“The older I get, the more anxiety I feel about gift giving,” said Mr. York, a 48-year-old executive at a nonprofit company in Brooklyn. “It’s a huge amount of stress, and it will go on for several weeks, until about five or six days before Christmas. The more Christmases that pile on, there is more anxiety.”
In the stereotype, indifference or ham-handed ineptitude is at the root of a man’s difficulty when it comes to the ritual of gift giving. But no one wants the reaction Homer Simpson got when, in the first season of “The Simpsons,” he gave his wife, Marge, a bowling ball — with his name etched on it — for her birthday
For men like Mr. York, who try to do the right thing, the very idea of giving and receiving gifts can spur feelings of failure and self-doubt.
I’ve rarely seen such crazy anxiety as when I worked three holiday seasons as a sales associate for The North Face in an upscale suburban mall in New York, near my home here.
It started at Thanksgiving when holiday shoppers started panicking, and ratcheted up to truly stupendous levels as Christmas approached.
Music? Hers is great stuff, from the 80s’…
What if I get someone the wrong thing?
What if they hate it?
I have no idea what they’d even like!
I admit, I did see more of this panic in male shoppers, like the man who (!) asked me what his 14-year-old daughter would like.
— I was far from 14
— I have no kids or nieces of any age
— She’s your daughter, dude!
None of which, of course, I said to him. I probed gently as to what sort of girl she was and tried my best to be helpful. But, honestly, I found it sad and weird he had no idea what might make her happy.
Another man, frantically pawing through the ski jackets, yelped: “I need to find a present for a pain in the ass!”
We all do, kids.
In the 16 years Jose and I have been together, he’s given me wonderful Christmas gifts, everything from a colander and toaster (I was so broke that year!) to gorgeous earrings. The only dud? Snowshoes.
Our gifts tend to be fairly traditional: clothing, jewelry, books, music and always a present “for the house” — pretty new dishes or glassware or kitchen tools.
This year, we set a very tight dollar limit for one another and yet I’ve been able to find a fun variety of things I think he’ll really enjoy.
The secret of choosing a great gift?
You need to know the person well.
The panic sets in when you’re buying for people you don’t really know at all, nor their favorite/hated colors or textures, what they own (or want to own), their current sizes, etc.
Even worse are the gifts we end up buying, often at the very last minute when we’re tired, cranky and already over-budget, out of sheer obligation, sometimes for people we don’t even like very much.
As someone who was the grim recipient of too many of these — like the books with the big black streak on them, the stigmata of the remaindered (i.e. cheap) — not to mention discarded free cosmetic samples — just don’t!
(When someone has no money, of course a gift is anything they offer with love. When someone has plenty of money but no heart or attention to detail? That can feel mean.)
For some people, the holidays are a time of dread and loneliness, for others a riot of celebration.
We’re spending this Christmas at home. My mother and I have no relationship and my father (again) and I are estranged; last year we drove up to Ontario and had a lovely time with him and my half-brother and sister-in-law.
It’s been a difficult year financially — lower income and much higher health insurance costs have made this a low-budget holiday for us.
I took on a freelance project in August that, while hardly ideal, sounded like it might be worth doing.
I was willing to try.
It was a lot of hard work for not-enough money.
It was also, though, a lot of hard work with editors whose skills proved deeply disappointing.
Last week I ditched it.
I rarely walk away from regular paid work; like every full-time freelancer (or anyone running a business), I know how difficult it can be replace one client with another or, more realistically, with three or four.
But I finally hit breaking point when I spoke up for myself (not a quick decision) — and in reply was smacked down like a puppy who’d peed the rug.
By someone barely one-third my age and with two years’ experience.
Anyone who grew up in a family where their feelings were routinely ignored, let alone one with some seriously nasty behavior patterns, knows that it can a lifelong challenge to parse what’s “normal”, (especially indifference to respecting you), and what isn’t.
