Gender Roles and Holidays

January 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Family, Lisa Regula Meyer

By Lisa Regula Meyer

 

 

I have to take a break from all the talk of Newtown, Connecticut, because frankly, it’s too depressing even for me to write about the topic at this point, and I’d wager that parents reading this either currently feel or have felt similarly. To focus on a bright spot in a lot of dark news, the makers of the Easy Bake Oven have responded to a video by a young girl asking them to make a gender-neutral version of the much-loved icon of childhood. This campaign grew out of the girl’s younger brother’s love of the Easy Bake Oven, and has sparked both debate and action by the manufacturer. Also this holiday season, a European company made waves by showing their toy catalog with reversed gender roles- a girl playing with a tool set and a boy in the kitchen. Slowly but surely, we’re making progress with presenting younger generations a less stereotyped view of humans. Of course, there’s still lots of work to do on that front, but progress is to be celebrated, that’s for sure.

For many families, the holidays are one bastion of gendered divisions of labor, though, and this may have to do with our collective nostalgia that seems heightened around large festivities. Obviously, this is not the case in same-sex, single parent, and non-parent families, but those non-traditional families also tend to be ignored or overlooked by much of the media at this time of the year. A meme making its way around Facebook at the moment sums up the gender divisions of the holidays quite nicely- “’Twas the night before Christmas and not a creature was stirring except for Mom who was busting her butt to make the day perfect.” How’s that for a big lump of heteronormative, sexist coal for your stocking?

My extended family is not known for their progressive attitudes, so there are no surprises when my grandmother insists that Dwight open the bottle of wine and start a fire, or that I clear the table and bring the cake, but I’ll admit that even within our household, we tend to fall into these gender traps more often than I like, with me working late hours to get the presents wrapped and making sure Ken has a handmade gift for each of the grandparents, while Dwight works extra hours outside of the home and samples all the burnt cookies. Luckily, Ken is an avid baker, and even helped a bit in the kitchen this year, so maybe the next generation will see even more change; until then, we work with what we have and what we know, right?

Think for yourself of the images of Christmas traditions, and then imagine those images with all the genders reversed. Mrs. Claus driving the sleigh and delivering gifts, while men everywhere don an apron to cook the Christmas goose. Men counting gifts, and budgeting for each child, and making perfect bows on all the packages, while women light fires and cut pine trees and hang lights outside. Some of those images are common already (says the official house fire-starter), but others may be more difficult to imagine for many people. Obviously, some will argue that this is by choice, and that gender roles merely are expressions of innate preferences in humans, and I’ll leave my response for those people to your imagination. Much of the academic discourse and research support the view that gender is socially constructed, so changing gender roles will take a change in social consciousness, and we can support that change by actively trying to bring those non-traditional images out into the public eye as much as possible.

There’s a good likelihood that much of the gendering of holiday season is at least in part due to the idea of republican motherhood. This idea, coming to the forefront first after our independence from Britain, says that women are the cultural carriers of a society. Women were responsible for teaching children what it meant to be good citizens, and how to identify as a particular nationality. In the young USA, a Scottish woman married to a German man would pass on her cultural values and identity to their children, so the children’s view of “how to be American” would be formed through a lens of Scottish bias. This would look very different than a Scottish man married to a German woman, and how their children might view Americanism. Similarly, the two views of Christmas and New Year’s would look very different in the two families. We can still see some of this trend today, as family traditions for the holiday are passed on through similar mechanisms.

Thankfully, we all have agency, and as we discuss the roles of individuals, and the rights and responsibilities of those individuals, we can work to find new ways that include the full spectrum of human experience in these very human shared experiences of holiday festivals. If we keep working to show the world who we are, they’ll eventually change the way they view us.

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Holiday Displays

November 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Lisa Regula Meyer, Surrogacy

By Lisa Regula Meyer

 

It’s officially into the holiday season, as Thanksgiving is done (and maybe even cleaned up by now) and we’re on the countdown to Christmas/Yule/Kwanzaa/Chanukah/Festivus/whatever other winter holiday your family might celebrate.  If you’re like most Americans, that means that it’s time to eat, because what better way to remember the difficulties and scarcity of our ancestors at this time of year than by indulging in the excess that they lacked, right?  It makes perfect sense to me, but then I’m the person who was raised with the idea that food=love.  To show that you care for your spouse and kids, you cook a good dinner.  To show support after a birth or death, you brought a dish to your friends.  To show that you welcomed your extended family, you laid out a scrumptious buffet.  My family’s German; it’s what we do.

