Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

Still Standing!

Hooray! Our Christmas tree is still standing this morning. It's a bit bare in spots, where I took off my favorite ornaments in case it fell during the night.

Upon looking at it, I realized that in some ways, I'm like this tree:

I'm not where I thought I'd end up. The tree certainly never imagined it'd be transported from a forest or tree farm into my family room; I never thought I'd be a bereaved mother, a mom to an infant at age 47, the author of a book, or even in a new neighborhood.

I look normal from the outside. The tree looks perfectly acceptable with its angels, glass balls, heirloom ornaments, and layers of beads, but what is unseen is the trauma/drama it has gone through to get here. I look unremarkable, too, a suburban woman driving a family car on numerous errands,  shopping at the grocery store, and waiting in the carpool line. The tree reminds me to be gentle with others, because everyone has a story, even if it doesn't show from the outside.

I am leaning, a little bit bent, but not broken. Sure, like the tree, I've fallen down, but I'm semi-upright now. I am altered by my experiences, just as the tree was changed by the weather, its growing conditions, and our bumbling attempts to help it stand straight. But while I am changed, I am still me. The tree needs hidden supports to keep it from falling. My unseen, yet important anchors are friends who stand by me, prayers that lift me up, and the decision to hunt for gratitude every single day.

I'm a bit messy. The tree drops needles, and has oozed sap on our hardwoods. We put a plastic sheet under it to make sure water didn't leak out. In its "realness" the tree brings issues that an artificial tree wouldn't. I try to be real, too, even though I'm messy:  I cry sometimes, I curse, and I write what is real, not necessarily what is tidy.

I can still let my light shine. The beautiful glow this tree gives off in the darkened family room is its own sort of magic. I no longer see the twine holding it up, the room feels 10 degrees warmer, and I experience the wonder of Christmas when I look at it. I, too, can bring light in the darkness to those who need it with a hug, laughter, or even by just be being me.

So can you! 

p.s. Oh, and one more similarity: I don't drink enough water, even though it's good for me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Did We Have to Say, "This is the Easiest Christmas Tree Ever!"?

Tonight we will either be successful shoring up our Christmas tree, or we'll be taking it down 11 days before Christmas. I wouldn't say this year's tree experience has been as rough as the time three years ago that Tim chopped the lights with gardening shears AFTER the entire tree was decorated, but it HAS been a challenge. The kids' tree is still front and center when you walk in the house, in its easy-to-assemble and semi-stable artificial glory, but the real tree downstairs has been causing problems.

Because of the difficulty of taking Andrew anywhere in the evening, I quickly picked a tree out by myself one morning this week instead of waiting for us all to go after work. I didn't like going by myself. It reminded me of doing that after my mom died. Maybe the tree didn't like it much either.

Plopping it in the stand, Tim and I both remarked on how easy it was, since the tree was smaller and lighter than usual.

However, no matter how many times we twisted, the screws wouldn't anchor on anything. The trunk was a soggy, pulpy mess. After about 10 minutes, Tim said he was giving up. I suggested we toss it on the back deck and throw some white lights on it for an outdoor decoration. Margaret begged us to rally, from her comfortable perch on the couch, of course.

I suggested we could anchor it to the walls with twine, as my grandpa would have done, but Tim was having none of that, saying, "I've never heard of anyone doing that before!" So, I guess if he hasn't heard of it, it can't possibly be a thing.

Eventually, he made little shims out of wood so that the screws would have somewhere to go, AND we used fishing line to anchor it to a heavy table on one side and my favorite hulking "dumpster dive" on the other. All was well, and I decorated it until 12:30 am.

The next day it was leaning.

And leaning.

And leaning.

We tightened all the things.

Because we are going on a trip, we don't think it's fair that our house sitters and the dogs should have to deal with a downed tree and potentially hundreds of broken glass ornaments.

So after Tim puts Andrew to bed tonight (Yay, Tim! He does it every night), we will assess whether to up our fishing line game, or take down the tree. I always love how spacious the house feels after the trees are down, but it does seem a bit early in the season for that...

