Consumed by Consumerism

We really can’t miss it; as soon as Halloween is over, stores tear all their decorations down and get prepared for one of the most profitable seasons of the year. Lights, decorations and sometimes even Christmas music invade streets, stores and homes alike, as early as November 1st! The message is clear: Christmas is here! It’s time to buy, buy, buy!

Granted, the Christmas season certainly brings about all kinds of positivity. People suddenly become a little more jolly, they tend to desire companionship and time spent with their loved ones, they may adopt a more “giving” mood and maybe even a little bit of seasonal altruism. I can’t complain about the positive things that bring humanity together, though, even if they are “seasonal”. Everyone needs a sense of community, and if we only get it once a year, then that’s better than nothing, right?

The things with which I take issue have nothing to do with the positive aspects of the Christmas season; I’m more concerned about the fact that we’ve become so consumed by consumerism that we have forgotten what the Christmas spirit is really about. I know this almost sounds like a typical Christmas movie… “Family and the ones you love are the only things that matter in life”. In fact, what’s kind of funny about those Christmas movies is that the characters buy all kinds of stuff for each other and they display all of this cleaver advertising and sell certain ideals, values and beliefs while trying to send “a message”. I digress…

When people ask me what I want for Christmas and I tell them I want nothing, they look at me as though I’ve clearly fallen and hit my head hard enough to knock sanity right out of me. “*insert nervous laugh* No! But really… what do you want?When I say that what I desire most is to serve others, people think I’m lying. Those who truly know me understand that I’m telling the truth, though.

It really is as though I’m supposed to want stuff… more stuff… and to buy all kinds of stuff for every single person in my life. Does this – not wanting a single gift – sound a little radical? Perhaps. There’s a fair amount of reasoning behind it, though.

While growing up, I never got Christmas gifts like everyone else did. I admit that it tore my little heart when I got socks and a doornob one year (Yeah… that’s another bag of chips!) because I knew that all the other kids in my class competed every year for who got the best gifts. Who got the most? Who got the most expensive? Who got everything they wanted? Was I really going to tell them I got a doornob that year? NO! That would have triggered immediate torment and ultimately, death. So, I lied. Every year.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was (and still is) just part of “life”. You grow up, write a Christmas list to Santa, and you get what you ask for. When you don’t believe in Santa anymore, you give your list directly to your parents and expect them to get everything. If they don’t, then they surely must not love you enough.

Even parents compete with each other! “Well, I got my kid a brand new pickup truck this year… it’s nothing, but we do what we can…” *insert thought: BEAT THAT!*

OK… maybe this is a little exaggerated, but I’m sure you get the point. Sadly, it’s not far from the truth.

Fortunately for us, we’re not completely to blame for this. Advertising companies make sure to create a longing in kids, teens and adults alike for whatever they’re selling, and then work their behinds off to sell the idea that if you don’t buy your kids everything they want, if you don’t buy your spouse “bigger” (or more expensive) and better gifts, if you don’t buy their love and appreciation, then you must not be a great parent, husband, wife, sibling, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, etc. (This entire issue extends farther than just Christmas time, and we buy into it… all the time.)

What do these major companies care if we drown ourselves in debt and we end up getting depressed by January 2nd when we wake up and realize that we spent “so much more than we intended to spend” and that we, yet again, spent more than we did the previous year? Of course they don’t care; your money goes into their pockets. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

I know, I know. Some of you who are reading this might be thinking: “Yeah, maybe this is true, but I know many families who don’t drown themselves in debt for Christmas and just genuinely enjoy buying gifts for each other.” This much, I can attest, is true. First, though, I can’t help but ask: “Where does the source of this feeling of enjoyment come from, really…”, but I also know some families who go about Christmas in a milder gift-giving manner. Some will have gift exchanges, others will limit gift numbers to one or two gifts per child/person, and others might have price cut-offs. (Even with a spending or gift-number maximum, gift-giving can get pretty expensive!). Isn’t this whole issue about the fact that we’re sold the notion that Christmas is more or less about gift-giving?

