Head Towards The Light…

I love this time of year. I mean, LOVE.

I love the colors, the lights, the music, the bustle. I love the party invitations, the way people are generous with their money towards the needy, and how strangers lock eyes and smile. I love how kindness crackles in the air. How mornings feel like waking to a surprise party for Frosty. I love how people care, again. I love the things I learn about my children over steaming mugs of hot cocoa. I love that hope is suspended under all of us, like the kindest net under the tightrope of our daily lives. I love the joy, and laughter, the indulgent nature of holiday food. I love the rest that comes while cuddling under a blanket on the couch across from twinkling lights, while a Christmas movie plays in the background. I love it. So. Much.

I love Christmas morning, or at least the ideals I hold about Christmas morning. I love the Hallmark commercial that plays in my head when I envision my children unwrapping their gifts. It’s one of the best things ever. I always think it will be perfect. And it never is. It’s a family holiday, so, yep, there’s always something. But I try, so hard. And my children are happy, so that’s good enough for me. So good, in fact, that I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. I am still a little girl, staying in one of the guest rooms of my grandparents large home. Still staring out the window at the electric staccato rainbow of colored lights around each arched window, illuminating the otherwise blue white of the snow. I am still clenching my stomach around the butterflies of hope.

There’s one thing that happens every year, that rivals Christmas morning. On December 23rd, we load up our children, and head out into the night. Our bellies satisfied from a hearty dinner, we stop at an espresso stand, where we come modern a-wasseling, and acquire two lattes and five hot chocolates. Then we’re off! We drive all around town, searching out the houses with the highest energy bills. We sing Christmas carols loudly and off-key; Comfortable in a way that you can only be with your closest of friends and immediate family. We are louder than should be legal in such a small space. We tell stories of Christmases past, and make memories that will keep us through the rest of the current winter. We are a boisterous crew. Giddy, and joy filled, we are a tangle of words and motion.

My children oooh and ahhh, and gasp with delight. They shout and point, and press their little warm hands to cold windows, straining to get just that much closer to the displays of lights. They are mesmerized. And if I’m honest, so am I.

We all have different things that we most enjoy. For some of us, it’s all about the lights. For some it’s the figures in the yards. For some it’s the trees, glowing impossibly bright. One of my daughters counts the angels, while her sister counts the stars. For my five year old it’s all about Santa’s and baby Jesus’, in all forms. It is not lost on me, the way our tradition emulates life. The ways that December 23 is a metaphor for so much more than just one simple night.

There is so much darkness, isn’t there? So much bleakness outside of our doors. There is anger and hatred, injustice, and mind numbing selfishness at every turn. There is cruelty, and suffering, and things that look impossible to set to rights. We have all lost things that cannot be found, all walked around smiling, hiding our emotional skinned knees behind our best slacks. We have all heard people whispering behind our back, all been called names that are not true, and are shame filled and just sad. We have all grieved, have all gone without. We have watched people we love hurt themselves, and us in the process, sometimes again and again.

Sometimes this life feels overwhelmingly hard. Sometimes I am a coward, wanting to stay in my own house, so cozy and warm. Some days it takes every bit of my courage to leave my front door. To risk the maybes of a strife filled earth, to bring my babies out into this place of shadows and a world that groans as it turns.

But someday is coming. And someday is soon. Before I am ready, my heart will leave through that same door. In five pieces, it will go out, as they make their own way. My children are growing, and cannot stay. They are becoming More, with every moment that passes. It is up to me, to teach them, and also, to help them practice.

And so we go out, into the darkest of nights. We sing in unison to prevent silence. We don’t stay comfortable. We don’t dwell on the darkness. We go past our own borders, making strangers into neighbors, praising others handiwork. Our path illuminated by the occasional streetlamp, we keep going, encouraged.

                                                                                          Together, as we look for the light.

