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It's Christmas – So Why Don't I Feel Carefree Joy?

It’s Christmas. So why don’t I feel more carefree joy?

I ask this of myself a lot during this time of year. I’ve got kids who still believe, we’ve decorated, we do cookies, I craft experiences for them up the damn wazoo.

And still – it’s just kind of a pain in the ass for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not depressed nor a pessimist. My glass is half full, in life.

But the holidays are just so…ugh.

Further, it’s a time that good cheer is forced upon all of us and we are expected, cajoled, guilted into feeling merry and jolly and happy happy happy!

But for years, I’ve felt like a grumpy elf railing against consumerism and being generally annoyed by the lack of simplicity.

And hell – I’m not even much of a believer in a virgin birth. But that aspect of Christmas means more to me than the expectation of feeling so goddamn happy for decorations and work.

At least…that’s the case since my mom died.

Eleven years ago, my mother passed unexpectedly from a cardial arrhythmia which, doctors tell me, is the way we all want to go, albeit not at the young age of 63.

And it happened on December 9th.

So that Christmas was pretty much nonexistent for me.

But ever since, I’m especially aware of meeting Christmas expectations with my children. They’re dazzled by the lights and the anticipation.

And I’m doing my best to create that magic for and around them.

So why don’t I feel the twitterpation, myself?

The Christmas before my mom passed, we had a heart-to-heart as I was visiting home (Colorado). In between running from friends reunion to friends reunion, I had a moment to breathe and said, “the older I get, the more the holidays are just kind of a pain in the ass.”

And my mother, who tended to have an enthusiastic response to just about everything, morphed into a state of wise calm as she responded, “Maybe you finally get me, now.”

For twenty-four years previous to that, I experienced Christmases with an overall pall of loss, ever since my father had died when I was eight. Mom did a great job overcoming (or repressing/hiding) her devastation, by providing me with Christmas magic, decorations, presents and cookies. But there was always a sense of something missing – as I saw other families of four at Christmas Eve services and massive family get-togethers.

Meanwhile, it was just my mom and me.

Don’t get me wrong – we were never alone. We had joyous meals with friends and family.

But we never entirely escaped loneliness.

Nor should we have done so. We lost a father and husband. It was just her and me. Of course we were a little lonely.

But at Christmastime, society and seasonality has no real time for sadness. It’s all “you should be happy, happy, happy all the fucking time!”

And what if you just aren’t?
Generally, we put on a happy face and just grin and bear it.

But with my current age and reflection, I do my best to give myself permission not to panic about missing out on fun, or not always being effervescent, or not being preoccupied with the joy I see in social media.

The Mayo Clinic has an excellent list for coping with holiday blues. Most of all, acknowledging the blues, giving yourself permission to be reflective, and letting go of expectations (which is easier said than done) gives us permission to chill out.


But back to me complaining. Ahem.

Now, with my kids – well, there’s not a lot of quiet moments. We don’t have many magical times where the kids are listening to “Oh, Holy Night” and just staring at the Christmas tree. Instead, they’re usually tearing around our apartment hitting each other or screaming Ariana Grande at the top of their lungs (and not the over-sexed Arianna Grande Christmas songs. Nope…just angsty songs inappropriately marketed to my 8yo about sexiness and love.)

There’s not a lot of quiet magic or romantic scenes of carrying home Christmas trees and baking cookies and good cheer – despite the fact that we do all those things.

Further, Instagram hijacks simplicity, my bank account is limited and stress-inducing, and the Elf on the Shelf just pisses me off.

Do I feel like a grumpy curmudgeon? Well…not in any other aspect of my life.

But these days? Maybe I do feel like Charlie Brown-y (tho not the Charlie-Browniest, to quote Linus.)

I suppose I don’t need to beat myself up about that.

But I am able to be mindful and fine moments that fill my soul. I know it’s the fleeting times of wonder and awe – reflected in my kids’ eyes.

Or even staring at this stupid USB-plugged Christmas tree I plug into my computer as I write this (seen above).

When I have those moments of conscious enjoyment, moments of simple purity, my heart fills a bit more.

Per usual in 2019, it comes down to mindfulness. Focusing my attention where I want to focus, take a breath and a moment. Reflect.

It’s not always easy. But YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

It’s okay to be a little bluesy amidst the red and tinsel. Being mindful and conscious about focusing on simple joys helps bring back real Christmas.

