Thursday, December 24, 2015

Santa’s Letter

I was seven.

I don’t remember what I asked for, don’t remember what was so important that year that made me ask Santa for it in writing, a sort of insurance that I would definitely get it.  It wasn’t part of our Christmas tradition to write letters to the Big Guy.

I don’t even remember putting the letter in the mail.  Likely I gave it to my mother and she took it to the post office, addressed to “Santa: North Pole” – all it took to reach its destination safely.  Everyone knows where to send letters to Santa.

But does everybody always get one back?

When our kids were little we took their letters to a local fire station by a certain date in December and they received a letter in response by Christmas, a pre-printed thing with a picture of Santa on the paper.  Later the kids wrote “Merry Christmas” letters to Santa on Christmas Eve and set them out with the cookies and carrots we left for him and his reindeer.  He always wrote back to them, leaving them a little thrill in the morning along with an empty plate and glass, a stuffed stocking and at least one specially-wrapped gift for each of them.  Did I save these responses after we read them on Christmas morning?  Probably.  I don’t know where they are offhand, but I could probably find them if I looked. 

I know exactly where my letter from Santa is.

Some days before that long-ago Christmas, we got a letter in the mailbox addressed to me.  I opened it, confused.  I read the loopy scrawl, transfixed, my stomach floating.  Was it for real?  Santa told me that his belly was more like a bowl full of Jello instead of jelly, and he thanked me for being good that year.  Some words about his reindeer and Mrs. Santa were all it took for my belief to solidify.

HE wrote it.  Santa.

To this day my mother swears she didn’t write it.  My mother has beautiful handwriting; Santa doesn’t.  I’ve written enough responses to my own kids’ letters to Santa to know that altering your natural way of writing into a completely different one is extremely difficult to do.  She says that she was just as surprised as we were to get a letter back that year.  I only found this out a few years ago.  I always assumed that she wrote it.

We talk about kind postmen, a group of volunteers nearby who write and send out Santa letters in the weeks before Christmas.  People whose job it is, for a few weeks a year, to keep magic alive in the hearts and minds of local children.  It’s not a bad job.

That letter from Santa kept my belief alive for a while after that year, even though I never got a response back after that one letter.

But it was enough for me.  Even though eventually I figured out that there was no jolly old elf flying a sleigh full of toys over the world every Christmas Eve, that letter from Santa still tells me that there are good people in the world who believe that a with a little effort, a simple act of kindness is just a good thing to do. 

Merry Christmas.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #1: Write (or share) a letter to Santa.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Not Funny

It’s time for me to write something funny, but I don’t know how.

I’m not sad.  Not angry.  Not depressed.  Not any of the reasons people give for being unfunny.

To be fair, many funny people sport some level of depression, anyway.

My kids – former wellsprings of hilarious material – aren’t funny to me anymore.  They are treasures I want to hold tight – much as they always were, but instead of sharing their shenanigans I want to cling to them with the weight of my body and soul and hold them close.  They also aren’t funny anymore in the way they used to be funny.  They don’t often say things in innocence that make us smile; when they do, I experience a wave of memories that almost knocks me out.

The innocent ramblings of children are fleeting.

I can share that the other day I was in a silly mood and grabbed my son from behind around the waist and asked him to try and pull me around on the smooth kitchen tile – to work his core, I reasoned.  He pulled me around for a short time before I lost my balance and fell down right on my butt.  It's more about me being a goof than about him being funny, but it's what I've got for now.

We both laughed that silent laugh where you can’t catch your breath.  I had tears in my eyes when I asked him if he thought it was a good workout.  He shook his head at me and said “You’re crazy.”

When he’s thirty it might be weirder if we did this together.  By then we will just have to settle for reminiscing about that time around Christmas when he was just a little bigger than me, strong enough to be used as a pack animal, and I asked him to pull me around and I fell down on my butt.

Perhaps then they’ll be whispering: “That was the beginning of Mom’s downward spiral.”

