It’s About Love. Messy Messy Love

For the first time since I became a mother, I felt as if I failed at Christmas.

Showing Messy Christmas love by baking for sweet friends.

Showing Messy Christmas love by baking for sweet friends.

The past few months have been crazy.  Fall semester is always much busier than spring but this one was particularly busy.  We left last week, directly following a production of “Annie Jr.” in which my older two children were involved, for a seven-day-long trip to Florida.  This trip involved more traveling than our vacations typically involve and was not exactly restful.  Upon arriving home, there were groceries to be purchased, friends to visit, and the next thing I knew, it was Christmas Eve.

And I was exhausted.  I’d been so exhausted and distracted that I accidentally bought my oldest child a gift I’d told his grandfather to get him.  And due to some miscommunication I don’t quite understand, three of his gifts under the tree this morning had been given to him last night by other family members.  So, at about 1 am I found myself scrambling around trying to figure out what I could do to make up to my child who was receiving significantly fewer gifts than his siblings.  As if that weren’t enough, I also realized that I’d kinda blown off stocking stuffers.  I had a few things for each child’s stocking but, well, it was pretty pitiful.  Maybe I’d meant to take care of that on the trip and just didn’t see anything they would like and it sorta slipped my mind?

Also, as usual, hubby was working last night.  Which meant that I had to do Christmas by myself again. I had to get the gifts out of the closet, stuff the stockings, read the Santa hate mail from the girl, and stress over the incongruity of the gifts… all by myself.  Slammed my head against the shelf in the gift hiding closet as I attempted to stealthily retrieve the gifts without waking the sleeping sweeties in my bed.    Being a single mom on Christmas is extremely lonely.

So when the oldest got up at 5 am, before his dad had time to get home from work with an extra gift, I found myself feeling embarrassed by my shortcomings.  I found myself explaining to him why he didn’t have as many gifts as his siblings and how I was sorry that the stockings weren’t full.  I held my breath, scared that he’d have a melt down, accuse me of not loving him as much as I loved his brother and sister.  Instead, he just looked the gifts over, said, “That’s the coolest backpack ever” about an Adventure Time bag I’d snagged at a local discount store, and proceeded to want to see a picture of the new baby sister that had been gifted to his best friends in the wee hours of this morning.

He didn’t care.

Not only did he not care, he felt the need to comfort me.

And despite the fact that I threw a giant fit, slammed doors, and locked myself in my bedroom where I cried for half an hour after the gifts had all been opened (and, at times, broken, insulted, thrown, and, to be fair, squealed over), he’s continued to be super sweet to me today.

After my fit (and a shower that helped me feel a little better), I announced in my kitchen that I wasn’t okay.  I stated that I felt like a giant failure because of the broken gift, the unappreciated “gross” gift, the Louise hat that didn’t quite fit right, the duplicate gifts,  the lack of stuffed stockings, the chocolate peppermint waffles that fell apart.  My husband promptly responded that I had it all wrong.

Christmas is not about gifts and everything being perfect.  It’s about family and being together and having fun.

“Well, I’m not having much fun right now!” I responded.

Then my five year old entered the room and yelled, “It’s about the looooove.  Christmas is about LOVE!”

I didn’t have anything to say about that.  This little boy understood Christmas better than I did?  How could this be?

And if Christmas was about love, how come I wasn’t feeling very loved at the moment?  After all, I received three gifts… earrings from my girl that I’d picked out and watched her buy, a calendar that I’d bought myself, and some candy that, in all fairness, I love and my son did pick out and purchase for me with his own money. Still, having worked so hard to buy something small and sweet that made me think of my husband, I was hurt when he’d not given me a gift.  First no birthday gift or card.  Then no anniversary gift or card.  And now no Christmas gift or card.  Sure, Christmas may not be about gifts but if it was about love, where was the expression of this love from this man who had promised to love me?

Then came the dreaded epiphany.  I realized that this Christmas wasn’t about the love that I would receive.  Instead it has been about the love that I have been able to give.

My reality is that I’m of very little use.  At least I don’t feel very useful.  I’m not great at anything.  The one thing that I might like to do for a career (work as a doula or a midwife assistant) is just beyond my reach because if I were to go through the training, I’d still have my husband’s night job standing in my way until  my children are old enough to be left alone at night for extended periods of time.  Heck, even my attempt to serve as a Bible teacher at church has left me feeling rejected, misunderstood, and completely useless.

I’m simply not much good to many people.

What I am good at, however, is loving people.  Some folks will tell you this is absolutely not true.  Those are the people who have met my attempts at friendship with contempt, judgment, and criticism.  Those people don’t get a vote.

