Post 314.

Traditions matter.

One day, those will be your go-to memories to provide a sense of certainty about how things should be and what belonging to family or childhood looks like. No doubt, nostalgia for such familiarity will occupy a small, but well-kept shelf in your heart, and some of your adult practices will be best understood as cared-for pieces you’ve taken out to feel and show and share.

Amidst the chaos of working motherhood, it was Christmas Eve when Ziya and I embarked on establishing a new tradition for us. First, we needed a tree.

I have warm, soft-focus memories of a real tree in my childhood recollections of Christmas. They are vividly clear and I can see the red carpet in the living room, the carved furniture and Indian wooden screens so common in the 1970s, and a six or seven foot tall tree in a corner by the stereo.

The tree smelled like pine and shed its darkening green needles all season. It was a big deal to put up, and had to be properly potted, stood in a corner where it wouldn’t tip over, and placed where it held pride of place when the strings of lights were plugged in.

Ziya wanted a plastic tree, and immediately folded her arms at the inconceivable premise of anything else. One of my friends, who herself has her lights and years of collected decorations strung on a towering and bushy ficus, empathized. Eight-year-old kids want what their friends have, she suggested, and don’t want to feel out of place.

I tried with Zi anyway, tugged by those memories, returning to that fuzzy time when a tradition I was now passing on somehow became set in my mind like a loved, framed photo on that well-kept shelf.

As we drove past Aranguez’s greenhouses, I asked her to look for any trees she might like. Mummy I see one, she exclaimed, and I, who don’t believe in almost anything, joyfully thanked a chorus of angels. We turned off the highway and walked in, checking size, shape, and fullness, and caught sight of the perfect one at the same time. This is it, she declared, won over by the swaying branches just at her head-height. My heart sang the way angel voices ring.

Look around so you are sure, I said. She did, finding one that was a hundred dollars less and, like any sensitive child of a mom managing all the bills would, stoically suggested the smaller one would be better. We left, holding hands, in one of those too-quickly passing chances with young children, with the perfect tree for our budgetary circumstances, and our singing hearts in chorus with those angels heralding on repeat on the radio. In some decades, maybe this would be one of those go-to memories forever providing a sense of place and belonging.

It’s unique, I told her, stroking the tree’s soft needles. We should give it a name. Fern Eve Jamela Hosein Livingstone Khan, she announced. A dramatic title encompassing a not so accurate nor scientific identification, an additional name for the day before Christmas when it was born into our home, three separate family lines, plus a shared middle name that has also been handed down three generations.

I raised my eyebrows. There’s another pine tree in our backyard, which arrived a mere foot tall and now stands above the roof. This could be like that. Who knows what traditions await such a small, somewhat thin-foot plant chosen by an equally small girl?

A Christmas Eve tradition of putting up a tree means you wake up on Christmas to see it on its first morning, freshly decorated and sparkling. Even if it’s small, it’s yours. If it’s made by sun and soil and water, it has a little extra spirit. It can live in our garden throughout the year, I suggested, and come inside at Christmas, and maybe it will still be the tree you decorate when you have a daughter.

Why she changed her mind, I can’t answer, but I’ll accept that it was Christmas magic. As we hung the few individual decorations we chose, I could feel my childhood fleetingly recreated in hers. It offered me, and might offer her when she’s my age, a chance to gift well-loved traditions that renew a sense of certainty, childhood and family. For such joys in the world, framed on a well-kept shelf in my heart perhaps as now in hers, first we found a tree.


Post 265.

A Christmas Wish

I was wrapping Christmas gifts when I came across the BBC news story from November 3rd on a “colossal ‘sea of plastic’ which stretches for miles’ and was found floating in the Caribbean.

Miles of garbage in the very warm body of water which defines us, holds us, connects us, feeds us and heals us across our archipelago. The images are sickening, a prophesy of the sickness to follow up the food chain, into our drinking water, and into our own warm bodies. Amidst all our gathering today in the name of love, is this how we love ourselves and our own?

 I stopped wrapping, held still by a feeling of waste of precious time and of precious priorities. What did these gifts for Ziya matter when one of our greatest gifts lay in waste? What did any of our gifts matter, all over these islands, when we are withholding the real wealth and our greatest expression of love and generosity, because it requires us to sacrifice our bad habits; be real that our connection to each other, rather than consumerism, is what actually matters; and be accountable as adults and ancestors to our children and their children’s children?

I kept wrapping, imagining today’s familial bliss of presents given and received. I could also see the bags of garbage, that would pass on from house to house and from generation to generation from our ways of cherishing each other, ending up in Beetham or Guanapo or maybe just at sides of roads, and ultimately in our rivers and seas before washing right back towards our feet.

