Archives for the month of: December, 2014

Every year, after the holidays begin to wind down, I suddenly become aware of just how much shit my children have. Not being particularly sentimental about toys myself, I instantly get to work on what I like to call the “purge.” Though my oldest is not quite 3 years old, I’ve already noticed a pattern to my annual (sometimes biannual) purge. Below, I give all of my stressed out parenting friends, buried and suffocating underneath mountains of kid crap, step-by-step instructions for how to de-clutter and take back your home from the children, assert your dominance over your domain.

This is about empowerment, people.

And wine. Lots and lots of wine.

1. While the small ones are sleeping, carefully go through and sort their toys into several piles. One for broken, cheap, and/or novelty toys that can be instantly discarded. One for toys in good shape that have not been touched in weeks. Another pile for popular, nice toys that are in good shape. Yet another for broken yet popular toys. At this time of year, you may also have a pile of unopened toys or repeat toys. Decide if those can be exchanged, or should be donated, regifted, or placed in the attic for last-minute birthday presents later in the year.

2. Discard all broken and/or McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. Do this immediately, without thinking about it. Make sure to pile newspapers or coffee grounds on top, to obscure any view of the toys that the toddler might notice in the bottom of the trash. Be double and triple certain that not a single molecule of the toys can be seen by the naked eye. It’s best to not even keep the bag in the house. In fact, just take the trash outside and burn it in the street.

3. Box up any toys still in good, relatively unused shape, and set them in the guest room closet, ready to be shipped to your local charity. Pro Tip: Take pictures of the contents of any boxes you donate so that you can accurately inventory your donations on your tax return without going through the hassle of actually indexing everything you give away.

4. Place all popular toys back in the play area.

5. Put any broken or ripped popular toys on a shelf. Somewhere out of reach for the children but conspicuous enough that you will see them and be reminded to repair them in a timely manner. They will now stay there until the children graduate college.

6. Survey all that you have accomplished, and open a bottle of wine to congratulate yourself. Begin contemplating a minimalist lifestyle. 100 possessions? You mean I’d still have to find 100?? P-shaw. Surely you jest. Bet I could do 85. 80, if I’m pushing it.

7. Realize that you can see your floor for the first time in a month. Pour another glass of wine. You so rock at this.

8. Toddler awakens, runs to playroom, and immediately asks where her penguin is. You freeze. The penguin…? The penguin that she got in her Happy Meal last month. The Happy Meal that her Papaw bought her that night she stayed with them. The penguin that was his special gift to her, and he gave her after she ate all her chicken nuggets. The penguin that was her prize for being his big girl. The penguin that means more to her than anything else ever in the entire world. Where is her penguin??

9. Send spouse to McDonald’s for Happy Meals, hoping to distract her with new crappy, plastic shit.

10. It works.

11. Pour more wine.

12. After two weeks, notice your toddler playing in the guest room. She finds the box of forgotten toys in the closet. Because of course they haven’t been donated yet. You’re not done yet. You still have to go through their rooms, their closets. Maybe even the kitchen. The purge isn’t finished yet. Nothing has happened since that first night. But you have plans. Big plans. Huge.

13. Watch your toddler have ALL THE FEELINGS about toys she hasn’t missed in two whole weeks.

14. Weakly protest as she unpacks the entire box.

15. Dutifully carry entire contents of the box upstairs to her room, and help her arrange the toys on her bed, strategically placed so she can cuddle them all throughout the night.

16. Open more wine. Pour a glass.

17. Hear toddler come back from arranging her now “favorite” toys on her bed, and ask you where Papaw’s penguin is. She can’t find it anywhere!

18. Start drinking straight from the bottle.

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This week, I defended my dissertation at Ball State University. After seven years in a PhD program, I am finally Dr. Rachel. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to complete this project without some serious help from people I love. The joke of the academic dissertation has always been the Acknowledgments page. “Not even your committee reads it!” So the saying goes. A depressing prospect, especially since (as another joke goes), the odds of every member of your committee reading your entire dissertation are slim.

