Archive for December, 2009

30th December
written by Michelle

My family has vacationed out in Palm Desert almost every year since I was barely able to read. Thanks to Grandma’s condo and the completion of the 210 freeway, “the Desert” as we call it, quickly became our go-to, easy, vacation spot.

(point of reference: Palm Desert is located 10 miles east of Palm Springs and right in the middle of Retirement central. The median age is somewhere close to 65 and there are probably more golf courses and palm trees than they are people. really. Not exactly the most kid friendly place)

When we were younger the best part by far was the abundance of swimming pools. And when it’s 100 plus degrees outside and you’re under the age of 14 the only thing there really is to do out there is: go swimming. So that’s what we did. And every day we would “pool hop” to one of the gzillion pools around the country club.

Somewhere in time we crossed over to the adult, albeit boring side of life, where we neglected the “pool hopping” and swimming days of our youth and replaced it with sun bathing and chaise lounge-ing. And that is exactly what we did this vacation. Sat. Read. Napped. Ate. And relaxed by the pool. This is all wonderful and serene and peaceful, until some little eager kid, complete with floaties and goggles yells, “watch me, watch me.” And then the dutiful, doting parent lifts their head and watches for that magical moment as the darling child jumps off the edge into the water. Followed by the usual, monotone response “hmm. oh wow, honey.”

And then the cycle repeats. Mom, mom. Watch me. Parent sighs. Looks up. Watches. Child completes the less than impressive feat. Parent gives an ooooo and awwwww. and then again. Here we go. On Monday my sisters and I sat at the pool and were victims to this continuous cycle as two little girls, who under normal circumstances would have been considered quite cute, bickered and badgered to demand their mom’s attention.

Mom, watch me. Watch me.

Now, I am sure I did this as a kid. I am sure I repeatedly yelled, “Mom, watch me. Watch me” as I attempted what felt like very significant accomplishments at the time (e.g. diving off the edge of the pool or holding my breath under water for more than 15 seconds). In fact I cannot imagine what it was like for my parents to have four little voices yelling at once, watch me. no watch me. no, watch me. Each one of us expecting attention and praise; each one of us expressing this deep desire to be noticed and watched.

I cannot remember the last time I actually said to one of my parents, hey watch me. watch me. Maybe as we get older our obvious need for constant affirmation and attention for the impressive tricks we do at the pool diminishes. But sometimes I wonder if there is still some part of me that longs for someone to affirm me and notice who I am or what I do.

Obviously I don’t walk down the street or parade through the school hallway, yelling at people to “watch me. watch me.” That would just be weird. And annoying. I think part of what it means to grow-up is to develop a healthy sense of self that is not completely contingent on fickle praise or attention that we may or may not receive. However, I sometimes wonder if in this “growing-up” process we also lose touch with our basic human need for affirmation.

I believe there is there some deep part of everyone
(yes, everyone…the young, old, adolescent, single, married, etc.) that is saying “watch me.” Some people may demand it bluntly and boldly, commanding attention from a group as they speak from the stage. They’re talking about politics and policies, but really they’re saying, “watch me.” Other people elicit it in more mysterious, subtle ways. They wrap themselves in culture, books and art and then drape a beautiful scarf around their shoulders. On the outside they are conveying a cautious smile and gentle eyes, but really they’re saying, “watch me.”

I think somewhere along the way, somewhere between play days in the pool and the adult world I now inhabit, I have been socialized to believe that we should be humble and not demand people’s attention (and there is definitely some truth to that) but I think sometimes we miss the whole picture. I am not advocating for more self-centered, attention-seeking people to come claim their glory in the limelight. No, not at all. On the contrary I am learning that there is something very healthy and I believe good about being able to both watch others and with it offer a sincerity of praise and affirmation and yet, still also learn how to ask, “watch me?”

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21st December
written by Michelle

It is Monday morning and I am not in school. Usually at this time I would be in 2nd period, taking attendance and reminding my ever-so forgetful freshmen to take out their silent reading books, but not today. nope. Today I am sitting in my pajamas with uggs on my feet and a cup of tea in my hands. And it is glorious.

I like many things about my job, but the fact that I am 27 and still get a 2-week Christmas vacation is definitely up there! It’s a rough life, but someone’s gotta do it.

Here’s to Winter Break, 2 week vacations and no bells dictating the structure of my day.

21st December
written by Michelle

For the past 10 days we have not had internet at the house. Something happened with our cable or modem and thus interrupted the usual, continuous flow of wireless signals that keeps me and my computer connected to the outside world. After a few initial days of withdrawals and lamenting frustrations that I could not return emails from home or read my favorite blogs or peruse for book deals, I actually started to like life without internet.