Y’All – Unleash Your Gerrymandering Fury

Y’All? I don’t like to stir up drama over politics. But I have my limits. Bring your gerrymandering fury and get your pitchforks.

Did you know American democracy experienced its third strike out, this week? I’m not sure if that means if the inning is over, but god DAMN it was a doozy line-drive straight into the catcher’s mit of corruption. We the people swung and missed big time and the pitcher was Chief Justice Roberts.

“Enough of the metaphors, dude. Get to the point,” you’re saying?

This week, the Supreme Court legalized, validated and excused partisan gerrymandering.

“Wait, what?” you say. “I might’ve heard something about it. And wait – what’s gerrymandering, again?”

This epic news was buried in the morning-after de-briefing of the absurdist Democratic debates and Trump’s latest morning ablution tweeting. 

How was this not front page news everywhere for ten days? Where were the protests? Why didn’t I start my own protest? 

Ugh. Idealism and activism are so tiring. Also – protesting Supreme Court rulings right afterward might feel particularly pointless. This is gonna take a very long game.

Let me break it down for you – 

The term “gerrymander” comes from 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Ebridge Gerry drew a Boston congressional district looking like a salamander. They still look absurd in their design Seriously – click here and look at the shapes and tell me this make sense in promoting democracy and encouraging voters’ confidence their votes matter.

Our salamander-y districts are arbitrarily drawn by state governments – sometimes non-partisan committees appointed by legislatures, sometimes hyper-partisan committees made up of legislators.

In this surgical and data-driven manipulation of voting, a white voting district might be drawn to pick off black votes from their own neighborhood, then the black votes are made a minority whose votes are diluted by the majority white vote, thus negating the black votes in that district.  

I repeat: gerrymandering undermines democracy by diluting the power of a minority voice by shoving it into a district with an obvious majority voting demographic.

Or in much more cogent terms, a friend who works to fight gerrymandering stated to me, “imagine if one of the kids in your class was cheating. You would go to the teacher and expect the teacher to stop the cheating. What the Supreme Court did is the allow the teacher to say “cheating is not my problem. Studets should figure it out among themselves.”

So last week, two court cases recently made it to the Supreme Court to fight extreme gerrymandering – an extreme democratic district in Maryland and an extreme Republican district in North Carolina.

I ABSOLUTELY thought these cases would be upheld in the Supreme Court to illegalize hyper partisan gerrymandering. These cases demonstrated the absurdity of this age-old American practice in both political parties.

But nope: Chief Justice John Roberts said in his majority opinion, “It’s been done like this for years and the Supreme Court refuses to wade into partisan spats.”

Johnny, you handed over the drawing of voting districts to the extremist fringes; you’re helping make our districts extremely Republican or extremely Democratic. And who wants this? (Except the extreme fringes?) There’s nothing centrist or rational (or American) about this. As a judge? You just made a hyper-partisan ruling on something you claimed you’re avoiding to maintain non-partisanship.

Yo, Roberts: you’ve just disenfranchised voters across the country of all political creeds and stripes.

Along with the Citizens United decision (justifying unlimited amounts of special interest and rich peoples’ campaign contributions to sully our political process in the name of free speech) and the Russian interference in the 2016 election, this 2019 decision undermines American democracy and the equal representation of all voters like never before.

The third strike in the silencing of our voting voices.

It’s awful.

We should be furious – except a supreme court judgement is more concrete than a voting issue in Congress. 

This is epically more challenging to overcome. 

Am I a democrat? Yes. Does this decision affect Dems more than Republicans? Yes. But every American should be up in arms when a decision like this undermines American democracy and representation for all. Isn’t this what all flag-wavers claim? To stand for American democracy and the right to vote and the right to choose our freedoms and the right for our voices to be heard? Welp. Bye-bye to that.

The unlimited donors will be able to buy statehouses and control further political gerrymandering to cement the influence of the hyper rich. 

I’m nauseous.

A Return to My Baby Foodie Roots…

Long ago, I wrote about my favorite recipe that introduced veggies into my kids’ daily routines.

I’ve expanded upon it, here. Won’t you take a gander? I’m proud of these basic blends that I fed my kids constantly exposing them to tastes, spices, textures, not to mention a variety of foods. I’m a big believer in “Just feed your kids what you would eat” (within reason.) Here’s how we do it:

“Second Grade” Makes Me Shudder

I’m astounded at the level of learning my second grader is experiencing. I don’t remember reading chapter books in second grade. I barely remember knowing my ABC’s. I certainly didn’t know how to calculate complicated word problems with the inexplicable American coin system, and I sure as hell wasn’t doing multiplication.