So we have a month-long orgy of office parties, school celebrations, family get-togethers, neighborhood festivities, and customer/client appreciation events.  And for most of these, food plays a part, if not the central, role.  And to top it off, there’s the gift-giving of food items, stockings filled with treats, and traditional foods and baked goods that make the holidays a time to remember and reconnect with those we love.  It’s no wonder that the New Year- the end to the holiday festivities- ushers in so many diets and resolutions to lose weight.

What is it about the holidays that make us focus so heavily on all of this food?  Why do humans make so many ties with emotions and food?  That topic on its own has been one of considerable research and writing, but I’m here weighing in one more time on this very relevant discussion.  Quite simply, food nourishes our body, while emotions nourish our soul.  Our family, our experiences, our memories, our friends, all are sources of very strong memories.  Those memories, and the people and things associated with them, make us who we are.  They form the building blocks of our personality and shape our psyche, in the same way that our food and the nutrients that it contains shape our physical self.

Need a boost to help you through the day after a heavy work out?  You can call a friend or get a dose of caffeine, maybe even combine the two and have coffee with a friend.  Feeling under the weather and not up to par?  Have a bowl of your favorite soup or stay in bed and snuggle with your favorite person.  Missing family that’s flung across the miles (or you’re just not getting enough melatonin with the shortened daylight hours)?  Fix a batch of Grandma’s famous cookies until you can make the trip to visit everyone.

Let’s face it, emotions take energy in the same way that running a race takes energy, and we humans aren’t too good at distinguishing one type of energy need from another.  Emotional eating (grabbing physical energy when we need emotional energy) happens far more often than most physicians or therapists think is healthy, and has serious consequences for both mind and body.  The opposite (grabbing emotional energy when physical energy is needed) is less common, but also happens for some people, so I’m told.

No matter what, the holidays are a very emotional time for many people.  The stress of increased obligations and demands on our time, possible financial concerns with gift purchases and increased bills, travel related anxiety, reminders of the family and friends that are no longer with us, and the tension involved with seeing more people than we typically do- all of those things take a toll on us.  Be honest, how many of you have felt like you need a vacation just to recover from winter break?  Of course, these are all emotional demands, and a vacation, or even a weekend staying in, is a great way to replenish that emotional energy.  There are also physical demands on our energy like shoveling snow, playing hard with kids more than usual, fighting off or recovering from illnesses, and the like, that also come into play.  Put all this together, and add in the fact that our brains so heavily tie together sensory information with our memories, and it’s no wonder that the last month of the year tends to be so food-centered for so many people.

Now, I realize that this is by no means any kind of scientifically vetted or reviewed treatise on the subject, and I’ll be totally up front that this is just my ramblings, so take it for what it is.  All that being said, I’m saying this because it needs to be said (for myself and others).  This holiday, try to take a minute and reflect on whether you’re looking for emotional or physical energy, and imagine if maybe there’s a better way to remember Great Aunt Danelda than making her shortbread recipe.  You might surprise yourself at your ingenuity, have a good laugh over the time she ate an entire head of lettuce while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and your waist might thank you, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start a new family tradition of trading letters instead of plates of candy.

And finally, Dear Reader, have a cookie; I just baked them today.

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It’s That Time of Year – Affordable Holiday Shopping

November 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By Jenna Smith

 

As the holidays grow near, more and more people are rushing to shop for gifts with the hope of pleasing their loved ones. Whether looking for high-tech gadgets or classic simple holiday gifts, it’s always best to give something well-suited to the recipient’s interests. But it’s also important to try to save money by getting great deals.

