Thursday, December 24, 2009

The UN-Christmas

Spurned and motivated to write about the things I observe; in the spirit of my last post I am going to continue on the theme of possessions because it is something that becomes so prevalent during the Holidays.

**Because I love this band. Because their music speaks to my heart. I think you should let this play while you read this. And then when you're done with that you should google the lyrics. I hope they speak to you as well**

I was a girl with too many shoes. Too many bags. A closet full of the results of a compulsive spending habit. A soul full of baggage. A sole resting on names not easily pronounced. And then came Katrina. I know I keep talking about it, but understand, it was the pinnacle of changes that occurred and helped to shape who I want to ultimately become.

I once was blind but now I see.

When you stand before the mirror with nothing other than you, it is much easier to find yourself. And so I did. And for once, without all the things that had once surrounded me, in stark minimalist contrast, I liked what I saw. Freed from "the stuff" I was able to catch a glimpse of the person inside of me that I could become if I was able to let it go. I liked her. I wanted to reach that woman I saw.

And so I took steps to get to her. It is not an easy thing to change the person you are. But in a culture so swept up in the wave of credit and consumerism, I did not want my children to face the same demons as me. Children are the biggest motivator I've ever encountered, and for them we got rid of cable. One dragon slain. I took an advertising class in college that said to have an effective ad, you must create a NEED in a person that otherwise hadn't existed. There are people whose sole job is to make you and your children FEEL that they NEED things. No more, not in this house.

And so, following advice that I had often heard but repeatedly ignored, Jeremy and I put ourselves on a cash allowance. At each paycheck, we get a sum of cash to last us until the next paycheck. This covers everything: dining out, clothes, entertainment, It's funny how quickly I was able to stop spending money once I had a small sum of it in my pocket that could dwindle. It's funny how my views on what was a necessary expenditure changed. The pedicures that had once been tantamount to my survival and sanity were now a thing of the past.

I learned to save for something I wanted. This may seem a tired idea to some reading this, but I come from a generation who was not prevalently taught to pay themselves first. To save. Why? We have credit cards for that. Practically free money. But this is not really about money. Money is just the facilitator of what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ever hungry beast. Desire. It leaps like flames at your heart. Compelling and possessing you. I'm talking about finding that place between need and want. Desire and contentment. It is a hidden place. Some of us are born knowing how to find it. Some of us are taught. And then there are those like me who have to have everything taken from them to realize that it was really there all along. Just hidden among the clutter.

But this journey to who I will become is an endless one and there are yet many bumps along the way. And I still stumble and fall.

I made a trek recently to that suburban mecca of desire, consumerism: THE MALL. It had been so long since I had visited one. Another conscious decision. I entered and the beast long dormant, awoke. Hungry. I was consumed with it. It ate at me in a way that made me sick.

If I could head home, arms heavy-laden with shiny bags with smooth rope handles, I would be so happy.

All my life needed to be complete was the entire first floor of Nordstroms and a grande Gingerbread latte.

Oh Apple store, O Apple store!
How faithful are your products!


What I really wanted most of all?

To posses the tiny butts and legs of the Asian women who the place was crawling with.

Wow. The Seven jeans logo really looks good on their bums. Each pocket is the size of one cheek.

If I was only a size 2 I would be forever happy.

And then I pulled my head out of their, er, my butt and reminded myself of what I was dealing with. The pretty carrot on the stick, always dangled just out of reach. The eternal happy just on the horizon line. The mirage. And that self check, that knowing my foe, gave me the strength to face it head on. And walk out of there nearly empty handed*.

I will never be in possession of things that will keep me happy; I will never be a size two. But I have learned to be content and appreciate, love, and care for the things I have. And to save for the things I really need or want. I like who I am becoming. I am enjoying this journey to the me that was hidden under the clutter. I hope I am able to teach my children these lessons so that they don't repeat my mistakes. But if they do, I'll be there to hold out my hand, brush the dust off their hearts, and point them in the right direction once again. And, for awhile at least, we'll walk this road of life together.

I am thankful for all of my family, and dear, dear friends who have been essential in helping to shape the person I want to become. I hold you all, my dearest possessions, on a special shelf in my heart; taking down my memories and lovingly polishing them before carefully placing them back on the shelf. I glean from all of you pieces of who I would like to become. You are teachers of life, and I am your grateful student. And that? That is better than any truck load of shiny bags I could ever receive. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

*I did walk out with my sole Christmas present. The new iPhone. It was anti-climactic. Although I do like that I can take videos and easily send them to the Grandparents.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Tale of the Cheerful Giver

The lovely ladies and I have been gone for a week. Oh, Indiana. Oh, family. Oh, home. Oh, constant, constant presence in my ever changing, tumultuous life. As much as I know I am needed here and wanted to be reunited with my Husband and have us be a whole family again, I had to practically rip myself away from my parents. I depend on my Mother and Father for so much more than I ever dreamed I would. Had you told me that when I was 17, my head would have spun around nine times as green spew frothed from my mouth along with a string of obscenities that would make a drill Sargent proud. How life has changed me. The bumps along the way, they have somehow softened me and what was once a brittle heart. Just like a Timex.

Takes a lickin and keeps on tickin

I went home for a week to celebrate Christmas with Family and to have a birthday party for Elsbeth (who turned three: big, fat OMG!) because there are a bounty of cousins and family and children of my friends close in age to her. The fun and depth of the birthday experience is deserving of it's own post, although it may just remain a fond personal memory. Let's just say between her party and the Grandparents, the girl, once again, racked up.

As I was unpacking today I stood in her room wondering where we were going to put all of this new booty. And then I had an idea. I recently saw something online about the high number of families with children in homeless shelters in the DC area. So, I proposed my idea to Ellie.

"Ellie", I said, "there are a lot of children this Christmas that don't have any homes and probably won't get any toys for Christmas. And since you have so many, what do you think about giving those children some of yours?"

Her eyes lit up, sparkling with innocence and glee, "Yeah!"

And then she asked me for a bag and when I brought it to her, she began to fill it with toys. But not just any toys. Some of her favorite toys. All the while exclaiming to me how much these children would enjoy playing with them. Just to make sure she understood, I got down on one knee and explained to her that we were GIVING these toys away and that they would now BELONG to the kids forever.

She nodded, smiling, and said " Yeah, I know Mommy."

I thought Katrina did a pretty good job of making me impartial to material possessions. I'd lost them all before, so I could easily give them all up again. That is, until they belonged to the daughter I didn't have during Katrina and she wanted to give them away. Her favorites. For the a moment as she joyfully bagged her beloved possessions, there was a brief struggle within my heart.

NO, it said. Help her choose things that she doesn't play with. She NEEDS those things! They are HERS! You spent thirty dollars on that! And then a thought so quietly and simply floated into my heart and made silent the inner argument. It is the still, small voice that I sometimes choose not to hear. But this time I heard it.

Sell all your possessions and follow me.

The dialogue changed from NO! To: Do not stifle or limit her cheerful giving. Let her give freely anything that she wants. And I accepted that. The moment that I did I was freed from an unknown weight that I didn't even know I was carrying. I was liberated and it was liberating. We filled bag after bag, me following her lead on what to give. The smile never left her face and the glimmer of a soul brimming with innocence and joy spilled out of her eyes like shards of diamonds.

As I sat on her bedroom floor with the baby in my lap, a mess of titanic proportions surrounding us, I realized that this moment was a life lesson not only for her, but for me as well. I am the teacher and the student. This time it was the child who taught the teacher.

And a little child shall lead them

In the end we managed to fill almost three large grocery bags with books and toys.

They come and they go
of this, I know.
But what we learned