So I’m impressed.

As my second grader grows every more independent (read: irascibly defiant), I constantly think, “Was I this way in second grade at age seven?”

And then I remember: I have very little recollection of second grade, because for me, second grade was dealing with a father who was at death’s door from his long-suffering cancer and a mother who was loving but tremendously distracted, as well. And after my father’s death in November of second grade, the rest of the year was dealing with being “Gavin, the kid whose dad died, this year.”

That’s quite a realization I’m trying to absorb.

Every single time I say the two words, “second grade” I’m transported to a year of sickness, accidents, falling, crying, emptiness, and just wanting it all to be over.

I’ve already hit the mark where I lived longer than my father’s stunningly short 38 years. That was a big deal.

But now?- to watch my child reach the age I was when life changed so drastically for me? That’s a whole different can of worms.

My second grader has embraced the word “No” in stunningly admirable ways: looking me dead in the eye and saying, “No” in response to bedtime, wearing jackets in January, and apologizing for hitting the little brother.

The other day, her little brother was stepped on by nothing less than a ski boot and she said, “I don’t care.”

I’ve stopped dead in my tracks several times as I ponder, “WTF did you just say to me?”

And I realize more and more that my threats of taking away privileges or screen time or whatever punishment that once held such sway are having less and less effect.

Meanwhile, when I was that age, I was helping my mom lift my 250 pound father from the floor after a cancer-caused fall; I was asking questions about how we’d pay for food when my bread-winning father passed; I rode in the back seat on countless trips to the doctor across town, avoided eye contact when my dad dissolved into tears at the dinner table, and generally hold my head down to avoid whatever latest thing would be broken or emotion rattled thanks to the horrid ravages of cancer.  

None of this ever leads me to say to my child, “You don’t realize how good you have it,” trust me. But it all gives me pause.

I’m coming out of my negative association with the term “second grade” and slowly seeing what a magical year it is for educational development and for my kid’s personal development. I’m liking it more and more.

And being able to recognize my internal recoil when I say “second grade” is enough to acknowledge and move on.

Crazy what my younger self experience, crazy what my father experienced, but now I’m focusing on how crazy it is what my child is experiencing. That’s the here and now. Feels good to be there with her.

Kids: Bend the Rules

I’m a rule-follower because I think society operates better when we are all on the same page.

And at the same time, life’s tough; we all need to give each other a little help from time to time, right? And sometimes rules need to be bent.

Check out my entitled rant…

I rode my kid to a swimming lesson on our Yuba bike. For once, we were on time. The swimming lesson takes place in a community college swimming pool, so 7 year-olds and their dads are not the top priority.

Upon arrival, I realized I’d forgotten my bike lock key. (Long story, but I ride this bike so rarely I stupidly took the key off my keychain thinking “I’ll definitely never forget to bring this.” And for me to ever say “’l’ll definitely never forget this” is a laugh line to beat all laugh lines.”)


I walked into the pool entrance and charmingly asked the security guard, “Could I please stash my bike in the corner, here?” Readers – I promise you, it was basically a garage back entrance and there was ample room and we’d only be there 40 minutes and the bike would be out of the way and just…come on, man.

I knew it would be breaking the rules and this was a community college, above all. Like…nothing but rules because if anyone needs to be regulated, it’s hormonal college students.

But I held out hope that this guy would take pity on me.

And boy did I play up the “I’m just a stupid dad and I’m out of my element and surely you’ll take some pity on me?”

Yeah, I played into a trope I loathe (the incompetent dad) in order to garner sympathy. I might as well have started crying to a cop after being pulled over.

The man smiled and said “no.”

And I immediately pulled the “really? Because allllllll these people around us will be inconvenienced?”

Yeah, I went to bitter sarcasm uncharacteristically early.

The man said, “let me call my supervisor.”

Oh, no. This was not going to help.

“Hi, Boss,”he said, “There’s a guy here who forgot the lock for his bike and wonders if he can store it near the door?”

The guy listened, laughed, and then hung up.

He looked at me and said, “He said ‘go to a store and buy a new lock.’”

I was not amused.

I stormed away with kid in tow, leaving my extended bike that’s the equivalent of a minivan to be stolen by a college student,.