The List

Today, all across our country, people will pause in their pursuit of More, and give thanks for what they Have. It’s beautiful, this rare bird of gratitude. It is what keeps us going through the holidays, when we are surrounded by our favorite people, and those with whom we feel less than fortunate to share matching strands of DNA. Gratitude is the sun that warms our hearts as we drive on through the sloggy gray of winter’s bitter winds, surrounded on both sides by dirty snow berms. Those aren’t here yet, but they’re coming. And gratitude is one of the only insurance policies against them.

Year after year, I find that taking one whole day to give thanks, is the antidote I need. It saves me from the poison of always wanting more, frees me from online shopping for another gilded cage.

In our family, we take this day seriously. We spend hours coming up with our individual lists. We discuss at length the things we are most grateful for. We are almost militant in our mindfulness, marching towards the promised land of softened hearts and seeing eyes. My husband and I act as Sherpas, guiding our children away from the perilous cliffs of insatiable wants, over the crags of covetousness, and back towards the safety of  Enough. This is where the wildflowers bloom. This is where the magic happens. And it does happen, every time.

So, before today’s canvas is covered even a bit by wrangling my tiny humans, or prepping once a year dishes, or decorating the table we will all sit around as we bow our heads in humility, I will leave part of my list here. Just the top five, because there is so much more, and if I attempt to list them all here, I will sound so ridiculous that none of my friends who read this will ever let me vent to them again. Which, actually, might not be the worst thing.

(Part of) What I am most thankful for, in mostly random order:

  1. My People. I swear to you that I am surrounded by the best people this world has to offer. People who do, and love, who live lives of beauty and sacrifice, who have the courage to keep their hands outstretched as they give. The people I know risk daily in order to create a place worth fighting for. They shelter the broken, feed the poor, create art that makes my soul sigh in agreement, and know the power of keeping their word. They dream and create, and make this world a better place, but they aren’t too proud to get out the dustpan and help sweep the dross away. (Why do I always end up rhyming? I don’t mean to, I promise. Well, onward, anyway.)
  2. My Husband. I have a man that actually loves me. The real me, in all of its ugly, in all of its glory. My husband works hard, is a great provider, and trusts me. He loves me equally with and without makeup, whether I go to the gym, or my hips wear the telltale signs of too many donuts. He loves me. Me! And still rushes to show me, in the most endearing little boy/best friend way, the songs that he writes, and gets nervous as he positions his guitar and begins to play them. Be still, my heart. Be still.
  3. My Children. My Fabulous Five. The endgame to my selfishness, and the symphonic finale to my pride. I don’t know how on earth I was entrusted with these perfect little humans. But somehow, through some cosmic grace loophole, they are mine. My boy, so quickly becoming a young man. He, who broke the mold on my too small Grinch-like heart, making room for him, and the sisters who came afterward. My four girls. My compass of little women, my north, south, east, and west, of charm. They fill my life with goodness, and balance all the black in my wardrobe with vibrant pink and purple everything. These five people, are everything worth knowing about me. They hold all of my hopes, all of my tryings, and my very best dreams. They are the people I most believe in. I am humbled by being chosen to raise them.
  4. My family. Or families, I mean, as I have the one I was born into, and the ones I have been welcomed into along the way. I have no shortage of sisters, of brothers, of fathers, and mothers. My children have more aunts and uncles than they can keep count. With one phone call, I can conjure the past. With one visit, I can have peace about the future. It is a gift, this wide web of people who believe in me, who see me, and don’t look away. People who trust me with their family recipes, and who let me be a part of their history.
  5. My Friends. The net under all of my tight wires. The holders of my secrets, and trembling hands. The ones who suit up in armor, and fight for me daily. They are veterans of a foreign war, a land they didn’t have to defend, and yet, they did. My friends are what allow my lungs to remain open, so that I can breathe again. They are the girls nights, and game nights, the painting, the wine, they are the shopping trips whether I need something, or just to fill a void. They are the adult slumber party that lets me giggle through the night. My friends are my counselors, my confidantes, and the tethers that keeps me from drifting too far to the left or  to the right.