To determine if it’s “just you” feeling shitty about that relationship all the time, or maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for that, and you need to get away now.
To know when to stand up for yourself — sick to death of cringing and genuflecting to people whose treatment of you is miserable, but whose payments cover stuff like your groceries and health insurance.
And to know when to simply say, enough toxic bullshit.
Throughout my life, I’ve marked these pivotal moments with a piece of jewelry, a talisman to signify, with beauty and grace and a tangible memory of taking the best possible care of myself, the important transition away from a soul-sucking situation and a movement towards freedom, re-definition and independence.
It’s not easy.
I don’t bolt quickly, easily or without much deliberation and self-doubt.
The first was the decision to end my first marriage, at least in its then-iteration, (deeply lonely, adulterous on his part), while I was 100 percent reliant on his income.
I was alone in Thailand, on Ko Phi Phi, a remote island when I decided. I bought a coral and turquoise and silver ring for about $20 and brought it home to remind me of my resolution. My husband, of course, didn’t like its style. Within six months, the marriage was over.
The second was putting my alcoholic mother into a nursing home. Our relationship had been tumultuous for decades. The experience was emotionally brutal for reasons too tedious to detail here.
I found, in a craft shop on Granville Island in Vancouver, a small sterling silver heart that looked like a stone that had washed up on some beach or river shore, pitted and rutted, battered — but intact.
It symbolized exactly how I felt; I wear it on a long piece of cord.
The third was this one, to shed a client I’d had doubts about from start.
So I found this gorgeous small lock at a Christmas market in New York’s Bryant Park, a Turkish design. It consumed almost exactly the paltry sum I’ll earn from my last piece of work for them.
Open the lock.
Freedom feels good.
Talismans remind me to chase it, cherish it and never relinquish it so easily again.
Long-time readers of Broadside know this is an annual tradition. I love scouring the Internet for a few lovely things you might want to give others, (or hint for for yourself!)
I don’t include gifts for children/teens, sports/outdoor gear or tech toys as they’re not my areas of expertise or interest.
The thing everyone seems to want now is a great experience — an adventure to remember, not more stuff.
What one person loves (Mozart!), another hates, so I’m reluctant to make many specific suggestions here, but I agree.
How about giving a museum membership?
A subscription series of tickets to ballet, jazz, classical concerts, a choral music series?
Gift certificates to hotels, travel, spa days?
Even offering to head out for a monthly hike or long, lazy lunch with a dear friend, and sticking to it. That’s a gift to both of you.
Prices for this year’s list range widely, as usual, but many are less than $100, and some much less than $50.
I hope you’ll find some inspiration and fun!
1. Most essential this year? Give of yourself: your time, skills, expertise, hugs. Offer a package of home-made coupons to a friend, family member or neighbor for dog-walking, massages, baby-sitting, soup-making. If the disturbing rise in hate crimes in the U.S. has you concerned, donate to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood or any of the many groups fighting hard to protect civil rights.
2. The British website, Plumo, has long been a favorite of mine, offering women’s clothing, shoes and accessories — and some home-focused items. These small gray ceramic housesare perfect to hold a votive candle; imagine a miniature village on a pale linen tablecloth or lining a mantelpiece. $15.83 each (plus shipping) Also in black, $31.66 (plus shipping.) And a taller, more ornate version in olive green$19.79 (plus shipping)
3. So many people are now worn out — and, worse, misled, by fake news. We read widely, and one of our favorite reads is the London-based but utterly global in scope, the Financial Times, which we read on paper. It’s unabashedly pro-capitalist, but nonetheless smart and insightful; we keep the weekend edition for weeks on end as it takes us so long to read through and enjoy it all: book reviews, travel, recipes, wine, interviews and profiles.$4.79 week for the digital version, including the weekend FT.
