Thursday, December 4, 2014

Simple is okay, too.

It goes without saying that this time of year can make it very challenging to stay mindful, to slow down and to simplify. There's just so much to do. Even working part-time and being very cognizant of my desire to maintain my priorities, I still feel stressed, rushed, and pressured around this time of year and every once in awhile, I fly totally off track.

Last weekend, I found myself awake at 11:30 pm, frantically cutting felt with a rotary cutter into (supposedly) 3 inch x 3 inch squares, to be sewn onto another large piece of felt and made into a beautiful handmade advent calendar. Did I mention I had already spent three weeks embroidering the numbers on those stupid felt squares already? Did I mention I haven't embroidered anything since I was eight?! The embroidery wasn't the issue, that part actually turned out ok. It was the 48 squares that I meticulously measured and cut out, only to find that they were somehow a multitude of different sizes.

At midnight, I said "screw it" and took out 24 kraft paper envelopes and drew numbers on them. I slipped in pieces of paper with activities like "drink hot chocolate" "buy a family a goat" and "drive around to look at neighborhood lights". The next day I bought a package of chocolate covered pretzels and decided to put 2 on each envelope every other day until the 24th.

My kids were thrilled.

 As my husband said as he shook his head at the rainbow-coloured felt carnage that surrounded me that night, kids don't give a shit about hand-embroidered advent calendars. Parents give a shit about hand-embroidered advent calendars. Now, don't get me wrong; I am all about handmade things. I strongly endorse making something yourself instead of buying it at the dollar store. I am very aware of the hidden costs involved in buying cheap things. And if cutting out felt with a rotary cutter at 11pm on November 30th brings you joy, you should absolutely do it.

But for those of us who would rather stick a hot poker in our eyeballs than ever touch a piece of felt again, its important to remember that simple is okay, too. Holidays have become very elaborate these days and for some crafty mamas, that brings them great joy. They genuinely love making professional-looking cakes, complicated themed decor, incredibly complex Halloween costumes and theatrical scenes for their Elf on a Shelf. Again, these parents should absolutely do this stuff if they want to. But lets acknowledge that its not a requirement for spreading holiday spirit and joy. Your child will not think you love them any less just because you chose to buy a cake this year instead of making it by hand, or if you give them an envelope each morning with an activity rather than an heirloom felt embroidered advent calendar. I think kids are really good at focusing on the spirit of the day rather than the "stuff" that comes along with it. I was thrilled as a child getting my grocery store advent calendar filled with crappy chocolate. Thrilled. Would I have been more thrilled with a calendar hand-woven with unicorn hair? Probably not.

While I don't agree with criticizing moms who do go to great lengths to create these things, I do think its important to think about what sort of message all the Pinterest-ey stuff is sending to us moms (and dads,too). I consider myself a fairly self-aware person who knows very well my strengths and weaknesses and yet I still attempted this hugely elaborate felt disaster, knowing deep down it was more for me than the kids. I'm still susceptible to the message that we as moms have to constantly do MORE.  Its out there. Its an insidious message and while nobody can make me feel inferior without my consent, it can be hard not to feel a little crappy when I'm surrounded with these images and claims that this is the stuff that makes the holidays magical for kids.

Another important point of consideration is that while I truly think we should each do what brings us happiness, anyone who suggests they create elaborate elf scenes and then posts pictures of it on social media is only doing it for their kids is perhaps not telling the whole story.

My point is simply that its ok to do things your own way, during the holidays and all year long. We all have our ways of sharing love with our families. I spend hours in the kitchen so as to not let a frozen pizza cross the threshold of this house. That's just one way that I give, because I love to cook and because healthy food is right at the top of my parenting priority list. That doesn't make me better than someone who eats food out of a box and it doesn't make me worse than someone who can create a magical forest scene out of a cake and some fondant. This season, try to guard yourself against the temptation to always do more. Instead, do what you love, with the people you love, and leave it at that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This Food

"This food is a gift
of the whole universe;
the earth, the sky, and the sun.
We receive this food
in gratitude from all beings
who helped bring it to our table. 
And we will respond to those in need
with wisdom and compassion"

Slowly, we are introducing Buddhism to our kids. This week marks Rohatsu and next Monday is Bodhi Day, celebrated by Buddhists as the day the Buddha became enlightened. This holiday time of year is a wonderful time to remind ourselves of how very lucky we are to be able to nourish our bodies with healthy foods, and how many people and creatures help us to do that. 

The blessing above is a combination of one written by Thich Nhat Hanh and another one I came across on the internet.  I plan to introduce it at our Bodhi Day supper as we light a candle and think of the lessons the Buddha has taught. We are treading gently as we introduce new ideas and traditions to our kids, but being grateful for our food is a good first step along the path of the Middle Way.