But this changes today. Below, I am publishing my Acknowledgments page, as it appears in my dissertation (names have been redacted). There are more people responsible for my degree than I even mention here, but I want to make sure that the people I love, who are primarily responsible for me finishing (and for maintaining my sanity throughout the finishing process), get at least some of the meager accolades they deserve. I love you all.

And to those whose names are missing from this list, including all of my readers here: Thank You. You have allowed me to continue this, my creative outlet, which has been essential for reminding me why I do what I do. Your readership and your responses. They have sustained me. They truly have.

Acknowledgments

I owe the completion of this dissertation to many people. Firstly, my incredible committee, who fought alongside (and with) me throughout this process to make this work a true showcase of my theoretical and academic ability. I am especially grateful to my directors, Dr. M and Dr. C. You gave me tough love when I needed it, and showed me support and encouragement even when I didn’t deserve it. Coffee, pastries, gossip, hard questions, mixed tapes, and Dylan lyrics. These are the things I will carry with me from our time together.  And I will cherish them.

My parents, R and C. I told you at the age of seven that I wanted to get my PhD, and you have since taken it as a given that I would one day succeed.  You are eternally on my side.  Mom, you showed me as a lived example what a feminist is, and what a working mother could accomplish.  You taught me to never be afraid.  Dad, you gave me poetry, and taught me how to gaze at the stars.  Both of you taught me that passion and beauty are only as valuable as the hard work I put into them.  Thank you for that.

My siblings, M and M. You taught me how to be myself, and to laugh at myself.  That laughter is why I succeed.

My in-laws, B and S.  I will never forget your generosity, and the example you have set for my family for hard work and self-reliance.  I’m proud to be “the doctor” in the family.  I’m proud to be your family.

B, my husband, you have listened with unending patience to my rants, my ideas, my heartbreaks, my accomplishments. You have taught me to never know quit.  You have given even my wildest ideas careful consideration.  You gave me a plan when I had none.  You have pushed me, held me, dragged me, supported me, watched me weep.  And, somehow, you still seem to like me a whole lot.  You once told me that you wanted to make me smile every day for the rest of my life. Eleven years in, and you haven’t missed a day yet.  Thank you for being my partner.  I choose you. Every day. For forever.

Finally, my girls.

If anyone asks, I did this for me.

But, really?  I did this for you, dear S and M.

All for you.

To the moon and back. To the Sun and back.  To the stars and back

It was 11 o’clock, the night before Thanksgiving, and I realized that I had forgotten the spinach for my spinach artichoke dip. My husband and I were frantically straightening up the house, preparing for the steady march of friends and family who were coming by for some TV, naps, and dessert after their turkey.

My husband, eager for bed, shrugged, “Just go in the morning. We’re a mile away from a grocery store. Kroger will be open tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, absolutely. They could never close on Thanksgiving.”

“Funny how you never hear anyone get up in arms about grocery store clerks working on Thanksgiving.” He shot me a wry look over his glasses. I just grinned back.

 

At 7am, Thanksgiving morning, I drove over to Kroger and picked up spinach, paper towels, and a big bag of ice. Bleary eyed workers were stocking fresh produce. One young bagger was loudly cracking jokes about the early hour with the cute girl at the customer service desk. A couple in the liquor section, buying a few bottles of wine, smiled and shared a private joke about their relatives. Everyone greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

As I checked out, I remembered my husband’s words from the night before. I looked up at the cashier.

“Thank you for working today. I really appreciate it!”

She was a middle-aged woman, wearing way too much blush and way too many rings. But she smiled at me. “Oh, it’s no problem. My family’s cooking right now, and we’ll all be together later. The turkey will be there waiting for me!”

I nodded.

The turkey will wait.

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t ignite any rage in myself over Black Friday, or the injustice of people being “forced” to work over the holidays. I have studied Marxism. I understand the flaws of our capitalist system. I am aware of the abuses. The unfairness. The injustice. The horrors. I know that Black Friday “deals” are predatory, and that many minimum wage workers don’t have the financial option of missing a day of work.

But then I remember, The turkey will wait.

