Lets face it… the holidays are stressful. They were magical when we were kids. Sometimes, we still catch glimpses of that magic through the eyes of our children or a sense of nostalgia. But, as much as I hate to admit it, the older I get, the more the holidays seem to be about to-do lists and finances, expectations and family drama, and just making it through. By the time we hit New Years, I have so little energy or holiday spirit left that I just want to spend my long weekend clearing up all the Christmas crap and catching up on sleep. But, ironically, this is when we are expected, at the final stage of this seasonal marathon, to stay up all night and party like it’s 1999. Sigh.
As I contemplate the merits of going out versus staying in and try to dredge up the last remnants of good cheer and festive spirits that I possess, I find myself meditating (as I continually remind myself and all of you to do) on the small but meaningful milestones that have occurred during this season of chaos – trying to lift the hazy vale of petty stresses that seems to have settled over my eyes as of late. There are so many more important things than money and schedules and weight gain and chores. And if we’re not careful to mark them we may miss them.
This month, my hubby and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. Five years of marriage and six years together really does feel like a lifetime – not because the time dragged, but because I find it increasingly hard to remember and nearly impossible to imagine what life was/would be like without him. He is my life and I am so grateful for this milestone and the achievement it marks, despite it’s relatively small, quiet celebration in the midst of Christmas travel.
This week marked the halfway point of my pregnancy. Just two weeks after discovering that our little bundle is made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, he has begun making his presence known to me by kicking and punching actively every day. And wildly expanding my girth from week to week. It is so hard to imagine that – “WHOA-OH we’re halfway there!” And even though sometimes I do feel like I’m livin’ on a prayer, I am amazed at how far we’ve come and eager to see the fruits of my labor (pun most definitely intended.)
This month also marked my entry into another decade of my life. And, I must say, the reality has been severely underwhelming. For all the dread and angst that I invested leading up to that day, it has not dramatically changed my life or outlook. But the more I considered this milestone, the more I realized that it’s not how many years you possess, but how much those years contained that matters. If they were full and rich, they were a success. If they were not as full as I would have liked, than I have ten more years to rectify that before the next decade rolls around. Guess I better get busy!
My son amazes me more and more every day. While constantly increasing his capacity to frustrate, he is also expanding his knowledge and understanding and ability. He is beginning to understand the rules of his world and how to live by them but imagine beyond them. He may know that there is not really a monster in the shower, but why not create a blue dragon with red eyes to walk by his side and protect him as he checks to make sure. He may know the names and natures of every single animal in his picture book, but he still pronounces some of them like “pokey-spines” and “flaming-glows.” He may scoff at Mama’s constant need for kisses and hugs or barely acknowledge the showers of little compliments we pay him daily, but I know our philosophy of positive parenting is paying off every time my little boy naturally and without any effort or thought compliments me to make me happy. These are the good times and we can’t let the spoiling nature of presents and late bedtimes and Christmas treats rob us of these memories.
I am finally surfacing and remembering that there is a life past Christmas feasts and cookies and splurges, and lately it has taken the form simple, uncomplicated, comfortable foods like spaghetti and vegetable soup, bagels and homemade bread, sandwiches and a classic favorite around here – green beans. It is a welcome relief to be back in the kitchen and cooking healthy food for only 3 (and a half) people.
Our Christmas presents were small but lovely reminders of thoughtful love. Mine to Jonathan included things that contributed to his manliness and comfort. Some things he’s mentioned wanting and others he didn’t even know he wanted. A chrome safety razor shaving set, a pipe and good tobacco, a handsome watch, and intriguing reading material. His to me were special tokens of an effort which I know is difficult for him but at which he succeeded because he knows it’s important to me. A black and white diamond heart necklace, a book of love poems, a fantastically retro kitchen timer, two beautiful sweaters, a scarf set, and a prenatal message. Aiden’s toys reflected his current interests and will help to develop his growing imagination. Who knew Weebles would bring so many hours of creative play! And our gifts to family and friends were large mugs filled with homemade peppermint cocoa mix – made with many hours and much painstaking testing by Aiden and myself. And also, for the kids in our lives, homemade play dough sets with cookie cutters. Aiden proudly proclaimed to everyone who received them, “I made it with Mama!” giving me the best gift of all – knowing my son is learning the value of giving from the heart with work from the hands.
If all of these things don’t make up for the stresses of the holidays, than our focus is in the wrong place. We have to remember that it’s not a cushy bank account that we will cherish at the end of our lives but rather the joy of those we spent our time and money on. Things are replaceable. People, moments, feelings are not. How we chose to remember these times largely colors how we experience them. I chose to remember well.