As someone who also writes freelance for The New York Times, (here are 22 of my stories, a fraction of what I’ve done for them), and has for many years, I’d also urge you consider buying someone a subscription to this American/global newspaper,especially for a high school or college student, or someone who’s never read it before. Someone who really needs to grasp the crucial difference between fake news and deep, fact-based reporting. Yes, their bias is liberal. But, more than ever, (they’re soon to cut staff again), deep fact-based reporting, comment and analysis relies on — and rewards — financial support. Only $3.13 a week for the first year, doubling a year later.
4. How can you resist the two major food groups contained in this jar — cognac and butter? From Fortnum & Mason, that elegant London emporium, cognac butterto slather on a hot scone or a waffle or a pancake or…$14.95
6. Love this white and denim blue cotton rug, clean and simple, but not boring. Reminds me of sunlight on water. It would be great a in a room with lots of crisp blue and white with color hits of lemon yellow, apple green or chocolate brown. $187.95 (8 by 10 size, comes in many different sizes.)
9.My favorite bookfor anyone aspiring to making art — dance, theater, literature — “The Creative Habit” by choreographer Twyla Tharp. She’s tough! Lots of great, practical ideas and very low woo-woo quotient. Used hardcover copy, from Powell’s in Portland. $10.50
12. Regular readers here know I’m a huge fan of using candles, all the time, in every room. This gorgeous, unusual candlestick, designed for tapers, comes in two heights. This, the lower version, is $48
14. You can never go wrong with a bud vase: perfect for a bedside table, or a grouping of them in the middle of the dining table. $8-18.
15. Nothing makes me feel more organized than a fistful of lovely sharpened pencils. Like these. $14
16. We’ve all got a nasty little umbrella we bought for $5 on a street corner when desperate one rainy day. But what a delicious luxury to own a beautiful, and beautifully-made umbrella, with a smooth but lightweight wooden handle and a wide, protective span. I love this one, (I snagged mine at a discount store version of Longchamp, in burnt orange); here in a warm creamy beige and a few other options. $195
17. I love this other French luggage brand, Lipault, and use their chocolate brown satin backpack when I travel. I really hate logos and prefer something classic and simple, yet well-made and not boring. That’s a lot to ask of a backpack, but here’s Lipault’s answer:in red, deep purple, black, turquoise or ruby, at $54.
18. Watches are still cool. I really like the simplicity of this one, suitable for a man or woman, (38 mm in diameter), with a tan webbing strap, glow in the dark hands, black face and European/military time as well. (But I confess confusion — why isn’t 2:oo p.m. marked as 1400 hours?) $110
19. My wedding earrings from Joselook just like these— I wear them everywhere, every day. These are from Neiman-Marcus, simple, clean and, yes, diamonds! $750
20. Hell to the yes! For a man. For a woman. For your teen (s). A gray sweatshirtwith one key word on it — Feminist. $20.
21. Why would anyone want to sit in total silence for days at a time? Because it will totally shift their relationship to words, action, social behavior. I did a seven-day silent retreat in the summer of 2011 and it was both challenging and life-changing. Here’s a list of six places around the U.S. to go for this experience. (It was my birthday gift from my husband.)
28. Bonjour, Monsieur! The quintessential Frenchman’s style is a muffler at the neck of a blazer, tied with rakish nonchalance.This one is on a woman’s site, but is perfectly unisex, navy blue with a thin white stripe. So chic and so damn cheap. $36
29. This season’s color is copper.This large, flat leather pouchis perfect as a small clutch handbag or (as I do with mine), for stashing my phone, charge cord and earpieces so I can find them easily, and keep them clean and organized. $88
My husband, a freelance photo editor, is working at The New York Times today, yesterday and tomorrow.
I can hear my neighbors below me and down the hall laughing and welcoming guests for today’s big celebration.
Tuesday and Thursday are my “fast days”, when I restrict my calorie consumption on those days to 750 calories, my goal to lose at least 30 pounds, ideally 45 or so. I’ve been doing this diligently since June and am seeing progress.
It’s hard, though. I just ate lunch and I’m still really hungry.