Shopping Tips

It goes without saying that the more you know about the person you are buying for, the easier it is to choose gifts that will be appreciated. For instance, if you know a person’s favorite type of music, you might want to give vintage record albums. For the writer in your life, how about a personalized journal? Or for the pet lover, you might include a gift for her dog or cat to show that you truly care about that person.  After all, her pet is part of the family. Giving gifts that are tailored to the recipient’s preferences and interests will ensure that your gift will be remembered. Keeping that in mind, you should strive to get great deals on the items you plan to buy. Fortunately, this is not so difficult.

One tactic is to simply do comparison shopping.  These days, that’s a lot easier than it was in the past.  You don’t have to physically visit a gazillion stores to see what each shop has to offer and the prices they charge. You can do online comparison shopping. Whether shopping for classic Christmas gifts like flannel pajamas or luxury, high-end jewelry, online comparison shopping is the ideal way to find bargain prices. You will save lots of time and hassle and can literally visit a dozen online shops in a matter of minutes.

Cost-Saving Stocking Stuffer Ideas

Who doesn’t love a full stocking filled with goodies and surprises?  But buying stocking stuffers can be a challenge. Small items can actually be rather expensive (think jewelry). Dropping a pair of diamond stud earrings in a stocking can pretty much break your budget. You have to be realistic and use a little creativity.  For women, consider hair accessories, scarves, candles, nice soap, or even yummy lip gloss – things that will be used and appreciated. And for guys maybe (believe it or not) a nice pair of socks, an iPhone case, or even a man’s manicure kit.  And for children, think art supplies!  What kid doesn’t like fresh new markers or a cute pencil topper?  To really make a stocking stuffer stand out as a quality gift, try wrapping it!  Why not?  Have fun with the stockings – it’s one of the best parts!

There’s no doubt the holiday season is hectic, but it should be special…for all of us. Take a little extra time to really consider gifts that will be valued by the recipient but also affordable for you – yes, they DO exist. Because it’s true: the amount of money you spend doesn’t matter; it really IS the thought that counts.

Happy Holidays!

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The Santa Report: 2011

December 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Holly Vanderhaar, Single Parents

By: Holly Vanderhaar

For the last several years, we’ve had a Christmas Eve tradition. My daughters get to open one present—which is always new Christmas- or winter-themed pajamas—and we cuddle up on the couch and watch The Polar Express. This year, The Polar Express’s theme of belief was especially relevant, and the wheels were turning in their heads as well as on the tracks. Twice during the movie, Gracie asked me if I believed in Santa. I said, “Yes, well, I believe he represents the spirit of giving.” I don’t think that answer was satisfactory to her, but she didn’t seem willing to press the issue.

Did I miss a good opportunity to tell them that I don’t believe in Santa Claus? I exist very comfortably in the language of metaphor, and so in that sense I wasn’t lying when I said I believed in him as a symbol for the spirit of giving. But at their age, they don’t function that way yet. They think in much more concrete terms. When they finally figure out that he isn’t a literal truth, my answer will probably sound like a lie to them, and maybe I should have said that most grown-ups don’t believe in Santa anymore, and that’s why they can’t hear the sleigh bell in the movie.

To tell the truth, I was surprised by the way things went down this Christmas. After my daughters really seemed uninterested in Santa Claus this year, to the point where I was convinced that they’d stopped believing, they spent the weekend completely immersing themselves in the myth, taking great interest in helping me prepare the plate of cookies and worrying that the reindeer had enough carrots. They both asked me to keep checking the NORAD Santa tracker site to monitor his progress. They seemed determined to believe.

And speaking of NORAD, it occurs to me that—rather than rendering Santa quaint and outdated—21st century technology has provided kids with a lot more “proof” that Santa is real. Back in my day, you mailed a letter and had no idea if it got there or not. If you were lucky, your parents took you to sit on the lap of a guy at the mall (although that kind of close contact with a stranger freaked me out, so I usually opted not to go). A lot more was taken on faith, and the proof depended on whether you got what you asked for in your letter. Now, Santa e-mails you back, using details provided by your parents to render his answer all the more plausible. Then there’s the NORAD site to monitor Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve, using Google Maps and Google Earth technology as well as phony news updates from around the globe. If my daughters are half as credulous as I was when I was a kid, they’re going to keep believing for a long time, now that the Internet is in the mix. But, paradoxically, I think their stubborn insistence on believing this year is probably a sign that our Santa days are numbered.