It’s funny, you know. As I was writing that, that none of the things that I spend so much time buying and striving for, came out first. No material possessions even made the list. And maybe that’s what I needed to remember today. Maybe that’s what we all need to remember. That it is people who most matter. People, and their hearts.

Wherever you are today, and with whomever you go, I hope you see how blessed you are. I hope you are filled to the brim with gratitude. That you feel hope, the cousin of thankfulness, fill your soul, even fuller than you fill your plate.  And I hope you know, that I am so, so very thankful for you. Yes, you.

 

Dear Soldier

I am not vain enough to believe that I can comprehend what you are going through, to think that I understand what you have faced. But I am grateful. It is not beyond me to know that while I am sitting comfortably in the safety of my living room, you are facing danger. While my children’s sweet voices pour through the house, rising and falling with their game of make believe, you are listening to a very different soundtrack, with much higher stakes.

I cannot imagine all the ways that your life requires you to show discipline. All of the things that you have had to refrain from in order protect our great nation. I cannot fathom how much time and work you have put into disciplining your body, your emotions, and your mind, in order to stay strong enough to complete the tasks you have been assigned, and to go on afterwards. Your dedication humbles me.

I do not know how many friends you have lost, or what all has been taken from you, in your single-minded pursuit to protect our freedom. I don’t know how many tears you have cried, or the ways that you have been hurt, outside and inside. I don’t know the loneliness that comes with being sent to new locations, with new people, and new regulations, at any given moment. I don’t know the feeling of walking on foreign lands in blistering boots, under a too-hot sun, with eyes narrowing at your presence. Nor how it feels to have to distinguish between “civilian” and “combative” at every turn. I can only imagine.

I, who have a hard time letting go of everything, cannot understand how it feels to have the hardest, darkest, days of your life replay over and over in your mind, even once your feet are back on the safety of American soil. It is too small, and too trite, but I just want you to know that I am so sorry for what you have seen. So sorry for what you have had to learn, and for what you can never un-know.

I don’t know why you decided to become a soldier. I don’t know if you have always been brave, or if you acquired that character trait later. I don’t know if you burned with a love for this country from a young age, or if the military was your means of getting an education. I don’t know if you have people who hold signs for you when you come home, or if you press on, alone, through the throngs of people waiting for someone. But I hope you are safe.

I hope you are well. I hope that you are healthy, and safe from harm. I hope that you see yourself as noble, and heroic, and as important as you are. While I cannot imagine having to do the things that you have done, I cannot imagine a world where you don’t exist. Your courage and bravery have forever changed the face of this earth. Whether young or old, struggling or thriving, you matter, to all of us. Maybe more than you know.

Maybe we forgot to tell you. Maybe we looked at you, without really seeing. I’m sorry for that, I really am. Maybe your war was disputed, and you were blamed for following orders. Or maybe your own war is being fought from within. Either way, you are brave, and worth fighting for. And also, worth thanking.

Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for risking your life. Thank you for being willing to give your all. Thank you for not giving up, even when you want to shake with fear. Thank you for doing the hardest things, for protecting my children from unimaginable horrors. Thank you for your trainings, and your sleepless nights, your struggling through the muck of terror, and hunger pangs, and very real threats. Thank you for bringing honor to our country, and making your uniform a noble thing.

Thank you for what you do, and what you have done. For the stories you tell, and for the things you spare us from. I hope that you know, that you aren’t fighting alone. That you have our support, and that there are people who appreciate what you’ve done. That even though we aren’t all able to do what you do, that we are keeping the home-fires burning for you, in our own way, to give you a country worth fighting for. That we are raising our children to be grateful for you, to show kindness, and honor, and to live lives they are proud of. That we are disciplining ourselves with gratitude, being gentler, and more willing to listen, because of you. That we are working hard to give you a place worth coming home to.

And I hope you do, come home, I mean. And I hope that it feels that way for you. That you are buoyed by the support we feel towards you. That you are able to look around, and be proud, and that you know we are so proud of you, too.

