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Reverb10 question for 5 December: What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?
The single biggest thing I let go of this year (again) was my idea of how Kristina would be, who Kristina would be, how her life would turn out.
I say again because, as a parent, you constantly have to let go.
Again. And again.
She is her own person – always has been – and that is not what I am talking about. Any parent whose child has suffered serious illness or injury knows about this letting go.
Letting go of the idea that your child can do or be anything he sets his mind to. This is not always true. It does not always stay true. You still love your child. You still hold your child. Your child still loves you.
And sometimes, things happen that change how your child identifies herself, how she engages with her world, and whether she can still have/hold/live her dreams.
My daughter is still under a doctor’s care, still being treated for her injuries. Her recovery has been – and continues to be – more than physical. There are mental, emotional, and social components to her injury + recovery. She is learning new coping skills, ones I hope will serve her when she goes away to college.
People who see and meet her now would likely never identify her injuries. She was so high-functioning before that it was hard to measure the changes.
But the changes are there.
She is different. So am I. Life has changed us. We are altered by our experiences. She is still amazing. She is still brilliant, intellectual, witty, arch. She is also more compassionate, more patient, more humble.
At best, we let go of the right things at the right time, not grasping at the things beyond our control. At best, we appreciate what we have, and wonder at the ways we have been blessed.
I think the saying is, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
I’ve become very fond of candles.
On the Christmas calendar today: we find a giving tree, buy a present, and return it today. There may also be peppermint mochas involved.
Reverb10 question for 4 December: How did you cultivate a sense of wonder this year?
By breaking it down to the simplest things.
It’s been a tough year for our family – my fall on New Year’s Eve, and Kristina’s massive concussion in the spring – these injuries lasted into the year, the treatments extend into now.
We also did some wonder-full things – a winter trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, another to visit family and colleges in the summer.
After my fall, when I hurt too much to stand or sit for long, I wondered at how I had not broken any bones. I found wonder in the coincidence of my husband being home to find me on my back in the driveway.
When my daughter could not finish her sentences or find words, I waited, and noticed other things. I wondered at the ways her body was protecting her, giving her brain time to heal.
I suppose I cultivate a sense of wonder by always looking for the positive, the upside.
If that is hard to find, I seek the thing to be grateful for. Even if it’s an, “at least…” as in, “at least I didn’t break anything” or “at least she didn’t end up in a coma.” Sometimes that is the best I can get out of a moment.
Then I can move from a place of gratitude for the “at least” onto more positive things.
I am grateful for all the time Kristina and I had together while she recovered, even though it was hard. I wonder at her healing and recovery.
Wonder and gratitude are inextricably linked for me.
On the days when I could no longer cope, or find anything good to focus on, I took my dog for a walk in the woods.
That was my balm, a soothing touchstone for my soul – the changing light through the branches, the variety of birdsong and squirrel-chitter, the shapes of leaves and textures of moss and bark, the nesting eagles passing overhead with a warning cry.
This year, in early fall, I saw a coyote in the woods near our home for the first time. A few years ago, in late spring, a barred owl welcomed me to her neighbourhood with a long unblinking stare.
I feel the same sense of wonder when I go to a beach, not so much a tropical beach of uniform sand, but a northwest beach full of life, a complete ecosystem of waves and limpets and moon snails and sea stars and kelp.
The constant waves – sometimes a crash, sometimes no louder than the pulse of my own blood – this is wonder, this helps keep my troubles in perspective.
Wonder and nature are inextricably linked for me.
On the Christmas calendar today: a pair of hair pins with tiny beaded purple flowers
I read about Reverb10 in the days coming up to December.
I loved the idea of writing every day this month to reflect on the year past, and to imagine the year ahead into being.
At the same time, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t adhere to a schedule, so I didn’t sign up officially.
I saw the first Reverb10 writing prompt late at night on 1 December. (It reminded me of my one little word for 2010. As it gets closer to the end of the year, I’ll reflect more on that word.)
Looking back on the year, the word has to be
Breathe through the pain (my fall, early in the year).
Breathe through the far worse pain of Kristina’s injuries (I have yet to write about that here).
Breathe through the fear and worry about her recovery.
Breathe to heal. Breathe to relax. Breathe in relief.
Take a breath. It happens anyway.
Breathe, like this painting by Julia Fehrenbacher.
(Find the painting as a print or a beautiful pendant here.)
Breathe, like this photograph by Sarah Jean.
(Clearly, I like this breeze through tall grasses thing.)
