The Right Responses

Ok, I’d like more of a discussion on this one.  I don’t think I have many readers yet, but I hope I have enough to start a thoughtful discussion.

So, this year, people have asked us how our Christmas is going.  Those that aren’t running the checkout line, those that know both our first and last names, ask with a bit more intent.  And, if they’re already running on their merry ways, the most fabulous answer to give is, “Great!  Thanks…” fading into the distance.

With a little more intent comes the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  This involves a moment of thought, in which you’re allowed to give the asking party a grimace, a brilliant smile, or a look of pain, by means of avoiding the full answer.

And then there’s the doozy, coming from the very well-intentioned friend who is one genetic code away from being a sister.  She sets her hand on your shoulder, checks for eavesdroppers, then asks, “How are you doing for Christmas.”  Emphasis on “you.”  If you have a family, that emphasis encompasses them as well.

"Maren, Be Cheerful and Brave," painting by Julie Rogers

My first instinct is to give the, “Great!  Thanks” response, then I realize that she really does want to know, and really is ready to help.  If she didn’t want to help, she would not have asked in such an intimate manner.

And my response of, “Great!  Thanks!” becomes a very pregnant pause.  Then I nod my head and say, “We’re learning a lot this year.  We’re really small-scale and I am so impressed with my kids and their gratitude over whatever they get.  You know, I have a friend who is a lot worse off than I am.”

She eyed me for a moment and pursed her lips.  “But do you need anything?”

Well… I mentally shuffle through the list that I had written just a day ago.  At least $70 worth of seeds to plant this spring.  Some 2×4 framing beams for the larger chicken house, the hardware to construct it, then a few more baby chicks to house in there.  A new set of athletic shoes for both me and my husband, as we try to keep him away from a recurrent heart attack.  Rubbermaid bins so I can construct a graywater recycling system so I can have more garden in this evil desert.  Hmmm… NEED anything?  We pay $350 per month for heat, $150 power, $150 phone, $50 water, $1,300 a month rent (which I will defend til my last breath, since my amazing landlady lets me have gardens and chickens, and once let a homeless friend sleep on my floor for months.)  A little bit in savings to pay for the licenses and fees that go along with owning my own business…  Yeah, savings would be nice.

Oh, and there are food costs, clothing costs, and school fees.  All of this is a LOT cheaper in the summer, when we’re eating our landscaping, stitching up old clothes to work in the garden, and not paying any school fees for a few months.  But, honestly, I don’t count food, clothing, and school fees in the monthly budget.  Because, by the time the mandatory bills are figured in, there is NOTHING LEFT for food, clothing, and school fees.  We catch these when we can, when a client gives me a gracious tip or someone buys a bulk order of soap, then I run straight to the store for a package of gluten-free bread mix.

But do we need anything?  I really have a hard time answering that one.  I’m not the type of person to say, “Yes, money would help.” or to even detail the problems, since that might make the asking party feel responsible for any of them.  My problems are my problems, and I believe cultivating habits of taking care of our problems has gotten us into an existence where we CAN grow/butcher/cook our own food, sew our own clothes, and survive a zombie apocalypse if we had to.

In addition, who am I to cry my needs when I have one friend who is homeless, along with her daughters.  Another friend rents a home, but is extremely lonely and can’t quite figure out how to crawl himself out of that loneliness.  A sister who just bought a home, but who is battling multiple health crisis with herself, her daughters, and boyfriend.  And more… enough to take up pages!  So who am I to sob about what is tough in our lives, if those resources can go to someone who needs them more.

"Sisters in Zion" painting by Julie Rogers

So, instead of answering, I usually give that knowing grimace that affirms her question.  And she understands.  And she makes things happen… more things than would have happened if I had just said, “Great!  Thanks!” but fewer than if I detailed the worst of these problems.  But that’s not my style.

Recognizing that all of our styles are different, that shyness to someone is audacity to another, I’d like to hear how YOU would have answered.  And why.  And maybe give me some stories if something similar happened to you.

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