Love Thursday

On Relationships

This was supposed to be my traditional Thanksgiving post about something I’m thankful for. But now that it’s written, I don’t want to wait that long, so I’m calling it a Love Thursday post instead.

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The relationships we grow up in as children program us to seek out similar relationships throughout our lives. This is a well-documented phenomenon, even among those of us who are aware of it and vow to break the cycle.

One of the most common motivators for people who grow up in dysfunctional families is a deep subconscious desire to recreate the original home situation so that we can “fix it” this time around and finally get a happy ending. This is especially true for people who were cast in the scapegoat role as children and blamed for their family’s unhappiness. We think if we had just done this or that differently, everything might have turned out okay. We form relationships with the same kinds of needy, unhappy people we grew up among and spend all of our energy trying to make them happy. When that fails, we are blamed for their unhappiness and the cycle continues. We internalize that blame, we believe it. Like salmon struggling back upstream to their spawning grounds, we batter ourselves against those same familiar rocks over and over until we either escape the pattern or are destroyed by it.

As is tradition, I married a man who very gradually revealed himself to be basically a composite of my narcissistic, manipulative mother and my alcoholic, womanizing stepfather. Astonishingly, this did not result in the happy ending I had hoped for. But it did result in me becoming a parent, and that was a turning point in my journey. I was determined that my somewhat broken life would not produce broken children. I started viewing everything through the filter of how it would affect Luke and Elizabeth’s long-term well-being. Whereas in the past I would compromise on almost anything to sustain relationships that I valued, I started setting healthy boundaries. My marriage failed, but it did teach me an incredibly useful lesson: it’s no good trying to change yourself to please someone else. I’m not talking about self-improvement here, I’m talking about giving up the things that you like and value about yourself because someone else doesn’t like or value them. You’ll only end up changing into someone that neither one of you likes or values.

The thing is, life keeps putting you into the same kinds of situations with the same kinds of people until you finally learn all of the lessons that you need to learn from them. I’m actually grateful for that, because it wasn’t enough for me to just learn to recognize those kinds of people. Even spotting them from a distance, my instinctive reaction was not to back away but to roll up my sleeves and try a new approach. I am tenacious when working on a puzzle or problem, and I mistakenly thought that the way to heal the wounds of my childhood was to learn how to heal those broken people. I’ve certainly had no shortage of opportunities to try. People like that tend to become fixated on people like me, partly because we try so damn hard to make them happy and partly because our own happiness feels like an affront to them and they want to take it away from us.

What finally got me off of that hamsterwheel was realizing that my misguided efforts were not just detrimental to me, they were detrimental to the people I was trying to help. Letting someone mistreat you and suck you spiritually dry isn’t any better for them than it is for you. It doesn’t heal them of anything, it just makes them resentful and contemptuous and cruel.

The most difficult part of this journey was discovering that most of the relationships I had valued and worked to maintain over the years would (and did) evaporate the instant I stood up for myself. I lost my oldest friend that way a couple of years ago. This was a friendship that I thought would be rock-solid until one of us died, but she walked away without a backward glance the first time I stood my ground in a minor disagreement.

This is the legacy of my childhood, these one-sided relationships, and what I am most grateful for in 2017 is that they no longer sing their siren call to me. I can still spot them a mile away, and I still wish them well, but I have no longer have any desire to engage. Their unhappiness has nothing to do with me, and I prefer to keep it that way.

Happy Love Thursday, and may all of your relationships be the healthy kind.

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Categories: Family, Friends, kids, Life, Love, Love Thursday, Marriage | Leave a comment

Love, In Focus

For a good part of this past year I’ve been grumbling that I need reading glasses, and not actually doing anything about it. It usually slips my mind until the kids’ bedtime, when I read a chapter aloud from the Bible and find myself holding the book at arm’s length to focus on the tiny words. Or when I’m trying to read the microscopic list of ingredients on some container. It’s typical middle-age presbyopia; there’s no problem unless I’m trying to read fine print. Anyway, for some reason I just kept whinging about needing the glasses and never got around to buying them.

Guess what I found in my stocking on Christmas morning?

Elizabeth bought them for me. With her own money.