I don’t want to use blanket statements, but if we really stop to think about it, what do we worry about come Christmas time? We don’t worry about how many kids will go to sleep hungry, or how many people will die outside in atrocious weather conditions; we worry about what we’re going to get mom, dad, the kids, our spouse, uncle bob, aunt Martha, cousin Eddie, and the list goes on…

Consumerism affects us in numerous ways (and in ways we cannot even fathom or truly be able to understand), but what irks me is the fact that this way of being – this culture of ours – has created children who have become ungrateful, selfish little brats. Does that sound harsh? I don’t think it is entirely. Most of the kids I’ve come to know through my many experiences (as a teacher, parent and regular adult), as well as most of my generation, are this way. I’m just stating an observation. Today, kids, like many adults, see christmas as a big gift-giving fest (and if we expand the idea, they want everything – in general – now, now, NOW!).

Think about it. How many people, out of everyone you know or are acquainted with, are wholeheartedly invested in service to others and in being selfless? How many kids do you know, however, who look forward to getting a long list of gifts, only to tear each one up in 5 seconds while sitting eagerly next to the Christmas tree, and throw it aside the instant it’s unwrapped to grab the next gift; what’s worse is that many even get bored with some of their gifts within 20minutes on Christmas morning!

What does “Christmas” – the real definition of the celebration – mean anymore? Our celebration as we know it in our current context is a time where cultural Christians may (or may not) go to midnight mass because Grandma May forced them to go for the sake of maintaining tradition. During that whole mass (if they go), the one thing on their mind is likely: “Man, only 45 more minutes of this. When we get home we’re going to have a feast and I’m going to get to open all my gifts in X amount of hours!“. I’m guilty of this; I did this for years!

Some don’t go to church at all; less and less people go to church to celebrate the most important moment in time for Christians. Doesn’t this just scream the fact that we’ve become entirely disconnected with the true meaning of Christmas?!

Christmas is about celebrating the life of a man who gave everything, all of himself, to mankind. At the very least, even if we don’t go to church or aren’t too sure if we even believe in God, if we’re going to be celebrating Christmas, shouldn’t we be celebrating these values?

In many ways, although I “suffered” tremendously during my childhood, I now appreciate growing up in a home that did not shower me with gifts or useless junk for Christmas.

If I can transmit anything to my own son during this season, it will be that the celebration is about being selfless, giving himself up to help others in every way he can, demonstrating genuine compassion and appreciation for humankind, and investing himself in making others happy. If he needs a new laptop, why would I buy it for him for Christmas when he really needs it in September? To add a little thought, if we give gifts as a demonstration of love, kindness and/or appreciation (as this is often culturally relevant), why must we reserve those acts of kindness for a specific season or commercial holiday? (e.g.: Valentine’s Day)

I don’t mean to sound righteous or overbearing with my personal opinions about consumerism and Christmas; I do, however, appreciate this forum for expression and wish to share my opinion with others with hopes of triggering a certain level of reflection about this issue of consumerism and about what Christmas and the Christmas spirit really is.

Of course, I’m also a product of my general environment and I, too, am affected in many ways by consumerism. I enjoy receiving gifts once in a while… Who doesn’t? I just don’t want them at Christmas time.

I personally don’t always go to church, either. Sometimes I do, but other times I don’t for a number of reasons. I understand that we all have personal preferences and opinions about the religious aspect of Christmas and I can respect others’ choice not to attend church. What I do think, however, is that Christmas is about celebrating the values and beliefs that we’ve been taught through Jesus and everything he aspired to teach us. Most, if not all, of these values and beliefs are pretty universal: be selfless, be of service to others, demonstrate your appreciation for those you love, lead a life that would make the big man upstairs proud, etc.

