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Social Niceties, Polite Fiction and Christmas Spirit

Evil Little Girl, Cover of my notebook
Evil Little Girl, Cover of my notebook

With forced cheer and social gatherings, the entire month of December is a prime time of the year for the fine art of social niceties—“The turkey isn’t dry at all!”, “What a thoughtful gift!”, “I’m looking forward to seeing you at Christmas!” and “This reindeer sweater is very slimming!”.

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t feel the “Christmas spirit” tend to give in to it because it’s also the end of the year and, consciously or not, we tend to like to end the year on a high note.

Bitterness will be back in January.

Small white lies do make the world go around. But sometimes, people spend so much energy maintaining the polite fiction that they slip into denial. Sometimes, they start to behave a certain way just because this behaviour is sanctioned by the media and society.

What do we hope to achieve when the standard becomes a sitcom script, where “characters” only drink orange juice, never swear, have a meaningful and fulfilling career, eat balanced meals and healthy snacks (prepared on spotless granite counter-tops, goes without saying) and are always ready for—gasp!—family-fun activities?

The corporate world is full of people living polite fiction. The world of parenting as well.

I first met these perfect people from another planet at the park, with baby Mark. As a new mom, I had been hoping to trade tips and stories from the trenches of motherhood. Certainly, I wasn’t the only one who found it challenging, right?

Apparently, I was. I stood there listening to mothers relentlessly stressing how “special” their bond was with the baby, how unique snowflake was, how their life had truly started the moment they knew they were expecting—cue in super romantic story of “the night they had conceived”.

It was terrifying. It was like they had it all figured out. Part of me wanted to be a better mother, like them, yet part of me couldn’t help thinking that these parents reminded me of people who try to get you to join these multi-level marketing programs. “I can never be away from precious snowflakes more than five seconds!” sounded a bit like “I make $50,000 from home and I buy a new car every week!” It’s something in the voice. A slight edge, too much enthusiasm that makes the listener snicker and mutters “seriously?”

These parents are everywhere. A few months ago, I overheard two mothers chatting at daycare pickup time. “I miss my baby so much during the day!” one said. “I know, me too… she is such a huge part of myself.”

Meanwhile, Feng and I had just flipped a coin to decide who would have the pleasure to go retrieve Mark from the classroom to deal with his evening crankiness.

I have a heart too and I love Mark. But I think it is healthy to spend time apart from your kid who is no longer a helpless baby but a pre-schooler. I don’t miss him during the day. I’m too busy working “behind the scene” for him. I have a job and hundreds of things to do. Days go by fast. The daycare is not an old-style British boarding school or a fucking alien abduction—he plays and learns munching on my world-famous lunch boxes while I try to keep the house under control and make money writing words.

I spent months feeling like a complete loser as a mother, second guessing myself and justifying every single one of my parenting decisions. Now I just choose to hang out with people who see parenting the way I see it—a fun and exhausting adventure with many questionable shortcuts and failed principles.

Outside the world of perfect parents, we also have the world of perfect couples. “I can’t stand those couples who claim that they never ever argue,” one of my friends recently admitted. “Secretly, I think they both cheat on each other. Come on, everybody argues!” I agreed with her. I don’t know anyone who never argues, no matter what your style is—constant bickering or Italian-style drama.

And then you have the perfect people who have life under control and let you know they do., They are time-management experts, they volunteer, work out, and make a lot of money and their significant others always remember meaningful anniversaries. They look stylish and polished. They are successful. They are winning at life.

Perfect people bore me. I’m not even jealous—I tend to think they are from another world. They are just flat one-dimensional characters.

I love real people, with their flaws, illogical thinking, obsessions and little quirks that add depth and character. This is one of the reasons why I write about our messy lives—I write about all the things we, humans, have in common despite our cultural differences.

There is so much beauty in our chaotic lives, so many precious moments that come out of nowhere… why bother pretending to be perfect?

Life can’t be staged. Just embrace it—the good and the messy.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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