Thursday, November 29, 2012

Incredible Shrinking Christmas

My kids don’t really need anything. I come to this conclusion every year when I contemplate Christmas gifts. I’m certain they would not agree with me here, but compared to the rest of the world, they want for nothing. And yet, Santa beckons. 

Every year I say I’m going to cut back. We aren’t going to give as much or spend as much or stress out as much. This is going to be the year. This year. Really. Of course, December hasn’t even begun so there is plenty of time to catch the frenzy. 

I floated the idea of a smaller Christmas with my ten-year-old. “What does that mean?” was his logical question. I explained it would be more about quality rather than quantity. Surprisingly, he embraced the idea. “I have too much stuff to carry up the stairs. So it would be good to get less of that.” (translation: I’m too lazy to carry the toys I cart downstairs from my room back up to my room each day, so logic follows that if he has less stuff, he has less stuff to carry.) He then went on to elaborate, “So that way I could get the really, really big nerf gun instead of bunch of little things.” Hmmm.  

I suppose I am just grateful that my child is in favor of less stuff, even if his motivation is saving his own sweat. I think he’s not alone in this desire for fewer belongings. I think all of us are weighted down by the things we own. I heard a sermon once about simplifying that went like this: “Every single thing you buy will require you to use it, clean it, find a place for it, repair it, maintain it, and eventually get rid of it. Better to not buy it in the first place.” The more stuff we accumulate, the more trips up the stairs, the less time for living our lives. 

I’ve fantasized about going on a cruise for Christmas or a vacation to the Islands. I know people who’ve done this. But somehow between finding a horse-sitter and suffering the expense and hassle of traveling at the holidays, the dream remains a fantasy.  

And, honestly, I love Christmas morning in my house. I love waking up and knowing how happy my children will be that day. I love baking cinnamon monkey bread, our once a year treat. I love piling in to the living room in my pjs with my kids and parents and watching the cat navigate the bodies and presents complaining that no one has remembered to feed her. I even love going out to the barn and wishing the horses a Merry Christmas. Mucking a stall on Christmas day seems better than on other days. 

Maybe what I love about Christmas the most though, is not the presents or stockings or sinfully yummy food. It’s the quiet on Christmas afternoon. Everyone is sated with happiness and food. There is nothing that must be done (except for my husband – he must decipher instruction manuals and find appropriate batteries). I can lounge all day with my cup of tea and whatever wonderful book I found under the tree. If I want to, I can play the games on my kindlefire that I loaded a year ago and have never had the time or the guilt-free zone to indulge in. I can even take a nap on the couch by the woodstove with the cat. It doesn’t get much better. 

Even when the kids were little, I remember Christmas afternoon as a time of truce. No one was fighting. Everyone was feeling grateful and happy. Or at least exhausted and willing to nap.  

As we march towards Christmas, this year I really am going to try to stay out of the fray. Oh, I’ll sing carols and badger my husband into hanging up lights. I’ll bake some holiday treats and take the kids Christmas shopping for their father. Always a fun adventure, we’ve graduated from “anything you want to get him from the Dollar Store” (which honestly thrilled them no end, but also resulted in some pretty funny and heartfelt gifts – bearclaw ice scraper anyone? Plastic screwdriver set made in China?) to a calculated assault on the Home Depot.  
2010 Christmas Bear
We’ll choose and cut our own tree from the shrinking farm near the high school and take pictures with the fake bear (see pics!) in the parking area. And even though they are almost all teens now, I am certain there will be a serious argument over who gets to put the star on the tree. Just like I know there will be endless negotiations over who gets to hang up the advent ornament on the advent calendar each day. 

2011 Christmas Bear
The traditions and memories of Christmas time are riches for the soul. But I think I’m also ready to step back some from the hysteria and overindulgence. I’d like to seek the quiet. I’m going to make room for the wonder. I won’t be so busy baking and scheming and cleaning that I miss out on the awe. On some of these charged December evenings, after everyone is in bed (or at least in their bedrooms with their headphones on), I plan to turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree lights. I’ll settle myself by the woodstove with my tea and bask in the multi-colored abundance that is my life.

My Favorite Blog Post full of Ideas for Simpler Christmas


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Divided Mind

Worry divides the mind.  Max Lucado 

I’ve just returned from a wonderful, decadent four day getaway with my lover of 17 years. We visited wineries, hiked on the shore of the Rappahanock River, rode our bikes through dapple-lit leaf tunnels, and laughed with friends over amazingly fresh and fabulously cooked food. But I missed my kids. 