The sky outside our windows is a flat, leaden gray.
The town below our windows is eerily silent.
I see all my friends’ posts and photos on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m envying their feasts and fellowship.
But Jose and I are not close to our families; his lives far away from us and mine lives in Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving there in early October.
So we’re usually invited to share it here with one of our friends and their family.
One year we went to an elegant restaurant instead.
Last year we spent this holiday at a friend’s home near D.C., a long, long table filled with delicious food and lots of her family.
She invited me back this year, but I decided to stay home…and good thing I did, as my right knee, (which is very damaged due to advanced osteoarthritis), collapsed on me on Sunday night, making it impossible to straighten my leg, the pain so intense I almost fainted and/or threw up.
Luckily, I saw my doctor Tuesday morning, who drained fluid from it and injected cortisone. I yelped!
Now I have a cold.
But I’m thankful for so much:
— A safe, warm, dry, bed and a cozy duvet
— The little radio that brings me the world and keeps me company
— My laptop!
— A hard-working healthy husband who is sustaining us through three freelance jobs
— Savings (so we don’t have to panic if I’m ill for a few days)
— Fresh food in the fridge, (which I’ll enjoy tomorrow)
— A gorgeous orange-cranberry bundt cake I made yesterday that turned out really well
— The insurance to be able to see a doctor quickly
— A doctor I know, like and trust
— A safe and reliable car to drive to the doctor
— A husband willing to drive me there (losing two days’ income and work to do so)
— Working Internet (hi there!)
— A working landline (spoke to a Toronto colleague today for 90 minutes about a possible project)
— Paid freelance employment for a new steady client
— General good health
— Dear friends, here in New York, in Toronto and around the world
—– The 16,300 followers of Broadside (thank you!)
— A solid marriage of 16 years; we’re spending this Saturday night with a friend recently widowed after 60 years of marriage
Hoping all my American readers are enjoying a restful holiday with people they love!
Forget (!) the U.S. election and how weary some now are of constant comment, opinion, raging, crying, etc.
Some families are withdrawing from one another over the holidays to avoid (further) estrangement.
The next six weeks also mean a lot of rushing around, to parties, (for work, for fun, with family), to buy gifts, to attend professional events.
Maybe, on top of all that, you’re looking for work or a new job, or coping with illness or injury.
This time of year can also mean new, fresh heartache; we have friends who recently lost both parents (to a drunk driver); a friend whose husband died this summer; a friend whose husband of many decades died a month ago…each of them facing their first Christmas and New Years as an orphan, a widower and a widow.
Taking consistent care of ourselves is crucial to our ability to help nourish and sustain others, whether children, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors.
A few ways to nurture yourself:
Keep fresh flowers or plants in your home
As I’ve written here many times, especially as the trees lose their leaves and color here, every week I buy fresh flowers and keep our houseplants thriving. Even $15 worth of grocery store mums can fill multiple vases and jugs around our apartment.
Flowers are everywhere in our home: bedside, bathroom, dining table, side tables. I recently splurged $27 for three plants at a local nursery, including a pale purple cyclamen and a deep purple African violet.
We live, most of us, in such a noisy world! Traffic, airplanes overhead, other people’s music and conversations, our children, our pets.
Silence is deeply restorative. Find a place, at home or out in nature, to be alone, silent and still every day.
Talking to, hanging out with, patting your cat/dog/guinea pig.
Since the election, I’m sleeping 9 to 9.5 hours every night, an escape from fear and stress. Self-employment from home allows me to nap as needed. Few escapes are as consistently accessible, free and comforting as a nap or a refreshing night’s sleep.
Meditation or prayer
Making time to intentionally focus on your spiritual health is sustaining. A friend living in another state recently started an on-line group of us to meet for meditation together. It sounds odd, but we were all grateful she thought of it.
