New approach to the chaotic holiday season

December is always the busiest month of the year with two birthdays in the family (my son Gabriel and daughter Hannah) work parties, family parties, and ridiculous amounts of consummerism, materialism, wrapping/unwrapping, decorating, baking, and eating.

In the past I took a completely chaotic approach.  I waited until the last moment to do all my shopping, crammed all the decorating into one day, wandered around in a daze in awful places like Walmart as I tried to figure out which item(s) were or were not on my list. (I couldn’t even read my own writing). In addition, I waited until the night before each Christmas party to wrap gifts and during those bleary-eyed hours in the night, I would continuously lose the pair scissors, the tape, or the ribbon roll under a pile of disorganized gifts and boxes.  Then I would calm my nerves by eating several frosted sugar cookies (which the kids and I would make during one of the previous frenetic days) and drinking coffee (a poor choice to deal with anxiety).  I am ashamed to admit that during past winter holidays the only thing that kept me going was the food, which added inches to my waistline and hours to my workouts come January–since I couldn’t manage to keep up with my yoga classes (cancelled for the holidays) or my home yoga practice (there was too much crap everywhere).  Hence I was puffy, anxious, and stressed.  I don’t remember enjoying any of the events as I was too busy trying to manage my kids, my husband, teaching, relatives, parties, writing deadlines, and the guilt I would feel from shopping at Walmart (clearly a place I do not regularly patron).

After I came to grips with the fact that my family and my adrenal glands would not survive another winter holiday with the way I had been doing things, I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of waiting until December to start shopping, I ventured out Thanksgiving night into some long-ass lines waiting for Kohl’s and Carson’s to open at midnight.  Although I don’t remember much of what happened on Black Friday (I think I almost got trampled because I have unexplained bruises), I am happy to say that I got half of my Christmas shopping done.

Note to self: turkey+ casseroles+ a glass of wine+ football=post turkey coma, which leads to temporary memory loss.

I also took a smarter approach regarding presents and had my husband stop at Walgreens to stock up on wrapping paper early with the goal of wrapping the presents a few weeks ahead of time.  He thought it was such a “novel idea,” that will really help us manage the stress. Wow, I come up with the brightest ideas, right? You would think after 13 years of marriage, stress management might become a priority, but we just shift into stupid survival mode.

Here’s another novel idea: we convinced the kids to slow down on the decorations.  Why try to do all rooms of the house in a day, when you can just put up the tree? Eventually the boxes of decorations will find themselves unpacked and up in the rest of the rooms. This year, I am going to enlist the help of my iPhone to keep me on track.  I think I am going catalog everyone’s gifts with the corresponding houses they go to with the dates of the parties. That way I won’t forget the kids’ framed school pictures (like I did last year).  Another plan I have is to throw away or donate one box in my basement per week.  It’s bad feng shui to hold onto stuff we don’t need. So why keep it, when we can contribute to a land fill or donate it to the Goodwill–the latter being the preferred choice.  But the last time I tried to donate to Goodwill, the bags of items sat in my trunk for a year.  They eventually got there, but I need stuff moving out of here once a week!  I admit in winter season, going green is the last thing on my mind.  (Although we continue to drive a hybrid, recycle most recyclables, and drink out of stainless steel water bottles, that doesn’t compensate for our social irresponsibility.)

While I am taking steps to ensure we had a less hectic holiday season, I have come up with another idea.  If my plan doesn’t work this year, then we’ll convert to Judaism! I think that is the finest idea of all.  Then I won’t have to worry about most of this crap.  I will stay skinny.  My husband will lose weight, and we won’t have to go to endless Christmas parties.  Although, if that were to happen I am sure the relatives would kill me.  The kids would miss all the presents and stage a coup.  And then there is the fact that tradition is more important than sanity.  So cheers to the freakin’ holiday season. I’ll sing to that, yeah, yeah!

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White Ain’t Always Right: White Woman Against Racism “The History of American History”

Welcome to the satirical blog of Sarah Frielink. I am a teacher, activist, student, and critical theorist. I love doing yoga and tae kwon do to keep me sane. In my free time, I love consuming non-Americanized food such as authentic Indian food (my favorite), Thai food, (my second favorite) and sushi (my third favorite). Hungry yet?

