores at all?  Wasn’t he busy up there at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas and that around the world in 24 hours trip? How did he have time to come down with his elves (who were supposedly making toys up there) to sit in stores?  The magic was fading.  
 
Next came the letter writing.  Apparently Santa was aging too and perhaps needed reminders about things, so writing the letters and then sitting on his knee to ask again were probably helpful for him.  Parents swiped the letters to “mail” them and quickly opened them up to make sure they got it right.  Kids never saw them again and never knew the difference.  Gifts appeared under the tree. 
 
Santa started showing up at company Christmas parties and handing out presents early, to the kids that were there.  Huh?  Now THAT was a mystery.  Why would he do that for some and not others?  I guess you had to book him early on because the party season was so busy.  Tough luck if you missed it.  The magic faded a little more.
 
And then I got to school and that was the end of it, because unless all parents are on the same brainwave, it’s over.  The funny thing is that if you are the one who knows the truth you are supposed to keep it to yourself so that the other parents can keep on lying, and if you tell the truth you are in trouble for spoiling their kids’ fun.  My fun got spoiled because some other kid found out before me. Goodbye magic.
 
Skip ahead to my own little ones, and while I wanted to share the fun with them, I began choking on the whole Santa can’t be everywhere so he sends his elves to help him out story.  I put them on his knee for pictures even the year that they screamed and cried in fear.  Even magic Santa couldn’t make them happy enough to sit for a picture at the age of one when mommy handed them off to a stranger in a bright red suit.  No mystery there!  
 
Santa started showing up everywhere we turned, in different costumes, sometimes fat, sometimes not, and now coming right into the schools to have kids sit on his knee.  They had yearly Santa pictures taken and anyone with eyes could see that no two Santas looked exactly the same.  Now they had a photographic record to prove it.  Some people were arranging for “Santa” to make phone calls to their kids, visit their family gatherings, and inviting us to participate.  Didn’t they think about what happened the next day when their kids told other kids who didn’t get to do these things with Santa?  I drew the line there, finally starting to see where all this was going, never imagining just how far it would be taken later on.
 
The Santa letters I helped our kids to write were then mailed to an actual address through the post office, and they received replies from Santa.  I guess somewhere along the way the elves must have reproduced like rabbits to allow Santa all this letter writing time right in December, which everyone knows is the busiest time of year for any business, and we at home are all scrambling just to get our own box of cards addressed and stamped.  But I went with it, they were happy and it gave us something to save for the scrapbooks.
 
Enter the school:  while I’m sure letter writing skills are important and worthy of being taught, there seemed a gap in logic when letters to Santa were being written in the classroom where kids could add anything they wanted — without their parents having a clue of the content — and the school mailed them, resulting in another reply from a Santa with apparently too much time on his hands.  Not to mention that whatever was asked for in the school letter was often something parents didn’t know about, so let’s play guess that gift and hope for the best.
 
Skip ahead to today’s children whose parents are pressured into buying eery little elf dolls because so-and-so has one and the lie must go on!  They’re supposedly “watching” kids all day and at night doing all kinds of things for which kids would get into trouble, while reporting back to Santa (who used to know on his own who’s been naughty or nice).  OMG!  What’s next? 
 
When are they going to come out with “Santa’s Secretary” so he doesn’t even have to write the damn list himself anymore? Then maybe he can just send the reindeer around with the sleigh to stuff the presents down the chimneys — certainly they all know the route themselves by now and probably have begun tuning out the whole “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen” thing with a few “as if we don’t know what the hell we’re doing” eye rolls anyway — and he can stay warm at home with Mrs. Clause for a change. After all, maybe she’d like some attention on Christmas Eve …
 
Let’s be honest:  we lie to our kids.  We tell them a fairy pays for their teeth but doesn’t know the difference between a quarter and a $20 bill to cover the fact that the kid down the street has richer parents.  We tell them about a rabbit that delivers eggs and chocolate bunnies at Easter (no magic sleigh or even helpers here, the guy just hops around the world carrying loads of treats in his two little front paws and none of it melts?) There is a difference between withholding truth they don’t need at a particular time, and formulating lies that require more and more lies to keep each other going.  We tell ourselves these lies are for fun and they create magic.  No they don’t.  They steal magic away as the lies get bigger and bigger because kids get smarter and smarter.  Not only that, but there is an expectation that other parents will also lie and teach their kids to lie so as not to spoil the “magic” that our lie is working to create.  Now we have kids lying to keep parents happy.  There is something very wrong with this.
 
I don’t believe in this Santa Clause and I don’t want my future grandchildren to believe in him either.   If I had it to do over again, I would do the “Santa” thing but here’s how it would go:
 
I would tell my kids that Saint Nick – a real person in our real world – was the first Santa Clause, that he loved children and went around giving them special gifts.  Now that he’s gone, we carry on his tradition and keep the spirit of Santa alive by playing Santa for others.  Parents play Santa when kids are small and when they grow older they can join in on the fun of surprising, giving and sharing.  I’ve seen this become magic.  Children learn what they live and whatever parents present as magic and exciting fun will be perceived as such and the traditions will last because they are built on truth rather than on unfolding lies with disappointment at the end.  Santa is real – he is part of all of us.

Mr. Frances Church got it right in 1897 when he responded to an inquiring little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.”  If only we could stop the madness and go back to a time when Santa was a mystery and we didn’t even know what he looked like, until he got thirsty and started drinking Coca Cola…

Related links:
Truth, Lies and the Elf on the Shelf
Santa and Coca Cola