I write this whole piece with a touch of sarcasm, humour and some exaggerations to simply make a point: we’ve become so wrapped up with consumerism (especially during the Christmas season), that we seem to have forgotten what the Christmas celebration (and ultimately life) is really about. I don’t expect everyone to stop buying gifts altogether or to make all kinds of radical changes to the traditions they’ve developed over the years; I would like to see, however, a population that is aware of this culture of buying and perhaps one that places much more emphasis on the positive aspects, values and beliefs that bring humanity together during Christmas time.

Altruism and philanthropy never hurt anyone, and it is often in selflessness and service to others that we feel the most genuinely happy. We should definitely take more of this on, as well as inspire and motivate others to follow suit.

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Oh, how I long to remember…

what no-stress, childless, take-advantage-of-the-end-of-daylight-saving-time sleep is!

We’re turning back our clocks tomorrow (Sunday) at 2am. Doesn’t the idea of having “extra time” sound exciting? I get pretty excited about it, myself. I immediately think: SLEEP!

It never fails, though. Every year, I tell myself that one extra hour of sleep will do my mind, body and soul some good, but I never seem to be able to catch the sleep I need in the first place.

Before my son was born, I was too busy going out with friends or spending my time doing “fun” things; my extra hour went into extra “fun” time or real, blissful sleep.

Now that I have responsibilities, I have to squeeze work, school, homework, housework, wifey and mommy duties into a day that is already far too short. As any parent would know, sleep becomes a rare commodity once children come into the picture.

I love my family, I love my son dearly and I very much enjoy my life, but I have to admit that I sometimes wish I could get a nice hotel room somewhere and sleep an entire weekend away! Just me, and a good book (for when I wake up -if that even happens!). How wondrous that would be!

Now that daylight saving time is ending and we’re “gaining” an extra hour, I have a feeling that I’ll be losing out this time around… again. I’m so envious, though. I hear everyone around me saying that they are going to sleep.

Really? Will they?

I keep saying that it’s what I’m going to do, too, but I never do it. Instead, I start/continue/finish whatever, or rarely, enjoy a bit of solitude. Perhaps I should stick to my guns and sleep this time. Wouldn’t that be miraculous!!

Am I really the only one who doesn’t usually sleep this precious extra time away?

What will you be doing with your extra hour?

“It Gets Better Canada”: Stop the Bullying

A friend of mine shared this with me, and I thought I would share it with whomever might find a moment to read my blog. It’s really  important to me to spread love, awareness and compassion.

As much as we have made great strides in accepting the LGBT community and the wonderful human beings within it, we still have SO much work to do. It isn’t because someone might decide to “come out” that they are completely liberated. As we know from the series of suicides in recent months, life can sometimes become unbearable for someone who is perceived to deviate from the norm. Kids, teens and even adults continue to suffer at the hands of some painfuly hurtful people, groups and communities.

We must speak out against the bullying and the hateful acts committed against LGBT youth and adults. We must get together and fight for their fundamental human rights, as well as support and encourage them through their own processes and road to self-acceptance.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/yahoocanada/101104/canada/canadian_video_helps_gay_teens_deal_with_homophobia

Outrageously Disturbing!

Oh, the GALL!!!

I didn’t have the time to write about this outrageous and appalling story when it first came out, but here it is…

Apparently, two people – who are clearly missing a history lesson, cultural sensitivity, half a brain and some overall humanity- thought it would be a great idea to dress up in the most offensive costume EVER for Halloween. Two men went to a Royal Canadian Legion Halloween party in Eastern Ontario dressed as a KKK member (in full-out KKK attire and with a confederate flag tied around his neck) holding a black man (a white man in black face paint) by a noose!

WHAT?!!!!!

Wait! It gets worse!

They won first place in the Legion’s costume contest! People actually condoned this!!!!

According to some guests at the Legion, few walked out and no one spoke out against this obscenity of monstrous proportions.