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The Difference of a Few Years

December 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Same Sex Parent, Tanya Dodd-Hise

By: Tanya Dodd-Hise

It’s hard to believe, after all of the anticipation and waiting, that Christmas has already come and gone.  We’ve had such a busy few months:  new baby in October, her first Thanksgiving in November, and now her first Christmas.  It came and went too fast!  But on Christmas night, after celebrating for two weekends in a row, I sat and reflected on these holidays versus those of the past few years.  It is amazing the difference of a few years….and a baby, apparently.

When Erikka and I got together in the summer of 2008, we didn’t expect the sh*tstorm that would occur once people started finding out – namely, MY family.  By October of that year, my mother found out, and it wasn’t pretty.  Needless to say, I didn’t spend any part of Christmas with her that year; I took the boys over to see her on New Year’s for a couple of hours so that they could exchange gifts.  That was my first Christmas not only with Erikka, but with her wonderful family as well and the first without my boys.  I was emotional, and felt like an orphan with no family, all because I was now living my own life out loud.  The weekend before Christmas that year, as well as every year since, we drove to Henrietta, Texas for her family’s annual Christmas family reunion.  I had met some of them at Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t completely new territory.  We then traveled to Erikka’s parents for Christmas Eve, just she and I, where we had dinner, opened gifts, and spent the night to wait for Santa to visit.  Even though they barely knew me, they welcomed me into their home and treated me like family, for which I am forever grateful.  That was a hard Christmas, without my kids AND my family, so I was appreciative for being included in their Christmas traditions.  The day after Christmas, we spent the day together shopping and touring the Dublin Dr. Pepper plant in Dublin, Texas – hey, it kept me and my mind occupied!  I knew, even more, that Christmas that Erikka was most certainly the love of my life and the person with whom I was meant to share all of my Christmases.

Christmas Eve, 2008

By the time Christmas 2009 rolled around, we had gotten married and excitedly looked forward to the holidays, knowing that the boys would be with us that year.  The weekend before, we traveled to Henrietta again, taking both boys to join in on all of the craziness, which they loved.  I had arranged for a surprise for Erikka and the boys, and we drove from Henrietta to Oklahoma City to stay with one of my best friends, Burt (aka Lorrie “Hellcat”).  I had gotten tickets for all of us to go see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where we dressed nice, took pictures, had dinner out, and enjoyed a fantastic concert and light show.  It was a great weekend, and I was eagerly anticipating Christmas as well.  We all loaded up, including the dog, and traveled to Erikka’s parents again, and the boys really enjoyed their first Christmas at the new grandparents’ house.  We had a white Christmas that year, and were snowed and iced in at the in-laws for the holiday, which was perfectly okay with everyone, I think.  Once again, I didn’t spend any time with my mother over the holidays, other than taking the boys by her house for about an hour to swap gifts with her once again.  I told her that I had come the year before without Erikka, even if it was only for a few hours on New Year’s, and that I wouldn’t do it again.  I told her that Erikka was part of our family, and I would not leave her at home to have some kind of weird Christmas dinner with my mother because it just wasn’t right.  I was shocked that she had a couple of gifts for Erikka, but she clearly acted like I wasn’t supposed to make a big deal about it.

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2010 was unusual, to say the least.  We made it to Henrietta the weekend before, and I’m not sure if we had one or both boys with us.  Nicholas had moved out and then come home for the better part of December, while waiting for a January move-in to an apartment with his friends.  I’m not sure when it happened, or who it started with, but it was like the plague moved through our house that Christmas.  The few days leading up to it brought fevers and vomiting, first to Erikka, then to Nicholas, then to Noah.  I was spared from the puking, but had the fever and congestion.  By Christmas Eve morning, it was clear that none of us was up to participating in any kind of family festivities, so we ultimately had to call up Erikka’s folks and cancel Christmas.  As it turned out, Erikka’s dad was pretty sick himself, so it worked out.  They had been planning to come to our house for Christmas last year, since we had just moved in and wanted to spend it here.  We had planned to go to my mom’s for a brief gift exchange some time over Christmas weekend as well, which didn’t happen either.  The boys’ dad came over on Christmas morning to see them and exchange gifts, but didn’t stay long so as not to get sick himself.  With that, we re-scheduled Christmas for New Year’s weekend – it was all we could do.  After spending a few more days sterilizing the house and getting all of the fevers finally gone, we planned for Erikka’s parents to come for our Christmas/New Year’s weekend, where we went to dinner, checked out light displays and shows, and stayed up until midnight to have a toast of bubbly grape juice with Noah.  He was thrilled to finally be included, and barely made it to midnight to toast the new year.  I think that on New Year’s Day, once the in-laws had gone home, we made our way to my mom’s to exchange gifts and have some dinner.  It was nice, but it was still a bit strained and there was not a lot of talking – except between the boys and me.

