Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why I think the holidays suck.

When I was growing up, no one was as into Christmas as I was.

As a small kid on Christmas Eve, there was never much of an event.  We would get Santa some cookies, throw a carrot or two into the yard for the reindeer, and get ready for bed.  Besides the usual "shut off the lights and settle down", I would also get, "if you don't stop playing around in your room and shut up, Santa is going to skip this house!" thrown at me every few minutes. 

When I got a little older and knew that Santa's workshop was actually K-Mart and that the presents were kept in my parents' closet, my mother used to use Christmas Eve to meet up with her friends and get plastered, and my father and I would quietly and uneventfully watch TV until I decided that rastlin' wasn't very Christmas-y and I'd just go to bed.  Most of those nights, I would lay in bed having panic attacks believing that my mom would not bother to come home that night and Christmas would be ruined. 

Back then, my mother would be hungover in the morning and so she would refuse to get out of bed early, and my brother (who is 10 years older than me) and I would just sit there bored out of our minds staring at the tree, waiting for something to happen.  When my mother finally DID get up, she would amble about for a while and miserably sip a Pepsi while we opened our stuff.   I can't say that I was often disappointed back then.  My parents were always broke and yet somehow always managed to pull out all the stops for Christmas.  My mother (as you may know from my posts about her) has this belief that kids should have the things they want and that to disappoint them in any way is to scar them for life.  I am no psychiatrist, but I think my mother tried to show her love with presents.

Later in the day, my mother would start preparing for dinner.  We were not a family who believed that holiday dinners need to be eaten at 2:00, because that's much closer to lunch time (you idiots!), so the preparation wouldn't begin until halfway through the day.  We could expect to see one or two uncles, an aunt and a couple of cousins, along with my grandmother who lived down the block.  Grandma Virgie was in her 60's and a chain smoker, which was odd because for as long as I could remember she traveled everywhere hooked to an oxygen tank because of the Emphysema that she had from chain smoking.  Virgie was also a drunk.

When I was a kid, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was not just a stupid song that made us laugh.  IT WAS A WARNING.  Grandma Virgie would simply stagger home drunk in the snow after dinner.  Looking back, it seems really irresponsible for anyone to have let her stumble around outside alone in the cold and dark but I guess those were different times.

Inevitably during dinner, one uncle would get too drunk, start a fight with someone or everyone, and the police would have to be called. This happened every holiday that I can remember until I was at least 9 years old, when my grandmother passed away (oddly, NOT from emphysema) and we stopped getting together on the holidays at all and it became all the more depressing. 

Through my teenage years and into my twenties, it would just be me, my parents and one lone drunk uncle (it varied - I have a couple) on holidays.  There was nothing magical or sentimental and it really wasn't much different than any other dinner at home except for the total freak out my mother would do at feeling obligated to cook when she just wanted to be left alone. Back then, my mother suffered from depression and my brother had moved away to Florida (probably JUST to avoid having to be home for the holidays).  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I would listen to those fucking Christmas songs and the mental pictures of sitting around a roaring fire with all your friends laughing and drinking eggnog and no one calling anyone else a motherfucker or cunt and everyone being cheerful and giving wonderful gifts that they selected regardless of cost and out of pure love and respect made me truly HATE the holidays. So I took a job where EVERYONE hates Christmas. At the mall.

When I moved to Arizona, I loved not having to deal with the family at the holidays.  However, I never could get used to eating Christmas dinner on the patio next to the pool.  I continued to work in retail and the only reason it ever seemed like December was because work would suddenly get extremely stressful and I would threaten to quit more often.  For me, it never seemed like it was really Christmas at all, except when one of those fucking songs would ambush me while I was at the grocery store and all those feelings of wanting the perfect Christmas would well up inside me and make me feel like punching something. 

I always assumed that once I had kids or stopped working in retail I would be able to put the past aside and start to actually "feel the Christmas spirit".  But it still eludes me.  The last couple of years, Lila was too young to really anticipate the holiday and she really didn't care either way what was going on.  This year, I got so stressed out about not having money that I ruined it for myself.  I still want to give gifts that show some level of appropriate thought and emotion and I still want to feel like there is some kind of magic.  But I couldn't afford the gifts and the magic is tough to conjure when you're poor.

