Hello, Hello Kitty Toaster

 

Hey Heather! Life, here … I haven’t thrown you enough shitty curve balls lately, chocked full of awkward and hair pulling situations … so I’m going to send you a real doozy today!

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened, and while I’m not complaining I’m also not jumping for joy at having run into Hello Kitty Toaster and “…go fuck yourself off” today.

I’m really getting ahead of myself, here. Maybe the six mini-bags of Cheez-Its I binge-ate to help myself cope with the awkwardness have gone to my head.

For those of you that don’t know, Hello Kitty Toaster is my sister-in-law and “…go fuck yourself off” is my brother-in-law (her husband). Recently, things have gotten a little awkward – mostly owing to the fact that my husband and I don’t often attend family events; and that they are pretty much the exact opposite of what we are, in every way imaginable. Most recently, Hello Kitty Toaster and I got into a little bit of a tet-a-tet on Facebook over whether it’s better to clean the house yourself, or hire the help. “…go fuck yourself off” and I don’t talk that much anymore either, since he told me to go fuck myself off…

So we went to Target to stock up today on things like toothpaste and juice boxes; your typical Target purchases. Standing in line, my phone rang and I answered just to say “call you back, in line at Target” and then out of nowhere the loudest yelp I had ever heard in line at a retail superstore called out my name.

HEATHER!!!!!!!!

After jumping, realizing who had yelled my name, and simultaneously wishing I could activate that badass Star Trek cloaking device the Klingons always used to stay hidden, I then (of course) put on my fakest smile possible and responded:

Oh! Hello, Hello Kitty Toaster

What are you doing here?

What I wanted to say: Oh, you know… just taking a leisurely stroll down the aisles to look at all the cleaning supplies we don’t have to buy because our cleaning lady handles that for us.

What I really said: Oh, just stocking up on things … toothpaste, laundry detergent, that kind of stuff. What about you?

OH, so Brooky is out of food!!! CAN YOU BELIEVE SHE EATS THIS MUCH FOOD?!

[Insert extra large bag of dog food, and yes – Hello Kitty Toaster’s dog is named Brooklyn, like the bridge although I’m fairly certain HKT has no idea what or where that is.]

Oh … wow … that’s … a lot … of food … … … … . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[Insert awkward moment where we realize we have finished checking out at the same time and will be walking in the same direction.]

Walking out the door, we’re saying good-bye and I’m lying and saying we have to stop by the restroom, and “…go fuck yourself off” turns around, an extra large ICEE in hand. I shit you not, faithful blog followers – an extra large ICEE. This is important because I haven’t seen them in person since maybe last summer. I’ve seen a few photos on Facebook, but as for in person not a once. In those photos, I had noticed that “…go fuck yourself off” had gained a little weight. He’s married now, it happens.

Today, though, as he turned around with an ICEE larger than my head in hand, I realized that he is well on his way to morbid obesity. By my count, the dude now has four chins.

Oh hey, Heather. Long time no see – how’s it going.

What I wanted to say: Go fuck yourself off.

What I really said: Oh, hi, yeah, just shopping, stocking up on stuff, toothpaste, laundry detergent, you know

OH MY GOD! BROOKY’S FOOD IS SO HEAVY! WE HAVE TO GO FOR DRINKS SOON!!!

Yeah that would be great.

Oh, yeah – that would be great. We’ve gotta’ get to the bathroom. See you later.

We then adjourned to the Target restroom where we stood outside if for about five minutes, waiting long enough to make sure Hello Kitty Toaster and “…go fuck yourself off” had made their way out of the parking lot. Then I went home and ate six mini-bags of Cheez-Its to make myself feel a little less awkward about the encounter.

Good times over here!

Forget About Family

Here is what I hate the most about the holidays.  It isn’t the blatant lack of cultural knowledge of what the holidays actually represent.  It isn’t the materialism that bleeds out of every nook and cranny.  It isn’t the consumerism, the over-indulgence, or even the misguided judgments that what ‘I’ do for the holidays is what everyone should do.

It’s family.