What’s even more alarming is that the KKK guy’s son was ranting about how it’s Halloween and about the idea that people should be free to dress how they please. He added that he didn’t understand why his father was under so much fire, how he really didn’t see the big deal in dressing up like this and that it was “just a costume”.

Really?!

How sad is this? This is so appalling and disturbing that it should be considered a hate crime!

The president of the Legion issued an apology, the day after the event, stating that this behaviour was not promoted or condoned by the members of the Legion and that it does not reflect the overall values and beliefs of the Legion itself. Well, in my humble opinion, there’s a load of B/S if you ever had one! If it really didn’t reflect some underlying beliefs (including those of the Legion’s members – who were silent and willing bystanders), those held responsible for the party would have never allowed this pair through the doors, much less awarded them the FIRST PRIZE in the costume contest!

Granted, many individuals in the community in question are as outraged as I am; the fact remains, however, that no one had the cojones (or worse, the desire) to speak out against this disturbing and hateful act.

This is simply atrocious and abominable.

Alas, as sad as this situation may be, let us use it as a lesson.

We need to invest more time, energy and money into educating the general public and creating more awareness of cultural issues. It is imperative for us to promote more cultural sensitivity and to instill a climate of peace, kindness and compassion in ourselves, our homes, our communities and our nations in order for any harmony amongst our global population to be possible.

It all begins with each and every one of us.

Links to the story:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario/kkk-costume-at-legion-halloween-party-disgusts-many-in-ontario-town/article1783090/

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/costume+causes+outrage+during+Ontario+Legion+contest/3767227/story.html

“Why don’t friends with kids have time?”

For fun…

HA! Take that, lady!

😀

Tending Your Garden: What It Takes to Make A Marriage Work

How do you define a good marriage? What makes a good marriage?

I’ve been thinking about this very issue for some time now, and I have found it difficult to find the right words to translate my thoughts and feelings.

As I was watching Dr. Phil, yesterday, *POOF!* I found my answer! (note: I don’t usually have time for T.V., and I won’t get into a discussion about how I feel about his show, but I will say that I do appreciate some of his analogies and some of the things he says). Essentially, this episode was about personality types and compatibility; I thought it was interesting, but what spoke to me was the analogy Dr.Phil used to describe marriage. I will expand on his analogy…

Basically, what was said is this: marriage is like a garden. Once our garden is complete, we need to tend to it to keep it alive and beautiful.

The second I heard this, I immediately thought: “Ohhhh… I like this!”

As we all know, planning, growing and maintaining a garden takes quite a bit of  investment: becoming a good gardener takes patience, time, energy and plenty of practice; no one becomes a “pro-gardener” overnight. Usually, you learn to become a good gardener through trial and error, and you learn to perfect your craft over time. It takes much time and practice to “get it right”.

Gardeners who “complete” their layout plan, the flower selection and all the nitty-gritty details of their garden can – and should – sit back and bask in their accomplishment. Once a garden is complete, however, the gardener can’t sit back for too long; in order to keep a garden alive and thriving, it must be tended to. (Note: A garden is rarely “complete”, avid gardeners may add/remove things over time, and try to perfect their creations. Marriage is very much the same.)

Different gardens exist, as well as the types of flowers within each garden. People can be various types of flowers and need different care. For instance, my garden is comprised of both common and tropical plants. My husband, God bless him, is like a common plant. He needs watering, maintenance and care, but he is robust and endures through all kinds of different circumstances. I, however, am like a rare tropical plant; I’m delicate, need special soil, constant care and attention and the right amount of water. If I do not get what I need, I can wither rapidly.

How does this all translate to marriage? Marriage is hard work. In my humble opinion, marriage is an important partnership where both parties must strive to become pro-gardeners. People who embark on this amazing journey must truly get to know one another, understand what makes each other tick, what each needs to grow as individual human beings, and also know what the couple needs to thrive.