Occasionally I will eat Lou Malnati’s pizza, Subway, or Panera bread, but most days I am a food snob who is tired of the prepackaged, under-seasoned, greasy American Fare. I often wonder if I had some pretty bad karma in a previous lifetime to be born in a country with such disgusting food. Obviously I have an exotic palette that doesn’t tolerate bland anything; I don’t think I fit in here very well. In addition, my perspective on politics is so offensive to conservatives, that I often wonder if being born in the bible belt was payback for some bad karma too.

When I am not offending tea partiers or embarrassing conservative family members with my Marxist ideas, (I don’t think they are Marxist, but they do) I am spending time with my three human children. I have a boy, age 11 ½, a girl, age 10, and another girl, age 8. I adore my children and am so grateful they are at these ages because when they were all under the age of 5 I seriously thought I would die of exhaustion. I also have three canine children: Mija, age 8 (pug), Jasmin, age 5 (puggle), and Elvis, age 4 (pug). We volunteer for Northern Illinois Pug Rescue and Adoption. We also do volunteer work for families who have children with disabilities.

I firmly believe that volunteer work is as part of developing a democratic-civic identity. Therefore, I am passionate about social justice. My goal is to raise more awareness about oppressive practices in schools and society from the colonial times to today. Hence, I am here to discuss issues surrounding the tea party and extreme conservatism in general. While the art of humor has been exploited over the years to reinforce gender, race, and social class stereotypes, this blog is taking an antithetical approach in the vein of comedian Jon Stewart. I am attempting to use humor to shed light on some of the problems with the heterosexual, WASP narrative that has pretty much been ingrained in our psyche since birth.

Since childhood, we have been surrounded by television, magazines, newspapers, and brainwashed history teachers who give us the white-washed version of the American story. For example, slavery is almost romanticized in confederate textbooks, evolution is demonized, and WASP heterosexuals are glorified as the personification of the American Dream. I can almost hear the raspy voice of a white male southerner with repressed homosexual urges* telling us the ”American story:”

“Christopher Columbus was a brave hero who discovered the new world. He was nice to the natives and then realized a terrible truth: the Indians were savages. So Christopher had to put them in chains and take as many back with him to save their souls. Many of them were grateful that a man of faith saved them from their heathen ways. Eventually, a bunch of pilgrims came over here on the Mayflower, and bunch of other pilgrims came here too on various ships. They came here because they wanted religious freedom away from King George. The pilgrims and Indians became friends, but eventually the American settlers realized what Columbus realized, that the Indians were mighty evil. They didn’t worship the same white God. So American settlers kept colonizing this country and broke a bunch of treaties with the Indians, and they even gave them some blankets and territories. The hope was to save their savage souls, but the Indians didn’t always listen, so the white man had to have many battles with the natives and kill the ones who were lost causes. The American settlers eventually built nice boarding schools, so Indian children could leave their families and learn the ways of the white man. A bunch of people from African put their own people on ships and sailed them here to America, so they could be slaves. Slaves helped keep the economy growing as they planted and harvested cotton, one of America’s key crops. Eventually, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves because the Northerners thought that it was wrong. Thanks to manifest destiny, slavery, and the white colonizers, our country is what it is today even though we were mean to every group who came here since the pilgrims. It was all worth it because we have freedom of speech, a right to bear arms, and freedom of religion. However, no one will come right out and say this, but that freedom of religion is mainly extended to protestants only. If you are catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or gay, you are going to burn in hell and until then a good Christian will pray for your soul. If you want to know more about the truth of our country and what it is today just watch Fox News because they tell the truth. God bless you and God bless America!”

As you can see the history of American history can be very scary depending on who is telling the story. If you teach history, try to avoid using textbooks unless they are more inclusive and sensitive to the diversity of our country. Read primary sources written by the folks who actually experienced history from both sides of the spectrum. It is very eye-opening when you read the version of history from oppressed and the oppressor. You can really understand how hate for others has shaped many of our nation’s policies, yet there is always a strand of hope coming from the abolitionists, the women’s rights activists, the civil rights activists, and the gay rights activists to transform the status quo. I highly recommend reading A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki. It is an excellent secondary source, which draws heavily on primary sources and reconstructs the American Narrative to accurately and fairly reflect what really happened.