“Daddy? You’re really angry, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, buddy, I am. Because life is hard enough and I don’t think it’s that big a deal for that security guard to be just a tiny bit helpful. We are all in this together. Couldn’t he do me this tiny favor and let me store the bike just inside the door during your lesson?”

My kid was silent while I fumed.

I delivered my kid to the lesson and returned, much calmer, to say to the security guard, “I’m sorry to be frustrated, but life’s hard enough, can’t we all just bend the rules, once in awhile to help each other out?”

He smiled and shrugged.

I needn’t bother this guy anymore.

I realize I’m being completely entitled, but I feel strongly that seriously, folks, once in awhile we need to act like a tribe, a community, a small village My bike was not going to clog a 30-foot-wide exit. Couldn’t he just gimme a break?

I’m raising my kids to know we all need to have each others’ backs and give each other a hand.

Follow the rules.

Except when dumb dads just need a tiny bit of help.

Then we need to bend them.

Ignoring My Little One

My blog started out as a fashion/parenting blog of unsolicited opinions.

Then, I got distracted by just complaining about how difficult and needy was my youngest son.

For the last year, or so, all I do is talk about my older kid.

And not one of you has requested updates on my younger, needy little tyke.

How dare you.

But so I don’t seem like my entire world is consumed by my older kiddo, let me report to you: my youngest is the bee’s knees, the cutest, the cuddliest, the most sickeningly adorablest, smiling-est, most wonderful little kiddo in the world.

I’ve never been the type to state, “I could just eat him up.”

But truly: I wish I could devour this little guy.

I love both my children equally.  (Yeah, right, you’re snidely thinking….and justifiably.)

But my little one gets extra points for sheer cuteness.

He sits in our laps to read books, climbs in bed and snuggles in the morning,  has an impish grin that melts hearts the world round.

Years ago, my French mother said, “He is such a flirt, such a seducer. He just charms everyone around him. Like Bill Clinton.”

Mm-k. Two things:

  1. He was charming with everyone BUT ME during that chapter. With me? Nothing but #tearlesscrying.
  2. It really is a compliment from a French person to compare a 2 year-old’s charm to Bill Clinton. I know. Go figure.

Two and a half years ago, when he was an intolerably needy monster, I probably doomed him to lifelong therapy since I was so clearly frustrated by his #tearlesscrying. He grew to repress his tears.

Definitely my fault.

Was I a monster? I’d say only partially. Even close friends of mine with children could attest, “Yeah. He’s tough. Real tough.”

But now when he’s upset he runs and hides in the bathroom where he delivers a sniffling diatribe/soliloquy recounting his frustrations to the bathroom spirits. Yep, just a muffled, whiny monologue that goes something like, “And then Daddy said I can’t have another fruit snack and then he only gave me a carrot and he got mad at me when I got mad because I just don’t want a carrot…” etc etc.

And he stays in the bathroom to have his moment. I can usually cajole him out, easily, and smother him with hugs and an explanation that no, he may not have two fruit snack packs in a row twenty minutes before dinner.

But people: as cute as his bad times are, his good times are adorable-er.

And his challenges clearly don’t require me to go venting my insecurities to the entire intrawebs like when I first started this blog (at the height of his monstrous behavior.

(Don’t challenge me on that, little buddy…please?)

But this all reminds me how so many friends said to me 18 months ago – It WILL get better.

But they probably could’ve added: But not soon.

Yeah, that took awhile. And it was absolute hell while I was in the middle of it.

But now? It’s a distant memory…

…to which I never, ever want to return.

Wait – Is this for Me or Them?

(Disclaimer: this is a long overdue follow-up to my ballet missive from a few weeks ago…reading that first will make a helluva lot more sense.)

And then I think, “Wait. I don’t even want my kid to be a ballerina/o. I’m just a cheap SOB who wants free lessons at the most prestigious ballet schools in the country!”

(Also, it’s fun to take lessons in the same building as Julliard.)

But still – ballet teaches total conformity. No one may stand out, you’re a member of a corps-de-ballet and complete anonymity is the name of the game.

I have even experienced that in certain Broadway shows – when you’re part of an ensemble, there might occasionally be time for showing acting expression. But in big dance numbers, wrists need to be uniformly flexed, arms inconspicuously stretched, and jumps need to be measurably consistent.

The ensemble often is not a place to stand out – and certainly not in ballet.

In my tiger dad moments, I obsess over wanting my children to be leaders, take risks, defend themselves and forge their own paths. Meanwhile, ballet demands rigidity and tradition in which everyone does exactly the same thing. Hell, it seems to be ballet dancers don’t even get to smile.