To all American soldiers, past, present, and future, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Who I’m Voting For

I am not a political person. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I, who have hard and fast opinions on everything from how to properly raise children to how to arrange the types of sweetener in the little plastic containers on restaurant tables. I consider it one of the greatest pieces of evidence that we in America are blessed beyond measure that we have the time and ability to know exactly how we like things, and how we don’t. On any given day, you can order a steak in a hundred different ways, and get it.

Politics are not like that. People are not like that. I have yet to be served all the options I checked on my ballot/ political menu. And many of the servers, I find, have not earned their abundance of tips. But we go on paying anyway, and often find ourselves eating the dessert that they recommended, even if it gives us a stomach ache.

I have, that I can recall, never posted anything political on Facebook. At least, nothing leaning to the left or to the right, and certainly nothing that I think of as tearing down this beautiful country that we live in. I love America, selfishly, like a spoiled teenager who has been given much, but has finally started to settle into the appreciation that comes with maturity. I am not blind to its failings, and while injustice breaks my heart, I find that there is so much hope here that the cracks are able to heal themselves, or at least form scars. There are bad people, evil people, but you guys, there are so many good people, so many good things.

America is full of beauty and diversity, courage, strength, and heroism. We are a nation of immigrants, a tapestry woven together with glimmering threads of hope from far away lands. We are a colorful people, a rainbow of hope filled faces. We are dreamers and doers, we are laborers and artists. We are a people of hope. A country whose courage has not been extinguished. We, individually, go about things in very different ways, but we are all hoping to leave this place better than we found it. All striving to make it a place of Yes for our children, a land fertile with promise for our children’s children.

It’s not that I don’t have strong feelings. It’s not that I don’t want to influence the world in one way or another. It’s that every time I get tempted to post something that puts down one candidate, or exposes their awfulness, I remember that they are just one person. Just one, and I know hundreds of people who believe in them. Or who are hanging their hat on that persons ability to change the country just a little bit more in a way that makes them feel safe. Or that makes room for their family.

I voted. I did. And I didn’t write in Pat Benatar, either. Even though, love really is a battlefield. Sometimes.

I colored that little oval in like it was the first day of kindergarten and I was trying to impress my new teacher, so carefully. It felt dangerous. It felt momentous. It felt like writing a check to 100 years of women suffragists, from my own bank account. But it didn’t feel like enough. Because it isn’t.

Tonight they will announce who our next President will be, and it won’t be someone that I absolutely believe in. It won’t be someone who shares my vision for America, not really. But, I won’t lose hope. I won’t give up. I won’t quit believing in my country. I am not looking at our next leader to fix what is broken in our great nation, because they can’t. Only we can.

We can. I know it. We can be kind. We can ask first, and lead with questions that enable discussion, instead of judgements. We can define men and women by “the content of their character, instead of the color of their skin.” We can be nice to each other. We can disagree, and still listen. We can hold up the hurting, and help the poor. We can mother the motherless, and father the fatherless. We can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. We can build up the broken, and we can walk with the lost. We can do it, you guys, because it matters.

Tonight someone will give a victory speech, and someone will concede. But we can all overcome. We can all be better. We can all try harder.

Tomorrow will feel different, for all of us. January will see moving trucks at the White House, again. But we can still come together. We can still hug tighter and hold longer. We can sing sweeter, and soften the sharp edges of our tones when we speak to each other. And we can look up, past the political signs, and see into the eyes of the people holding them.

People, all people, matter. Regardless of who wins tonight, I hope we don’t lose sight of that.

Stumble

The truth is

that I am not

a sage

I am a common traveler

looking

to find my way

 

I did not mean

to have

good intentions

to live a life

of a million

decisions

 

the truth

is that I

did not navigate

that I stumbled

upon the promised land

accidentally

 

I am just as lost

as you

I am the changing seasons

a sky once filled

with clouds

now blue

 

I am the leaves

vibrant, red and gold

one minute

then brown, and withered

falling, crepe-like hands

of the old

 

I too have one foot

in the grave

It’s just that I

am not complaining

I am trying my best

to be brave.