*This is an example of how confederate ideology can corrupt a white person. In no way, shape, or form am I saying that all white southern males think or act this way.  This is an extreme example to get my point across about the white-washed version of American History.  Unfortunately, however, I’ve met a few men like this down south who were spewing racial epithets with their gun racks in the back of their trucks, and proud confederate flags waving in the wind.

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Hello world!

I am trying to be an underachiever or in case I fail at that–a little less of an overachiever.  There has to be a place between the two extremes. Hence, I intend to find it. I don’t think my drive to  overachieve would be present if I were born in the 19th century.  Perhaps I would have been content to follow the narrowly defined gender roles back then.  I certainly would not be trying to do it all–motherhood, career, education (i.e. finish a Ph.D.)

So to some extent, the traditional gender role gave women something to expect from themselves. Something oppressive in nature, yet manageable. Today’s endless possibilities afforded to women create a mild neuroses. One day a woman can be a stay-at-home mom and the next a corporate lawyer, or a combination of the two, either way the message is mixed and the expectations are out there.  This is reminicent of Alexis de Tocqueville’s critique of democracy. Tocqueville pointed out many of the key problems with democracy in America. One of which, transpires from the countless opportunities or perceived opportunities afforded from freedom. One day, a man can be a farmer, the next a business man.  The opportunities inherent in a democratic society can create sheer misery. A man can never be truly content with himself because there is always a better version of himself in the distant future as long as he pursues “more”.  Tocqueville, who stood on the shoulders of Plato, had the right idea about American society.  It took an outsider from France like him to recognize some of the key issues with democracy.  So like Tocqueville’s critique on democracy, so is my critique on a woman’s role in today’s society. Today, women receive mixed messages.  They are persecuted for working too much, scrutinized for not working enough, and chided for not doing more, more of what? In addition to these careers we are supposed to excel in, we are also expected to be the janitors, social directors, interior decorators, chauffers, and homework helpers in our households. Basically do everything and whatever you are or aren’t doing just know “it is not enough.” Or if you are in my position where your husband actually helps you at home, you are critized because “he is doing your work.” These are the mixed messages we are receiving, which I believe stem from a combination of second and third wave feminism, the right-wing narrative, and post-modernism in general.  So in my attempt to do less, I have to go back and posit the root of this issue.

To get there, I think about Aristotle, who unlike his predecessor Plato, believed women were completely inferior to men.  And to some extent, (although I disagree), rightfully so, given the context of the time. Why would a male philosopher challenge the status quo pertaining to women, especially if it were to his evolutionary advantage to keep women “in their place?” And although I owe a debt of gratitude to Betty Friedan, and like her take issue with women being kept “in their place” as Aristotle professed, I am arguing for a little leeway for women to “do less.”  I am asking for permission for women to be less guilty about what they choose–career, motherhood, or both–and less obsessed with what they are doing or not doing because of it. I want women to be able to say “no” to themselves the way I want to say “no” to myself when an unrealistic expectation arises.

I like Aristotle’s sceptic calm in his writings.  I love his motto: nil admirari, which means to admire or marvel at nothing. My marveling at the endless possibilities afforded to women in my era coupled with the society’s conflicting voices regarding my role has brought me to this place. My admiration for women like Hillary Rodham Clinton (yes I admire a Clinton) who graduated from one of the most prestigious colleges–Wellesley–and went on to do much more–marriage, family, a successful career–has possibly influenced my high standards.  So now I intend to embody the sceptic calm of Aristotle’s writings–to marvel at nothing for myself, and to admire no one.

I just want to accept the possibility of me without a Ph.D. and me without the long list of accomplishments I still set out to do.  Since I still assume what I have done isn’t enough. A marriage, a family, a master’s degree, countless published articles, a black belt, an editing job at a magazine? The list goes on, and I am embarrassed to write the rest. Because in print I am ashamed of all the things I felt I had to accomplish (some of which I really want to do, some of which I did not). I am thankful for my marriage and my family.  I know I did the right thing, but why the need to do more and at what expense?  Remember I have a husband who helps me at home with the laundry, cleaning, and dishes.  I know you traditionalists might think “shame on me.” I am learning not to care. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me because I just recognize people (such as Aristotle, with whom I gravely disagree on certain matters) for their good points.

Speaking of which: nil admirari!

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