Who Nurtures the Nurturers?

What is it about Christmas that Makes Women Go a Little Crazy?

Don’t You Dare Say Anything About Hormones . . .

Every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I go into this mode that drives everyone around me more than a little nuts. It’s my holiday mode, and I have decided that I don’t like it any more than the rest of my family, but I truly cannot help myself. So let me explain . . .

It all began when I was actually quite young. I remember when I was a teenager that I started to put up the tree for my mom. She was all for handing over the responsibilities of tree duty. That was how most things were in our house since I was an only child. Little by little as I grew up, I took on more and more responsibility for things. Because our home was so dysfunctional in a lot of ways, I found myself trying to be the nurturer out of the three of us as my mom and dad grew further and further apart.

So I started to develop habits about Christmas that I came to depend on to get me through the holidays, and with my OCD, it had to be done this way every year. I sent out cards, wrapped the packages with ribbons and bows, never just a stick on bow, decorated the house throughout with candles, a nativity set and creche, my set of nativity-setsSantas, my various snowmen, my Santa boot with candy canes that no one ever eats, even a special angel candle holder in the bathroom.

Then there are the lights. I put lights in the windows, just single candles with clear lights, and then icicle lights on the roof and some lights on the bushes, not too many. I used to have a couple of white wire trees and a couple of reindeer, but I think that they have somehow disappeared in the great cleaning out of things in the attic. At one point in time, I used to climb the two trees in the front yard and wrap the limbs with clear lights, but the trees got too tall, and I couldn’t climb them any more. I’ll admit that I really enjoyed doing that, but I didn’t enjoy taking them down, so my daughter used to climb up in the trees and complain the entire time that she was taking them down that she didn’t understand how I could get the lights up so high in the branches. I used to tell her that I had monkey toes and I could climb really high if I wanted to.

And then every year except for this one, I make a homemade wreath. I buy a fresh wreath, and then I add cones and bells and ribbon and a bow. I like to leave the wreath up pn the front door as long as possible so that we still have the smell of a fresh tree since we don’t have a real tree in the house because of allergies.

And of course, there are the homemade stockings. It started with the stocking that my mom made for me, and then she made one for Alexis when she was born. I made one for each of the boys when they were born. I asked my mother to make one for Caitlin even though she didn’t make it to Christmas. It’s never been filled, but I like to hang it each year in remembrance of her. I made one for Corey when he joined the family, and the dogs have their special stockings, too. But the fun part is finding new things to put in the stockings every year: special chocolates, gummi bears, miniature games, picture frames, maybe special jewelry. I stay on the lookout during the year for things for the stockings.

Doing all of these things brings me a lot of pleasure, but at the same time, I get very stressed out because I still am very much of a perfectionist  about getting all of it done, and Corey just doesn’t get excited about Christmas in the same way that I do. Not that he has to because everyone has different histories with Christmases, and granted, my need to do all of these things didn’t necessarily grow from the healthiest of sources. But I can’t help but get testy with him because he doesn’t get filled with the same childlike, over-the-top, isn’t all of this wonderful spirit that I do, instead of the, ‘do we really have to do this again this year’ kind of exasperation . . .

I don’t really do any kind of baking any more. When I taught at Old Dominion University, I used to bake homemade cookies for my students before the end of the fall semester when everyone went home for Christmas Break. I would bring in huge batches of cookies for them to eat during exams. I would also make some for home as well. Those were fun times.

But just about every woman I speak to around the holidays asks the same questions: Are you ready yet? And the answer is always the same: No. I’m running behind. How many men do you think actually ask each other that question? I mean, Corey likes to shop. He likes to shop for clothes for him, and he likes to shop for clothes for me, but he gets tired of shopping in general, and when I start to ask Christmas shopping questions such as, do you think so-and-so will like . . . he starts to wander into men’s jeans. If I start to look at Christmas decorations for the house, I get looks like, ‘are you seriously going to add one more Christmas figurine to our over-crowded house?’

So even though I want to do this, it becomes the bane of my existence for about six weeks, and I work myself into a stress-induced kind of mania. So who cares for the emotional nurturers when they are walking bundles of stress? When they are ready to snap at the least little thing? When they will consider taking their 17-year-olds to Wal Mart and ask for a return or exchange because Wal Mart agrees to take anything back even without a receipt?

Well, I’m pretty lucky. In my case, it’s my Grinch of a husband. Even though he’s not big on the whole idea of Christmas, he’ll still take me shopping, and bring me home and pull off my boots for me, and make me a cup of tea on top of everything else. And he’ll do that even when it’s not holiday season, so men may not want to talk about Christmas, but they can be nurturers.

