Parenting, Uncategorized

Looking for Light

There are so many little things that are on my mind, things that December has dredged up. I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us. We each release an essence, one that lingers with people we meet and share this life with, which can evoke memories and feelings and jolt us backwards and forwards remembering, hoping, and learning. It can light a fire in us, energize us, deplete us, show us our best selves, or leave us wanting more. It can spotlight our loneliness, too, and remind us how much we need people we can relate to, who see us, and who care. 

I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us.

Like so many I was deeply struck by the loss of Twitch, The Ellen Show’s DJ and dancer, and the tribute Executive Producer Andy Lassner wrote has stayed with me. I only watched the show a dozen or so times, but this lovely man sparkled as he moved his body artfully and effortlessly down the aisle all the while flashing that bright smile. You were always left wanting more of this goodness and light. If he always had it, surely we could muster this magic too? We need each other’s light and joy, especially during those times when we can’t find our own. We need dancers, singers, painters and writers, we need those willing to reveal themselves and show us our own. We need to harness the brightness and fill up on this fuel and lighten all our loads. Here are Andy’s words:

“So many people on social media are posting pictures of themselves with Twitch, talking about their close friendships with him, talking about the texts they exchanged with him just last week. Talking about the conversation they once had with him. The thing is – it’s all true. It’s all real. Those who knew him are not trying to make this tragedy about themselves, they are just trying to convey to you who Twitch was. He made everything about you. He made you feel like the most important person in the world. And he did this for everybody. Not just the people he needed or that were “important”. He did it for everybody. It doesn’t sound real. But it is. All of it. He was everyone’s friend. He really did care for every single person who worked at the show and everyone in his life. And the thing is if you met him just once – you felt that feeling. That light. That’s why I think you and I are hurting. Because we all counted on him. He was our flame. Our joy. Our dancer. There was a heavy burden that none of us realized he was carrying. He must have been so tired. But we didn’t know because he never wanted it to be about him. Ever. So now we can either spend all of our time wondering why and how and never being satisfied with the answers we imagine. Or we can focus on being grateful for the gift he gave us by allowing us to take light from his flame. The thing is that light still burns in us. All of us. Let’s try and share that light with the people we love. It’s really all we can do. And that’s enough. It’s more than enough.”

This last week brought Christmas and with it, like it does every year, expectations and effort, excitement, exhaustion, and emotion. Family came together and then broke off into smaller bits, two leaving on a ski trip and two staying behind, my older son Ben and I the ones staying put. He has work to return to and I particularly enjoy the art of homebodying in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, when that sleepy sweet Christmas dust lingers and the tree seems lighter, relieved to reveal the draped skirt underneath it again, and with everything done, it’s more than okay to just go take a nap. I also had ambitious plans for Ben and me–tennis, bowling, a walk into downtown Decatur for drinks and dinner–but the reality is there’s never enough time nor is a 20-something going to dedicate a huge chunk of it to spend with his mom. I try to remember my own self in my 20s and friends, not mom, were naturally top of the list where they should be. I am learning if you quit trying so hard, the moments come, and if you can just stop and notice, you’re likely in one. 

It’s been a good visit with Ben. It left me remembering him, his sweet spirit and our dynamic that I notice best when it’s just us. In my ongoing cleanup attempts, I had set aside some boxes I’d pulled from under his bed, all the stuff you keep from school and sports. He went to work on what turned out to be an interesting exploration of memories, culling the collection down to two boxes, and left a pile to toss. In my closet I found a big box of my mom’s sewing things–colorful spools of thread, her signature strawberry pin cushion, seam rippers and measuring tapes. There was her old coin purse too and inside were the sweetest tags she’d stitched into the many handmade things she sewed. How I miss her infectious enthusiasm, spontaneity, and creativity. Ben got a kick out of all these things, and on this particular visit back home, was fascinated to learn that his paternal great grandmother, too, was a seamstress. Is it nature instead of nurture showing her strengths here? 

It was unscripted time, the best kind where you get things done, are on separate floors and don’t need to talk, but return to one another filled up and ready to share. We talked about his sewing projects, items he’s selling and others he’s planning to create. We examined the bag he made me for Christmas which was just as I’d hoped, warm grey upcycled leather, a central zipper, greco tag inside, and a generous pouch for my wallet and cellphone and keys and maybe a lipstick. It looked like a croissant. I love croissant and I love the bag, especially since it’s lovingly handmade by Ben. We talked about New York and my plans to visit in February when a group of ladies I’ve met online are gathering.