Christmas 2010 (before everyone got sick)

And Christmas 2011?  It has come and gone, and was a crazy, hectic, fabulous occasion!  My fourth Christmas with Erikka, with the addition of a daughter AND a daughter-in-law!  We went to Henrietta the weekend before and had a wonderful time with family once again.  Noah went with his dad and new stepmom on the 21stfor a few days, taking a trip to San Antonio.  Once again, we went to Glen Rose on Christmas Eve to Erikka’s parents for the night, where Noah joined us just before dinner.  Lots of gifts for everyone, and Santa as usual did an outstanding job for everyone.  We drove home on Christmas day around mid-day, before going to my mom’s for dinner and presents in the evening, where Nicholas and Krystal Fay joined us.  There was lots of talking and laughing once again – the first time in a long time.  And as I drove home, I couldn’t help but be thankful that while it had taken a few years, that my mom has been coming around a little at a time, and slowly.  I know that some people, when they come out to their parents and families, never see a change occur (which is totally what I thought would be the case in my situation).

Christmas Day, 2011

What have I learned about the holidays and about family this holiday season?  I have learned that traveling, even for one night, with a new baby is a pain in the ass.  There is so much to take and carry, to load and unload and then bring back into the house again upon return.  We have decided that we probably don’t want to travel anywhere again until Harrison is sleeping through the night…just sayin’.  And I have also learned that family is family, and when you add a new baby into the mix, the expectations get ramped up.  But the family we have is the family we have, and they are ours, and we love them.  Some, like Erikka’s parents and extended family, have supported us from the beginning; others have needed a bit more time to adjust to the fact that things don’t always conform to what they may have envisioned for their family.

And it is amazing what a few years, and a new baby, can do.

Merry Christmas 2011!

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Fuss and Muss

December 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Tanya Ward Goodman, Urban Dweller

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

A few days ago, my daughter descended the stairs and declared that her new name was “The Fuss and the Muss.” She then went on to explain that she was “The Fuss,” and her bunny, “Bunny” was “The Muss.” They would live in “The Fuss and Muss Lair” behind the Christmas tree.

I had been grumpy about getting the Christmas tree. In fact, I was feeling overwhelmed by all the “fuss and muss” brought on by the holidays. All I could see was the pine needles on the carpet, the dusty box of ornaments we dragged in from the garage, the tangle of tiny, silver hooks, tangled strands of lights and last year’s crushed candy canes. I’d lobbied hard to go without a tree this year. Or at the least get a very tiny one.

It’s not that I’m a complete Scrooge, it’s just that we are travelling and it seems silly to go through all the fuss and muss when it’s not going to be up for that long.

My plan to pick up branches from trees knocked down in the windstorm was met with incredulous eye rolls from my children. Even my husband wondered which prairie I’d chosen for my little house. The thought of no tree (or even a slightly smaller tree) squeezed tears from my sturdy son. And so I caved to the fuss and the muss of the holiday. Paper and tape and boxes and pine needles and gift lists and grocery lists and on and on and on…

I think my daughter has triumphed over the fuss and the muss. By dubbing herself “The Fuss and the Muss,” she has assumed all the power. Nothing will be fussier or mussier than she. (And sometimes this is true.) She has also made a kind of order out of the Fuss and the Muss. In the lair behind the Christmas tree, she performs shadow puppet shows that are silent and beautiful. Her small hands move in the light, casting only slightly larger shadows on the wall. A dog chases a bunny until suddenly the show ends. “Cut the lights,” she says. “Cut the direction. Cut the action.”
It’s the holiday season and The Fuss in the Muss is in control. And she puts the light in my heart.