Like many of you, I profoundly love our islands’ rivers and sea shores. There are no places more sacred, no sites of communion more capable of expanding your heart and spirit, and bringing bliss and peace. Zi and I go to feed our souls, and hers finds its little way by carefully stepping through and around garbage, some washed up by the tide, some thrown next to trails by irresponsible individuals.

We’ve seen bits of so many gifts, so many family gatherings, so many efforts at community spirit strewn for miles as signs of how much less we care about ourselves and each other than we say we do, or maybe how much better we have to be about what care and love truly mean.

I continued to cut paper and stick the ends with scotch tape, thinking how everything is a cycle. Everything thing you do, every decision, comes back to you or your children. Every act has consequence. Every piece of plastic I throw away will eventually come right back to me or Ziya or those she loves.

Stick. Dream of the joy of children opening gifts. Think of the thousands of plastic and styrofoam plates, forks, spoons, bags, bottles, wrapping and cups thrown away today. See the very happiness of Christmas just as I see its implications for tomorrow

Greenpeace has an ongoing global campaign to save seas from plastic pollution. They are specifically targeting single use plastics, arguing especially against plastic bottles and bags. There’s a key line to their messaging which is that we have to think about reducing, not just recycling. We have to think about giving to seven generations, not just for today. And, if we did, how might that change today itself in our little twin-island Caribbean state?

Greenpeace itself says: “Recycling schemes are failing to keep up. We are calling on key environment ministers to lead the fight against plastic pollution. This means taking urgent measures to eliminate single-use plastic waste at its source…The moment to turn the tide is now!”

This is my Christmas wish. That these words stick with you and make you look at love, children, giving, receiving and sacrifice a little differently, and remind us all of our real gift-giving responsibilities and opportunities.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Post 129.

The jump in consciousness from two to three years old is significant. Last year, thankfully, Zi didn’t even register an event called Christmas. Presents, tree and lights were all non-issues. In the way of two year olds, all she wanted was your attention, just as she did every other day. I loved that she was not yet plugged into the matrix, that she was happy no matter what, that expectations had not yet been embedded on her little brain. I felt she was more free and therefore so was I.

Not this year. Between school and her grandmothers, she’s learned all about Christmas trees, decorations, baby Jesus and presents. She’s become one of those kids that points out every house where they ‘light up’, ready to leap into the magic of blinking verandahs were it not for the straps of her carseat. I love her little Trini talk though, how she says ‘light up’ in the way that we also say ‘hug up’, ‘love up’, ‘rumfle up’ and so on.

I’ll admit to being an apathetic bah humbug about the whole thing (except sorrel!). I think consumerism is in overdrive, but haven’t become one of those families I admire who feed homeless on Christmas Day. We secured a tree, but it’s only two feet tall and her dad organized the whole thing with her while I made impressed noises, suppressing the me who thinks lights just waste electricity. She rightfully complained that there were not enough decorations, and now that it apparently and annoyingly matters, her dad had to go get more. I got her presents, but less because it’s Christmas and more because I want to give her well chosen alternatives to the usual sexism that is offered up in kids’ toy aisles every December.

Today, as we wrapped gifts for her cousins, she looked at her tree, with its one gift (from her school) underneath, and wanted to know where her other gifts were. I wanted to know where she got the idea that kids get more than one gift. She looked at me like I was stupid. She wasn’t born yesterday, or for that matter two years ago, and now clearly remembered something about presents in the plural. As the adult, I got to swing the conversation into a parent-wins moment, emphasizing that there would only be more presents if there was no fussing, no tantrums and no saying ‘no’ between now and Christmas Day. The usefulness of perpetrating the Santa fantasy I had avoided thus far suddenly clicked. Pure bribery, greasing the good behaviour wheels for a few weeks, backing up precious negotiating power against potential toddler guerrilla tactics.

Bring on Christmas I cheered, all spirit, no irony. Today, we also worked on hand-eye coordination (hers and mine) as I tried to wrap gifts shaped, I swear, like whole frozen chicken and she learned how to put scotch tape, not just any or everywhere, but in neat lines that actually cover two ends of paper. Feeling all present in the moment (pun not initially intended), and given that serious socialization is being established, I took the time to talk about how Christmas is not just for getting, but for giving.  I know this is important because when I asked her what gift she got for mummy, she looked not so much at me as through me. The idea had never occurred to her and, now that it did, had no priority.

As the three year old brings in old traditions and establishes new family rituals, fun times and togetherness are undoubtedly ahead.