2010 was a year when I had to remind myself – over and over – of this simple thing.
As we approach 2011, I have several words in mind, contemplating how I would like to set the year. The phrasing of the prompt threw me though, with it’s after-the-fact look back at 2011.
After sleeping on it, these words came to mind
- ready – as in: I was ready for the changes the year brought, and didn’t hold on too tight
- bright – as in: the future’s so bright, I have to wear shades
And, another, a word not already on my list, a word I think may be the word, my one little word for 2011. I’ll keep you posted.
On the Christmas calendar today, a tin of peppermint cocoa. Yesterday, we brought out the Christmas music.
Promised follow-up to my post about a weighty issue. I know two things for sure:
- I did not feel better about this on my own, and
- this is not a destination, a single point on the map, or a journey I have completed
Far from it.
Along the way, I have had help – conversations with friends, relatives, teachers, students, grocery-store cashiers, dogs, clouds, and journals – anyone who would listen, anyone who had an opinion on the subjects of coming to terms with ourselves, of being authentic, of being kind.
Turns out, a lot of people think about this.
Holly and I talked about that thing couples do, where She asks Him, “Does my butt look big in this dress?” Or She tells Him about the pimple on her face, the cellulite she’s developed, or her grey hairs.
Holly had one of those conversations with her sweet husband and he told her – and this is big, folks – he doesn’t see those things. They are not what he sees when he looks at her.
He doesn’t see it.
Holly doesn’t need to ask him if he likes a dress (although she could, and probably does). If he compliments her, she doesn’t need to point out tired eyes, new wrinkles (Holly doesn’t have wrinkles), or some other imagined imperfection.
She can greet him with, “I am hot and I have no flaws.” Let me repeat that.
I am hot and I have no flaws.
And he will cheerfully agree.
Then Holly told me about an article she read – and I’ll sum it up badly, because we had this conversation over a year ago and I didn’t read the actual article, so this is all basically just heresay, but you’ll believe me because it’s GOOD heresay, and Holly would not lie about such a thing – that reports men are anthrop0logically wired to not see flaws in their partners.
Flaws are not what they see.
I promptly asked my husband about this phenomenon – he is also a really sweet man, and that’s not just Love talking – and he doesn’t see it either.
He doesn’t see it.
He sees me. He sees a beautiful woman he loves. Those two are the same thing.
If, after all that, you still want to insist you have flaws, I have something for you.
Your flaws make you flawesome.
So. Pick your quote.
Either way, you win.
You are lovely and beautiful and warm and human and the only amazing, authentic you – flawesome – exactly as you are.
On the Christmas calendar today: lottery tickets for MegaMillions. Hey, don’t judge. Kristina’s 18 now, and she was thrilled. Then she asked if she has to share any winnings with me.
I put off Christmas as long as I can.
That made me sound a little like Scrooge. I am not. I love Christmas.
Not while I’m shopping for back-to-school supplies. Not when kids are singing trick-or-treat. Not when I’m glazing the ham for Thanksgiving.
I have been thinking about Christmas for months: brainstorming creative gift ideas for my husband and daughter, ordering early when I spotted sales, and generally spreading the cost (time, energy, dollars) out over time.
But that peaceful at-my-own-pace thinking and planning is quite different from what I would do if I reacted to the constant barrage of advertisements and Christmas songs that retailers have, um… shared with us as they panic about the state of the economy.
If I have not turned the calendar to December, I am not interested in Christmas carols.
I mean it. Hands-over-my-ears-la-la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you…
What I do on the first of December is hang the Christmas calendar.
I made it for Kristina when she was five. Every year, on 30 November, I stay up late organizing dates and notes and trinkets into an Advent calendar of sorts.
Kristina opens one little package each day leading up to Christmas. The first day holds our Christmas gnome. The last day holds Kristina’s ornament for the tree.
In between are a collection of treats (in the past: candy canes, caramels, gingerbread, and such) and tiny gifts (sample sizes of shampoo or bubble bath, socks, hair ribbons). The rest of the days have decorated cards that show what holiday activity we will do that day.
Most of those holiday things we would do anyway – they are part of getting ready for Christmas at our house. By setting it out at the beginning of the day, making it a present on the Christmas calendar, we give those activities special attention.
We appreciate how special it is to get out the Christmas dishes (stored deep under the stairs) and to bring the Christmas music upstairs (finally!).