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Season’s Greetings?

December 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Carol Rood, Family, Same Sex Parent

By: Carol Rood

What is it about this time of year? Why does it seem as though life becomes a whirlwind and our brains leave us temporarily? Please tell me I am not the only one who experiences this phenomenon. It seems as though as soon as daylight savings time hits, the days aren’t really 24 hours anymore, but only 15 or so. I feel like, instead of giving my kids sunlight at the bus stop in the morning, daylight savings time really just takes away some hours of my day.

Just the other day I was leaving my office at 5:00 and I walked out and said (out loud unfortunately), “Oh, wow, it’s dark already.” When I went to work that afternoon it was a bright sunny day. When I walked out just a few hours later it was dark. I felt as if seven hours had passed instead of only three!

So the days are shorter, the nights longer, but I feel as though it is 8:00 when it is only 6:00. Thank goodness Solstice is right around the corner so the days can start becoming longer again!!

Just to make matters worse, not only does it feel as though I have lost hours to my day where I could be being productive, driving anywhere during the holiday season takes twice as long! And if your business takes you anywhere near a shopping center you better just forget it buddy! You will be in long lines at lights forever. And while I am on this subject of driving, does anyone else feel as though people drive worse during the holidays? It is as if something takes over, and they forget ALL of the common sense or even common courtesy rules of driving. I am a defensive driver anyway, but boy howdy, during the holidays I feel as though I should be wearing a helmet and protective clothing inside my car! I have never figured that out. It is as if they are afraid if they don’t run the red light and get to the mall 30 seconds faster the good parking spot will be gone, or the item they are shopping for will suddenly disappear off the shelf.

I send my boys to their dad’s house for Christmas every year. I take them out of school the day school vacation starts and we travel to their dad’s during working hours. Their father lives three hours from us, so we meet half-way. We usually meet for the “trade off” around lunch time so neither of us has to deal with rush hour traffic in the morning or evening. Since they visit their dad a few days before Christmas and stay until a couple of days after, I can just stay in and not drive much immediately preceding Christmas when all of the last minute shoppers are making a mad dash or the revelers are going to or coming from a party. I feel safer that way.

So if anyone can help me understand the craziness that ensues this time of year, I am happy to be enlightened. Or are you like me, and hibernate from the 24th until the 26th? Surely I am not the only one…..

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Merry Christmakkuhzaa!

December 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Same Sex Parent, Tanya Dodd-Hise

By: Tanya Dodd-Hise

After our multiple trips to the hospital, and our lack of sleep, and Harrison’s new development of reflux and a LOT more spitting up episodes, time is still flying by and she is soon going to be two months old.  On top of this, she turns two months on Christmas Eve.  Yeah, her first Christmas is already here, and she is oblivious to the wonder of it all.  But there is something about being in the Christmas season that brings out so much in so many, and while she may not know what is going on around her or what Christmas even is, it is still fun to walk through the holidays with a new baby.

Having a new baby during the holidays is always exciting, no matter how old they are.  It brings up reminders of holidays past, memories shared, gifts exchanged, family gatherings.  It also points to what is upcoming:  a new year.  There are hopes and dreams for ourselves, for our children, for our family; things to change, goals and achievements to aim for, and new memories to make together.  For many families like ours, those in the LGBT community, there is always a hope and longing that things will change in this country for us.  We look forward to a new year with hopes and dreams of equality, and changes in laws that will allow for equal treatment among all of its citizens.