Later that afternoon he went out with a friend, and we decided after he got back, we would go bowling, but he called the bowling alley and they had a long wait and another one wasn’t open, so we were disappointed. I was hoping he’d come home, and we’d have dinner together, one of those great moments I’d tried to orchestrate, but the reality was he was in Duluth with friends and having a ball, so I said, “Just be safe and I’ll see you later.” I lit a fire and lit a candle, and I laid down on the couch and went in and out of sleep, listening to a podcast, giving myself permission to have my own wonderful time. 

While he was gone, I boiled some more water (we’d been on a boil water advisory in our county) and then went into his room to find a tangled mess of Christmas gift cards and comforters and other post-holiday loot you’d expect. I cleared the bed and made it up, filled a new water bottle with boiled water, and got the room to a reasonable state where if you got in late you wouldn’t have this mess on your hands. I also put a space heater in there because he’d said he was cold the night before. Downstairs, the cats were still sleeping, and I looked up at the tree again, something I’ve done multiple times over the course of this month. It’s been a reliable source of beauty and peace since we got it late November, and only now is it starting to drop a few needles. It’s just lovely. Still.

Ben returned and we were up another few hours talking and getting him packed up. We each set our alarm for 5am and then went to sleep. Barely four hours later but right on schedule there was the alarm, and I hit snooze for those delicious extra few minutes I always steal. I could hear Ben’s go off too (he’s right across the hall from my door), and moments later he was in my room standing at the foot of my bed marveling at the kitties who were sprawled out and sleeping. I slid over and opened the covers and he laid down with me. We cuddled together in the warmth trying to stay really still so the cats wouldn’t move. Ben had on the robe I’d bought for Christmas, a beautiful soft plaid one I picked up at the last minute. I presented it as a gift Santa left for whichever boy in the house wanted it, and Ben quickly claimed it. We talked in the dark for a little longer and then the alarm sounded again, and it was time. 

While he packed up his last few items, I went downstairs to toast the biscuits I’d made on Christmas, buttering them and tucking a little honey baked ham in each. I made coffee too. Ben said he’s been drinking Eight O’Clock coffee at home, but he really liked the Pete’s we’ve been having each morning, so I made us a pot of Pete’s, filled some to go mugs, filled our water bottles, and we set out for the airport in the pitch-black dark. I left the tree lights on so we could look at it when we drove past. Ben wanted to drive but he also wanted to eat his biscuits, so we agreed I would. Once at Hartsfield (what we native Atlantans call the airport) I moved into the far-right departures lane, but with such heavy traffic, we had to stop just shy of the canopy. I got out with Ben, gave him a big hug, and he headed inside. 

I made my way back home, a tiny, tired motorist under the enormous dark sky, and kept driving toward the sunrise, east on I-20, then exiting and getting on College Avenue continuing east to Church Street past Scottdale and into a little subdivision where the sun peaked out. I watched it for a few minutes, then turned back around toward home to the still sparkling tree and quiet. I laid down on the couch with the cats and drifted in and out of sleep.

In between little bits of sleep I opened up Delta’s flight tracker to find Ben. You really sleep well when you know where they are, your heart walking outside of you. My younger son, Evan, is with Joe–they’re probably going to start the day soon on the slopes–and Ben has just landed, so everyone’s accounted for. I’m still gonna doze ‘cause I’ve gotten up at 5am the last two mornings, one morning to send off the skiers, and this morning to send off Ben. 

The couch wasn’t comfortable, and I needed a real bed. Ben’s room is the sunniest of all and the only one with an extra heat source in it now, so I slid into his bed and the cats followed me. The sun was so bright, it was hard to sleep, but I managed to rest before getting a shower. Even though you have to boil the water to drink it, you can shower in it, but just need to keep your mouth shut. Life lessons from boil water advisories: just keep your mouth shut. 

Next, I was off to see my former Slovakian tenants who’d invited me for coffee and cookies, Their house is like a bright shiny IKEA catalogue, all their gifts are wrapped with fabric, their floors are bleached, cookies aren’t too sweet but lovingly made from scratch, and the coffee is piping hot. The kids are darling, and I love the warmth in their parents’ bright eyes. Their energy is peaceful and kind, and I brought them some of my homemade granola and eggnog. 

The fumes from Christmas are only slightly still in the air, but the fatigue has set in from going going going, and I’m glad I’ve let myself be still. The house is mine for three more days, and I’m going to bask in the silence. I doubt a TV will go on and there’s no one to talk to, no one to feed, just the silence, me, and the tree. 