Sure, there are those that stand out from the pack and become the principal dancers. But what percentage of dancers become those types? And even then, principals or ensemble are trained never to talk back to their leaders and wordlessly agree to extend themselves to employ the director’s vision, no matter how uncomfortable or taxing the choreography and no matter how abusive the language coming from the leader.

So I’ve been conflicted about the ballet journey from the get-go. I know my oldest loves to dance. But her kind of dance is bouncing and twirling and kicking high like a showgirl and “ticking” (I know – I had to look it up, too) or vogueing as in my (now closed) show, Head Over Heels. It’s not exactly doing pliés for forty-five minutes or repeating 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions for another twenty.

And thusfar in her experience with bougie ballet, my oldest complains about her feet hurting.

Are her shoes too tight? Or is she bored with an hour’s worth of the very basics?

Thusfar, my preoccupation that she won’t like the uniform has yet to bear fruit. She has to wear black pants and white shirts with the other boys because, well…biological birth.

Surprisingly, that hasn’t bothered her too much.

But still…I’m not sure this is about me or about her.

But I don’t even WANT to encourage my kid pursuing ballet as a career goal. I’ve seen too much heartbreak on that end.

So why are we even doing this fancy-pants ballet? Image. And economy. I mean, come on, free ballet lessons at Lincoln Center? Who wouldn’t grand jetée at that?

Still…trying to figure it out…

Kids: Please Don’t Follow (too many) Rules

I’m nice and I strove to please my teachers.

But nice people who please teachers don’t paint the Sistine Chapel. They don’t break sound barriers. They don’t develop Apple Computers, right?

Crazy people who break rules and smash conventions do big shit.
I say that I just want my kids to be happy.

But also kind. And smart. And independent. And creative. And change the world. No pressure, kids.

Of course I want my kids to be trailblazers.

Like the kids about whom the teachers throw up their arms and say “what am I going to do with you?” And then they end up being Einstein.

But aren’t genius/artistic/world-changers often miserable, asocial sad-sacks destined to substance-abuse who cut off their own ears and live within prisons of their own artistic genius?

So then will they be happy?

Maybe we should just hope for nice.

But am I trying to raise  nice kids? Those rule-following, vanilla, boring goody-two-shoes?

(Who wants to be nice, anyway? Nice is so…insipid. Do you ever want to share a drink with someone first described as NICE? Zzzzzzzzz.)

This reminds me of a hilarious recent tweet I saw: “Parenting looks so hard. You need to raise your kid with just the right amount of trauma so they end up funny.”

Because funny is more interesting than nice.

I’ve been thinking about achievement in the context of my older kid’s soon-to-be immersion in the ballet world. He is going to begin the first ballet classes of his life and, while I’m excited for him, my Libra nature has invented this dilemma: “Do world-changers come from ballet class?”

Think about it: the point of classical ballet is to conform, to dress identically as surrounding dancers, to dance with perfection so that not one pinky finger is ever out of place.

The dress code for these classes is rigid, for both boys and girls. (More on that in my next posting because do not get me STARTED about the anxiety I’m feeling in saying to my kiddo, “sorry. No tutus in this class. It’s white t-shirt and black pants.”)

At least there’s no hair protocol for these little boys. I guess my little gender renegade will be able to rock a ballet bun.

My French sister (the witch) talks about the point of nursery rhymes was to separate European society from nature so that Little Red Riding Hood stays always to the path (dictated by the church) to never stray (citizens shouldn’t color outside the lines) and to always fear the woods (because nature is bad) and always be nice.

Oh, and sex. Because duh. Nature = sex and sex is bad and the church and society need to tame sex and pleasure. Because people should be worshipping the Church’s appointed dogma, fighting wars, and making stuff for the nobles. Not having sex.

(And of course – burn the witches. )

And I see her point. Nursery rhymes teach children the way to be good. To follow rules. To conform. To obey. To be the perfect ballerina/o in the back line.

Now…we all want our kids to be good and obey their parents.

But it’s true – the world is more colorful with the rule-breakers, by those who stray from the path, think differently and write their own destinies.

I suppose it’s all a balance, (Please reference aforementioned Libra nature.)
My kiddo already writes her own rules evidenced by her entire comportment.

So maybe classical ballet will be the perfect balance for her? You gotta learn the basics…

So then you know what rules to break and re-write.