Lila was excited about the whole thing, but halfway through opening her presents found herself bored with it, wanting instead to go play with the Wii or take pictures with our camera.  This infuriated me more than I can tell you because (like an idiot) I overspent because I wanted her to see lots of boxes wrapped up under the tree.  So I bought her a lot of little things and apparently, what I gave her in quantity was lacking in quality.  For me, the lesson is that I was acting like my mother and not being the kind of parent that I want to be.  I don't want a kid who expects tons of shit for Christmas!  I want a kid who is willing to think of others and perhaps give some of her toys to kids that don't have any.  All I did this year was miss the mark. 

As for Christmas Eve...I wanted to have a celebration where the whole family comes over and we eat and talk and sing and watch Christmas movies.  But it turned out that everyone already had their own plans.  So Ben and I invited just the parents over and we had a small quiet dinner and then they went home.  Lila and I got cookies for Santa and put a bunch of carrots out on the porch for the reindeer.  We left him a note reminding him of the one thing she really wanted this year (big Tinkerbell coloring paper and paint to go with it) and we read The Night Before Christmas.  I admit, I fell asleep in her bed with her and "Santa" almost didn't come...but in the middle of the night I woke up and made sure that everything was in place so that she would feel that magical feeling when she came down the stairs to see the tree lit up with her presents underneath. 

After we were all finished opening the presents on Christmas morning and the three of us sat down to relax, I asked Lila if there was anything she wanted that Santa didn't bring her.  She thought for a moment and said, "he didn't bring any slippers for Daddy...or a new coat for you."  And I smiled because I realized that THIS was the kind of kid I wanted to raise.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Just so that I have it written down...

Lila got bored opening her presents Christmas morning.  About halfway through, she began asking if she could play with OUR video camera and whined when we said no.

The same sentiment happened (and I was glad) over at Grandma's house when the presents just kept on coming out from under the neverending tree. 

I believe that she could have stopped after 5 or 6 items and would have been perfectly happy with what she got. 

And I had to set a new rule that morning.  If it takes me 30 minutes to get the toy out of the packaging, you have to play with that toy FOR AT LEAST that long. Why are they making kids' toy packaging childproof?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Birthday for Jesus

Lila's father has some serious Christians on his side of the family.  Last year, Aunt Dale brought a cake to Christmas dinner and (in all seriousness....not as a joke) had us sing "happy birthday" to Jesus. 

I was telling Lila's father that we should bring the cake this year, and Lila yells out, "I think baby Jesus would LOVE a Backyardigans cake for Christmas!!!!"

Change "Donald" to "Jesus" and we're good to go.
I am going to order it today.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More of that Christmas Spirit

One of my co-workers sat at her desk staring at the computer screen as if she was about to throw up.  When I asked her what the deal was, she told me that she'd just spent $500 on a computer for her grown son when she'd meant to spend $300 and he totally didn't deserve it because he is an asshole.  She said that he was rude to her the other day and she actually told him at that point that there was no way she was going to cough up the money for the $300 computer that he wanted and yet, here she was, spending money that she really shouldn't be spending on an ingrate when she could be using that money to do something useful like pay bills.

I did the same thing over the weekend.  Although completely determined a few weeks ago to show Lila that Christmas IS NOT about how many gifts you get, I managed to spend my entire (and I literally mean down to the nearest dollar) paycheck on toys, clothes, candy, games and stocking stuffers in a matter of 2 days.  I have no cash left to live on this week and had to beg her father to fill up my gas tank but dammit, Lila will have fucking magic on Christmas morning, at least for the 15 minutes it takes to tear the paper off all the boxes.

WHY do we mothers do this kind of thing all the time? 

I realize that Lila has no need for this crap!  I also realize that the majority of it will NEVER be played with after it's first time out of the package.  I realize that I am going to be behind on my bills and miserable without my morning coffee run at work for the next two weeks.  I realize that we do not HAVE that kind of money to spend on stupid toys and that since she is 3 she would not know whether Santa left 10 boxes or 25 boxes on Christmas morning.