Because it’s not the day that matters. It’s not that the last Thursday in every November is somehow more magical than the last Friday. Or the first Saturday. Or June 22nd. Or any evening at any time throughout the year when you can gather the family of your choosing around you.

Because you don’t need to wait for a holiday to tell your husband why you’re thankful for him. He’s already sitting across from you.

Because sometimes you have to work when you’d rather be doing something else. But there is nothing to keep you from doing what you love with whom you love.

Because sometimes you have to make your own holiday.

The turkey will wait.

Growing up, my family owned a small, one-screen movie theatre in my hometown. All summer long, I worked nights and weekends, and during the day I would open the empty theatre, and clean and stock it in preparation for that night. All of my friends also worked in the service industry (though back then we just called it “being a busboy/waiter/caddy/boat hand”). We all had essentially the same hours, so it wasn’t a big deal. I never knew that I was missing out on anything.

But every Halloween, we would open the theatre, make a huge batch of popcorn, and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters and free, hot popcorn and small Cokes to their chilly parents. I worked every Halloween night starting around the age of ten. Truth be told, growing up in Northern Michigan, I wasn’t a big fan of walking around at night, often in snow and sleet, and begging for candy. My cousin and I would give up early almost every year as small children, and we’d sit in the show and watch our parents sip Coca Cola, laugh and talk with the parents, and ruffle the hair of all of the children who came through. Eventually, my cousin started joining his friends, and they would trick-or-treat through the entire town. I was the only one who stayed behind at the show, playing in the empty theatre, and dancing on the green, creaking stage. Finally, I started handing out candy. Then, my father put me in charge of the popcorn machine. I would wink at the parents who came through as I snuck a little melted butter on top of their free bag of popcorn. I would try to jump out and scare the older kids. I would smile at the little ones, and let them warm their hands on the glass of the popcorn machine, knowing full well that it would be my job the next day to clean their fingerprints off.

I never trick-or-treated again.

And then, every year at Christmas, instead of watching the holiday parade that marked the start of winter break, I helped my father and uncle set up for our free Christmas show. After the parade, we let everyone in the town come in, have popcorn and pop, and would play old holiday cartoons for the kids.

I never watched the parade. I missed it every year.

But I got to serve people. I got to make people happy. Instead of having one holiday for myself, I was able to participate in dozens of them, making myself a part of each family’s holiday.

I “had” to work. I was “forced” to be there (anyone who has grown up in a family business knows, you HAVE to be there!). I earned less than minimum wage. But I also loved being there. I knew that I was making the town that I loved better in some small way.

And the turkey always waited.

Perhaps we can all sit back and snarl and scoff at those who go shopping on Black Friday (or on Blacker Thursday?). There is something unsettling about otherwise completely sane, rational people rioting, trampling, punching, and losing general sight of their humanity on that day. But I like to think that those cases are actually few and far between. More people are like my husband’s relatives. They lost everything in a house fire on Halloween night (faulty fireplace flue), so they skipped dessert at our house, and went to Best Buy instead.  On Thanksgiving day. They wanted to get a new TV. A bigger one than what they had lost. And they didn’t want to spend too much money. They managed to get one of the Black Friday specials. They managed to replace one, large piece of what they had lost, and step that much closer to normal again.

They never made it back to my house.

They never ate my spinach artichoke dip.

But that’s okay.

The turkey will wait.

So, thank you for working. Thank you for making my holidays better.  You may not know that you did, but you did. You may have lost sight of that while you were ringing up yet another irritated, hungry, tired, complaining customer, but you did. You made a difference. I wish that your paycheck reflected that difference. I really do. But until I can change that for you, all I can do is thank you. Thank you for working. Thank you.

And, thank you for standing in line in the freezing rain in order to get that special toy for your child, for your grandchild, for yourself, for the family of your choosing. Thank you for using the power of your purchase to bring a little bit of joy into the world. Even if doing so is only our vain attempt to try to bring some joy into the world, isn’t it worth it to try? To just try?

And, when you’re done? When you come home, when you clock out, unpack the car, take a shower? Let’s have some apple pie. Together.

Don’t worry.

The turkey will wait.