We are watching Star Wars movies as a family, movies that are certainly not meant to be funny but are funny to us in their corniness.  We call the characters “Sausage Head” and “Snot Monster” and exclaim “Whoa!” and “YEAH!!!” at Yoda’s Jedi moves and light saber action. We rate hairdos and costumes and the kids get uncomfortable during the kissing scenes and roll their eyes at the love stories and I am reminded that they are still kids.

Somewhere I lost the ability to be funny about them.

They would be relieved if I told them this.  They never minded being written about, and I always (usually) asked them if it would be okay to share their funniest stories here, but it’s not my place to share the things about their lives that they can share themselves.  Other things are private and not funny anyway.  Respect for my children has reached a whole other level.

We are separating.  They are just beginning to peel off from our family, discovering their own selves apart from the home cocoon.  That’s why we had children, to raise up people to continue our legacy, to build the world into a better place to live.  It’s a good thing – the way of life.

But it’s not funny.


Friday, December 18, 2015

The Non-Tradition Tradition

When I was growing up, we celebrated all holidays pretty much the same way: spend mornings together as a family, get together with extended family at various pre-approved locales for the day, return home in the evening.  Depending on the holiday, we could depend on knowing exactly which gathering place was the day’s destination.  I’d look forward to eating the same food year after year, seeing all the same people, and catching up on a year’s worth of conversations during these times.  Sprinkled around the main event were preparations that never wavered: cooking, baking, shopping, decorating.

Those memories are good ones, warm ones.  They make up most of the nostalgia I feel during the holidays today.

Back then it was easier to keep the traditions going because most of us lived close to each other. 

Not so anymore.  We are scattered.  The third generation of my family who met up every holiday thirty years ago are flung far and wide.  Some of the people who left a firm imprint on my historical make-up I haven’t seen in years.  And of course, others are gone forever.

Like the people who kept them, the traditions have scattered.

Sometimes I hear rumblings of discontent in people who want traditions to stay alive.  I think of how my husband and I each moved away from home to build a life elsewhere.  It’s simply not feasible for us to get together for a Sunday dinner with cousins or stop in at Grandma’s for a visit on a Thursday night, or spend Christmas or Easter or even Halloween away from our home most years.

We’ve even given up traditions that we attempt to build in our own family.  Life changes every day, and what worked yesterday isn’t guaranteed to work tomorrow.

Sometimes I feel bad for our kids, because they don’t get to celebrate a holiday the same way every year.  After all, we all want for our children that which we hold dear.  But traditions don’t always work for everyone, and we’ve adapted to this truth.

I don’t mind mixing up the holidays.  My day-to-day life is routine; I like to know that something different than the usual is coming up.  For some people, it may be a little too much to stomach.  Some yearn for old customs, want to do the same thing at least two years in a row.  Sometimes the only thing holding us back from trying a new thing is our firm grip on the past.

Despite my love of nostalgia, I’m okay with killing traditions.  This life allows it.  I like remembering, but time has a habit of ripping precious things out of my grasp, and there’s no stopping it.  I’ve embraced non-tradition. 

Every year our family decides how we will spend the holidays.  Every year we throw out suggestions, and come to a compromise.  This will not be the year that we spend Christmas in Hawaii.  Nor will it be one where we host a traditional family-filled gathering in our home. 

The point is not the tradition.  When tradition is adhered to against reason and common sense, it becomes unwieldy, a drag.  The point is that we celebrate the things that we deem important together.  Whether a small, quick, quiet holiday or a large, loud, drawn-out one, it can change every year of my life and I’d be okay with it.  To me, those are just more memories to think about when recalling the holidays of the past.

Do you spend holidays the same way every year?


Monday, December 14, 2015

Ten Days Before Christmas

We have a picture of our kids on Christmas when they were babies and weren’t aware of anything except their own joy, with smiles as wide as their faces.  They are sitting in a pile of toys and wrapping paper, looking like Santa himself came over and passed out joy and love.

I love that picture.