Last year, we decided to begin educating Noah about Hanukkah, along with its history and traditions, blessings, foods, and games.  While it is too early to begin teaching Harrison about these things, I look forward to it.  Many people ask me if I am Jewish, to which I respond that I am not.  I have studied Judaism extensively while in graduate school, where my area of specialty was Holocaust Studies.  I decided a long time ago, even before I came out openly and publicly, that my children would be taught tolerance for others.  I have done everything in my power to keep them from acting intolerant or hateful towards others, and it only seemed fitting to teach them about other holidays and cultures as well.  Noah enjoyed hearing the story of the Maccabees, lighting the candles, spinning the dreidel, and sampling traditional, homemade latkes.  I was ribbed a bit for celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, but it didn’t matter.  At the end of the eight day Festival of Lights, I knew that my ten-year-old was probably more educated on the holiday than most of his counterparts, and for that I was proud.  I have also since learned a little bit more about the Kwanzaa celebration (of which I knew nothing before this year), and am debating on whether to educate him about that culture’s traditions as well.  It can’t hurt for him to expand his knowledge, right?

This year we have a unique opportunity to show him all three of these holidays.  Hanukkah will begin at sunset on Tuesday, December 20th; Christmas will occur, as usual, on December 25th; Kwanzaa always begins December 26th and lasts until January 1st.  They are all so close, we will be able to begin with one and celebrate three different cultures over the course of twelve days – not very many can say THAT!  And I may get criticized for my “unique” way of teaching my children, but I don’t mind.  Ignorance breeds hatred, especially for those things that one doesn’t know anything about.  Education breeds tolerance and acceptance, two very important virtues that I want our children to practice; and it begins with us practicing it ourselves.

So for all of our family, friends, and fans, I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmakkuhzaa.  And a Happy New Year! 

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The Gift

December 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Same Sex Parent, Shannon Ralph

By: Shannon Ralph

I have a dirty little secret. Actually, it’s a rather lame and benign little secret. As a matter of fact, it’s not really a secret at all to anyone who knows me. I just thought it sounded scintillating to begin a blog admitting to a “dirty little secret.” So here it is: I am an incredibly anal gift wrapper.

Actually, anal does not even begin to describe it. I am meticulous about my gift wrapping. My “condition” affects me throughout the year. However, Christmastime is when it really comes to a head. Just ask my partner, Ruanita. She can weave some horrifying tales for you that will make you both pity and despise me. Like how I refuse to let her wrap a single gift at Christmas time. She simply does not crease the paper correctly. Nor does she use a sufficient amount of tape. Nor does she line up the striped paper appropriately. On the rare occasion that I do allow her to wrap a present, it drives me mad. My eyes cannot look away from the haphazardly wrapped box as it sits under the Christmas tree. My mind is tormented with uneven lines and creases that are not perfectly parallel. It is a constant struggle to fight the urge to unwrap it and re-wrap it the correct way. It is simply not worth the mental anguish it causes me to allow Ruanita to wrap a present.

I also insist on Scotch brand tape and ONLY Scotch brand tape for gift wrapping. Ruanita recently bought a four-pack of Target brand tape. I refused to use it and immediately went out and purchased a four-pack of Scotch tape. Hello?! Cheap tape just doesn’t cut it. Ruanita also laments the extra money I spend on “premium” wrapping paper. I refuse to buy cheap paper regardless of the pretty design. It is more than worth the additional couple of bucks for the premium paper’s heft, durability, and foldability. Doesn’t everyone know that?

So yesterday afternoon, I was feeling the Christmas spirit. I decided to wrap some family presents. In typical fashion, my five-year-old daughter, Sophie, wanted to “help” me. I couldn’t say no because she was so excited and giggly about getting out the pretty paper and bows. So I sat down in my bedroom floor and arranged my wrapping accoutrements in a circle around me. As everyone knows, it is of utmost important when wrapping a gift to have your tape, scissors, bows, ribbons, name tags, and a variety of tissue papers within arms’ reach. Sophie squatted across from me. Stella (our dog) also decided to join us for the wrapping festivities. The boys were downstairs playing the Wii and could not be bothered with holiday merriment.

As I began to wrap the first gift, I quickly realized that this was going to be an exercise in patience. Sophie immediately grabbed the paper with two hands to help me fold it over the box, wrinkling the lovely green and red design in the process. Hmmm…what to do? It went against my deeply rooted beliefs to continue wrapping a box with even slightly wrinkled paper. However, Sophie’s glee over “helping” me caused me to hesitate before ripping the paper off and tossing it in the trash. I decided to do that which was anathema to my very nature. I ignored the wrinkles and continued wrapping.