Unfortunately, too often, and I know this firsthand, we have to be our own nurturers. We have to work eight to ten hour days, come home, fix dinner, go shopping for presents, send out the cards, decorate the house, play Santa, and nurture our kids’ hurts by ourselves. And sometimes this leaves us short. The cup doesn’t have enough on some days, and we find ourselves short: short on patience, short on time, short on all of the necessities we need to be good moms and still take care of ourselves in the process.

painted-toenailsOn those days, we might fall into bed with our make-up on and our feet hurting and wonder why life can be so unfair, wonder why we can’t get a fair shake, why we can’t find the time to paint our toe nails (oh, I painted my toe nails every time I went into labor before I went to the hospital. Oh yes. Believe me). I remember nights when I would curl up in bed with a dog and think with regret what a bad mother I had been that day because I didn’t take the time to play with one of my kids when he asked, or I skipped the bedtime story because I was too tired.

We can be so hard on ourselves. Years pass, and we still remember these things. Christmases come and go, and we still try for that perfect holiday. Is it because of what we see in magazines? For me, probably not. I stopped trying to live up to Victoria and House and Garden years ago. I did finally realize that my living room was never going to look like those pages, and my children’s rooms were never going to have toys neatly stacked in quaint little nooks.

Being a mother can be one of the the most difficult jobs in the world. We need to stress less, truly learn from our mistakes, and like most everyone else in our lives, be more forgiving of ourselves.

More later. Peace.

Everything Old is New Again

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Kitty Hawk Sunset (L. Liwag)

The Water of Life

“Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides” (anonymous)

I’ve lived near the ocean for most of my life, so of course, I tend to take it for granted. I remember when I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech, I brought my office mate home with me. She was from Wisconsin and had never seen the ocean, so we made a point of driving her to Virginia Beach to see the coastline. I remember how amazed she was to see the vast expanse of water, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the shoreline, even the seagulls and the sandpipers darting in and out of the water. It was nice for me to see something that I took for granted through the newness of her eyes.

Another time, a friend of mine came into town and wanted to see the Navy ships in person. She had been working on Navy contracts for years, but had never actually seen a real ship. We went on the Naval base and drove by the ships. She was amazed by their size, and fortunately, one of the carriers was in port. Again, living near Naval bases, I have always taken these behemoths for granted. They are quite amazing when seen up close, and she was very impressed to see something that she had only seen in pictures on the contracts for which she had been working for several years.

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By the Sea (L. Liwag)

Nothing ever makes you look at your surroundings better than when you have the chance to introduce them to someone new. I remember the first time that I took Corey to the Outer Banks with the boys when they were much younger. We climbed the big dune and watched people hang gliding. Even though I had been there before, it was a new experience because I was there with Corey and the boys, and it was really wonderful. It was one of the first trips that we took together, the four of us, and we had such a terrific time. The Outer Banks are only about an hour and a half from Norfolk (depending upon traffic), so it makes for an easy day trip.

On the way to Kitty Hawk and Hatteras, there are several farmer’s markets, which makes the trip even better, especially if it’s the season for ripe peaches. Once in Kitty Hawk, visitors can go to the Wright Brothers Memorial, which is what we did on that first trip together. We also visited the Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s nice to be a tourist once in a while, because I had never visited these places before, so it was brand new for me too. Corey, the boys and I made several more day trips to the Outer Banks on the spur of the moment, and we always enjoyed ourselves immensely.

I remember another trip that I took to the Outer Banks in October, a long time ago, and it was an Indian summer weekend, absolutely beautiful—high 70’s during the day, mid 50’s at night, beautiful sunsets. I was having one of those bad falls, and the trip really rejuvenated me. There were no tourists around, so we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. Nothing is more calming than the beach in the fall and winter. It’s my favorite time to walk on the beach because hardly anyone is around. If you get up around dawn, the sunrises are spectacular, and the only sounds you hear are the birds.

I have always said that if I had the money and the opportunity, I would have two houses: one in the mountains and one at the beach. I would not necessarily spend time at the beach house in the summer. More than likely, I would spend more time at the beach house in the spring and fall when fewer people are around, when the beach is still home to locals, walking their dogs, and strolling in the surf at sunrise and sundown.

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Adirondack Chairs (L. Liwag)

The beach in the winter has always struck me as the perfect place in which to write, but never having had a house on the beach, I wouldn’t know. I think that looking out on the water would provide a glorious backdrop for creative thinking. I have a few CD’s that have sounds of the ocean that I have used for meditation before, and they are very relaxing. In those two hankie movies, it seems that the setting is always a beach house with empty Adirondack chairs. I wonder why . . .

I still have dreams of moving to the islands one day and keeping a home in the mountains. I know that with the economy the way that it is, the probability of this ever happening is growing more remote with every passing day. Besides, what would I do in the islands anyway?