How is it we can’t wait to get away from them, but once we’re down the driveway we worry what they’re up to and crave their intrusions? When I’m caught up in the planning of our escapes, four days doesn’t seem like long enough, but after I’ve been gone only a few hours I worry whether my youngest will be in tears at bedtime or my oldest will remember to feed the cat. I worry about my four footed children also. What if their caretakers forget to check the water trough? It’s hard to be gone from them. 

As my kids get older it is getting easier to relax another state away. But only a little. I know that my parents raised three kids of their own – quite successfully, mind you, but that still doesn’t keep me from worrying whether they’ll be overwhelmed by my children’s demands (the two and four-footed dears). 

I imagine that this condition of the worrying divided mind became acute upon pregnancy. The quote about motherhood meaning that your heart is now outside your body and walking around on its own is painfully true. And it is not a fact that any pregnancy or parenting book can warn you about. It strikes the moment you learn that you are becoming a parent. Sometimes it is a suffocating notion and at other times you are just incredibly grateful that these people have helped you discover places in your heart you never knew existed. 

That’s it. Parenting is a life-long condition. No escape. Vacationing serves only to remind me of the invisible thread that tethers me to my children.  

One of my babies turned sixteen this week, adding an entire new level of worry to my already overly divided mind.  

I suppose the real skill in parenting is letting go of these worries. It’s trusting the universe with my most precious creations. It’s knowing that I’m doing the best with what I know and so are they. Laying down my worries is an act of faith. Parenting then is an affirmation that this world is a good place. It’s underlining our trust in the world as a sacred and safe place.  

I let my babies go beyond my grasp and try to beat back the worries to a manageable state. But worry will forever divide my mind, maybe that’s why parents are so good at multi-tasking.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Missed Busses and Inner Voices

My kids missed the bus this morning. The basement door flew open and they tromped down the stairs to tell me this, interrupting the last five minutes of my run and the climatic scene from the horribly violent television show I watch while on the treadmill. I was dripping with sweat, stressed by the awful scene on the television, and furious at the idea of driving them to school (15 minutes each way). This would send my entire morning in to chaos. I’d have to wake their little brother early and urge him to eat a healthy breakfast and pack his lunch without my assistance. I’d have to put on clothes over my sweaty self because it was near freezing outside. This would mean morning barn chores would be rushed. There would be no lingering over my tea and the Sudoku puzzle today. AGH!  

To put it lightly, I was angry. I snapped at them and verbally harassed them as I scrambled up the stairs and rushed around to set the morning in motion. The ride to school was tense. My oldest apologized and my middle child rolled her carefully made up eyes at my anger. Half way to school I realized I was overreacting on a huge scale. They did not mean to miss the bus. In fact, they rarely ever miss the bus. They get themselves up (more or less, but sometimes require their father’s assistance), feed themselves, pack their lunches, and get to the bus stop while I am either out on a run or in the basement on the treadmill watching the horrible (but terribly exciting) show that was interrupted this morning. I’d say that’s more than most of the 13 and 15 year-olds I know.  

Perhaps my frustration was justified, but the anger was unnecessary. I apologized to them for my words. I assured them that I knew they hadn’t meant to miss the bus. I praised them for their ability to get to the bus on a regular basis. And then I watched them head off for school feeling like the horrible mother I am for the sag in their shoulders. What a way to start a day. 

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” – Peggy O’Mara. 

I hope that my weak apology erased at least a part of the angry words I showered on my children this morning. My words are haunting me and renewing my commitment to speak gently to my children. I can excuse myself easily – we’ve been trapped in the house for three days ducking Hurricane Sandy. But excuses won’t mean a hill of beans to a wounded heart. I messed up.  

Lucky for me, they are too young to move out, so I’ll get many more opportunities to speak gently and react more calmly to minor mishaps like a missed bus. I want my children’s inner voices to reassure them when they are worried and to encourage them when they are challenged. I want them to have confident hearts and compassionate souls. Their inner voice is what will guide them when things go awry. I hope that voice is reasonable, calm, and maybe sounds a little like the guy on the old AT&T commercials (what was his name? His voice sounded like molasses).  

I’m sure this isn’t the last morning when I’ll miss the mark. Undoubtedly, I’ll let life and my moods get the better of me another day. But at least for the rest of this day I will speak kindly. I will create an inner voice that is calm and loving and knows there’s nothing to be gained from losing it over a missed bus.