The day after Thanksgiving, I saw some articles from the Baltimore Sun featured on Google News.  They were opinion pieces about how earlier shopping options for Black Friday deals were breaking away at family values – that people deciding to go to stores late Thanksgiving day was the wrong thing to do because it cut into family time.  It also stated that Thanksgiving’s meaning is to embrace family – a statement so unambiguously false I shot out of my chair and began pacing around the room as I deciphered just what I would respond with.  The article accepted comments that were clean, relevant, and within a certain word count – all guidelines I abided by to the strictest sense.

And yet, my comment was never approved by the opinion editor of the Baltimore Sun.  So much for freedom of speech.

If you look at the great thinkers in the history of the world, you see that centuries of guidance on avoiding family have been put forth as obscurely as in the old Ben Franklin quote about in-laws “keep your eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterwards;” and as blatantly as when George Burns said “happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”  Jesus even said that people are to “leave behind your families, your mothers and your fathers” to go out and do what is right in the world.  How, then, has family – and dysfunctional family at that – completely taken over our entire lives, then – and to such a degree that we will let it cloud our judgment on things (like free speech) that are entirely unrelated to family at all?

I have a few thoughts on how.

To begin, I do not believe that the people who obsess and focus their lives solely on family are very intelligent.  This explains why no one has taken heed of the century’s worth of advice from the great thinkers.  Take a look at the people that argue in favor of the family values campaigns; or even of the average conversation at your typically banal family gathering.  Some of them cannot even communicate using the English language very well any more; in fact, in one of the opinion letters, the person did not even take the time to check their typos and misspellings.  I don’t know if I have ever had an intelligent conversation at a family event.  At both my and my husband’s family events, everyone is either talking about gossip or Dancing With the Stars.  There is no discussion of literature, great film, the aesthetic arts, politics, or society.

If the mundane conversation about what everyone’s been up to at work, and the consistency of each other’s bowel movements and hemorrhoid troubles  (a popular topic at our family dinners) is what truly makes these people happy – by all means, continue on.  But it is evidence to the decreased awareness so many people have about the greater picture of life and the world.  It might also explain why less than 25% of Americans know the actual history and meanings behind the holidays they hold so dear.

Further, I strongly feel that a variety of societal factors have played a part in creating the problem of enmeshed families, which is on the verge of being a psychological epidemic.  I’ve talked about enmeshed family theory before.  It’s the socio-psychological theory that a family becomes so over involved in each other’s lives that massive levels of stress and dysfunction arise, as well as the younger members of the family growing to be socially awkward and ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities an adult must be able to deal with.  I’ve been in a few relationships where the significant other’s family is one of these enmeshed ones – everyone is so up in each other’s business at all times it’s a wonder any of them know the concept of “personal life.”  What arises from such a situation, though, is just more dysfunction.  Gossip, hurt feelings, miscommunication, and – most importantly – expectations on each other that are beyond what any reasonable person can expect.  I think this is where someone would think it is hurting the value of family to have stores open a few hours into Thanksgiving day, such as in the case of the Baltimore Sun articles I mentioned above. And this is also why so many people now see the holidays as exclusively family time.

I say forget about family.

That doesn’t mean to completely isolate yourself from family altogether; but it means to be yourself, do what you want, and don’t allow yourself to feel obligated, manipulated, or bullied into complying with a set of family values you may not agree with completely.  And to those that feel like family is the only thing important in the world, open your mind just a smidgeon and remember that in a post-modern society, everyone gets to determine for themselves what is right and wrong.  That means that your family values are not absolute truth for everyone.

Oh…and boycott the Baltimore Sun.  Censoring a clean and legitimate opinion is not what I’d call “journalism.”  How often in history do we see that the things being silenced end up being the truest?

Money Matters

This morning I got this crazy idea in my head:  to ask my Facebook friends and B(itch)Log fans if they as parents would assume their children’s financial business is theirs for the asking.  Interestingly enough, the majority of my friends/fans said “no, absolutely not.”  Only two people said “yes,” with caveats, though.  And one of those with the caveats said that it would really only be a matter of showing a good example until the kid was old enough.  Finally, when I just asked if anyone still spoke about money with their families (regardless of who brought it up), a few more said they did; however, everyone stated unambiguously it was about things like good deals at the store, nice investment choices, and never about paychecks, weekly budgets, etc.