Inspiration, Taste the Season, Uncategorized

Do You Hear What I Hear ?

Here we are again at the end of another year and it’s Christmastime. Let’s set aside the shopping, baking, and sparkling baubles for a moment and ponder a familiar seasonal conundrum. Why didn’t we finish all the things we set out to do or at least make an appreciable dent in moving along that elusive path we’re on? By December, the year-long cacophony of what ifs and why nots has achieved a tormenting hold. If you strip away the pageantry of Christmas, we’re still just us trying to carve out and extract the best from this life we’ve been given, and it’s simply the end of another year. What was I expecting? I didn’t do much differently this year, though I AM still alive (no small feat). Was I honestly counting on the year to press out all those wrinkles, and now that it’s December, am I really going to STILL fixate on them? ‘Tis the season of trying to wrap it all up with a pretty bow, I suppose. 

Darkness and light

I do love this time of year. The air is crisper and the lights are brighter–little twinkly smiles that beam at you from inside windows–and there’s a big ball of hope and love that swells up so full you think it might just burst. For me, this joyful yuletide crescendo continues until sometime around Christmas night, after all has been unwrapped and revealed and then things deflate, leaving behind a gentle return to life as it was, in many ways a welcome relief. Each season, we get this glittery December window in which to dispense this magic over others, but the window is narrow, producing an urgency to harness it and spread it, but hopefully saving some for yourself. Of course, the window is actually as wide as we make it and we’ve got a full 365 days to work with.

My siblings and me Christmas morning in the ’60s.

Christmas isn’t just a calendar day or a season, it’s a billowy set of sails that charts our course for December and beyond. By the twelfth month, before us is a rich end-of-year stew–chock full of different ingredients, some quiet and lovely, sunny or lonely, some full of remembrance and yearning, dreaming or improving. When we’re young, this season takes forever to get here, but when it finally does, it brings weeks of anticipation with which to plan and savor. As adults we set about intentionally mining for that magic that only Christmas can bring. The season moves at rapid speed and that fairy-tale attention once placed on you now lives inside you, yours to harness and give, though at the end of a tough year, you wonder sometimes if it will even appear. When you least expect it, however, you find yourself pulling from way down deep to do something nice for someone, and you keep doing it again and again. THIS is Christmas.

Walking through our city’s botanical garden recently, I felt some of the magic, but it was a diluted strain and not the intimate experience I’d treasured years earlier under this same canopy of twinkly trees. The last time I came here acapella carolers’ drifting wintry notes drew me in, and I moved in closer to sing with them. These sounds brought sweetness out of the dark and filled me with a renewed appreciation for familiar carols I will forever know the words to. On this night I’d wanted the sparkle to grab my hand, and lead me into the season. Instead, I just saw lights, albeit choreographed spectacular ones, which seemed more fact than emotion. As I meandered along to piped-in familiar songs—The Nutcracker Suite, New York, and All I Want for Christmas is You—the music swallowed up any traces of silence I’d hoped to get lost in or those quiet conversations you hear along a path. It was an orchestrated noise you could hear, see, and even taste if you were willing to stretch your budget further. Directional signs led people to lines for s’mores kits and marshmallow roasting stations, light necklaces, and other tempting extras for purchase, but for us our entry ticket was enough. Off the main path was a tiny Christmas village around which an electric train circled, which I found mesmerizing.

A Christmas choo-choo

It must be my brain, noisy in all seasons, that craves the quiet, that prefers the sound of snowfall versus sled blades cutting the ice, an intimate conversation over a pulsing party, acapella singing under the stars to brightly lit choirs. Thankfully I’ve got a detailed loop in my head that can recall past merry moments, but I’ve gotten better at noticing which bits soothe and inspire me. It gets noisy starting in Halloween and ramps up until the new year, but if you work at it, you can extract a version that works for you.

These are a few of my favorite things in no particular order:

Lucie in her element

❄️That first snow falling softly and your dog pressing her paws in it, incredulous, as if it appeared solely for her wonder and enjoyment.

❄️A fresh boxwood wreath on your door

❄️Children peeking from the top of the stairs ready to bundle down the steps and discover their surprises

❄️Ball jars of eggnog chilling in the refrigerator, gifts for delivery later

Biscotti

❄️Caroling with neighbors.

❄️Silent night sung by candlelight at church on Christmas Eve

❄️The sight and smell of cranberry pistachio biscotti cooking 

❄️Newscasters on Christmas eve reporting Santa sightings

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie.

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the experience.

