Eleven Ways of Looking At Entitlement
So: Thoughts About Entitlement: a Sort-of Chronology, With Curious Slippage Between Past and Present Tense Voice Throughout, And No Real Conclusion
1. On the first night of Chanukah, the Mermaid Girl has a fit about the present the Renaissance Woman wrapped up and labeled for all three of us to open: a new mini-stereo, better than the old one we'd brought up here with us. On opening it, MG collapses into tears and goes into a sobbing, furious tirade about how that present wasn't for her, it was for us, and this was the worst thing EVER. We figure she was probably expecting a television. We agree that someone's getting a little too entitled. We cancel presents for the second night of Chanukah, after which celebrations return to their normal schedule.
2. I read this post and think: but on the other hand, entitlement can be a good thing if/when it keeps you from accepting crappy and humiliating treatment.
3. After writing this post and discovering that Canada has no state religion after all, I continue pondering the whole question of entitlement throughout December. Specifically, my curious lack of indignation about the universal Christmas assumption here in Canada. I figured it out, I thought: I grew up (as I've written before) in a NYC-area suburb where religious celebrations, even "secularized" versions of Christmas, were kept strictly out of the schools. And in the States, I feel entitled to that experience for my child in the public schools, and entitled to have my religion/ethnic identity/non-Christmas-celebrating self recognized as an adult. Basically, in Seattle, much of the month of December was a continual irritation to me as a result of the gap between my sense of entitlement and the reality around me. My colleagues (at a Jewish workplace) who grew up in the Midwest and in Seattle weren't nearly as pissed-off; they mainly accepted that that's how things are. It's not that they cared any less about being Jewish; they just had different assumptions.
4. But the more I thought about the whole Church/State thing, and the more Santa-tastic MG's school became, the more I got all pissed off again, just like in the old country. Frankly, by the time they closed for winter break, the main reason I wasn't saying anything was because I didn't even know where to start: with the Christmas trees in the classrooms? The angels and santas on the windows? The Christmas sensory essay all the kids in MG's class wrote in their journals? The ornament she painted and brought home, wrapped up carefully as a present to RW and me, was beautiful, and it had a treasured place on the tree RW put up, but every time I looked at it there I felt conflicted.
5. On the other hand, when I read "The Loudest Voice" aloud this year--it's RW's and my annual tradition every December 23rd to read this wonderful Grace Paley story about a Jewish immigrant kid, circa 1920's, who gets a lead part in her school's Nativity play--I understood for the first time why the narrator says, of the Christian teachers and the Jewish children, respectively, "They weren't embarrassed, and we weren't ashamed," and why the families don't have the same uniformly horrified response that I imagine, say, the parents of my childhood town would have had in a similar situation. Christmas was American. Even more than being Christian, it was an American ritual, and here they were--somewhat bemused, but mostly game-- in America. I felt a bit like that here, as a new immigrant in a new land, experiencing a Canadian Christmas for the first time. Hey, cool! It's a Canadian thing! And here I am, in Canada! Like my friend L., who's writing about her experience in Mexico this year, when I thought about it as a cultural experience I could just let it wash over me, and not get all worked up about it.
6. But not always. I found myself complaining about the ornament thing to someone we know here in Canada, and ranting about how it was exclusionary and left out kids who didn't celebrate Christmas, and she looked at me like I was slightly batty and said kindly, "But, elswhere, MG *does* celebrate Christmas." Which is true. And also totally missed the point.
7. But also, for the first time this year, I sort of got what people keep saying when they're like, "Oh, it's not really Christian, it's just a happy fun thing", maybe because there are so evidently so many non-Christians who participate. (Mostly not Jewish, either, though.) I think in Canada even more than the States, even people who aren't Christian just join into the Christmas thing for the heck of it. I mean, hey, it is an official federal holiday and all (in the states, too, I know, but I just never thought about it that way there. Go figure.) There essentially are two Christmases, and most people celebrate the secular one, and get confused when you tell them it's against your religion.
8. Does this mean I'm being brainwashed? Becoming more tolerant? Being culturally sensitive in what is in fact a new culture? Just worn out? I truly don't know. So I keep flipping back and forth between righteous irritation and vaguely cheery holiday-spirit bemusement. I never know which one is going to come up on top.
9. I didn't mean for this to all be about Christmas, honest. I've seen a bunch of posts in the past couple of weeks--mostly not Christmas-related, or at least not related to the Jewish "December dilemma"--where people were struggling with others' feelings of entitlement, or their own unmet ones. Posts like this and this and this. And I kept meaning to post about them in one Grand Unifying Theory about the whole thing. Which, well, you know how that goes.
10. Or maybe entitlement isn't the word I should have been using all along? Maybe, expectations. Or rights. Or some other word I can't even think of because it's too late at night. I usually try to stay away from semantic hair-splitting, but for some reason this is nagging at me.
11. Once she realized that we weren't going to throw the old stereo away, MG calmed down and we had a nice time for the rest of Chanukah. So that was good.