To me, marriage is the ultimate partnership. In order for our marriage to thrive, we must respect and accept each other for the types of “flowers” we are. We must be a constant support system for each other, we must communicate our feelings, desires and needs on a continual basis, and we must learn how to appreciate each other actively. Furthermore, I believe that it is imperative for us to maintain a healthy sense of individuality so as to not “lose” ourselves (we must care for each plant in a way in which they will be permitted to grow into the most beautiful of their species). We must tend to each other and support each of our endeavours, as small as they may be. If we do not do this, and if we do not strive to make each other genuinely happy, then our “garden” will deteriorate, and so too will our dreams for a happy and healthy marriage.

Let us tend our garden, and reap the benefits!

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
– Corinthians 13:4-8

To Spank, or Not to Spank

“Attend qu’ton père arrive à la maison! Tu vas avoir la strape!” (“Wait until your dad get’s home! You’re gonna get the belt!”)

I couldn’t count how many times I heard that when I was a kid!

My dad was a fan of the belt. He also had HUGE hands that could do quite a bit of damage! If the belt wasn’t close enough, he’d go for the hand (skin-on-skin). If we did something “really bad”, though, we’d get the belt, for sure.

I can’t recall any particular misbehaviour that might have warranted a spanking. To my knowledge, I probably only got the belt a few times.

My dad would stare me down with his big finger pointed at me…”You wait here… Move, and you’ll get a worse lickin’ “
*sheer terror*

Although I can’t recall what I might have done, what I remember vividly is how time slowed to an unbearable pace while I waited for what was coming to me. I’d plead, negotiate, offer to clean the whole house, attempt to give up my favourite things for a particular period of time… all to no avail. He never budged.

When I was a young child, I was pretty keen at not getting caught for things; being the rebellious adolescent I was, though, was a completely different story. How I became that rebellious child is quite complex, but for the sake of this post, I’ll limit the explanation to saying that I eventually got used to the random spank or belt and didn’t care anymore. Although I’d still be upset when it came, I knew that it’d be over quickly; no “real” damage would be done. I’d take whatever “I deserved”, pretend like I’d be good, and moved on doing exactly what I’d had been doing before. Granted, a few days might have gone by where I was ultra-careful not to do anything out of order, but believe me, it wasn’t long before I repeated whatever shenanigan got me into trouble.

There wasn’t much rationalizing, discussing or communicating in my parent’s home. “No!”, or “Because I said so” was essentially all we’d get. Now, don’t get me wrong… I was a highly rebellious adolescent. Although I was a product of my environment in many ways, I did push the boundaries on more than a few occasions.

(Note: My father is a good man. He did the best with what he had, and he had no reason to question the way we were being disciplined at the time. We have a fantastic relationship, today.)

All these memories came flooding back when I had my son. I used to think that “a little spankin’ ” once in a while never hurt anyone (We’re all here, no?), but then I started recalling experiences I had with other adults. I can remember one time in particular when I had gone to a sleep over (or something) and my friend had done something that would have gotten me a straight-up belt-and-a-half. Her dad took her aside and started talking to her. I had never seen anything like it before!

“What’s this??!!! He’s TALKING to her??!! Noooo… she’s gonna get it after he’s finished saying what he has to say. It’s gonna hurt!”

She never got it.

As I began to think about her, I remembered how “balanced” she was. She never really rebelled, she was a great student, she obeyed her parents and she never fought with them or talked back to them. Of course, I had friends who never got spanked and talked back to their parents like it was going out of style, but they never got disciplined for anything. I started wondering about alternative discipline methods.

I had previously been in a social work program, and I had become an excellent communicator, so I vowed that I would talk to my child, teach him how to reason with him, be fair with him and truly communicate with him. I am proud to say that I have never spanked my son, nor will I ever do so, and that what I am doing is working. I must admit that my husband wasn’t on-board at first, but once he started seeing the results, he changed his mind!