❄️A fresh cut fraser fir stretching out its branches and feeling at home in your living room.

❄️Noticing your tree is drinking water and filling it up every morning. 

❄️Stringing lights on your tree and then running outside to see the pretty view from the street.

Important post for Mr. “Claws”

❄️Stuffing holiday cards into a nearly full post box. 

❄️Taking your children to the PO to drop off a letter to Santa in the North Pole

❄️Grocery store lines and talking with strangers about the meals they’re planning.

❄️Christmas Eve night when all the packages are wrapped and there’s nothing else to do but look around and soak it all in.

❄️Wishing strangers a Merry Christmas

❄️Letting the tired mom in the minivan with a Rudolph nose and antlers cut you off in traffic. 

Christmas comes on little cat feet

❄️Finding coins to give the Salvation Army bell ringers. 

❄️Finding bills to give a homeless person on the ramp to the interstate.

❄️Wintry pillows and pets who snuggle.

❄️Ornaments you’ve never loved but grew up with which you now appreciate and carefully hang. 

❄️Champagne and clam chowder on Christmas Eve.

❄️Sweet rolls Christmas morning. 

❄️Realizing how much time and energy your parents gave to make your holidays as special as they were.

❄️Christmas Eve brunch with your best girlfriends. 

❄️Finding the perfect gift for someone and beautifully wrapping it.

❄️Opening your mail to find Christmas cards, some with a heartfelt handwritten personal note. 

Thank you for the best day ever!

❄️A living room strewn with wrapping paper Christmas morning and your cats joyfully romping in it.

❄️Going to bed Christmas Eve knowing you gave your very best and excited to watch it all unfold in a few hours.

❄️Your dog gnawing a bone from her stocking and beaming lovingly at you in gratitude.

❄️Cats on their sides humping their catnip toys, dizzy with delight

❄️Napping Christmas afternoon sleepy from mimosas and sweet rolls and secrets that finally got unwrapped

❄️A Christmas cactus that has bloomed 

❄️A paper white narcissus, standing tall and thin, blissfully unaware of its glorious scent.

My neighborhood is going to sing carols again like they did last year which was my first time participating. For any locals who want to join me, please reach out. It’s on Sunday the 18th. Here’s a sampling from December ’21:

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Nothing is perfect but trying to watch the chaotic tennis match between past and future Christmases only robs you of this Christmas. Believing the purpose of the end of another year is for all to be solved feels short-sighted and shallow and surely sets you up for failure. Instead, I believe our takeaway should be simply, “All is calm all is bright.” Remember? From the song? As the following clever poem illustrates, the power just might reside in our lungs of all places. 

My brain and heart divorced a decade ago over who was to blame about how big of a mess I have become. Eventually, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other. Now my head and heart share custody of me. I stay with my brain during the week and my heart gets me on weekends. They never speak to one another; instead, they give me the same note to pass to each other every week, and their notes they send to one another always say the same thing: “This is all your fault”

On Sundays my heart complains about how my head has let me down in the past and on Wednesday my head lists all of the times my heart has screwed things up for me in the future. They blame each other for the state of my life. There’s been a lot of yelling – and crying so, lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my gut who serves as my unofficial therapist. Most nights, I sneak out of the window in my ribcage and slide down my spine and collapse on my gut’s plush leather chair that’s always open for me and I just sit sit sit sit until the sun comes up. Last evening, my gut asked me if I was having a hard time being caught between my heart and my head. I nodded. I said I didn’t know if I could live with either of them anymore. “My heart is always sad about something that happened yesterday while my head is always worried about something that may happen tomorrow,” I lamented. My gut squeezed my hand.

“I just can’t live with my mistakes of the past or my anxiety about the future,” I sighed. My gut smiled and said: “In that case, you should go stay with your lungs for a while,” I was confused, the look on my face gave it away. “If you are exhausted about your heart’s obsession with the fixed past and your mind’s focus on the uncertain future, your lungs are the perfect place for you. There is no yesterday in your lungs, there is no tomorrow there either. There is only now. There is only inhale, there is only exhale, there is only this moment. There is only breath, and in that breath you can rest while your heart and head work their relationship out.”

This morning, while my brain was busy reading tea leaves and while my heart was staring at old photographs, I packed a little bag and walked to the door of  my lungs. Before I could even knock, she opened the door with a smile and as a gust of air embraced me she said, “What took you so long?”

   ~ John Roedel (johnroedel.com)

Did You Know? The happiest healthiest trees are ones that are sung to. I made this up, but give it a whirl anyway. xoxox