It is not a chore to hunt down the tree, bring it home and decorate it – it is a celebration. (Okay, possibly I curse fuzzy-goat-nuts when stringing the lights. Possibly.)
And because we wait for our tree, we don’t get tired of having it there.
There will be a card for the day, in the midst of the inevitable hustle, when Kristina and I take time to sit by the fire at a coffee shop, have holiday drinks, and chat.
(I will miss our coffee dates when she goes to college next year. I plan to enjoy every chance I get until then.)
There will be another card that announces the day we watch Charlie Brown Christmas, and another for White Christmas.
Christmas would be missing something without these traditions. The calendar helps us spread out these events, so they don’t happen all on top of each other, so that we enjoy each one.
Last year, I didn’t get it together to tie up all the gifts and hang the calendar outside Kristina’s bedroom door before she got up in the morning of 1 December. I figured I’d get it done while she was at school – she would understand, right? She wouldn’t care.
I was wrong. She was completely bereft.
This year, she came to me just after Thanksgiving. “Madre, you are making the Christmas calendar, right?”
I teased her for just a moment, asking with a straight face, “You are 18 now. Sure you’re not too old for this?”
“NO, Mama. And next year? I want you to send it to me when I am at college.”
I guess we’re never too old for tender traditions and rituals.
Kristina has quite a collection of those 24 December ornaments now. I’m in no hurry for the day she heads off on her own, but I am preparing for it. She’ll take that box of ornaments with her to decorate her first tree, with fond memories of Christmas-past.
What about you? When do you start your celebrations?
Are you digging in your heels, kicking and screaming that it’s too much, or have you had reindeer on your lawn since you put away the pumpkins from Hallowe’en?
What are the traditions that mean the most to you?
As I write this, it’s 3:45 and it is basically dusk outside.
When it snowed last Monday, the clouds were heavy, but the white blanket on the ground was lovely and sparkling – something we in the Northwest seldom see as early as November. In fact, we can go an entire season without the snow.
Not this year. The snow brings out the kid in all of us.
Even this guy – who kind of wanted to keep walking, because it was chilly out.
But seriously, how could I not take pictures?
(Some) favourite things to do: catch falling snow on my tongue (check), hold hands with this man (check), walk in the woods (check).
It was a darn good Monday.
Every night we are home for dinner it looks like this:
we have a flurry of activity getting dinner ready, drinks poured, placemats + napkins + silverware on the table, overhead lights dimmed, candles lit, everyone warm or cool enough, the dog in her crate, and then we sit.
And as much as we are usually ready to dive on the food like a pack of wild dogs, we pause, we reach for each other’s hands, and we give thanks.
Okay, usually I’m the one doing the talking – for all of us – and sometimes Ed or Kristina chime in with their own things they are grateful for.
We give thanks for the big things – our health, our home, each other.
We give thanks for the little things – a test passed, an uneventful commute home, sunshine.
(I say “little things” because these are not so much the things we will remember of this day in a year or two or ten.)
We also give thanks for funny little random things: ugly dolls (cheer up a day), moss (doesn’t have to be mowed), happy pigs (because we love us some bacon), and fart jokes (yes, I have given thanks for those).
A long time ago, I read a novel with a cantankerous porch-sitting character. He was complaining about the state of the world, and the general worthlessness of the younger generation, and the waste of the future and how rare common sense was.
A teenager sitting on the step made the mistake of trying to take his leave by saying, “Well, okay Grampa, thanks, I’ll be go–”
He did not get to finish.
“THANKS?!?!?!” Grampa roared. “THANKS?!?!? Son, we give thanks. We say, thank you. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” With that, the grandson scuttled off the porch while Grampa muttered some more.
I took it to heart.
We say thank you. We give thanks.
It really makes a difference.
Today, I give thanks for so many things:
- my husband’s love and the mystery of us finding each other
- the gift of my daughter and how much I learn with her
- my parents, most especially for giving me my brother and sisters
- my husband’s family, for welcoming Kristina and me as their own
- Kaylah, best-dog-ever, who shares loyalty, humour, love, and companionship every day
- the warm, dry, house where we make our home
- organic farmers, who work so passionately to bring healthy food to market
- the volunteers everywhere who strive simply to make the world a better place
- everyone who speaks against injustice, calling out the bullies on every stage
- that any ill in the world is vastly outweighed by kindness and compassion
- my readers, who turn what I write here into a conversation with your comments and support
Even if you do not celebrate (American) Thanksgiving, I wish you some time today to give thanks, to feel grateful. It makes everything better.