Don’t Be A Jerk, It’s Christmas


I was in the store the other day with my son and his eye were wide as he ogled the Atlantis Adventure Lego set. “We should get this for my cousin” he said to me.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” was, of course, my answer. “I think he would like that.” But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I could see the little wheels turning in his little head.  His eyes started to swell and drip salty, little tears.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, mom, I was just thinking. If we got that Lego set for my cousin then he would have more than me and that wouldn’t be fair.” Sniff.

I stopped in my tracks. Had I done this to my son? Was it TV? School? The other, periodic, parent? Or was this just the natural inclination that children his age have toward defining the world in concrete terms, right and wrong, fair and unfair? Certainly this is the age where children begin to develop a real sense of compassion. Or not. It is a lesson that I believe will follow them throughout their lives. I know a few people who missed that window of opportunity.

In theory, the holidays should be a time of giving. In practice, it’s more about getting. Or, in some cases not caring about either. There’s nothing like the holidays to bring out the asshole in people. Some of my family associates wanted to give me a ‘great’ present one year, so they gave me a Wii. I was surprised because I was sure they were fully aware that I hadn’t had a TV in 10 years. If it really is the thought that counts, I wonder what they were thinking.

Last year an acquaintance mentioned that he wanted to go to a certain party. I knew it was lame, I knew it was overpriced. I didn’t care and neither did anyone else. It was about him, not the party. So, I made reservations, I dressed appropriately, I rounded up the rest of the friends. He showed up in his new spiffy suit looking stylin’. But I guess not everyone felt the same way I did. There is always that one person in the group who fucks up the holidays for everyone else with their selfishness, isn’t there? Someone who is too involved in what they are getting out of it to be aware of the feelings of others. Not only did I feel sad for the guy who was so looking forward to the party, I felt embarrassed for the other guy who ruined the evening. It was as if he pulled his old Jerk Suit out of the closet just for the occasion. And I thought I was just helping him pick out a nice jacket…

This week I wonder, is it me? Do I show enough compassion in my life to be a model for others? Will I be able to help my son see that acts of giving and getting speak about how you view your self-worth and your capacity for compassion? It might show your greed, your self-absorption, your lack of consideration, your thoughtfulness, your empathy or even your confidence in yourself in not needing to get something in return. It’s up to you.

What I have found is that most people perceive the getting of gifts the same way they perceive the giving. If they give to look good, they think you do too. If they don’t like to give, they don’t like to get. If they are oblivious to the things that make others happy, they think others are oblivious to their happiness. If they give to make a point, they are pissed if you don’t get it. If they give because they think it brings you pleasure, your pleasure will be a gift to them.

So, this little person and I had a discussion about giving and then we watched Lego Sponge Bob, because there is no better parental ali  (and no worse adversary) than animated characters.

To my mind there are two ways of giving. One is to pass on or share the things that bring you pleasure. The other is to be conscientious about the things that are important to the other person. I asked my son, what was it that he got this year that he would want to share, and what was it that he noticed other people (like his cousin) might enjoy. He had lots of great ideas. His cousin is getting the Lego Atlantis Adventure set after all.

We are making our holiday list based on giving, not getting. Instead of hokey cards with a long, drawn-out self aggrandizing narrative on what WE did this year, we have decided pay forward what we got and make copies of one of his favorite recipes from his cooking class instead. Here is it for everyone who isn’t on our card list.

Spanakopita

1 package phyllo dough, thawed

3/4 cup clarified butter

3 – pounds frozen, chopped spinach, well drained

2 tbls. olive oil

2 medium onions

2 tsp. Kosher salt

6 tbls. pine nuts

3 tbls. fresh mint

4 tbls. fresh dill

1 tsp. cracked pepper

1 tsp fresh nutmeg

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dice the onions, heat a fry pan over medium heat, add the oil and saute the onions until sightly browned. While the onions cook, toast the pine nuts over low heat. When cool enough, roughly chop the pine nuts and set aside.

Finely chop the mint and dill. When onions are done, turn off the heat and add spinach, chopped herbs, pine nuts, pepper and nutmeg. Mix everything together and transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly. add the eggs and mix until evenly conbined. lastly, break up the feta and fold into the spinach mix.

To assemble the spanakopita, place a sheet of phyllo onto a cutting board, and brush with the melted butter. cover with a  second sheet of phyllo, brush with butter and cut into three strips. Portion some of the spinach mixture onto each end of the phyllo and fold into a triangle. Place ont a baking tray and brush with a little extra butter. Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or till golden brown. Once done, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

These are very good served with Tzatziki Sauce.

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