Junk inside your stockings?

Empty red Christmas stocking hanging on a door

Photo: Creative Commons

 

I’ll never forget my first Christmas in Australia. We were invited to celebrate the event with our former host family (this is long before Airbnb was invented), this lovely interracial young couple (Korea meets Australia) with two gorgeous small children. The Australian grandparents joined the party too. Apart from celebrating Christmas in broad daylight, the party was not dissimilar to our Brazilian Christmas soiree—overeating and drinking, music and family. But then it came the time to open the gifts. Grandpa had the presents in a gigantic red sack and he could not tie the ends of the bag together, the gifts were overflowing, I was left wondering if more guests were coming considering the number of presents. He started distributing the gifts, most of which were for the children. The first couple of beautifully wrapped toys made the kids jump with excitement but the more gifts they opened the less they cheered. You could tell that the first gifts were carefully selected, age-appropriate, but the rest were just ‘stocking fillers’, an expression I had never heard until that day.

My head kept turning to the clock on the wall, the gift giving was becoming too long and boring and the pile of worthless junk tucked beside the Christmas tree was getting taller by the minute. By the time the last gift was distributed the children were more interested in what was showing on TV.

Back then, climate change was not a mainstream topic of discussion but I could not help thinking of the waste that millions of Australian households were creating that day and how they were nurturing a throwaway generation.

At that time it was clear to me that, by comparison, the Brazilian Christmas was very much a celebration of hope, love and piece rather than a purely consumeristic event but I was forced to change my mind when I went back to my country of birth for Christmas in 2005.  My city, Recife, had been invaded by stores selling cheap goods manufactured in sweatshops in other third world countries. Now, everyone had access to crap they could afford and this was reflected in the Christmas giving that year. I guess our Christmas principles weren’t so different after all, the festive Brazilian people just didn’t have easy access to an oversupply of things they didn’t need.

Fast forward 18 years from my first Ozzie Christmas and now we are all talking about climate change and the impact of our consumeristic society in the environment. But it doesn’t feel like we are matching our words with actions. I recently saw statistics showing that each Australian family contributes enough rubbish each year to fill a three-bedroom house from floor to ceiling. I think that Christmas alone is responsible for filling up the whole lounge room.

There are truckloads of reasons why society has evolved into such a remarkable waste producing machine and one of them is because we now can afford to buy more things and these things last less. It’s a vicious cycle and of course, this has an impact on the planet.

So it really surprises me when I see that the idea of filling up Christmas stockings continues as strong as ever. Don’t kids (and adults) receive enough gifts already? Do we really need to top up the Christmas gift giving extravaganza with more?

To make piece with our compulsion to buy, lots of websites are now promoting environmentally friendly, zero-waste stocking fillers. But this defeats the purpose, if we are combating excess, we don’t need fillers. We need substantial changes to our behaviours, we need to realise that Christmas giving doesn’t have to mean excessive buying. Giving makes us happy, but we can replace needless stuff with other ways to give like giving our time, offering a helping hand, being there when our friends need. That’s the true Christmas spirit, in Australia and elsewhere.

Stick figures: 21,000 min slicing carrots

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I did the maths. Every single school day for seven years I’ve cut carrot sticks for lunch boxes. This equates to 21,000 minutes or 14.5 days cutting the same beta-carotene vegetable (sometimes I add cucumber for a bit of variety) and stuffing them in little plastic containers. Today while I was going through my daily ritual it was borne in upon me that we haven’t had Disney’s lunch boxes in a while, my children have actually grown (I have these revelations from time to time), so why don’t I let them cut the vegetables and prepare their own lunch boxes? With their help, I would save 15 minutes each day.