And yet, there is this profound push by us mothers to get our kids more and better stuff.  To make them happier and more fulfilled at least once a year by buying Christmas gifts.  In a very rational way, WE ALL KNOW that this is insane and that this stuff makes them nothing if not more spoiled but we do it anyway.  Even when we can't afford to pay the cable and Internet and it gets turned off and we decide to live without it for a couple of months rather than to have to deprive our children of that extra toy or gadget (speaking from actual current personal experience).  It's fucking insanity. 

And don't even get me started about the stupid sense of obligation that I am fighting with to not buy dumb little token gifts for everyone I come into contact with on a daily basis.  Do I need to get a gift for Lila's teacher?  My co-workers?  My boss (-es.  I have 2)?  How about the guy at the parking garage that I see every day?  My mailman?  My neighbors?  Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents, in-laws?  Isn't that what the entire point of the now 3 month, drawn-out holiday season all about?  Aren't I supposed to give and give and give to everyone but myself?  Don't I need to shop myself into a coma and then have the energy to invite all these people over for a perfect holiday feast so we can sit around a fire roasting chestnuts and singing carols?

At least, this is what the stupid idealization of Christmas says.  My kids should get everything they want and I should buy buy buy and no one should feel left out or neglected and I should be cheerful about it and sing and hum the whole time because, you know, 'TIS THE SEASON!!!!

I am going to commit to myself right now and ask that Lila's father hold me to this.  Next year, I will set a budget and that is it.   And it will be a small budget.  Maybe $200.  There will be hand-made gifts, so I will need to start planning around Halloween and I will not fight the urge to NOT indulge every wish my kid has, especially since as she gets bigger, the wishes will too.

Oh sweet Baby Jesus, there in the manger in my scraggly nativity scene, please give me the strength to not stress myself out like this ever again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Tis the Fucking Season

It is not in my nature to be one of those parents who goes to wait in line outside a toy store at 3am so that I can push, trample and punch my way to the hottest coolest toy just because my kid wants it.  It will just never happen.  Luckily, Lila's tastes are pretty simple and far-reaching.   

All year long, Lila sees toys on TV, screams and cries to Grandma, and lo and behold, they show up at Grandma's house within a few days.  Most of the year this is annoying to me (who is determined not to raise a spoiled asshole kid who thinks she is loved only based on what we give her) but whatever.  I cannot change the nature of my mother as Grandma. 

Thank goodness that everyone withholds that kind of spoiling during the month of December in lieu of waiting for the windfall that is Christmas.  Everyone, that is, except for Grandma.

Lila told me after Thanksgiving that there was only one thing she wanted for Christmas and that was the unicorn Pillow Pet (see previous post).  This was going to simplify things tremendously because Santa would bring that and then several cheap toys from Wal-Mart, some socks and underwear, and $10 worth of dollar store stocking stuffers and we would have another affordable and easy Christmas before Lila got old enough to know any better. 
Until last week, a few days before we were going to visit Santa.   I went to pick Lila up at my mother's house, and she was so excited to show me what "came early" from Santa.  My asshole mother went out and bought her the Unicorn.  And not only did she go out and buy it for her.  She gave it to her.  With less than 3 weeks before Christmas, my mother presented Lila with the one item she desperately wanted Santa to bring her. 

To complicate matters further, my mother THEN handed Lila the ToysRUs ad and told her to circle the things she wanted.  Lila circled a $1500 swing set, a $200 doll house, 3 bikes, a Barbie Power Wheels Escalade (so she can "drive her dolls around") and anything she saw that was related to Disney Princesses or Dora the Explorer.  At bedtime I tried to sit her down to explain that she can only ask Santa for a couple of things.  She was confused but said she would think about it. 

The next morning, she found a little pamphlet that had come with another toy that she's had for months.  If you've never heard of the Playmobil sets you're missing out.  They're actually kind of cool, if not a little too advanced for my 3 year old kid.  Lila decided she needed to have the amazingly detailed schoolhouse set and the hospital set which I believe has over 300 pieces.  For the next several days, all she talked about was asking Santa for the school and the hospital.  She specifically put the pamphlet into her Tinkerbell backpack so that she would remember it when we went to see him.  She stared at the pamphlet lovingly naming all the little characters in the picture.  I asked her if there was anything else she was going to ask Santa for and she said, just a coloring book and some paint.

