A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
The Whole Package
A mom I know once told me of the time an eight-year-old guest at her daughter's birthday party commented that the loot bags were "kind of cheap, aren't they?" Ten or twelve years ago you wouldn't have seen that kind of thing - the kids would have cake and maybe wear silly hats and wouldn't necessarily know to expect a loot bag, much less feel confident criticizing one. Today, though, thereís a loot bag standard.
Where social status is based on wealth, it's also relative. If everyone's income jumped by $10G tomorrow, your place on the totem pole wouldn't change: 'success' is experienced mainly by getting a leg up over someone else. This explains Keefe's aggravating habit of behaving like any gift or privilege afforded his brother is taking something away from him, as well as North America's general inability to comprehend that half the world's children lack adequate food and clean water while we shop for bargain electronics at Wal Mart. It also explains why the rise in GDP huzzah'd by economists seems like a great deal to the 10% of us that own 90% of the stuff, but the majority of us arenít significantly happier than we were before DVD.
But have no fear: I'm not going to repeat my other Christmas columns' enjoinder for voluntary simplicity. This year I'll say spend. Enjoy it. Everybody deserves an occasional vacation from me lecturing them, and if this year's fad toy is the doorway to your child feeling happy, go for it. Enjoy it while it lasts. The bubbleís bound to break sooner or later. Youíll cling to that smile in your memory when the terrorists attack, the avian flu pandemic hits, gas tops $800 a barrel, genetically modified foods disseminate the terminator gene willy-nilly, the supervolcano erupts, and the asteroid crashes into the earth. Itíll lift your spirits as the crushing mountain of debt just disintegrates away along with, well, everything else.
No, wait a minute. Thatís not the tone I wanted to set with my Christmas column. It was, um, hopeful, Yeah. Sorry, just reverting to type there for a moment.
We really canít spend like thereís no tomorrow, and even in mad manic moments I know it. Tomorrow is clearly scheduled on my calendar, and will take place even if the unthinkable does happen and for some reason I am not present to see it. More compelling still is the image of countless other doomsayers before me looking quietly sheepish the day after their scheduled Armageddon. When I think about looming catastrophe, itís not with genuine apocalyptic fervor, but more as a spice to sharpen my conscious enjoyment of how good things are for me today. Cosmic events of that scope are basically beyond my affecting then anyway, so what can I gain by worrying about them? Tomorrow has always arrived for me so far, and itís fully as functional, not to mention more pleasant, for me to continue taking tomorrow on faith.
Mmmm. Faith. The essential roux of so many savory spiritual sauces, itís still the foundation of much of how we define ourselves, and I remind myself that even though itís used as an excuse for all manner of geopolitical atrocities, on a personal level itís just simple sustaining comfort food. Faith gives us courage to endure, reassurance that all can be redeemed, and the uncrushable kernel of hope that drives us to strive to make a difference in the world. As social animals, no amount of economic theory can kill the basically decent part of us that realizes that the good of our community is our own good, and that kindness to others is a kindness to our better selves. That golden rule is a basic tenet of most religions, and it is no coincidence that as the days get shorter and things seem darker this season holds observances significant to many faiths. Most of them feature candles and light as a theme, showing us that seasonally affective disorder is nothing new, and nothing untreatable.
So light up a childís face with a smile. Itís pretty straightforward, and well worth doing. Spend, but spend smart. Hughís theme this year is all Lego, all the time, while Keefeís obsession revolves around the Playstation 2 he bought with his birthday money. Given opportunity, I like to give a whole experience. With Hugh, right now Harry Potter is IT, so maybe we can scrape together a couple of new Harry Potter Lego sets, and even better if that comes with the soundtrack to the new movie, a new wand (dollar store chopsticks highly effective in that regard), and a homemade T-shirt to follow up last weekís trip to see Goblet of Fire. Likewise with Keefe it canít be too hard to provide him with a DVD, PS2 game, and action-figure-to-go-on-his-bookshelf triple play. Enlisting the rest of our extended family in this thematic endeavor helps keep costs down and interest high. I particularly enjoy being creative and injecting humor where I can -- as with Keefeís ďHellbuttĒ underwear that went with last yearís Hellboy period -- as one of the biggest dangers is the way the boysí obsessions can turn on a dime. I know not to expose Hugh to X Men or something lest he get hooked on that instead until well after his new possessions have gotten some mileage.
As for me, I really donít want, or at least need, much of anything, although if any of you gentle readers want to do something nice for me, you can give a couple of bucks to Amnesty International. Well, okay, I guess Iíd humbly accept a digital projection system or DVD burner, too, but Iím perfectly happy like this. Janice and I pretty much agreed to forego gift giving to each other this year and instead spend the money on something for the house. She tactfully informed me that she has a sufficient quantity of Michael-made, shrinky-dink jewelry, and that keeping things pleasant in our household would be gift enough. Still, believing as I do that the best way to woo someone is to demonstrate deep knowledge of their nature, I have a secret plan to speak directly to her Capricorn heart. Whenever I find a bit of time in the next couple of weeks, Iím going to organize some little part of the house. In a home of constant chaos with busy children and many guests, itís a losing battle, but every bit helps, and itís the thought that counts.
Have a playful, peaceful, singing, gourmet, delightful, reverent and
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