Some of you might read this and feel offended because perhaps you might be a) fine with spanking and perhaps a self-proclaimed spanker yourself, b) indifferent… that’s the way you were raised, you’re not dead and you probably will do the same with your kids, or c) on the fence, might not see a real problem with a “healthy” spanking here or there, but might not have put much thought into it.

What I say is “hear me out”.

No spanking does not mean no discipline. In society, we don’t go around hitting people when they do something that displeases us. Our bosses never threaten us with corporal punishment if we don’t do our work effectively, and our friends don’t live in fear of getting a spanking from us either! So why is it that we spank?

My conclusion: It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes us feel better. “I did my job”. On the spot, the problem seems to be fixed, but that is far from being the truth. These same problems will resurface at one point or another, and keep manifesting themselves in various ways until the real issue, or the real culprit (often feelings) has been dealt with.

My son, God bless him, has a strong personality, is very head strong and can be quite difficult at times. I sometimes need to take a few more minutes than usual to speak to him, but once it’s over, he resumes his activities and respects the boundaries again. I can proudly say that I can take my 4 year old to a restaurant, and he will sit happily throughout the entire meal; he will never get up and try to run around a table, or go see other kids, or go under the table. I can take him grocery shopping and never have to worry about him taking a fit over a chocolate bar. I can go to any place that is packed to the edges with people and never have to worry that he is going to take off on me. When I ask him to do something, I never have to bribe him with “candy” (or whatever other extrinsic motivation) to get him to behave, and I certainly never have to scream at him. Ok. When he gets on my last nerve, I will admit to raising my voice, but that is still rather rare. He’s a good kid.

How did he get that way?

Well! Let me tell you! It takes an enormous investment of time and energy from the very beginning!

I think my number one weapon is: consistency.

I have always spoken to him about everything. Even when he was a baby, I would explain what he couldn’t do and why. Over time, he came to understand the language. When he would misbehave, I would either a) use natural consequences, or b) put him in a time out. I know that time outs are controversial, but I always used 1 minute per # of years, and I would talk to him afterwards. What is interesting is that even when he was as young as 2, I would ask him why I put him in a time-out and he would tell me exactly why he was there! Kids are smart.

I think it is naive of us to think that children don’t “get it” when we explain things to them. They know when they do something they are not supposed to do. They’re fine manipulators and they work their magic and test our boundaries to see how far they can push us from a very early age. Limits must be set, and they must be respected. We all have long days, we all get tired, we all get frustrated, but allowing our kids to do one thing one day and not another is confusing for them; they need solid boundaries in order to thrive. Another thing that is crucial, is for both parents to always be on the same page when it comes to discipline, what is allowed, not allowed, etc…

Why can’t you have chocolate before dinner? a) Because it isn’t healthy, and b) because we haven’t eaten dinner yet.

Why do you have to wait to speak to me if I’m in the middle of a conversation? a) because it’s impolite to interrupt someone when they are talking, and b) learning to be patient is important. Be patient, I will speak with you in a minute.

I don’t overdo it, I provide real reasons, I am honest, I am fair and I treat him with respect.

I could go on about how well this is working for us. I always get compliments about how well behaved my son is, especially when we are in public; this is probably the biggest compliment I receive on a regular basis! I’m so proud of him AND of my husband and me.

The benefits of  replacing spanking with a more communicative approach are extraordinary when solid discipline and consistency are used. My child is psychologically well-balanced, and he never has to fear that I will hit him.

I know that some parents will argue that they have achieved well-behaved children who get spanked on rare occasions, but my response is: if we can get to positive results without spanking, why is it that we have to resort to corporal punishment?

It isn’t necessary.

Let’s not be led to think that this is an easy task! Deciding not to spank means that you have to get creative and you must be willing to constantly question yourself and put things into perspective in order to find proper solutions and consequences and to discipline effectively. Sometimes natural consequences hurt more than a spanking could ever hurt, though. I’m proud of my choice.

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