Likely the picture behind the picture wasn’t all happiness and smiles; likely I had stayed up way too late the night before freeing toys from the boxes and wires that hold them together during transit, got up way too early to children who got up way too early in general, and then took care of their immediate needs like diaper and bathroom and breakfast and who knows what else by the time the moment was captured.  Likely my mind was spinning with what time I had to start cooking our elaborate Christmas meal, if the turkey was thawed all the way through, should I take that casserole out of the fridge yet?  I couldn’t be in the moment, relegating the best ones to photos snapped, destined to be remembered years in the future.

For a lot of years, Christmas was wonderful and awful.  For a lot of years, ten days before Christmas was crunch time, flurry of activity time, high-stress time. 

Strip away the music, the lights, and the Christmas cheer, and you saw me running around like a zombie with kids in tow, gathering up presents and gift wrap and food and drink like I just got the go-ahead to become America’s Top Hoarder.

Miserable.  Stressed out.  Frantic.  Often in tears.  What if it didn’t get all done?  What will happen if ten days wasn’t enough to get it all in?  So many people will be disappointed.  I wished for a nanny, a personal assistant, a wife of my own to cook and clean and pay bills and run errands, just so I could do Christmas.

Ten days.  For ten days before Christmas, I counted down the days until it was over, until I could breathe, until life was back to normal.

Today, ten days before Christmas, it’s a different picture.  Gone are the days of managing children’s moments; they take care of most of their own now.  My calendar is scribbled with their activity times, which often overlap.  I spend more time managing the logistics of their lives than anything else.  Ten days before Christmas I’m not stressing out; I am helping them not to panic over the last project due before the end of the school term, reminding them to pack their gym clothes, telling them they need to find a ride home from practice tonight.

Maybe we’ll bake cookies; maybe we’ll go see that house in the next town over that does an amazing lights display.  We’re not hosting guests this year; we’re going to see the new Star Wars movie.  We catch more Christmas TV specials together, something we rarely did before.

Over the years we’ve pared down our gift-giving, lessening the financial strain.  Our kids need not one new thing for Christmas.  They know it; they ask for little things, just because presents are part of Christmas. 

Christmas has become quieter, slower, smaller.  To me, it’s better.  I enjoy it so much more.  I mean, if I’m going to do Christmas, this is how it’s going to be.

Joyful.  Peaceful.  Busy, but enjoyably so.

The way ten days before Christmas should be.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Small Lives

When I started blogging, I did it to tell stories.  I had loads of stories.  Short stories that I wanted to make long, and long stories that were road tested live and fizzled out due to audience exhaustion.  Glazed, darting eyes, the checking of watch and phone – these things are key tells that your audience just isn’t into your story.

I decided to write the stories to avoid the blow of wayward eyes. 

Quickly I realized that I didn’t really have that many stories to tell.  Six months into blogging, I had used up all the good stories that were fit to print.  There are others for sure, but I’m holding them close until key people are good and gone.  Just kidding, just kidding.  But not every story is mine to tell.

When I started telling stories for keeps my kids were seven and nine years old – definitely not the best age for treasured conversations and discoveries, but good enough.  Their shenanigans offered some comedy and warm-hearted cuteness, but not much.  I haven’t logged every one of their milestones, and I’ve forgotten all but the best ones.

Now they are too old for me to share everything they do – they have their own social media presence for that, anyway – and I’m not into scandalizing my children for entertainment.  I could turn to my husband for comic gold, but I’m not into writing about him all the time, either.  He’s an adult, capable of telling his own stories.  And not everything has to be about him, jeez.

It’s no surprise that eventually I figured out that this life is a small one.

As a kid I entertained visions of being famous – an actor, a singer, the lead guitarist in a band, never mind that I didn’t play the guitar – and composed my Oscar speech like any good American girl.  Time and circumstance put those dreams to bed as age and wisdom took hold, and I became satisfied with the life I was given and fashioned to suit time and place.

What is a big life?  One offering unique stories to tell one after another that elevate a person above all others, one with a bold name that stands out from all the rest? 