There are many explanations why my kids don’t prepare their lunch boxes, but the main reason is the mother:

  • I don’t want them to make a mess that I will have to clean up
  • I don’t want to put up with the whining and whinging (they don’t want to do their lunch boxes)
  • I don’t want them to get hurt using a sharp knife
  • I take pride in a properly made lunch box, one that includes fresh food and prepared with love

As I was writing this I was thinking, gee, if I wasn’t in the equation, they would be using a butcher’s knife by now. I had set a deadline that by high school they would be doing their lunch boxes but now high school is just around the corner for my eldest and we haven’t had much progress. The mess they make in the kitchen and the complaining drive me crazy. And watching them use the knife sends shivers down my spine.

I know I have to do something about this so I rationalised that  I’ll continue with the vegetables and they can do the other food groups. But then the other night I was watching my eldest spread butter on his toast. I was standing there staring at him, my head shaking in disbelief as he maneuvered the butter knife. He made a deep whole in the creamed milk and ripped up his bread trying to spread the butter on top. Another revelation: my 11-year old can’t handle a butter knife, or any other knife for that matter. My kids are bad with knives because I haven’t given them access to the tool, I haven’t taken the time to teach them how to use one properly. I have to admit that rather than nurturing future helpers I’m over protecting my precious treasures from most house chores and denying them the chance to grow. I might be protecting their little fingers now but this can actually hurt them in the long run.

I want my children to be capable of looking after themselves by the time they leave home and I know there are still many years to get them ready but they have embarked on a journey towards independence from the moment they learnt to crawl and my role is to equip them for the journey, help them gauge the risks accurately rather than removing all obstacles.

The new year will begin with a better division of chores, a present that they don’t expect Santa to bring but they can thank me later in life. And the carrot sticks will continue make their way to school next year, but there will be a new pair of hands making them.

Apparently, I’m a writer.

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Last week my son’s school teacher invited me to speak to her class about being a writer. While she was making her request I was squirming in my seat, completely taken by surprise because I don’t think of myself as a writer. I have, however, spent a good chunk of my time penciling down words this year. My children often see me in front of the laptop typing away or in bed with a notepad, my mind lost in another world. So I guess that’s the behaviour my son has observed and he matched my actions with his words. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that my little one sees me as a writer but at the same time, I feel a bit like a fraud. There are so many excellent writers out there who have crafted wonderful stories. I don’t have a journalism or literature degree, I don’t get paid for writing. I question if I’m entitled to use the word writer to refer to myself.

The Oxford dictionary has two definitions for writer:

  • A person who has written something or who writes in a particular way
  • A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or occupation

The Free Dictionary has a few more definitions including:

  • a person who is able to write or write well
  • a person who commits thoughts to writing

Using the definitions above, anyone can be called a writer so I guess to segregate the proper writers from everyone else new words were introduced: blogger, storyteller, wordsmith, communications consultant, the list goes on.

I’m often wondering if I should I accept the honour to be called a writer or choose one of the other alternatives.  Then on Saturday I received the copies of my book (Pieces of North Shore, an anthology from my writer’s group). I was sitting in a cafe with my friend sipping a latte and flicking through the book’s bounded sheets, smelling the beautiful scent of a freshly pressed book, staring at my name in the top of the pages and it hit me that hey, I have a book, I must be entitled to call myself a writer.

I guess you don’t have to get paid to use the title. We don’t do it for money or glory. We write because of the things we notice in the world and to make sense of it all. We do it because we love the art and the craft or to fill up the time when a story does not let us sleep. It just feels right to spend hours scribbling down ideas and sometimes we even find an audience to read our stuff.

A year ago this would have  been an unlikely story. I had written a couple of things but wasn’t sure how to progress, what next step to take. At that time, a friend invited me to attend the writer’s group at North Sydney library and here I’m being called a writer and wondering if I should accept the accolade.

I still don’t feel confident in my ability as a writer, it’s a work in progress and it probably will be for the rest of my life but I think now I have found my calling. I don’t really think we need a label to describe the pursuit of a dream but for practical reasons, next time I’m asked if I am a writer, I’ll nod in agreement.