And to appreciate the significance of that, you have to understand that my sweet girl is, let us say, Not A Financially Generous Person. To my knowledge she has never spent her own personal money on anyone but herself before. This is a kid who can spot a penny on the ground fifty feet away, and will stop what she’s doing to go and pick it up. A kid who loves the annual Christmas Gift Shop at her school because it offers lots of inexpensive shinies for her to buy — for herself. True story: last year both kids ended up getting a lot of cash for Christmas from various relatives. We went on a shopping trip and Elizabeth had soon frittered away all her money on useless shiny objects. Luke, who had received everything he’d asked for for Christmas, came home without spending a dime; he just hadn’t seen anything that he wanted. And within a few days Elizabeth had wheedled him into spending all of HIS Christmas money on stuff for HER via Amazon.com.

Another true story: last week when we went to Riverside, I was feeling very budget-conscious because of all the money I’d spent on Christmas, so I packed a lunch for us to eat at the park and I told everyone to eat a good breakfast because I didn’t want to end up having to buy any food in the pricey Mission Inn area. Apparently both kids were having an off morning, because Luke neglected to eat any breakfast at all and Elizabeth neglected to put our lunch into the car (the one task I’d assigned to her). I was pretty exasperated when I found out, and not just with them. I realized that I’d fallen into a pattern of picking up the slack in these kinds of situations, rescuing Luke and Elizabeth from the consequences of their carelessness, smoothing things over, so they’d had no motivation to improve. Even then my impulse was to say, “It’s okay, we can get lunch at that sandwich place near the Inn.” Which we could, but that place is freaking expensive like all the other places to get decent food near the Inn, and I really and truly could not afford to drop thirty dollars on lunch that day. So what I said was, “We can go to that sandwich place near the Inn, and anyone who wants to eat can pay for their own food.” They both had this year’s Christmas money, so I don’t think I was being unreasonable. I paid for my lunch, Luke paid for his lunch, and Elizabeth….

Well, Elizabeth bought herself a cookie, because she could not bear the thought of spending her precious dollars on anything as mundane and transitory as food. (She had the last laugh though, because Luke’s lunch was too big for him to finish. She helpfully polished it off for him.)

This is not a girl who is lavishly charitable with her money, is what I’m saying.

But she went into an actual grownup store and spent a fair chunk of her beloved lucre on a lovely pair of reading glasses for me, so that I would have something in my stocking on Christmas morning. (And probably also so she wouldn’t have to keep listening to me grumbling about needing them, but still.)

This is one of the things I like best about Christmas: the way it inspires people to show their love in ways they normally might not. The happy surprises.

Happy Love Thursday, All. Here’s to the moments that help us see our loved ones…a little more clearly.

Categories: Christmas, Family, frugality, Humor, kids, Life, Love, Love Thursday | 4 Comments

I Don’t Know What Griffless Means, But I Think It’s My New Favorite Word

Our pre-Christmas trip to Riverside got rained out, so we went this week instead, during a brief sunny lull between storms.

As always, our first stop was Mt. Rubidoux. We usually walk up the down road, which is steeper but shorter, but this time we decided to use the up road. So we got to see some new stuff that even I hadn’t known (or remembered) was there.

I LOVE this:

Espio came with us, of course.

We’d planned to go to Fairmount Park afterward, but I’d assigned Elizabeth the task of putting our picnic food into the car and somehow she forgot. So by the time we finished climbing up and down the mountain we were all too hungry and thirsty for parks and we decided to go get some lunch at a little soup-and-sandwich bistro near the Mission Inn.

And since we were already there, we ended up browsing through the marketplace in all those gorgeous, expensive little shops that make me want to recklessly spend money so that my house can be full of beautiful, useless things. But Christmas took all my pennies this year and we made it through the gauntlet completely thingless.

Remember back in February when I blew my “Year Without Stuff” resolution on that package of tiny plastic flying monkeys? Well, this time in that very same store I found a totally WTF line of…I guess they were action figures. They had to be marketed for adults, because what kind of action is a kid going to get with this guy:

This one was the squidgiest:

Glow-in-the-dark hands. I have no words.