Over the past couple of years I have been to the funerals of several well-loved people.  Stuffed into funeral parlors and churches to receive condolences and issue hugs and words of comfort, the people present, those standing in line for hours to say goodbye for the last time – they were all part of the lives of those loved and gone.  The numbers of people congregating to pay last respects to the people they loved at these funerals, the stories they told and retold, the memories recalled – all of this painted epic, sweeping portraits of lives lived well, lives lived boldly, lives lived LARGE. 

None of the people we celebrated and mourned lived big lives.  They were parents and grandparents and spouses and cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and siblings and employees.  None had won an Oscar, none had written a novel, and none were rock stars.  They all lived small lives, had maybe only about six months’ worth of stories to tell.

Their names will be mentioned in conversation during my lifetime and new ones will be added.  Eventually mine will join the list.  Small lives take up big space in the minds and hearts of those who love them – this is no secret.  The stories that make up our lives may be long and tedious and they may be few, but they are ours to tell.

I hope you tell yours.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Seven Comforting Things

When people are going through hard times, and if they’re the praying kind, they say those three words to others:  “pray for me.”  Depending on where you are in the praying game, this might mean a lot to you or it might mean nothing.  Hey man, whatever.  Be cool. 

I always pray.  I am the praying kind, and I’m good like that. 

There are two things I pray for those who ask for prayer: Comfort and peace. 

Comfort and peace, comfort and peace, comfort and peace.  I’m all about comfort and peace.  I manage my life to experience comfort and peace.  No drama, nothing extreme.  If I were an animal, I’d be a cat.  A cat who wears a shirt that says comfort and peace – no caps, because caps are yelly.

There is comfort, and there is comfort.  I’m all about emphatic comfort. 

It’s not always easy to come by, comfort.  Sometimes life just doesn’t give us this option.  Some days we have a list of errands to run that includes a teeth cleaning and a mammogram.  Sometimes we have to go to the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving.  And sometimes?  Sometimes we’re just crabby and we crumple comfort and peace up into a ball and throw it in the gutter.

We are only human, after all.  Not cats, sigh.

So I made a list of seven things that bring me the emphatic comfort – you know, to remind me on those gutter ball days.

7 Things That Bring Me Comfort

1. A couch, a book, and a blanket.  It’s a cliché.  Who cares.  When I settle into the corner of our couch with a book under our softest blanket, nothing can penetrate the cocoon of comfort I’ve created.  Add some soft instrumental music for bonus peace points.  Don’t bother me.

2. Knowing I’m in for the night.  My kids are at ages where they have activities every night that require me to drop off and pick up.  I’m in and out of the car more from the hours of 3 to 9 pm than any other time of the day.  When the door shuts behind us after the last pick up, I collapse in a heap of relief and comfort, knowing that we are all here in the same place at the same time.

3. Completing a task.  Whether it’s drying the last dish after dinner or writing the next three months’ worth of activities into the calendar, when I’m done, I’m comforted by the accomplishment.  I won’t pretend to be an ace at multi-tasking – how does anything get completed that way?  The comfort of a job well done drives me to be a single tasking whiz.

4. Coming home.  I like going away on vacation as much as the next guy, but when the unpacking is done and the first load of laundry started and I slide my toes under my very own covers in my very own bed on the first night home… there is no other feeling.

5. End of year holidays.  Don’t get me wrong – the busyness of this season wears me right out.  Every year I try to do something different to make it less crazy and more comfy and every year I am a failure.  Grabbing the moments of here-and-now-ness that fill me with peace and comfort help, though: tuning the car radio into the all-holiday-music-all-the-time station, walking through the Christmas tree display in every store, taking the long way home to see the holiday lights.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Don’t forget it.

6. Waking up in the morning.  I’m one of those thankful-for-another-morning types who loves to wake up after a good night’s sleep.  I love the newness of each day.  None of us is guaranteed another morning – I’m comforted when I get one.  Don’t judge me.

7. Food.  Are you kidding?  It’s my favorite comfort of all.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #3: List seven things that bring you comfort.