As I folded and creased, Sophie chattered on about how “beautiful” the presents would be. Her gushing was peppered with helpful hints and recommendations for me. My five-year-old daughter was trying to tell me…me!?!….how to wrap a present. I bit my tongue. I kept my mouth shut. I even allowed her to accidentally kneel on the paper I was using without tossing her headfirst down the stairs.

When the presents were wrapped, Sophie wanted to place the bows on the gifts. For the most part, I am against those cheap little bows that you can buy in a bag of 50 for 99 cents at Target. They are usually flat and warped and otherwise unattractive. I prefer to make my own bows from curling ribbon. However, at that moment, Sophie was begging to pick out the bows and Stella was happily chewing on my curling ribbon, so I gave in. Sophie chose an atrocious gold bow (actually, it was more of a dirty yellow, though I suspect it was supposed to be gold) for the first gift, which she proceeded to place completely off-center on the top of the gift. I began to reach out to move the bow to the center of the package, but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Sophie beaming proudly at the ugly gold bow sitting atop the wrinkled wrapping paper. In the eyes of my five-year-old daughter, there had never been a more splendidly wrapped present than the one sitting on the floor in front of us. She was absolutely enthralled with the gift. And I was absolutely enthralled with her. So I left the present exactly as it was. In all of its hideous, crooked, off-center, wrinkled glory. And you know what? It IS beautiful.

Perhaps it is time to let go a bit when it comes to gift wrapping. A tiny bit.

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Santa: To Believe or Not To Believe

December 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Sheana Ochoa, Urban Dweller

By: Sheana Ochoa

“Where’s Christmas?” my three-year-old keeps asking.  Since Thanksgiving ended, he sees signs of it everywhere.  There’s another house with its lights up and more tree-lit avenues with elaborate wreaths or even Santa and the reindeer soaring across the intersection.  “Look at the one in the front with the red nose,” I point out. “That’s Rudolph.”  “Oh,” my toddler responds introspectively, “but where’s Christmas?”  I tried explaining that Christmas was a day not a place, but for someone who doesn’t know his days of the week or even the concept of time, this whole Christmas season is baffling.

And let’s just get to the meat of the matter.  He wants to know when he’s going to get his presents.  Ever since his third birthday party he’s got the idea of presents down.  And since Grandma and Mommy have been asking him what he wants for Christmas (chocolate), what he’s really asking is “When am I getting my chocolate?”

I hadn’t planned on bringing up the whole Santa myth, but when I picked him up from preschool last week he started in on the “Where’s Christmas?” inquiry.  So, I drove around playing “I spy” with him as we found all sorts of Christmasy stuff and then there was Santa and Mrs. Clause on the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo and I pulled over.  Maybe Santa could explain to him where Christmas was.  But my boy was too shy with these strangers who wanted him to sit on Santa’s lap and wanted him to sing “Jingle Bells” to ask where Christmas was.

As we headed back to the car amidst fake snow jetting down on our sweaters, the “where’s Christmas” mantra started up again.  So I just decided to tell him Santa was working on it and that seemed to (finally) satiate his curiosity.  Nothing like making someone else responsible.

Without premeditation, I’ve indoctrinated my son into believing in Santa Claus and, of course, the reindeer and how he delivers presents in his sleigh. Yesterday, he saw a reindeer and it sparked a whining bit about getting his presents now.  I used my Santa scapegoat again, explaining that Santa had a lot of work to do since there were a lot of people in the world, but it didn’t work and his whining escalated.  So, I stooped to telling him that if he wasn’t good, Santa wouldn’t give him presents.  I couldn’t believe I was bribing him since I believe it’s manipulative to bribe kids with a reward for being good.

Now my boy believes in Santa Claus and he thinks he has to be a good boy to get his presents.  There’s only one thing to do.  I will let him believe in Santa as a playful thing.  I won’t hide stuffing his stocking or wrapping his presents under the guise that Santa does this.  I won’t use Santa as a weapon to make him behave.  Santa can just be a nice story, another emblem of Christmas like the tree we’ll get this week.  What he will learn is that Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is family time.  A day to spend and honor your family, which I will try to remind him can be everyday and everywhere.

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