 

But, Even More…

My Dear Children,

Just in case you ever find yourself wondering how deeply, how truly, you really are loved, let me be the first to tell you. I love you with every fiber of my being. And yes, that is a lot of material. I love you with all of the breath that has ever been and ever will be in my lungs. I love you with every ba-bump-ba-bump beating of my hope-filled heart. I love you taller than all of the world’s mountains stacked on top of each other from end to end. I love you as long as every piece of spaghetti could stretch from here to the moon, tie themselves around it in a bow, and come back again.

I love your hearts. I love your minds. I love the questions that you use to fill up every bit of silence. I love your tight hugs, and your slobbery kisses on my possibly Aleut cheek. I love your hair in the mornings, and how you love to hear me sing in the evenings. How singing to you feels a lot like all of motherhood summed up together; starting something that I don’t know if I’ll be good at, trying to seem calm as I desperately try to do my best, the going on when my voice cracks, honoring your jukeboxes of requests, falling in love even more with your sweet little faces, and watching over you for as long as it takes for you to feel safe, and finally let yourself relax.

I love all of our jokes, and the ways that we double over with laughter. I love how you not only make me better, but you make me braver. I love watching your personality emerge as you are introduced to new situations. I love that I get to know you, and for that alone I am deeply grateful.

I love your late night giggles, when you are supposed to be sleeping. I love catching you being sweet to each other, when you don’t know I’m looking. I love watching you hold hands with each other in public, how you embrace life together. I love that having a big family makes life a kind of constant playdate, but a good one, not the ones I hate. I love how it feels to walk into every situation un-alone, with the strength of our numbers, keeping us afloat. How I am myself, but also your mother, how we are I’s but also a We, something bigger and better than just ourselves.

I love having so many things to live for, am deeply grateful for so many reasons to get out of bed each morning. I know that you are worth it, all of it, and so does your father. Even as we sometimes fumble in our learning to love each other, I hope you know that you are so much of why we keep trying to go on. And also, that we do truly love each other.

I love watching you use your strengths. I love that you are adventurers, bursting with excitement to explore new things. I love that you are nurturing, and how you try to teach each other the things that you are learning. I love the ways that you make this world better, how each lap around the sun, feels kinder.

I love that you challenge me, that you raise the bar on who I can be. I love your ideas and your insights. I love that you see things with an aerial view, from somewhere above what we all thought was truth. I love the way you smile when you are proud of something you have done. Love watching you push your physical boundaries to do things you didn’t know could be done.

I love how you rub your eyes when you are sleepy. How you look huddled in pools of blankets. How you ask for a drink of my coffee each day, and how you pretend to like it, even though I see you grimace at its taste. I love how you MomMomMomMomMomMom me, because it means that you still need me. I love that you are learning that you can do the hard things, that you have the ethics and morals to do the right things.

I love how you assume the best about people. That your innocence is a reminder of things I had long ago forgotten, but needed desperately to remember. I love how it feels to have your little arms around me. How you curl up in my lap, once again near my heartbeat.

I love your loud laughter, and how every night our upstairs sounds like a slumber party. How your giggles ricochet around our house like a thunderstorm of pink bubbles, amazingly loud, and bursting against silent, white walls.

I love that you are, as yet, unencumbered by the opinions and doctrines of others. I love that you are honest, and have a deep sense of what is true. I love that you look for the good in others. That you weigh your actions with their immediate consequences, especially on the hearts that love you.

I love watching you make things right with each other; getting to guide you through hurts and back to healthy interactions. I love watching the hard shells that try to wrap around your hearts when you are offended, be tapped by tiny hammers, until they crack, and you are ready to forgive and be yourself again. I love watching you hug, and set broken things right, then go play together, bonded more strongly for having gone through whatever happened, together . It humbles me, and helps me know that you will be okay, long after my wrinkled body has left this earth.