Face to face or on the phone or using FaceTime or Skype only. We really need to see our dearest friends’ faces and hear their laughter (or sighs). None of this online silliness! Get a hug. Give a hug. (In times of stress, ditch/avoid faux friends and competitive types, emotional vampires and frenemies. You need backup!)
Especially with those you’ve known for decades, reminisce about all the great times you’ve had together — and plot some adventures for 2017 to look forward to.
I keep a scented candle on my bedside table and it’s a soothing, calming final sight before I blow it out at night. It creates a ritual. We also light candles every evening when we eat dinner together ,(no TV blaring, no phones) and that, too, is a ritual that gently slows us down and moves into the evening.
I step onto a cozy bedside sheepskin rug every morning and treasure our woolen throws and blankets to nap under. Whether you wear a silk scarf or a cashmere muffler, or snuggly socks or slippers, keep your body as coddled and comfortable as you can.
We have a large collection of art, design and decorative arts books (all of which can be borrowed from your local library.) Few things are as pleasant as leafing through inspiring bits of beauty. Thanks to the Internet, virtually every museum in the world is now available for browsing.
Even better, get out to a museum or art gallery, sit on a bench and really, really savor a few pieces — sculpture, paintings, pastels, a mask or chariot — slowly and carefully.
Get out there! No matter the weather, fresh air and light are a great way to detach from grim thoughts, social media and yet another bloody screen.
Avoid all social media
This is one of my favorites, whether listening to the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto or Erik Satie or the Stones or…Crank up the stereo and sing along as loudly as you dare.
If you’re a musician, what a great way to lose yourself! I so envy — and have been fortunate enough to know several talented amateur musicians — those who can just pick up a flute or violin or harmonica or guitar and delight themselves. (I need to get my guitar out of the basement and start building up my calluses again.)
Attending a concert is a great way to destress. Jose and I recently attended an evening choral performance, all in Finnish, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. It was sublime! The echoes!
Play a game
Anything! Gin rummy, Scrabble, Bananagrams, cribbage, bridge, mah jongg. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Borrow your kids’ or grandkids’ Legos and have at it.
Yay, endorphins. This has been my preferred method of stress management for decades, whether dance class, spin class, a long walk or playing softball. Especially this time of year, as we all start eating and drinking too much, burning off some of those calories will help.
Some people hate being touched by strangers. But for some of us, a massage and/or manicure and/or pedicure and/or facial (yes, costly!) can be a great stress-buster. We’re lucky enough to live next door to a very good hotel spa, so I have incentive to work and and save hard for another visit.
Only if you enjoy it! Creating something delicious is both focusing and distracting — a stack of muffins, a savory soup or stew, a pile of roast vegetables fills your home with great smells and gives you instant, possibly healthy, gratification.
A few suggestions for those of you about to become a holiday host:
No nagging, chivvying or political battles
Of all years, this is probably going to be the toughest for many of us. If you and your guests hold opposite political views, staying calm and civil is key. Garden-variety queries all guests dread — “So, why are you still single?” are bad enough!
Whatever it takes, try to avoid big arguments. Not much winning likely.
Even the most social and extroverted among us need time to nap, rest, read, recharge. To just be alone for a while. Don’t feel rejected if someone needs it and don’t be shy about suggesting a few hours’ break from one another, every day.
A cheat sheet
Offer a sheet of paper with basic info: the home’s street address and phone numbers; nearby parks or running trails; an emergency contact; taxi numbers or the nearest gas station; directions to the nearest hospital, pharmacy and drugstore; how to work the coffee-maker and laundry facilities.
Anything guests need to know to stay safe and avoid creating inadvertent chaos.
Thoughtful details: nice bath/shower gel or soap, bottles of cold water at bedside, setting a pretty table with a tablecloth, flowers and cloth napkins, a scented candle bedside, extras they might have forgotten or need (sanitary supplies, razors, diapers.)
Good guests really appreciate these.
A mini flashlight in their room
Especially helpful in a larger home, to navigate one’s way to the bathroom, on stairs or into the kitchen for a midnight snack.
