Believe it or not, this post is another love letter to J. It’s just…an unconventional one, I guess, with a cameo appearance from Dr. Seuss’s beloved (?…he’s beloved, right?) Aspiring Christmas Stealer.
I’ve written for over a year here, and for more than 3 years somewhere about what a calm, capable, loving, and wonderful man J is. I’ve written about his compassion and his commitment and how he works so hard and how easy he is to trust (and he deserves that trust) because he’s so concerned with people’s safety and he makes people feel safe.
I haven’t really written much explicitly about his quiet confidence, but he does have it and I think that’s heavily implied in most of the things I write about him and in the fictional heroes I’ve created that are inspired by him too.
But even confident, amazing heroes have insecurity sometimes.
J’s isn’t anything like my constant, multi-faceted, insidious and invasive insecurity (thank goodness). His hardly ever shows. But each year around the holidays, because of inane holiday marketing, I’m reminded of one place J’s insecurity tends to reveal itself.
J grew up poor.
He didn’t grow up ‘not rich’ like me. I mean, I grew up living in an apartment with two working parents who sometimes had $5 left in the bank at the end of the month (and this was with free full time child care from my dad’s parents for me and from ME for my little brother) and openly bickered with each other about whose parents we’d have to move in with when the inevitable happened and we couldn’t make the monthly budget stretch (I was always rooting for my dad’s parents when they were still living for obvious reasons). But we never actually HAD to move in with any of my grandparents (thank goodness…I guess…although honestly, I’d have liked to have lived with my dad’s parents). And my parents never applied for public assistance.
J’s family did.
A friend of mine online reminded me of this Everclear song the other day, which isn’t totally J, but these lines definitely are…
“I hate those people who love to tell you
Money is the root of all that kills.
They have never been poor.
They have never had the joy of a Welfare Christmas…”
J’s dad always worked full time, but his mother was unable to work (she couldn’t drive a car), and J remembers walking to the grocery store and helping his mother do math and count change to pay for the things they needed that SNAP (food stamps) didn’t cover when he was The Boy’s age. He remembers going to free stores to get new winter coats every year. He remembers being on the receiving end of anonymous donations at holiday time…the same anonymous donations we MAKE now for other families.
J does know what a Welfare Christmas feels like.
We live a very comfortable life together now. I mean, we have a life beyond my wildest dreams of what kind of life I could have. If I went back and told my 5 or 15 or even 25 year old self that I’d be living my current life with J, I’d have not believed it. J works hard for us to have a great life, and he takes great pride (and should) in taking care of me and The Boy when it comes to providing us with material and financial security. But I know there are still times he thinks and worries about it.
The first time J met my parents was the day after Christmas in 2003. We’d known each other for almost 4 weeks and had been on 4 dates alone when we went to dinner with my parents at a modest sit-down restaurant (not fast food, but certainly not fancy). My dad picked up the entire check for the party of 5 (my parents, my little brother, who was 14 at the time, and J and me). J thanked my dad sincerely. And when the two of us got into his car alone to drive home, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Your dad knows I can buy your dinner, right?’
My dad was trying to be magnanimous and welcoming. Neither of my parents are particularly affectionate people, but they do know how to buy people things as a way of showing approval or ‘love.’ I told J this. ‘My dad can’t say, ‘Nice to meet you,’ like a normal person, but he can buy your dinner. That’s all that meant.’
On our first Valentine’s Day together, J bought me a white gold and diamond chip necklace. I was speechless. I’d never received a gift that nice before, and I loved it…I loved the implied commitment. But I can remember casually mentioning that it was ‘a lot.’ I treasure that necklace, and I still wear it out on special occasions. And J bought me an engagement ring and a wedding ring, and another necklace for one Mother’s Day, but he doesn’t buy me jewelry for every gift giving occasion, and I don’t want him to. I think part of the reason he bought me that necklace was to show me that he could. It was mostly the commitment…to show me how seriously he took me and our potential future together. But I think it was at least a little bit, in J’s mind, something to indicate to me what he could do.
Which brings me to the shifty holiday marketing that makes me think about this every year around Christmas (and Valentine’s Day…and Mother’s Day…)
All the ‘He went to Jared!’ and ‘Every kiss begins with Kay’ commercials just grate on me. They turn my Grinch feet ice cold in the snow.
I don’t like the implication that women want (read: expect) jewelry for every gift giving occasion and I don’t like the implication that these gifts earn men affection and prove how much they love the women in their lives/are indicators of what kind of partner they are/can be.
Those things aren’t true.
At least it’s not true for me as a woman. And I know many men who can and do buy jewelry regularly who don’t show their partners respect or affection regularly. I’m not trying to judge jewelry negatively here. I just don’t like the marketing implication that an expensive gift = love.
And I know that despite all the progress made in the past 60 years or so with debunking gender expectations, men are still conditioned to believe that financially providing for their partner is a requirement, and it can still cause insecurity. And particularly in the world we currently live in, where it’s hard for so many people to get the basic things they need like food and shelter and clean water and health care, we are extremely fortunate to live with as much comfort and security as we have. I know men still feel pressure to buy expensive things for their partners as gifts. Things that mass marketing tells them are ‘romantic.’ Buying her that stand mixer is sexist, but buying her a diamond says you love her. Taking her to the book store to get a hot cocoa and a book or two from the paperback sale rack is cheap; take her to the jewelry store and let her pick something out there instead…
My kisses don’t begin with Kay. J doesn’t have to buy me a new life. I love the life we’re already living. About 5 Christmases ago, J asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told him I couldn’t think of anything; I already have everything; he’d given me everything but the kitchen sink. And he bought me a new kitchen sink (really…engineers are wicked literal…and J is kind of a smart ass…but my kitchen sink is really nice, for real).
In all seriousness, I hope J knows that while I am grateful for and appreciate how hard he works for our comfortable life…and that he’s now given me everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink, I’d still love him even if he couldn’t buy my dinner at a non-fast food restaurant. He provides my soul security with his consistent love. That’s what I want to keep getting for Christmas every year. He can’t buy that in any store.
“And what happened then?
Well, in Whoville, they say
That the Grinch’s small heart grew 3 sizes that day.”
I love that guy. ❤