After that we went to the Natural History Museum across the street, where Luke made me get photos of every. Single. Piece. Of antique machinery and gadgets from Ye Olde Southern California. From every angle. I will not share them with you here, Dear Internet. Believe me when I tell you that you are missing nothing.

By the time we left the museum it was getting dark. The halls of the Mission Inn were decked most splendidly for the holidays, so we walked around and admired the lights for a while.

And then it was too dark for Fairmount Park, so we headed home.

Visiting Riverside always fills my head with grand visions of what my property could look like with a little time and effort and money. Stone walls and hillside staircases and flagstoned walkways and cool splashing fountains. Bright flowering vines trailing out of enormous sculpted planters. A glass solarium along the south-facing wall of my house, shaded with (griffless?) leaves in summer and sun-warmed in winter. Trips to Riverside are part recreation, part inspiration, and the tiniest nibble of frustrated discontent with my lack of funds.

Luckily the discontent never lasts for long once I’m back home. There’s always plenty to keep me busy here, always a project or two that doesn’t cost money, just time and effort. My little homestead looks a lot different now than it did when we first moved in; for the most part I’m okay with my slow but steady progress.

Is today Thursday? I’d planned to write a Love Thursday post about the gifts my kids and I gave each other this Christmas, but I guess that can wait another week. This one could sorta be a Love Thursday post, if you tilt your head and squint a little. I think it’s about sharing big dreams and small outings with your favorite people. Or maybe it’s about making the world a more beautiful place, one tiny project at a time? Anyway, happy Love Thursday, All. Do something beautiful today!

Categories: Christmas, Family, Gardening, Humor, kids, Life, Love Thursday, Weather | Leave a comment

It Doesn’t Come From A Store

With the American economy going down in flames (unless you happen to be among the wealthiest 1%, in which case you’re doing better than ever), there’s a growing trend toward forming or contributing to charities that donate toys to kids who wouldn’t otherwise get any for Christmas. I’m seeing it everywhere, including among bloggers that I have great respect and admiration for, and I want to make it very clear that this post isn’t meant as an attack on or criticism of their efforts. I think it’s wonderful that they want to make a difference in the lives of struggling families.

And now I want to talk a little bit about my childhood, because before I go any further on the subject of poverty it should be understood that I’m speaking from experience. I’ve had Christmases where there were no presents or tree or turkey. I’ve had Christmases where the only presents were mundane, necessary household items. (One year my present was a hairbrush. It was for the whole family really, since our old one was broken.) And that was just the Christmases — poverty is year-round. I’ve been very hungry, because there was no food in the house and no way of buying any. I’ve lived in tents and campers and in the homes of other people who were willing to take us in for a while. I’ve lived in cheap apartments where sheer numbers lent fearlessness to the cockroach and rodent populations. The rats would chase you. Once, when I was 16, my family lived for two-and-a-half months in a rented U-Haul tent that was set up on a muddy slope in a campground in Missouri — during the rainy season. It rained almost constantly. We did our cooking on a campfire, and my sister, my mother and I worked five jobs between us to help save up for a camper.

I’ve known relative wealth, too. My father came from a family with money, and during the early years of my childhood there were some nice houses. After my parents divorced and my mother remarried, my stepfather occasionally got his act together enough to provide for us. In fact, right before we moved to Missouri to live in the tent, we were making payments on a beautiful two-story house in Southern California with a built-in swimming pool, enough bedrooms for everyone to have their own, and a den with a fireplace, a pool table and a wet bar with its own little refrigerator.

And you know what? I think I was happier in the tent. At least my alcoholic, abusive stepfather didn’t make the move with us, and that was a pretty big improvement right there.

My point is that poverty doesn’t scare me and wealth doesn’t impress me because those years taught me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that money really and truly does not buy happiness. For real. Healthy, loving relationships make for a happy life at any income level. Dysfunctional, toxic relationships cause ongoing stress and misery that no amount of money can cure.

Now, I have to admit that the roller-coaster uncertainty of my life was a chronic symptom of my parents’ poor decision-making skills and various addictions and vices. I don’t want to get too deeply into that, I just want to acknowledge that I’m not talking about a layoff or health crisis derailing an otherwise sound family’s prosperity. But I think that’s beside the point when it comes to these “Toys For Tots” type charities. Because what are we really teaching these kids? That no matter what sort of financial challenges you’re facing, the important thing is that you still get Stuff for Christmas? Please. I didn’t need toys during those hard years of my childhood. In fact, it was not having them that taught me that I didn’t need them. There were many, many things that I did need rather desperately, but none of those things could be tossed into a donation box.