Breakfast with Santa day arrived and she sat on his lap and told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted a play schoolhouse, a play hospital and some paints and coloring paper.  "That's it," she said.  Santa told her that she would have to be a good girl until Christmas and if she was he would do his best...

Later that day, I decided to go online to get some of this shopping nonsense out of the way.  I checked the big 3 toy retailers (Target, Wal-Mart and ToysRUs) and no one carried either the school house or the hospital.  Then I went to the Playmobil website and found out why.  THOSE SETS COST OVER $150 EACH.  This was going to be a problem.  This year, money being pretty tight and all, $150 was the entire budget for Lila's Christmas toys.  With the Unicorn Pillow Pet being the main event, that was not going to be a problem.  There HAD to be some other toy hospital set or school house I could get her somewhere, right?

I tried to talk with her and told her that the elves didn't make enough of those toys this year and that I didn't know if Santa was going to be able to bring her those.  She began to CRY and asked if she was being naughty (???!!!!)  WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!

My imaginary mean response would have been "Remember how the other day I told told you it was time to clean up your toys and you threw a fit?  Yeah, well Santa saw that and said a kid who acts like that is only getting a lump of coal."  But that isn't the response.  Instead I sit here feeling like my kid is going to be let down on Christmas because I really cannot afford to give her the things she wants. 

It occurred to me that perhaps paying in advance for the several years of therapy she is going to need because of all the times I have failed her as a mother isn't the worst idea.  She wouldn't really get it now, but I guarantee, when she turns 20 and doesn't have health insurance and realizes that she's turning into her crazy mother, she'll be grateful I thought ahead. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sleep envy

The other day I walked into the grocery store and saw a toddler knocked out sleeping in one of those plastic-car-on-front-of-cart things while the mother happily shoved her reciept into her purse and smiled on her way out the door.  I am still extremely envious of parents whose children sleep when they're tired.  My fucking kid still battles it every single night. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wow...This Kind of Sucks!

I have made some changes to BecauseMotherhoodSucks.  I added topical "labels" to each post and have them listed along the right hand side of the home page.  This only took me about 2 hours and so now I am too tired to post a new thrilling tale of how being a mother is again pissing me off.

But please, feel free to look at my topics and read posts that may be of interest.  If you want to be totally terrified, read my Post Partum Depression Diary.  Jesus Christ, I have no idea who that crazy lady was, but no one should have given her a kid. 


Friday, December 3, 2010

Awesome Relationship Advice from Non-Moms

I have said on numerous occasions that before I had Lila, I pretty much knew EVERYTHING there was to know about being the perfect parent.  No way would my kid refuse to go to bed or talk back to me!  Straight out of the womb they'd understand that there is a way we do things and they would adhere to that set of rules because they would KNOW the consequences. 

Well, this is total bullshit.  Ann you quickly realize that this being that you have brought forth from your loins is not actually a dog to be broken and trained but is actually a person with likes, dislikes, a will and a really super cute pouty face that you adore so much that you would do just about anything to never see that face sad.

The same was true before I had Lila when considering how I would act in any given love relationship with the father of my kid(s).  There were plenty of things I would NEVER put up with.  Joblessness? Leaving dirty socks all over the house? Snapping at me because of something totally unrelated?  Fuck that shit.  I would NEVER tolerate that kind of behavior.  Not to mention that it would never happen because I'll be damned if I am going to be with some broke-ass slob with a temper. 

But you know what they say about the best laid plans?  Yeah...well shit happens. 

Quick Background:

My relationship with Lila's father isn't thrilling.  In fact, lately it's almost excruciating.  Ever since having Lila we have had a tough time financially.  Not because of her but because he is in construction and when the housing market collapsed so did his business.  There has been a lot of stress and strain on our relationship because of this and we have seen setback after setback trying to get back on track.  I handle stress by wanting to be alone and he handles it by stuffing his frustration and basically believing that he's unhappy because of me.  I in turn get stressed because I feel like he is blaming me unjustly and he gets more frustrated because I just don't get what hes stressed about and it keeps growing.