I love you. The real you. The ins and outs, and ups and downs, you. The you you’re proud of, and the you that you hide. The parts that ring with courage, and the parts that run scared. I love you when you are wrong, and I love you when you’re right. I love you in sunshine, and through the darkness of night. I have loved you young, I will love you old. Whether you are disobedient, or do what you’re told. I will love you high, I will love you low. Through winter’s grey, and past summer’s glow. I love you. I will love you. More than you know.

Bad Mom…

The truth is, I am not the mother that I hoped to be. I am not even the mother that I determine each day to be.

Every morning, my darkened house is broken into by the light of the sun, shining, even through the distance between us. Its golden fingers sneak through the gaps in curtains, its glowing feet, move impatiently, just outside of each creaking doorframe. Closer and closer it comes, illuminating everything in its path, a lamp being shone across a model train village, until finally, it crescendos. Like silent cymbals, the dawn finishes its breaking, the most polite of burglars, stealing only the shadows that remained.

It is then, sitting in the audience of that silent symphony, that I dare to dream. In the quiet presence of fleeting darkness and all-encompassing light, I plan my day.

I tell myself that today, I will be kinder. Today I will be fun and funny, all day, not just in bursts. I won’t get angry over spilled milk and loud objections to chores. I will not feel undone by the constant stream of discarded toys on the staircase, will not grit my teeth at the side-winding parade of possible paralytic danger that they pose. I will Pinterest and play, cook flawlessly, and without silent complaints. I will clean, like I am having an out of body experience. I will clean, and enjoy it. I will be the love child of Monica Gellar and Cinderella, singing and lovely, as I work my mannish hands to the bone.

I tell myself this, or at least picture it, while I sit on the couch, coffee in hand. My family still upstairs, peacefully sleeping.

And then they wake up, and so do I.

Would you like to know a secret? Not every day, but most, I feel as if my best is not good enough. I try, dear goodness, I try. But often, I feel as if I have failed to hit the mark on some unseen Mommy Measuring Cup. I pour my tired body into bed, exhausted, hoping that what I have accomplished will still be Enough.

But will it?

Didn’t my own mother do her best? Didn’t she try to carve out a beautiful life for us, with the only spoon she had been handed? Didn’t she scrape and save, sew and mend? Wasn’t there always more reasons for her to be stressed than I have, always more month left at the end of her money?

Then didn’t I forget her hard work, dismissing it as not good enough, before going off to college, to make my own life? I did, and I know I did.

Sometime between second grade and fourth, a chasm started to crack between us, opening wider and wider each year. Then blowing irrevocably open, a not so grand canyon between us, worsened by the dynamite of my rebellion.

Parts of me that were meant to remain soft, were hardened. My own hurts rang in my self-righteous ears, and what could have been worked out, became impossible. Where my heart had been tender, bitterness and crags of resentment now filled the landscape, making any effort on her part perilous.  I held my nose so high in the air that it is amazing that I never caught any birds with it.

I deserved better, I would do better, I would be better.

Now, I am five kids in. Sure, we have more, seemingly, than I did growing up. But I didn’t just want more, did I? I wanted, well, I guess I wanted perfection.

I look around, (isn’t comparison a killer?) and see so many mothers who seem to just have this. They are the Mommy versions of Usain Bolt, sprinting past me. Their perfectly coifed children quoting Tolstoy in the mall, while my three year old tries to scratch the skin from my face because I wouldn’t buy her a millionth stuffed animal. Women who never eat carbs, and who use all the time that this must save them, to do things that amaze everyone.

I don’t want to be them. Well, not really. I want this life, with this man, with my own children. Face scraping and all, my own free dermabrasion. They are the very best things that have ever happened to me. And even if I feel at times like I am not everything I should be, or could be, I am still so grateful to be their Mommy. I’ll keep trying, and fighting for them, and cleaning the toilets I detest. Someday, when they have children, I hope they will see me with perspective. And I hope that even before then, they’ll know that I did my best.

While I may never be the mother, or person, that I dreamt as a young girl that I would be, I hope to always be the mom that my children really need.