But there is a whole other group of people who would tell you that I’m a damned good friend, a wonderful mother, and a service to my community.  Because those people see my actions and the love behind them.  Best of all are the folks in my life who let me love on them.  2014 has been a year filled with many opportunities to love on people.  I’ve been able to be the hands and feet of Christ, outside of the church walls, over and over again this year and I can honestly say that I finally feel like God is using me and my talents more than ever. While I still feel like I could make a bigger impact on the world around me, I can at least see myself as a blessing to others.

Clearly, my little guy was right… Christmas is about love.  And this afternoon I’ve dried my tears and I intend to spend the remainder of the day resting, taking care of myself, making food for my family, and maybe watching another one of my favorite Christmas movies.  I will feel grateful that my life is filled to the brim with people who I love.  Who let me love them.  And I will love on my kids too, because they are a huge part of my ministry and were given to me, specifically, because I am capable of loving them best.

I may have forgotten to fill my children’s stockings but I can certainly be intentional about filling their hearts.  And I will make it my mission to try and fill my husband’s heart as well, forgiving him for what may have simply been an oversight on his part as much as the stocking stuffers were an oversight on mine.  But even if it wasn’t an over sight, it doesn’t matter.  My true gift is being given another day to love on him.  And I can totally do that.

Eclectic Decor for an Eclectic Family

When I was younger, I used to dream of moving to the Big Apple.  The theater, the art, the interesting people, the hustle and the bustle all seemed so very… romantic to me.  Of course, this was before I actually knew myself and realized I wasn’t a city girl at all.  Still, something about a place potentially full of weirdos like me was so very appealing to this girl stuck in Middle Tennessee (a place that has only started to grow on me once I started my journey as a homeschool mother).  In theory, had I ever actually gone forward with this fantasy, I would have been so very lost.  Trying to figure out where in NYC I would best fit in would have been no easy task.  Probably, I would have needed a resource, perhaps something akin to this amazing Neighborhood Guide by Urban Compass would have helped me figure out which area of the city would best fit my lifestyle and personality.

As a family with rather eclectic tastes, it would have been nice to have had a resource like Urban Compass available to us eight years ago when we were house hunting.  We are certainly a group of people who rarely fit in anywhere!  Nothing reflects how odd we are better than our home decor.  Even the holiday decorations that adorn our living space mirror how eccentric we happen to be.

Eclectic is the best word to describe our homeschooling style and I’d dare say it’s also the best word to describe our Christmas decor. From natural touches to pop culture figures, our home displays a wide-range of tastes, revealing the scope of interests represented in our household.

Just take a look.

SONY DSCThis year we bought a new Christmas tree for our living area.  Twelve years ago, when my husband and I were planning our holiday-themed wedding, we purchased two used, but matching, Christmas trees from a local thrift shop.  I gave one of them to my mom and kept the other for our new home.  By this year, it was in disrepair and looked terrible.  Plus, if I am being honest here, I have always detested green Christmas trees and instead dreamed of having this vintage get up here (and I will some day, dang it.  Just you wait and see).  Hubby wasn’t down with spending this kinda cash on a Christmas tree this year, though, and he also didn’t care for this rainbow tree I went on about so it was to Walmart he traveled for a $30 white tree.  He got colored lights with white wire and all was well in the world.  Except it was so well, that I have not exactly wanted to put any ornaments on this tree.  Some might find it hard to believe but once in a while, I believe that less is more.  And the simplicity of this white tree with colored lights… I don’t want to tarnish it.  My oldest son was not happy about the lack of ornaments on the tree, despite the fact that I decorated the tree he had in his hospital room four years ago when he lived there for the holidays.

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Nope, this was no comfort to him at all.  He’s pretty angry with me about the whole “new tree, no ornaments” endeavor.  In fact, he claims that this new tree is “ruining all of our traditions.”

Did I mention we have a house full of aspies?  😉

Anyway, we had some lights leftover from the green tree so I used them here on this small table where we are keeping our plate and cup for Santa’s cookies and eggnog (and Ridiculous Chocolate) which we will serve him on Christmas Eve, despite the fact that everyone around here knows it is just a game.  On top of the table, you’ll see our Trader Joe’s Advent calendars… the only Advent I’ve had time for this year what with having two children involved with a local production of Annie Jr.

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Some of our decorations are ones passed down from my childhood.  Growing up, we didn’t have much, and most of what we did have were things that I never would have wanted to bring into my own home.  However, I am so thankful for a few items that remind me of the Christmases from my past.  My good holiday memories aren’t about gifts.  Gifts stressed me out so I blocked a lot of those memories. No, my best memories from the holidays are about these specific decorations.  Laying on the sofa, watching the flickering of the candles as the three wise men made their journey to see the newborn king.