A small basket of treats
Granola bars, crackers, some hard candy, almonds. We all get a bit hungry between meals.
A selection of magazines
Nothing gloomy! Glossy shelter magazines always a safe bet.
Ask about and accommodate serious dietary preferences and allergies
Adding some half-and-half or a loaf of multi-grain bread won’t break the bank. If your guests have long lists of highly specific must-haves, it’s fair to ask them to bring some with them, (if traveling by car.)
If your guests are arriving with multiple ever-ravenous teenagers, maybe discuss splitting the grocery bill; it’s one thing to be a gracious host, but if your normal budget is already tight, don’t just seethe in silence at the need to keep buying more and more and more food.
A frank discussion about what you expect and all hope to accomplish: (lots of nothing? A tightly scheduled day?, and at what speed
Few things are as grim as staying in a home that has vastly differing standards of cleanliness, timing, punctuality, tidiness, organization — even religiosity — than you do.
Some people are up at 5:00 a.m. every day on their Peloton or email while others’ notion of a holiday mean sleeping until noon. Do your best to coordinate schedules, at least for shared meals, then prepare to be easy-going and flexible.
A card in your room with your home’s wi-fi details and password
A true sense of welcome
People know when their presence is really wanted and welcomed — and when it isn’t, (like the dirty cat litter box under my pull-out bed at one “friend’s” home and the empty fridge in another’s.)
If you really can’t bear having others staying in your home with you, (for whatever reason), don’t do it. It can be a difficult conversation and you may have to gin up some solid excuses (bedbug invasion?) but there are few experience as soul-searing (believe me!) as staying with someone — especially if your own home is a long expensive journey away — who doesn’t want you there.
With American Thanksgiving looming and the holidays after that, many of us will soon become guests, whether meeting the parents of the one you love, (and maybe hope to marry — no pressure!), reconnecting with friends or with family you might see infrequently and who you don’t know very well.
Being a guest can also mean stepping into a potential minefield of mutually hurt feelings and/or unexpressed frustration.
Some hosts are explicit about their wishes, but many are not.
I’ve stayed with friends many times, some of whom live in fairly tight quarters; no one we know lives in a 4,000 square foot house or a stately mansion.
Fortunately, Jose and I have been invited back many times by the same hosts. (On a blessedly few occasions, it’s been a total shitshow, usually when staying with [sigh] my family.)
Here’s to a lovely holiday season!
Eleven ways to hasten a return invitation:
No political arguments!
The reason you’ve been invited into the sanctuary of someone’s home is to enjoy fun, friendship, fellowship not to engage in ferocious battles or shift them, suddenly, to your opposing worldview. (Or vice versa.)
When political conversation becomes (over)heated, contentious and ad hominem insults are flying — slow down long enough to ask yourself, seriously, what’s the upside? How much anger, even estrangement, is worth it?
(If it’s time to torch a bridge or two, have at it, but make sure there’s gas in your car or a taxi nearby and alternate lodging you can afford.)
Bring Scrabble, cards, Bananagrams, a good book, headphones and music you love, a sketchbook.
Head out for a long, head-clearing, blood-pressure-lowering walk.
Or, as some Americans are choosing to do this year after such a contentious election, just stay home, or at a hotel instead.
When asked for your dietary preferences, remember — it’s not a full-service restaurant
Some people have life-threatening allergies, but others think nothing of imposing their impossibly long list of preferences.
If you insist on ready access to a specific food or drink, bring it with you — rural options can be distant and limited.
Stay quiet until you know your hosts are awake
This seems like basic good manners to me, but friends we recently stayed with at their country house upstate said they’re often awakened with pointedly heavy guests’ foot-steps as early as 8:00 a.m.
This is a couple who work 18-hour days running their own company and I know how weary they are!
Make sure you know how to find and (quietly!) make coffee or tea. Bring your own headphones and reading material.
Be a grown-up and entertain yourself and your kids in (relative) silence until everyone is fully conscious.