I'll keep you posted!

p.s. I ran across this old post from 2009 in which I call the family by pseudonyms, show how grumpy I am, and mention a surprise after-40 pregnancy. What?!? 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Caught not Taught: More Lessons from My Mother

One day I was a young college student, thinking that my mother would always be there to pick me up if I fell down; the next I was a motherless daughter.

In the decade between when I lost her and when I began having children of my own, I had plenty of time to consider what her mothering meant to me. In realizing that only 18 years of memories had to last a lifetime, I soon became aware of what stood out as important, and what would most influence me as a mother. 

Rather than any grand gestures, the secure gift of her presence impacted me the most, and I try to give that to my children despite a distraction-filled life. 

You see, she was the mom who would stop what she was doing to play board games with rowdy teenagers, or cut our boyfriends’ hair on a tall stool in the kitchen. That’s also where we’d find her when we wanted to talk. Speaking of kitchens, ours was a messy one, papers piled high the counters, yet there was always room for one more person at the table at dinnertime. 

Remembering her generosity with her time and her heart made me want to parent the way she did, in a loving and relaxed way. When I became a parent, and my own competitiveness and perfectionism threatened to sink me, I’d remember my mother. If I got wrapped around the axel about my daughter not sleeping in her crib, I’d remember the comfort folding myself into my mother’s soft body in bed when I didn’t feel well. When I’d get embarrassed that my son acted silly in class, I’d remember a mother who never made me feel bad for the low marks on my own report card under the heading, “Exhibits Self Control.”

I could remind myself that sleep methods would come and go, and report cards would end up tucked away in a folder somewhere, but being a present mom, not a perfect one, could last a lifetime, even after I was gone.

What she gave me most, in life and in death, I believe, is perspective. The perspective to realize that a child in the bed now and then, does not lead to an adult in the bed. That, like me, my kids would someday learn to exhibit self control. And that while I felt much calmer with clutter-free countertops, clutter wouldn’t detract one bit from my kids’ childhood. 

And, unlike my friends who still had their mothers. I knew that it could all vanish in an instant. 

Sad as that sounds, those who experience loss are often given this unsought gift of knowing what is important. Instead of running myself ragged trying to construct for my children the “perfect childhood,” lest it all be ripped away in an instant, perspective gave me permission to create tiny rituals and play to my strengths, which is what my mother did.

Mom would pull a large jar of Peter Pan peanut butter out of a brown paper grocery bag and place it wordlessly on the counter. It was a silent challenge. Whichever kid noticed first would grab the jar, open it, and scoop a finger full of peanut butter out, earning bragging rights. Skiing in the alps, it wasn’t, but it taught me that the tiny rituals are what knit families together. I may be much less laid back than my mom was, but I can institute Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on the first snow day of the year, make up silly sayings as I drive around town with my kids, tell the same old stories as I unpack the Christmas ornaments each year, and stay up later than I want to if my teenager finally feels like talking.

Mom was a lackluster costume maker and a mediocre gift giver. But she could decorate the heck out of a house and patiently read the same chapter books over and over. She practiced hospitality in our home and wherever she went with her big smile and ready laugh.  Most importantly, she saw her three kids as distinct individuals, not just extensions of herself. 

I can't bake cookies worth a darn, and the family is much happier on nights when Daddy cooks dinner. I get grumpy when the house is a mess, and you wouldn't want to talk to me in the morning before I've had my 3rd cup of tea. My hair braiding skills are just as bad as my math ones. But I can find  humor in most circumstances, I apologize often, and I'm pretty good at seeing someone else's point of view. I am extremely loyal, will keep confidences, and am a generous ice cream scooper and snuggler. 

The way I remember my mom-- she was a flesh and blood person who loved hard and didn't try to do or be all things to all people. She was enough. 

The gift of her presence, and the impact of tiny rituals, not grand gestures, whether they were based on her religious faith or even a silly jar of peanut butter are what I remember most, and what helped me formulate my own To Do/To Be list as a mom.

1) Be present
2) Have Perspective
3) Play to your strengths

Of course, some days are easier than others.

What would your To Do/To Be list look like?