cartoon cow writing at a desk

Stressmas, Stuff, and Sustainability (12.29.17)

Wow. I have survived another Stressmas season. I refer to myself as Scrooge to the kids, but I’m really more like Sustainability Mom. Christmas is a loaded experience. Expectations, gift giving, gift receiving, Santa Claus, commercialism, wish lists, stress, etc. Throw in an increase in the amount of alcohol, sweets, and social media ingested by the general population and today’s Christmas or Holiday Season is a recipe for heart-burn.

I worked retail during Christmas in 1985 during the Reagan years. The economy was booming. I witnessed people spending, spending, and spending. I was the first Gucci Sales Associate in Richmond, VA selling vinyl and plastic pocketbooks and wallets. The entry level price for Gucci products was $395.00 and that was in 1985! I didn’t understand the allure or the value of the product. I needed a job after graduating from college and this retail position was one of my first gigs. I worked at Thalhimers which was a locally owned, highly successful department store located in a mall. Parking was such a premium during that shopping season, that mall employees were expected to park at the high school (which I had attended) and then ride a shuttle bus that circled the entire mall to drop us off at our respective mall entrances. That special ride added 30 minutes of travel time each way to my job every day. What used to take 15 minutes to get to work now took 45 minutes one way! It was insane! As a result of surviving that retail experience, I swore I would never shop at a mall during the Christmas season again. People act rude and crazy when they are stressed, shopping, and making returns. My new strategy moving forward was to shop at small businesses where there are less crowds, less headaches, available parking, and to possibly enjoy my shopping experience. I also got to know the owners and employees at various small businesses throughout the years and built relationships with them which was a bonus.

Back in 1992, I remember reading Kathie Lee Gifford’s book I Can’t Believe I Said That: An Autobiography (1992). To me, she was complaining about how many people she knew who wasted money throwing parties and giving lavish gifts during the Christmas season when so many people were suffering and needed to have basic needs met. At that time, my husband and I were building our own small business and I thought, “Yea, right. That’s easy for you to say, because you make a lot of money. You have all of your needs met.” Now I get what Kathie Lee was saying because over the years, I have continued to change my mind-set about how I want to experience Christmas. Christmas is just another day on the calendar. Yes, Christians believe that Christ was born on Christmas day, therefore Christmas is an important day for Christianity. But Christmas has become out of control, because we are brainwashed by television shows, television ads, Christmas movies, and now the internet that we “need” things. After reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (2011), I continued to reset my mind to align and value the difference in what I need to live versus what I want to live. It’s two totally different thought processes. My basic needs are also more solidified now. My husband and I have worked very, very hard as small business owners for 26 years to create money to meet our basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Yes, I like nice things. Yes, I value well made things. But do we need more things in order to live, to survive, and to feel happy? Does happiness come from a thing?

Once I became a mother of 3 daughters, my world shifted again. My parents raised my brother and me very frugally. We had all of our basic needs met. We also had some extras. Our family values were practical. If we needed something we got it, if we could, as we needed it. For example, I did not receive a car until I was 21 years old in 1985 and it was a 1974 Camaro. When my children were babies, I got them a few items for Christmas and that was it. They were babies. They needed food, clothing, love, stimulation, and attention. Simple. As the kids grew, I continued to keep things simple. One Christmas when Ashlee was very young, she asked Santa Claus (that’s another story for a later date) for 1,000 baby dolls. She did not receive one baby doll that year because I, the practical mother, decided that she could use accessories for her baby doll rather than receive another baby doll. Ashlee was devastated because her expectations with Santa, aka Mom, were not met. Once Rosalina became old enough to understand gifts and dolls, I did the math. Conservatively, if they received one doll per daughter per Christmas that meant 3 dolls per year over 10+ years. We were going to have a house full of baby dolls! Add in strollers for the dolls – 3 strollers, 3 high chairs (unless they are sharing), etc., etc. Our daughters are 2 years apart. This gig could go on for years and where were we going to be in the end? At one point my husband suggested that the kids donate a doll(s) or toy(s) to Goodwill and then they could receive new items. That didn’t work for me. I believed in purchasing quality goods, taking good care of them, and donating them to Goodwill when you no longer needed or wanted them. I had no idea that my mindset was Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. until years later when I stumbled upon that concept.