Sex? Keep it private and quiet
Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.
An ex-boyfriend of mine had relative bring a sheep (yes, really) to his suburban home from upstate while visiting for Thanksgiving…
If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and from you
Not everyone is used to plenty of high volume shrieking/barking, especially if they don’t have a child or a pet.
People who’ve chosen to “get away” are actually hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off. Promptly clean up every mess and apologize/offer to replace anything your kids/pet damage or break.
Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host
Ditto for taking your hosts out for a few good meals. Don’t be a mooch.
Bring a gift
Don’t arrive empty-handed: offer a great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy.
While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach.
Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!
Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week
Sure, you can email, and most hosts probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.
Help out wherever you can
Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. Your hosts will probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.
Avoid public grooming
I was once hosted by a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife — while both of them flossed their teeth. Not my style.
You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door.
Create lovely shared memories, not regrets you’ll all spend years trying to forget.
Do you enjoy being a guest or host?
What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?
Two recent films have me thinking, long and hard, about the effects our parents, and their behaviors and values, exert on us, whether we’re young or adult — American Pastoral, from the book by Philip Roth, and Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen.
One reviewer says Captain Fantastic is “the best movie about parenting I’ve ever seen.”
The reviews of American Pastoral aren’t terrific, but I found much in it to think about — a solid citizen, owner of a Newark, NJ glove factory inherited from his father, ends up losing his rebellious daughter to an underground movement devoted to blowing up buildings and sowing social unrest.
It encapsulates the schism of the 1960s between the “squares” and the hippies, between those committed to the way things were and those determined to rend the social fabric edge to edge.
Dakota Fanning plays the daughter, moving from a stuttering teen simmering with suburban rage to a mentally fragile adult. Her father never gives up his search for her, a heart-rending theme for me, who has had many estrangements from my own.
The father in Captain Fantastic is a divisive figure, an authoritarian raising his six children in a teepee in the woods of Oregon, home schooling them and subjecting them to intense physical training. The breathtaking beauty of their surroundings is in contrast to their total social and cultural isolation — I thought, the whole way through it, of Cea Person, whose searing memoir of a similar childhood in the woods of Canada, North of Normal, is unforgettable.
I’m fascinated by these two films for the questions they raise about how much we want to become our parents — or rush to flee their influence.
I never had children, but am always intrigued by how people choose to raise them and to impart their values, whether social, intellectual, creative or religious. I’ve seen a few adults I know work hard to break free of their family, often with painful consequences, and others still in thrall to patterns that make them unhappy but can’t find a way out.
I’m always in awe (yes, and envious) of happy, emotionally close families, the kind where an adult daughter and her mother remain best friends, and Sunday dinners en famille go on for decades.
Both of my parents are free spirits, both of whom — not surprisingly — came from wealthy but emotionally difficult families. Neither of them ever talks about their childhood.
My father was raised in Vancouver, his father, (an Irish immigrant from a small town in Co. Donegal), founded and ran a successful trucking company there; my mother, born in New York City, was raised by a wealthy mother from Chicago who had multiple husbands, divorcing the ones who annoyed her most.
Headstrong ‘r us.
My mother, who never attended college but married at 17, lived life on her own terms, whether wearing a sari, (her best friend for decades was East Indian), a different wig for every day of the week or moving us to Mexico when I was 14. That ended badly when she had a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve, stranding me and a friend on our own for a few weeks there.
My father, a successful and multiple award-winning filmmaker of features and documentaries, never met a cage he didn’t want to rattle, hard. Both are still alive, long divorced.
My mother and I have no relationship at this point.
Even this late in life, I’m still their child in some ways — stubborn, creative, a world traveler, intellectually curious, with friends ranging in age from the 20s to 80s.
My tastes in art and music and food are both developed and wildly catholic, as theirs are, a gift I appreciate.
Both are smart as hell and super-competitive — family Scrabble games can get a little feral!