Getting to the Point:

We don't really fight.  We like each other over all.  But day to day life has intruded in such a way that literally weeks will go by and suddenly I will realize we haven't kissed since last month.  I was talking to one of my single friends about this and  he gave me this advice:

"Children learn what they live.  If you two aren't happy together you should separate because it is better to have two happy parents apart than to have two miserable parents together.  You're just depriving yourselves of true love and happiness elsewhere and children adjust."  (This coming from a person whose parents stayed together until he was in his 20s and has never been married or had children.) 

I am paraphrasing of course, but this brings me to the simple logic of life without children.  The above advice makes total sense when you look at it on the surface.  Before I had Lila, if I wasn't head over heels in love I totally would have felt deprived.  I would have felt like something better was obviously around the corner and I would have known that I would be fine if I packed my shit and moved out.

But it isn't as simple with a family as it is with a couple.  Because as much as I am NOT head over heels for HIM, per se, I LOVE our family.  I love to watch Lila and Daddy playing and I love to go to the zoo or the beach or to dinner as a family.  I love our house and love playing CandyLand with the two of them. 

For much of my youth I assumed that "LOVE" and the chasing of what my friends and I called "the spark" was what life was all about.  This lasted when I became "WE" and it was just Ben and I.  And there were plenty of moments where I kind of felt that "spark" wavering and assumed it was only a matter of time before I'd have to be moving on.  All that changed when we became a family.   Suddenly I understood that this spark would certainly end up smoldering.  The intense would eventually become so-so, and that although plenty of people believe that without that fierce desire and passion in a relationship that it is doomed (as evidenced by ever-rising divorce rates), I started to believe that there was something far more important to me: COMMITMENT.

Ben and I are not married.  But at some point (around the time I decided I would have a kid with him) I decided that this was the life I was choosing.  I decided that for as long as my child exists, I would be bound to him by her.  Obviously, there are things that would negate this decision.  For example, if he ever hit me or did anything to hurt Lila or me, or went to prison or buried body parts of hookers in the basement then I would certainly have my own permission to walk away.  But in forming a family, I decided that there was "greater good" that I was now a part of in this unit, and that my individual happiness comes second to that.

There have recently been some instances that have made me question whether we even LIKE each other anymore.  And when I sat down to try to consider my options, I couldn't just think about the practical stuff (I would have to leave my house because its in his name; the car's in his name; I would have to stay with my parents who are pretty heavy smokers; I would want Lila to have the comfort of her house but I would want to keep her with me).  I had to consider the toll that this move would take on 3 people, individually and as a group.  Lila would miss one of us every day.  I am the parent who takes care of her when she's sick and does the day to day stuff like baths and medicine.  He is the parent who has fun and does fun stuff.  I am the one who sets the rules. He is the one who is more laid back.  One of us would always miss that first trip to the ocean or getting the Christmas tree or watching the Wizard of Oz together on the couch with popcorn.  We wouldn't do those things together anymore and each of us would be deprived of that wonderful occasion.

But what happens when you feel like you just don't care anymore  What happens when the sight of this person makes you want to slap him?  What do you do when you realize that if you have to listen to one more fucking Dave Matthews song blaring from the basement that you are going to burn the house down? 

To be honest, I simply have to try not to think about it.  Self help gurus and armchair clinical psychology has told us for a few decades now that our individual happiness is our inalienable right.  We are told that if we do not pursue our own self-fulfillment then the people around us will suffer.  And on some level, I know that to be true.  But isn't there something to be said for sticking it out because it's the right thing to do?  If no one is really suffering and in fact, you believe that the benefits to your child outweigh the detriment then don't you sort of HAVE to live up to the commitment you made?  Not too many years ago, when society was considered much more civilized, people generally felt that loyalty and commitment were what made men great.  Selfishness was abhored and altruism was an essential value to society.  Many of our kids now don't even know what altruism is.

I don't want to be miserable in a relationship that I don't want.  And I don't want to inflict that misery upon Lila.  I have no idea what the fate of our relationship will ultimately be.  But the decision to split is simply not just a matter of what will make me happy.  It is a matter of voiding the existence of a family.  I don't think that decision can be made just by looking at what the obvious answer would be.  And I don't think it is something that should be done without really weighing all the options.