Essaying the Situation
Sunday, December 12, 2004
"You've Got to Give a Little..." More
    Ever notice that during The Season of Giving it's mostly the year round primary caregivers who shift into Hyper-give Drive?
    Even if the primary caregiver in a family isn't the only caregiver, the secondary caregiver relies on the primary caregiver to perform most of his hyper-giving errands. I witness this every year in the families of friends and relatives.
First Scenario: The secondary caregiver and/or those for whom the primary caregiver cares are all enlisted in holiday decorating. It becomes a family or community affair, usually involving group selection of the main decoration, lots of help sorting through and putting up companion decorations, everyone has a great time and even the primary caregiver doesn't mind providing and directing the atmosphere and food for this event. When the holiday is over the primary caregiver takes down and stows all the decorations without the morale booster or help of a family/community celebration except, maybe, for the dragging of the tree to the curb and the removal of outdoor decorations.
Second Scenario: The secondary caregiver plans one, maybe two weekend days during the season in which he 'goes holiday shopping' with a list carefully composed, usually with the help of the primary caregiver. Inevitably, the crowds and the confusion get in the way of completion of the list, the balance of which is relegated to the primary caregiver along with the dregs of the lists of all the care recipients in the family. If anyone in the family decides to make gifts or 'give of one's time', the primary caregiver is automatically enlisted to make sure raw material is scavenged and assembled and/or the Giver of One's Time is directed in order to make sure the Gift of Time is performed.
Third Scenario: A day or two is set aside for Holiday Baking. Everyone's excitement is stirred and all (except the secondary caregiver) volunteer to help. Since the primary caregiver is the most experienced baker, all prep and clean-up and direction of the helpers (in order to make sure resources aren't wasted by mistake) are performed by the primary caregiver. Most the dispersal of Holiday Treats to family, friends and neighbors, as well as the monitoring of snacking on such treats within the primary caregiver's home, is performed by the primary caregiver.
Fourth Scenario: The secondary caregiver graces the primary caregiver with the 'gift' of preparing the main dish for the holiday meal to help ease the burden of holiday preparation. The primary caregiver, of course, does most, if not all, the shopping for this course, but, "she's doing it anyway", so, the secondary caregiver assumes, it's not an added burden for the primary caregiver to perform this tiny chore in order to make it easier for the secondary caregiver to 'help' the primary caregiver. The secondary caregiver's main course is usually one that requires slight preparation (such as marinating, maybe preparing a simple sauce, certainly not stuffing) and involves cooking in a salutary atmosphere such as on the outside grill. The primary caregiver spends the entire day (and much of the previous day) in the kitchen preparing the companion courses and condiments from start to finish, setting up the eating area and performing after dinner clean-up. During dinner the efforts of the helper(s) are lavishly extolled, often most lavishly by the primary caregiver in a usually unsuccessful effort to encourage daily participation through holiday compliments. The efforts of the primary caregiver are given a habitual, taken for granted nod. While it's true that after dinner clean-up often solicits offers of help, usually, since the primary caregiver is the only one who is expert at the myriad small tasks involved in household clean-up and put away, the offered help is refused because the job is more quickly done without help which inevitably needs to be directed or has to be repeated, later, when the primary caregiver takes some time to set up her kitchen in the manner most efficient for her continued use.
    Meanwhile, the secondary caregiver directs all the fun activities, like group gift opening and/or picture taking and/or family games while nudging the primary caregiver's involvement with gentle reminders directed to the kitchen/dining room, "Honey, we're ready, we're just waiting for you."
Fifth Scenario: The primary caregiver, sometime in the weeks before the holiday celebration, experiences an "ah hah" moment, usually through reading a column in the daily newspaper or monthly magazine that exhorts weary Holiday Event Directors to drop some of their plans (including meal courses) and delegate holiday chores in order to allow for time to 'enjoy the holiday yourself' (which usually translates as more time to do other people's holiday chores). On the holiday someone inevitably and poignantly expresses that the skipped or delegated event or course is 'missed' or 'just not the same'. The primary caregiver makes either a silent or vocal promise not to drop or delegate these events and chores the following year.
    Question: What makes us, as a society, think that an intensely involved primary caregiver wants to strip her gears into Hyper-give Drive for almost two months at the end of the year? Answer: The societal propaganda that the holidays are 'for the children'; the celebration of the minute category of monster caregivers who have a talent for overextending themselves and making it 'look easy'; and, the insistence that if primary caregivers dread the holiday season it's because they don't know how to handle it, thus, it's the primary caregiver who's at fault.
    We can no longer use the blighted excuse that hyper-giving should be the province of the stay-at-home parent. There aren't that many stay at home parents, anymore. Few families can afford the luxury of a stay at home parent, a phenomenon evidenced by the fact that such families are celebrated in human interest stories only because they are rare. In addition, childhood being what it is in this day and age, the stay-at-home parent is probably, most of the time, in the family car shuffling the away-from-home family members to and from their destinations and running everyone's errands. She may also be home schooling her children, thus performing yet another societal task with little support, unpaid and unsung.
    As well, our holiday season is drowning in the twin commercial concepts of hyper-giving and hyper-getting. Even those of us who swear we know what the holidays 'are about' have forgotten that the traditional winter celebration was a time of community involvement in winding down to the seasonal rest that we used to believe was the providence of winter.
    What if we decided to change the current emphasis of the holiday season in order to suit our relentlessly every-activity-in-every-season society? What if we instituted the holidays, from Thanksgiving through the New Year, as the season for minimal caregivers to concentrate on thanking, in tangible ways, our maximum caregivers? What if The Season of Thanking and Giving became The Season of Thanking and Giving To Primary Caregivers? What if children were expected to get into the act? What if the holidays became The Season of Everyone Else Besides the Primary Caregiver Making and Executing Holiday Plans; Planning and Preparing Gift Giving; Baking the Holiday Foods; Decorating for the Holidays; Making Sure Everything Is Perfect Just the Way the Primary Caregiver Likes It; Passing the Infants and Young Children, the Infirm and the Elderly Around so the Head Caregiver Has an Extended Chance, Once a Year, to Clear Her Head?
    What do you suppose would happen? Is it possible that, after almost two months of Spreading the Caregiving Around and Making Sure the Primary Caregiver Receives as Much Support as She Has Given Throughout the Year that, within a couple of years, we'd transform ourselves into a society in which everyone learned not only how to give care in every season but to notice and participate, all the time, in the tasks of caregiving? Then what? Then, maybe everyone would look forward to the holidays, enjoy them, and be refreshed and ready for every New Year.
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