I started to like evenings without my computer. I started to like the freedom that comes from being able to say I’ll do it tomorrow, instead of feeling pressure to get everything done today. I started to like that my main form of communication with friends was not through some virtual wall, but through real life, face-to-face conversations. And I started to notice that during this Christmas season, one that often feels too busy and over scheduled, I have actually had more time to soak it up and enjoy it. Instead of dreading the stress and sometimes loneliness of Christmas, I have felt really, really thankful.

There have been nights with friends over for dinner and too many rounds of speed scrabble. Christmas music and red wine with my roommates. I remembered how much I like writing old fashioned letters and making little crafty projects. I got to enjoy fires in our fireplace. Serving dinner at the Rescue Mission. Christmas parties with friends. Lots of tea drinking and movie watching. I learned how to make tamales and was introduced to pozolé for the first time. And I even managed to crawl into bed a little bit earlier most nights.

Now, internet and computers and any type of life-enhancing-technological device for that matter are obviously not bad, but we’d be naive to dismiss the fact that they do change something. And despite all the hype about making our life easier and more efficient, I actually believe they do quite the opposite. The megabytes of information that are flashed before us and the instant gratification of texting a message in a 140 characters or less affect how we live and think and interact with each other. I am not some fanatic who is going to do away with my cell phone and computer and the convenience of modern technology. No, of course not…like you I enjoy it and use it daily. But I am coming to believe that many of the ways we interact relationally and even how we structure our daily lives is directly related to the technology that we consume.

I am sure scientists somewhere have done fascinating studies about how these things actually and measurably affect out physical, emotional and spiritual health. But I haven’t done a lot of research on the subject yet. All I know is that growing up my dad always used to tell me, “When you say yes to something, you are by default saying no to something else.” And sometimes I wonder what do I or we, say no to because we’ve said yes to this high-speed digital age of convenience?

7th December
written by Michelle

I like gifts. I like getting them and probably equally, I like giving them. In fact I think five of my favorite words to hear are, “I got something for you.” My heart kind of skips a beat and I am almost instantly filled it this giddy, childish excitement. Now, I realize by admitting this I sound like a greedy, gift-obsessed excuse for a human being, but hear me out. It’s not about the gift as much as the thought behind it. Ask my roommates or closest friends-even the simplest of items, albeit a recycled plastic cup, a new pad of post-it notes or a bar of dark chocolate, all constitute a gift in my mind. We are talking small things, with maybe little or no monetary value. Just small, thoughtful gifts, heck even free things and garage-sale things. All are gifts in my mind.

Part of this probably has to do with how I grew up. My mom and dad were superb at bringing home little treasures and “gifts” from weddings they attended or conferences they were at. They’d walk in and say “Michelle, we got something for you.” And that was all it took. With eager eyes and anticipation, I would tear open the little bag to find a collection of hotel containers, filled with shampoo, conditioner and lotion…and even an occasional shower cap! Other times my parents would creatively sneak a few extra wedding favors left over on the tables in order to bring them home for us kids. I cannot tell you how excited I got for those little mesh bags filled with mints tied in purple ribbon. (Parents: don’t under estimate how exciting these little goodies can be for kids).

All this being said, we enter the Christmas season where we’re supposed to buy, buy, buy and then give, give, give. It’s all about gifts, so naturally you would think someone like me would love it, right?

But I don’t.

I mean I do like Christmas, but I don’t like all of the pressure and urgency to buy everyone and their mother gifts. Sometimes I feel like we miss the point of giving gifts when there is the underlining sense of obligation. And in recent years I’ve started to question why and when did Christmas become defined by the marketing and materialistic kings of corporations. Now, before I start to sound like the Scrooge who stole Christmas, know that there is obviously nothing wrong with gifts. I know for most kids, gifts are synonymous with Christmas. But because I don’t have kids yet, maybe I have a little more room to think through what Christmas and gift giving means to me.

A few years ago some pastors from various churches started re-thinking how we celebrate Christmas. They found out that America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. Wow. They asked what if we chose to do Christmas differently? And out of this, a movement called Advent Conspiracy was born to encourage faith communities, to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All during this season. My church showed this film last night at our Saturday service (click here to watch it) and I felt simultaneously convicted and inspired. For as cliché as it sounds, the part that stuck out to me the most was the idea of giving the gift of presence, instead of presents. And then using the money we would have spent on that tangible present and in turn, giving it away.

In our fast paced, drive-through-Starbucks-kinda-culture, I am learning that the gift of presence is rare, but so desirable. I think more than anything else this Christmas season I want to be with people. I want to share a meal with friends and linger longer around the table. I want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and laugh with my sisters. I want to give away money I would have spent on excess gifts and instead spend a leisurely evening walking downtown, sipping hot cocoa and looking at lights.

I want this Christmas to be different.

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