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Simmer down

doorway

It’s that time of the year when the world falls in love. The simple act of wrapping up a gift and giving it, and the delight once it’s opened. Waking up Christmas morning, coming down the stairs. Traditions, togetherness, decorating, lights. It’s sharing, it’s connecting, it’s a moment you want to relive over and over.

Christmas is extraordinary. As the calendar moves down to the end of the year, we send friends off into the season with our good wishes, hugging them goodbye before the holidays hit — big long hugs like you mean it, because you do. It’s ok to linger on these; it’s Christmas for crying out loud.

When we give out these hugs, these bursts of love, what are we wishing others and what are we wishing for? Is it the silent sparkling night that is Christmas Eve and that quiet pre-dawn grace that comes to blanket the next morning? Hope is packaged up in all sorts of forms getting us to and through these holidays, holy days, giving us a new start. It’s not a package, it’s a feeling. It’s not a present, it’s presence.

It’s different this time of year. Most mornings leading up to Christmas I find ornaments on the floor and ribbons missing from packages. The cat is having a ball after we go to sleep. Nothing is broken. It’s ok.

Earlier this month I pulled up to the post office mailbox struggling to push my bills in the slot overflowing with cards – gorgeous red white and gold envelopes all vying for a place in the mail. With so many good wishes pushing through to get where they want to go, my annoyance melted away and I realized people are good natured at their core and they want to send love.

A few weeks before Christmas as I tried wiping down my dirty laptop screen, my fingertips inadvertently swiped the Spotify icon and Santa Baby came through the speakers. I couldn’t figure it out and uncomfortably rushed to quiet it, the noise I didn’t start. But I realized it’s here, the season, and I should pay attention, listen even. I let Christmas songs fill up the room, not knowing what was coming next. I didn’t choose this; it chose me, and I went along for the ride.

Each year around Thanksgiving, Christmas comes in like a lamb, ramps up like a lion and then tiptoes back out as a lamb. Come and gone in a twinkle, the season can be a bumpy sleigh ride juggling Christmas balls, bills and bonbons and gearing up for full throttle acceleration and the exciting skating skid into Christmas. A slow simmer dances into a rolling boil, then a simmer and a sputtering flame and it’s a wrap. We’re all done with wrapping, baking, eating and drinking and are left cozy and content. We stand there in those precious moments slack jawed at the astonishing beauty around us and the enormous dollop of gratitude swirling in the air that seemingly came out of nowhere. And which quietly ushers its way out.

Now we’re at the bottom of the calendar, the end of the year, which so recently felt merry and bright, and we’re left basking in the afterglow we know is fading. With Christmas now behind us, how can we keep that low simmer going, those good feelings in the warming drawer waiting for us when we are ready to slow down and nourish ourselves and each another? Surely they’re still there, aren’t they?

It is Boxing Day today, the day after Christmas which in the UK was traditionally a day off for servants and the day when they received a Christmas Box, a Present, from the master. The servants would also go home on Boxing Day to give Christmas Boxes to their families. It’s a day of giving, reflecting, celebrating and sharing the abundance you have to give.

My Christmas Box to you is that you find more presence with loved ones, friends, family and most importantly, yourself. Love to you this season and the next and the next. Let’s keep it going. Merry everything.

the eye

 

 

 

 

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The Good Girl

 

momandme“Be a good girl,” she’d call out, as I walked with my date across the stepping stones away from our house, a large corsage pinned at my collarbone, high heels aerating the lawn. My mother’s enthusiasm for the swirl surrounding her daughter on a date — complete with bow ties and corsages and gowns — was in stark contrast to my dad’s cool reception, staying in his chair in the den. What did he care as he sipped his Budweiser and read the Atlanta-Journal? Beyond the good girl remark, the whole scene was awkward, my mother calling out to my dad about how nice my date and I looked, and did he want to come in and say goodbye? And “Ohhhh, Susie, he got you an orchid!” — sure sign of a keeper.

My mother, Susan, clearly had a vision for me, her namesake. As I began to develop during adolescence, I recall trying on a shirt I liked and admiring myself in my full-length mirror, feeling independent and pretty. It was in this moment that my mom caught a glimpse of me and remarked, “I think that’s too sophisticated for you.” Translation: I see cleavage, which means others might too, and that is bad. I suppose she needed to see me forever dressed in buttoned up puffed sleeved shirts, the safe place where I’d stay. I’m not sure if in her mind I ever moved away from there.

Later on, during my senior year when I was dating my first boyfriend, we’d return from a date and park in our driveway for our extended good night routine, steaming up the windows. She’d flick the outside lights several times, signaling in no uncertain terms, the anti-booty call. Time to come in young lady, and what are you two even doing out there? Are you being a good girl? These thoughts must have run through her head.

The good girl theme I’m now realizing went on for years. My parents had parties and from upstairs where I carried guests’ coats to our beds, I could hear glasses clinking, boisterous laughter and the doorbell ringing as more and more people arrived. The scent of bourbon floated through the rooms downstairs as my sister and I passed trays of hors d’oeuvres. I sometimes wanted to sneak one but was encouraged not to. These were “grown up” nibbles that I probably wouldn’t like and besides, I could maybe pick over the remnants later.

On weekdays, she routinely asked if I did my homework, and if I gave the right answer, “yes,” which I usually did, the conversation came to a halt. There were few other questions about me or my day, such as what interesting thing might have happened at school or, was it even a good day? At the dinner table, I got reminders — put my napkin in my lap and pass the rolls so they’d make the full lap around the table, and I of course complied.

Once I moved out of the house and into a dorm, I was living among other good girls. Returning from a two-mile run, I’d go to the communal laundry room to empty my dryer for someone else. Many times someone had already removed my clothes, folded them and neatly placed them back in my hamper. Naturally we all followed suit for each other, and the chain of politeness went unbroken. I’ve since thought, what if a girl needed to leave to take care of something for herself but out of habit was so compelled to fold someone’s clothes that she stayed late to do it, missing her own deadlines, or fun even? Was there even a choice?

After college, good girls who became mothers put their training to use. Infants, toddlers, tweens and teens needed constant attention and meals and clean clothes. And reminders. Expert in taking care of everyone and predicting their family’s needs, many if not most mothers, ignore their own.

These traits and habits are simply for exhibiting good manners, I’ve told myself, but now am questioning if that’s altogether true. Perhaps this insistence on being good is a distraction toward an ideal that is not even possible. What effect might this hyper focus on others have on a person reaching for things they want, but without the implied guilt piled on? In my life, I’ve done far less reaching and a lot more searching for what it is I want. I can write thank you notes, choose the right fork at a fancy dinner table, stand up when an adult comes in the room, but when I’m not being good, who am I?

I’m all for being polite, having grown up in the south. But if we raise the bar so high and place such controlling focus on tending to others, we might never find the time to sit back and do something we want to do. Something creative. Something indulgent. Something off script, for a change. Tend to ourselves even. Proceeding off the menu is how we grow, not as a good girl but as our own self, for which there is no prescribed path but the one we create.

Hands off, that last roll is mine.