The response seemed quite common sense to me, although to many it may not be.  The idea of having a conversation about my personal finances with some of my family seems absolutely ludicrous.  Not only am I almost thirty years old, but in many cases it is just not anyone’s business.  But the thought of asking my kids where money is coming from or how things are getting paid when they are my age seems even more absurd.  What a wholly pompous and presumptuous thing to assume; and (in truth) if your kids are so irresponsible that you have to ask them about how they get/spend their money, than it is really more of a statement on your failures in parenting along the way.

The “no”s on the topic of assuming a right to one’s kid’s finances really took the morning’s conversation, though – the best of which included all sorts of wonderful insight.  One woman that I know from a local writers group explained the situation with her own grown son:  “While the kid was a college lower classman I gave lots of advice about how the money was to be spent. After I saw him being responsible with it, I backed off. Now, I think offering advice is way off limits however, I’d be willing to discuss it if he wanted and might suggest something for him to consider.”   Another great comment (and from a friend who is an accountant) stated that with her son she plans on instilling in him the understanding of money and responsibility as soon as he understands the concepts of dollars and cents.  To further, though, she stated:  “But I am totally an anti-enabler parent, so my child will know that he is responsible for his own finances.”  

I think here is where the conversation needs to go:  there is a divide between the families that enable and those that do not.  There is a divide between the families that believe everything – including finances – are a matter of everyone’s business and those that believe the discussion is off the table after a certain age.  Let’s examine the possible outcomes, though:

You over-involve yourself in your child’s financial affairs beyond college and young adulthood, well into regular adulthood.

The possibilities are endless:  it could end contrary to all psychological and sociological evidence and still all be okay; or it could end in complete disaster, which is what the statistics predict.  In the worst case scenario, your child grows up to be entirely codependent on other people’s advise or approval in matters of money, and is unable to ever gain the confidence to make their own decisions.  One day you and your spouse are no longer around and your child is completely unable to function because of an inability to make decisions.  Another possible outcome is that your child grows up to have serious problems with understanding personal responsibility for the financial blunders that come up.  One more simple possibility (on the other end of the results spectrum) is that eventually your child will grow to resent you for always asking and implying that it is your business where money comes from and goes to.  I know a few people right now that are extremely resentful of the fact that their parents ask them where certain monies come from, or that offer unsolicited advise on a regular basis.  And, in fact, one of the people commenting in the discussion this morning said that:  “I know my father still thinks that its his business due to the fact that he is my father and wants me to be as safe and comfortable as I was as a kid living at home. There are always many arguments between us about this.”  As with all enmeshed family systems, the over involvement of helicopter parents usually ends either in destruction of the child as a grown individual, or destruction of the family.

You raise your child by showing a positive example, as well as by teaching them individuality and – at a certain point – knowing when to draw the line and wait for them to come to you if advise is warranted.

Perhaps I am just biased because I have done such extensive research in school on the negative affects of families that are over-involved in each other’s lives and family systems theory.  But then it wouldn’t really be a “bias” so much as it would be an educated understanding of psychological and sociological findings.  In any event, one of the most important things we as parents can do is to teach our children to be responsible, upstanding adults.  Over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives, though, is a recipe for not doing that.  It’s like when the baby bird just cannot learn to fly and the mother finally just pushes it off the tree branch – if kids do not experience financial assessment and responsibility for themselves, they will never learn the tools necessary to be able to live a functional life sans parent.

Ultimately, I think this is the fear the parents of young adults today are having a difficult time coming to terms with:  that life does go on without them for their kids.  For years, we are the sole reason those little miracles survive in a cold, heartless world; for them to move on and be able to function without us is overwhelming.  What a better way to secure our place and importance in the world than by making sure those little miracles never canfunction without us – emotionally as well as financially.  One of the most resounding comments from the morning stated that:  “Ultimately I think its all about parents being strong enough to look at their children as adults and not kids.”  In a time when more young adults run home to mommy and daddy whenever finances get a little scary; or when mommy and daddy taken upon themselves to assume financial dominion over their adult-aged children:  truer words were never spoken.  Whatever the reason may be, parents of these enmeshed families refuse to allow their children to ever be more than children.

Consider where you are on the spectrum of finances and your kids.  Are you creating autonomous individuals that will go out in the world and prosper -whether you are there to help or not?  Or are you creating codependent kids that have no idea what the value or responsibility of a dollar is?  It’s hard to be a parent in a today’s world.  Consider, though, that it’s even harder to be a kid.