My father is ferociously agnostic, my mother for years a devoted Catholic; I occasionally attend Episcopal services. (My husband, a devoted Buddhist, was raised by a strict Baptist minister.)
In other ways, I’m quite different.
My mother has lived in such disparate spots as Lima, Peru, Bath, Roswell, New Mexico and B.C.’s Sunshine Coast; I’ve now lived in the same apartment for more than 20 years, am much less successful professionally and financially than my father was and, in some ways, more disciplined in my choices than either have been.
I’m also a product of my times, my adolescence in the hippie-ish late 1960s and 1970s and my native country, Canada, which remains socially liberal.
Which parent do you most resemble?
Or have you chosen to reject their values?
How much do you wish your children will be (are they?) like you?
In a few days, American citizens will choose their new President, (and other elected officials, which tends to get lost in the fray.)
Some of us who chose to come to the United States — and not those (blessedly) fleeing war, oppression, terror, economic disaster — are now, nervously, wondering…what next?
Will we stay?
If not, where will we go?
This is not unique to me; here’s a comment on a recent piece in The Economist:
An American friend who has 2 children to raise and educate has already emigrated, to Australia in this case, because his wife is Australian. And then a few Asian dual-citizenship friends already left. In their words, “America is not a good place to raise kids – too many guns, and too many strange xenophobes. It’s not worth it.” They are all bilingual, bi-literate, high-skilled professionals. I certainly am packing too if Trumps wins.
I’ve avoided much discussion here about this election, although I will say clearly I do not want Donald Trump to win and am very, very fearful of the effects, domestically and globally, his election would create.
I’m disgusted and appalled by the way he dismisses and demeans women, Muslims, Mexicans (my husband’s heritage), the disabled and others.
I chose a country I then believed welcoming to “the other”, a place where your background and beginnings mattered less than your education, skills, drive and ambition.
This no longer feels true to me.
I have not become a citizen, so I will not be voting. I will accompany my husband to the polling station, proudly, as I did last time.
Choosing to emigrate to the U.S. places you in an odd few buckets.
The word “immigrant” is too often conflated with “illegal” or assumed to be someone whose choices elsewhere were so utterly barren that we had to come, have to stay and have no better options back at home — or in any other nation.
The true picture is much more varied.
There are immigrants who’ve made millions of dollars. There are those stuck in low-wage, menial jobs, sometimes for decades.
But there are also millions of us who thought coming to the United States, making a deliberate choice, was worth a try, maybe later in life or mid-career, maybe having to persuade a dubious spouse or children to create a fresh start here.
There are many of us, especially those with multiple language skills and the ability to work in other languages or cultures, those of us with cross-cultural fluency, who could leave, returning to our homeland or trying yet another country.
I left Toronto, and Canada, a nation with cradle-to-grave government supplied healthcare, (versus the $1,400 I pay every month here in NY, thanks to self-employment and corporate greed), a country whose very best universities offer a year’s tuition for less than $10,000 — not the $50,000 to $60,000 plus charged by the U.S.’s top private schools.
I came to the U.S. at the age of 30; then as now, I had no children to worry about.
Nor did I mind leaving my family of origin behind as we’re not close emotionally and returning, in need, is a quick 90 minute flight.
But my decision was still terrifying!
I knew very few people. Had no close family here — cousins in California with whom I have virtually no contact.
Had no job. Had no graduate degree nor the Ivy League education and social capital I would (belatedly!) learn are essential to elite success in the crazy-competitive Northeastern enclaves of publishing and journalism.
I now own property here. I’m married to an American. I have long-standing friendships and deeply love the region I chose, the lower Hudson Valley.
But the prospect of a Trump Presidency is making me, and many, many others deeply anxious.
Those of us with portable skills and multiple passports and/or citizenships do have options.
Thanks to my paternal Irish grandfather, I can also apply for Irish citizenship and an EU passport; I already speak fluent French and decent Spanish.