I had originally thought that I might like to open a book shop. After all, there really aren’t very many book stores in the islands. I think that Grand Cayman got a book store, but a small shop near where the cruise ships dock would probably do fairly well, but the more I thought about it, the more that it seemed like work. I still like the idea of opening a small bar right on the beach. Since I don’t drink, this would probably work out for me.

I could sell cold cervezas from a bucket to tourists. It wouldn’t be hard work, and I could sit under an umbrella. More than likely, though, if I ever do make it to the islands, I would just sit under an umbrella with a laptop and write, which sounds like a much better idea. I have no grand designs. Corey can work out of just about any port. The boys will be in college. I don’t think that the dogs will mind where we go. Tillie will like the beach and the water. The polar bear might not be agreeable to it, though.

Who knows? Landscapes change. The ways in which we view them change as well. We see them with different eyes each time we look at them anew, depending upon the circumstances. I just know that I am no longer anxious to spend my life in a place in which people drive Hummers through the suburbs, trample people to death in Wal Marts, shoot each other in Toys R Us, market Botox for women in their 30’s, think nothing of talking about trillions of dollars as if it were Monopoly money, promote DVDs of young college aged females getting drunk and taking off their clothes while obviously too impaired to know what they are doing, and on and on and on and on.

Sorry, don’t let me rain on your parade, but my Obama Hope high has worn off, and I’m deep into my What’s Wrong With These People phase, precipitated by the madness of a Utah state senator wanting to mandate that stores say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” because “this is a Christian nation,” let’s not even begin to discuss just the Jewish population that he is ignoring not to mention every other religion, the horror of Black Friday, and the inflatable lawn ornaments that have sprung up all over my neighborhood.

I think that I need to go lie down with a good book. More later. Peace.

Human Tragedy: Losing Perspective Over Holiday Shopping

The Insanity Begins

Attention Wal Mart Shoppers: When You Become the Problem

I just read a news story that literally made my stomach do a little flip, and definitely not in a good way: A temporary worker at a Nassau County Wal Mart in suburban New York was trampled to death when the doors opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, this past Friday after Thanksgiving. Over 2,000 people rushed the doors, stepping over Jdimytai Damour and knocking down other employees as they tried to rescue the downed employee.

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The Associated Press report states that at least four other people, including a eight-months pregnant woman, were taken to the hospital for their injuries. Damour was a temp employee who was doing maintenance at the store but had been put on the front door for the early opening.

Now I want you to consider this: A man lost his life at a Wal Mart. Throngs of people ran over his body in their rush to buy the bargains advertised at this store, including great prices on a plasma television, an upright vacuum, a digital camera, and great prices on DVDs. These people were unwilling to stop even when it was announced that the store was going to close temporarily because of the death. According to one witness, when the store announced that shoppers had to leave, that an employee got killed, “people were yelling ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’ They kept shopping.”

What is one man’s life when I can get four DVD’s, a camera, and a vacuum all for under $150? Yessiree.

Police say that even with the surveillance cameras it will be unlikely that they will be able to prosecute because it was such mayhem. According to his family, Damour was a big man who loved poetry. He was trampled to death for bargains at a Wal Mart. What a completely disheartening and contempitble reflection that is of our society.

Mob Mentality and Stampedes

Which leaves me to ask the obvious question? Was it worth it? If you were one of those people who pushed through that door and over that man or injured one of those people, how are you going to feel when those presents are opened on Christmas Day? Will you feel one inkling of guilt? The sad truth is that if you were one of those individuals caught up in that mass hysteria for bargains, probably not.

What has happened to our society? If what was behind Wal Mart’s doors was food and medicine, and we were hungering for these basic staples, then the need to stampede, the me-first mentality might be more understandable. After all, what would be coming into play would be the “survival of the fittest” instinct, and to survive, we would need to batter down the doors to Wal Mart and whatever else stood in our way.

But there was nothing out there on Black Friday that we absolutely neededwanted yes—but needed, no. Trust me, I know the difference. I’m not so sure that my oldest son does, and probably few of our teenagers do. Small children rarely understand. That’s why it’s so hard to go shopping with them. They have to have this toy now. It’s imperative. Their World Will Absolutely Stop If They Do Not Have It NOW! But I know a lot of adults like that, too. I’ve felt that way about a few pairs of black boots, but never enough to push my way through a crowd for them. As adults, we are supposed to know the differences and to act responsibly.

Unfortunately, what happened in this particular situation at this particular store is far from an isolated incident. We’ve seen it before at concerts, at soccer stadiums, and festivals. For example, in 1979, 11 people were crushed trying to get in to see The Who in concert. In 2003, 21 people were killed in Chicago as they were rushing to flee a nightclub after mace had been used. In 2001 in Johannesburg, South Africa, 43 people were killed as people were trying to push into an overcrowded soccer stadium. In 2005, 300 people were trampled to death in Wai, India at a religious festival.