To this day, I cringe at Christmas, because I am going against the grain and society with the Massive Capitalistic Manufacturing Machine in how I am raising our daughters to experience Christmas. Our children are not deprived. They are being raised consciously. It’s challenging. It’s difficult. And it’s exasperating. I have to steel myself against the norm. I don’t want to be Scrooge. I’m not Scrooge, but I need to do a better job of teaching our daughters about life. I just realized this past week that I am our daughter’s Mother and I am their Life Coach. I’m so excited with my new title! My kids may not appreciate the value system I am teaching them, but I hope and pray that in time, it will make more sense to them.

Last year, the kids made each other and our immediate family members home-made Christmas gifts. Rosalina, the littlest elf, whipped up a ton of things on my Mom’s old sewing machine. Rachel made remarkable 3-D paper gifts and Ashlee made us beautifully hand-drawn cards. There may have been more gifts that I cannot remember at the moment. Our kids make things all of the time and shower me with many amazing, beautiful creations throughout the year. I’m a lucky mom to receive these magnificent pieces of artwork made from their creative sweet spots and their generous hearts. I was touched by how amazing our three young daughters interpreted the Spirit of Christmas all by themselves, worked with what they had accessible to them, and created what they wanted to give to people whom they cared about. That’s the beauty and magic of Christmas.

Then, we enter 2017. Our middle daughter Rachel, age 13, decided to buy gifts for all of us and get our office employees to help her purchase them. She wanted the gifts to be a surprise and didn’t ask mom first. Wow. What a beautiful, thoughtful, resourceful gesture. Once Ashlee and Rosalina found out about the surprise, the goal did not sit well in the system of fairness that I have strived to create within our family. All hell broke loose. The other two kids jumped on the bandwagon. Purchases were being made and then Mom, Scrooge and/or the Life Coach, stepped in. I took a deep breath while the “practical mother” and the “oh let them buy things” side of me wrestled and tried to see the value in this experience. I decided this might be a good learning experience for the kids. I told the office managers that the items needed to be purchased from legitimate websites with good return policies. I also told the two office managers that we needed a budget for this experiment. In my mind I created a reasonable budget, and then we learned that one office manager included tax and shipping in the budget and the other one didn’t. ARRGRRRR! I forgot those details! Then we tweaked the shopping guidelines again. The kids decided to buy dad some tee-shirts. I told them, “Good luck!” Another goal in my life is for people to receive gifts that they really want, like, need, and can use. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts because we work hard to make money and purchase what we need when we need it. We have also bought each other well meaning gifts in the past that we didn’t really care for. What’s the point in that futile game or exercise? I much prefer to select my own gift than receive something that is not ideal for me. I am a picky person. I am very selective about what I buy. For example, I don’t just buy a cow item because I love cows. The cow has to meet certain criteria and the “thing” needs to work in my life. I’m a discerning consumer. So 2017 has turned into a learning experience for all of us. The kids learned that most of the tee-shirts that they bought Dad were the perfect design and message, however none of them fit him. Yes, he told them to buy a specific size, but he didn’t realize that he was a size smaller plus each manufacturer’s size is different. They also wowed me with perfect gifts for me. I was blown away by their thoughtfulness and what each daughter selected for me. Every gift was special, valuable to me, and perfect. I feel very grateful and I felt a little bit overwhelmed on that day. I made out like a bandit!

So, as I work at being a mother and creating guidelines incorporating my value system into our family system, I realize that Christmas is another ongoing life project. We give. We receive. We adapt. We adjust. It’s challenging to make conscious choices in a world full of brainwashed people with heart-felt intentions following the need, need, need, buy, buy, buy propaganda machine. It’s vitally important to express ourselves with other people and it’s also vitally important to balance wants with needs. I’m on the job training. One day at a time. The true meaning of Christmas to me is life and love. Everything else is chaos and confusion, but in the end, when all of the dust settles, life is really about loving yourself and loving others. And we should also make wise decisions each and every moment of our lives to care for and support this spectacular planet that we live on.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
From, Mommy Moo Moo aka Sustainability Mom and the Life Coach!