The last several days have been quite the cocktail of difficulties, stresses, joys, sorrows, and everything in between. They contained such momentous things as discovering that we are having our second little boy, monotonous things as spending 17 hours in the car for a 4 day weekend, magical things as Christmas morning (a week early with family) through the eyes of our son, mournful things as the loss of my grandmother, maddening things as dealing with a toddler who ever-increasingly loves to throw fits, melancholy things as watching our little man have to fight off ear and bronchial infections at the same time, and mind-numbing things as self-doubt about parenting skills, family, success, and life in general. Oh, and did I mention I’m pregnant? I am so physically and emotionally drained as of late that I have been putting off writing in the hopes that circumstances would improve and I’d be more inclined to write something positive and fulfilling. But the truth of the matter is, it is not our circumstances that enable us to be positive people or obtain fulfillment. They are merely the scenery along the path we take to get there. Happiness is a choice we all must make daily, whether our circumstances aid us in the endeavor or not. I say this as much to myself as to anyone else who may be reading and need to hear it. I assure you, I have spent more time crying in the last few days than I have spent laughing and I have not even made much of an effort to the contrary. But it is this acknowledgement, this reminder, that puts my eyes back in focus, and helps me to remember that the tears are prism lenses which, when looked through, can make the world either distorted and ugly or vibrant and beautiful depending on our perspective.
Rather than feeling only the loss of my grandmother and the aching void my grandfather must feel after 60+ years together, I MUST remember the beauty of her life and the peace that is attained through her passing and the end of her pain. Rather than getting bogged down in every fit Aiden throws and sometimes behaving just as badly, I MUST remember that my son is TWO and this is normal and I am teaching him by my reactions how to handle frustration and anger. Rather than worrying incessantly about my little boy’s health, I MUST take advantage of a day at home with him that contains no prior agenda and just play away the pain. Rather than seeing the news about our new baby being a boy as a disappointment because, most likely, I will never have a daughter, I MUST remember all the glorious ways that I adore my son and how amazing it will be to experience that again. If I don’t opt for these brighter perspectives, I will wallow in self-pity and pain and fail to see the radiance of life. Tomorrow, I will wake up, I will adjust my focus through my teardrop prisms, see the wild array of colors all around me, and actively decide to be happy. Goodnight.
I’m just going to be honest… it’s been a rough day. Feeling sick all day, worrying about the baby’s wellness, stressing at work, hosting a baby shower while feeling rather un-plussed about babies at the moment, and demonstrating a patience level with my son that would give the worst of moms a run for their money. It is sometimes hard to sit down and write what you hope is positive inspiration for others when what you really want is for someone to spontaneously appear and inspire you. As I was expressing these thoughts to Jonathan and telling him that I didn’t know if I had it in me to write tonight, he suggested I post a poem that I loved. He hoped it might benefit me as much as my readers and at least keep up my regular posting schedule. I highly doubt this is what he had in mind but it has been running through my head for the past couple of days and, despite all my better judgements and taste in music, I love this song and its message of tolerance and forgiveness:
“…I’ll start walking your way You start walking mine We’ll meet in the middle ‘Neath that old Georgia pine We’ll gain a lot of ground If we both give a little Cause there ain’t no road too long When we meet in the middle…”
So often, particularly when we have days like I had today, we expect people to just come to us and cater to our needs, forgetting that there are two people involved in any relationship. And we may be struggling, but they may be too. We all have hidden cares and burdens that we carry around and it is not fair to expect the other person to come all way. But if we both make an effort to meet each other where we are, it is so much easier to get there.
If you hate this song and now have it stuck in your head for days, I do apologize. If it is one of your guilty pleasures, as it is mine, then enjoy and try to remember as you belt it out in the shower tomorrow that as much as we want someone to meet us where we are, that someone most likely wants the same thing. So lets all just . . . meeee-eeeet in the middle!
Music is a powerful and potent mender of the soul and, in some ways, the body. It is transforming and uplifting and allows us to forget, in the moment we experience it, the stresses and aches of life that weigh us down. I attended a concert last night called “Music that Mends” and have found its title to be abundantly true lately. It was meant to be a benefit show for someone who is struggling and, although the crowd was small, the intimacy of those who did gather made the music that much more of a salve. I certainly do not have the struggles of the man for whom the concert was played, but my small stresses of money and home repairs, pregnancy and parenting, etc. paled as I sat and just listened. And watched the faces of those who were simultaneously touched by the same mood. It was, briefly, a soundtrack to life. Children giggling in the background, water flowing in the courtyard, people speaking softly, doors opening and closing. Even the birds joined in periodically. And it was lovely.
All of our weekend plans involved music and every night I had to convince myself, due to ever-increasing pregnancy nausea, to leave the house and follow through with them. Yet each night, in the presence of music and friendship, I was able to forget, temporarily, how sick I felt. Even the mediocre cover band at the burger joint where we met friends Friday night was enough to inspire Aiden and all of the other kids to dance and sing. Which, in turn, inspired us to smile and have the freedom to engage in good conversation and good food. As we left, Aiden said, “I like those guitar guys!” Likewise, the incredible food, fellowship, and fingerpickin’ of Saturday night’s cookout/jam session was just what the doctor ordered. So, my prescription for alleviating stress and its various side effects: get together with friends, add a little food, and TURN UP THE MUSIC. You’ll be grateful you did.
I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?
When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.