But one of the worst stampedes on record was the 2005 Baghdad bridge, which occurred when up to 1,000 pilgrims died following a stampede on Al-Aimmah bridge, which crosses the Tigris river. The stampede occurred because of rumors of a suicide bomber.

A herd mentality can occur for lots of reasons. It is usually a fear-based reaction caused by an individual’s subconscious fear of being left out or left behind. A stampede is a sudden rush of people, usually in reaction to fear. Put the two together, and you have a formula for chaos on a mass scale. What happened at Wal Mart was that you had a mass of about 2,000 people who had been waiting for hours, no supervision of that crowd, growing impatience, and then crowd psychology begins to dominate, bringing about mob rule. That is, someone began to push, and then someone else, and then there was that domino effect again. Whatever stood in the way of that crowd did not stand much of a chance because the store was ill-prepared.

Jdimytai Damour was one of the unfortunate things that stood in the way of that crowd. Wal Mart bears the responsibility of placing Mr. Damour in that crowd’s path. 

Holiday Shopping: An Analysis

So what happens to supposedly responsible adults during those weeks between Thanksgiving and December 24? I’ve seen people get in nasty verbal assaults over parking places. I’ve seen people try to defy the basic laws of physics and try to put two cars into the same space at the same time. I’ve seen grown women pull a lovely sweater completely out of shape because it was reduced to an unbelievable price point, making it literally unwearable by either woman. I’ve watched grown men reduced to small boys because they’ve lost their wives in shopping malls.

scary-santa-bwI’ve watched mothers manhandle their children in line to have their pictures taken with Santa to the point that the children are red-faced with tears and completely terrified of the upcoming experience. When I was a retail sales manager, I watched people go into dressing rooms one size and come out three sizes larger, wearing four layers of clothes and had to have them arrested.

I’ve seen women turn into harpies when there are no more gift boxes, and I’ve done battle with a customer who insisted that I reduce the price of an evening gown by 25 percent because of a lipstick stain that I watched the customer carefully place on the garment. Heaven forbid customer service run out of wrapping paper because that is cause for an all-out rebellion.

The holiday shopping season is not for sissies. It can reduce a tired person to tears in a nanosecond. Shoppers who forget to eat, often wind up cranky, standing in line at an Auntie Anne’s pretzel counter, trying to juggle all of their bags, while reaching for $3.12 without dropping their pretzel, their wallet, and their gift card to Dillard’s which may or may not have anything left on it. If you do find a store that gives out give bags, you hoard them, and other people eye them with envy while the heavy, overladen plastic bags cut into their wrists.

There are no good times of the day to go shopping during ths holiday season, except for first thing in the morning, when you can catch the associates off guard and still in a good mood. By one hour after opening, all bets are off. No one has any change, and all of the associates are in countdown mode until their breaks. The parking lots are full, and the food courts are already out of napkins.

Shopping with a friend or family member may or may not help. If you shop with someone like my mother, you may not get out of one store. If you shop with a spouse, you may only be allowed 15 minutes per store, which, as any female knows, isn’t time enough to buy one present. If you shop with a friend, you will be gone for 12 hours, and you must take a change of shoes and whoever owns the largest car between the two of you. If you shop with one of your older children, all bets are off because then the shopping trip becomes about them and their needs.

This is my advice to you: Do your shopping in mid January. It’s easier and it’s cheaper. Everything is on sale because retailers are trying to clear the floors for spring merchandise. You won’t be able to get toys, but you can buy for all of the adults on your list. Just remember where you hide everything. One year, I found a music box that I had bought my mother four years previously and had forgotten about. It made a great Mother’s Day present. January shopping also keeps you from having to shop during the holiday season. Buy small children toys during October, then stay away from stores in the months of November and December.

This is what I used to do when my OCD was in full swing. It worked wonderfully for me. I had everything bought and wrapped by December 1st. My Christmas cards were in the mail, and my house was decorated while everyone else was just getting started. Oh, don’t ask me about now. I haven’t a clue. I’m just tossing out advice for you. Me? I usually finish around December 24 these days and consider myself lucky to be doing so. I do stay out of Wal Mart, though. Just on principle.candle_1

Just remember to keep things in perspective. A sale is just a sale. There is no such thing as the perfect gift. Your life will not be changed in any way by the giving of said gift. We already have ruined an entire generation of children by allowing them to believe that they are entitled to anything that they ask for whenever they request it. We spend more than we have, and we have forgotten about those without. When you go out this season to buy presents for those you love, remember why you are buying them, but also remember that a man who loved poetry spent his final moments gasping for air under the feet of strangers who cared nothing for him because all they cared about were getting the most for their money at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

There will be more later. Peace.