This country is facing a serious economic crisis. And why? Because people wanted Stuff that they couldn’t afford. So they acquired it in one way or another, and eventually the debt caught up with them. And now we are teaching our children that they deserve Stuff — that it is vitally important that they get Stuff — even if their families can’t afford it. SERIOUSLY? THAT’S the lesson we want to impart here??

This would be a very good time for families to reexamine their priorities. I think most kids would much, much rather have parents who focused on the happiness and emotional well-being of their families and demonstrated that life without Stuff is perfectly fine.

I’m not saying that charity is unnecessary. Some families really need blankets or winter coats or, I don’t know, socks without holes in them. Some families really need someone to watch the kids for a few hours so that Mom can have some time to herself before she loses her mind. Some families really need a box of fresh fruits and vegetables now and then because they can’t afford to buy more than bread and milk and eggs. These are good, worthwhile donations that would make a positive difference.

But toys? Nobody needs toys. Heck, I can remember making a “baby doll” out of a bar of soap wrapped up in a washcloth, and a cradle out of a Quaker Oats container cut in half lengthwise. I was resourceful and content with little, and these traits have served me well in life. THAT’S what we should be teaching kids these days. Resourcefulness, contentment, simplicity, making do with what’s on hand. The value of a loving family. How to grow a little fresh food in the backyard, maybe. The importance of living within one’s means. How not to repeat the mistakes that got this country into the situation it’s struggling with now.

And I don’t think you can teach kids those things by giving them toys when the power is about to be shut off because there’s no money to pay the electric bill. All that does is skew their perceptions of what’s important. And don’t talk to me about “protecting” them from reality; there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this crisis and I don’t care how old they are, they’re not too young to learn about priorities and family-focused values.

This is something I feel strongly about, obviously. People’s insatiable hunger for More Stuff rather than true financial stability is destroying the economy, the environment, and everyone’s peace of mind. Isn’t it time we taught our children a new set of values? I think they’ll appreciate that a lot more in the long run than they would an Iron Man action figure or a Repunzel Barbie or whatever.

I hope this holiday season is full of love and joy and togetherness, even if there are no presents under your tree…or even if there is no tree. Those things don’t matter anyway. And the things that do matter won’t cost you a cent.

Happy Love Thursday All, and Merry Christmas.

Categories: Christmas, Family, kids, Life, Love Thursday | 4 Comments

O Nordmann, How Lovely Are Your Branches

One of our family traditions is to buy a living Christmas tree in a planter, use it for two or three years, and then plant it outside when it gets too big to haul in and out of the house. Six or seven years ago we discovered the Ideal Tree: a smallish Nordmann Fir. It had beautiful soft “needles” that weren’t needly or prickly at all, so our hands didn’t get scratched up when we were stringing the lights on and hanging the ornaments. It was the perfect shade of dark holly green. It wasn’t quite as elegant as a Noble Fir, but it was much, much less expensive than that princely species. It was a friendly, charming tree and we loved it. I think it lasted for three Christmases before it outgrew its pot and had to be planted out in the yard. Here’s a current picture of good old Nordmann:

I’d love to have one of those every year, but for some reason they’re ridiculously hard to find. Usually we have to settle for spruces, which are prickly, and sometimes we have to settle for Blue Spruces, which are prickly and also the wrong color and clash with our decorations. But every year we search diligently for a Nordmann Fir, preferably a smallish one that can be reused for a few years.

And yesterday: SUCCESS!

It’s the perfect size: a little over five feet tall including the planter, which means it shouldn’t need to be planted out until 2013 at the earliest. It is soft and friendly-looking and charming and I love it.

Welcome to the family, little Nordmann II. May you grace our home for many Christmases to come, and our yard for a few hundred years after that.

Happy Love Thursday, All! What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Categories: Christmas, environment, Family, frugality, Life, Love Thursday | 4 Comments

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