Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues


Finally, some personal thoughts - a report from what I learned over the holiday as the protest spirit that has swept the country, and the world, somehow made it into the Martin household.

What happened was this: My beautiful, brilliant and talented stepdaughters staged a revolt. They decided they were through washing the china and crystal, and decided we should use plastic plates and glasses for our holiday meal.

I know, I know. I couldn't believe it, either. You're talking to a person who had cloth napkins and a full set of pots and pans, and dishes as a brand-new college graduate working my first job, when I lived in a basement apartment next to a giant air-conditioning unit; bought a car with no air conditioning or an FM radio; and kept my books in milk crates.

You're talking to a person who still keeps a set of china in the office on which I eat my brown-bag lunch. You can call me crazy; you can chalk it up to my chaotic childhood - whatever - but I like to cook my own food, and I like a nicely set table on which to eat that food, thank you very much - especially at the holidays.

Now, the young ladies made the argument that using disposables would give us more time to spend together, to which I replied, we are spending time together. So what if we are spending it scrubbing collard greens and red beans and rice from the pots and the china?

But I knew it was over when I saw the evil plasticware nestled in the shopping bags bearing their Christmas gifts. And they had splurged on the nice kind - you know, the kind that doesn't sag in the middle when you actually put food on it.

Can I just tell you? Although I am pretending to still be slightly hurt and upset as long as I can get away with it, I have to admit - to you, not to them, so please don't tell them I said this - that my girls had a point.

Our deal - I cooked the dinner, they cleaned up - was forged when one of them was in grad school. I had the use of both hands, and none of us had small children. Now, all of us are married, all of us have small children, and all of us have demanding jobs. And this year, to top it off, I am still sporting the cast to my shoulder, so even I had to call in reinforcements. So don't ask me where I got my greens this year, and I will tell you no lies.

But improbably enough, this is how I found some sympathy for the would-be deficit-cutters in Congress and the White House. Now, I know it's not a popular sentiment to express sympathy for these folks. But this whole episode forced me to consider how hard it is to let a deal go, even when it no longer makes sense.

Just like my family's arrangement at holiday dinners was the product of a time when our lives were very different, our entitlement programs are a by-product of a time when more of us earned our living with the skill of our hands and the strength of our backs.

But we didn't live as long as we do now - or need or expect as much expensive care as many, perhaps most, of us will now need and expect at the end of life. My family's holiday dinner arrangements, just like our country's tax and entitlement programs, are also a by-product of who has the megaphone at any given time. How many magazine articles have you read about holiday meal prep? But have you ever read one on how to clean up?

And let us not kid ourselves: Our arrangements are also the result of who has the power. It's fun to cook - for me, anyway - so I chose to cook. And it's my house and I'm the mom, so who's going to argue? Just like tax cuts are fun for the people getting them, but who has ever given or gotten a pat on the back for scrubbing the lipstick off the glasses - or for making our health-care system or tax programs rational for everybody? So far be it for me to offer advice on fixing the country's long-term fiscal health, except to say that I now see that it isn't just about the numbers, but what feels good and right and normal to us.

The status quo is hard to give up until a crisis forces the issue or, more rarely, until people of genuine goodwill choose to do so. In our case, since I hate that plastic stuff, I have to come up with a better idea. And I wil, because I love my stepdaughters, and they love me. You know how I know? Guess what they gave me for Christmas...

You know how I know? Guess what they gave me for Christmas - a new set of dishes.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and you've been listening to our first TELL ME MORE edition of the New Year. Happy New Year, and let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

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