SONY DSCI was celebrating my second Christmas as a wife and I was incredibly pregnant with my first child.  The outside of this candle holder wasn’t packaged safely enough and when I opened it, I discovered, to my horror, that it had been cracked.  Amazingly, my husband swiftly found a replacement for $7.00 on Ebay.  The lady who sold it to him was so happy to hear how she had saved his poor pregnant wife’s Christmas by replacing her favorite broken childhood decoration.  Somehow, this part of the story makes it that much more special.  I hope to find more of these so each of my children can have one.  To me, this is how real Christmas heirlooms are created rather than through some forced farce like that creepy elf thing.

During the holidays, I also enjoy decorating with food.  I love how the colors of the season evolve.  In the fall, my antique bread bowl, passed down to me from my great grandfather’s mother, was adorned with oranges, yellows, and greens.  Pomegranates are in season and their color make the perfect coffee table centerpiece.  So simple, practical, and natural.

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But I have to say that our crowning holiday decorative achievement is neither simple, practical, nor natural.  In fact, it was incredibly impractical to fork over the cash this spring for this Simpsons Lego house but boy we sure have enjoyed it.  To further my enjoyment, I moved it to our holiday play table and then I set about decorating it.

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Look closely and you will see Christmas lights on the house made with clay and dental floss.  Lego candy cane poles line the front porch while battery-operated candles give off a flickering and warm light through the windows.  Each member of the Simpsons clan is wearing a fleece scarf, handmade with love by me.  I needlefelted them a Christmas tree (which is surrounded by Lego Christmas gifts) and I even made a wreath out of Shrinky Dinks for their front door.  This work of art is officially my new favorite holiday decoration.  I can’t wait to think of new things to add.  Next year I intend to decorate the inside of the house.

Thanks for joining me on this tour of our holiday decorations.  I’d love to see how the way you decorate your home reflects the personalities of the people in it.

Merry Christmas!

Bob’s Burgers Makes Me Cry

It’s been twelve years since I got married.  I lived in a little apartment then.  On the day of my wedding, my parents had visited me and my dad had changed into his suit in my bedroom.  The next day, when I brought my new husband to what would be our temporary home, I remember finding a small, folded handkerchief on my comforter.  This must have fallen out of Daddy’s pocket yesterday, I thought to myself.  Then I thought about how he’d cried before walking me down the aisle.  How he might have reached into his pocket for the handkerchief only to find it missing, unable to wipe his tears.

Though I’d not lived at “home” for about eight years, being a newly wed only child felt a bit sentimental.  Realistically, my dad’s walking me down the aisle was done strictly out of tradition.  I’d even asked if both he and my mom could do it… I didn’t like the idea of being “given away” by a man.  It seemed sexist and, let’s face it, I’d not belonged to either of them for many years, if ever.  Despite my liberal feminist mentality, there was still a bit of mauldlinness attached to my having married.  The closing of a door, the beginning of a new journey, the official end of my youth.

Somehow this abandoned handkerchief symbolized so much to me.  A part of me already knew that I didn’t have much time left with my parents.  (I’m not exactly psychic but I have gut instincts.  A voice whispered to me that I would lose a parent soon.  I heard the voice again a few month before my mother did die… it told me she was the one going, not my dad.)  That hanky seemed to embody everything I’d been feeling.  Everything I was thinking.  All of the emotions that are attached to major life events.  The hanky allowed me to see my Daddy differently as well.  Until that moment, seeing that handkerchief laying there, all by its lonesome, helped me to see my father as vulnerable.  Human.  Flawed. Less scary.  Someone for whom I could feel empathy.  These were new feelings.

At this point, you may be thinking I am crazy. (Which I totally am.)  Ridiculous.  Concocting romantic notions like a silly young bride.  You might simply not be able to understand what I’m saying.  If this is the case, you would not be alone.  My mom had no idea what I was talking about either.  I couldn’t wait to tell her about my emotional experience over seeing the handkerchief.  Surely, she of all people, the woman who had spent most of her life loving this man, would see the beauty in my newly found softheartedness toward him .  Sadly, I was wrong.

Once I’d spilled my guts, telling her all of the mushy gushy details of my moving ordeal, she simply said, “Well, you can keep it then.”

That’s it.

I could keep it.

Nothing else.

I think that was the last time I let myself be so forthright and transparent with my mom.  After twenty-five years of not being understood, I’d concluded that it was pointless to try.  So I didn’t try anymore or ever again. I gave up.  She died about three years later.

Every single time I am rummaging around in some old jewelry and hair stuff to find something from years go by (this time it was an Annie and Daddy Warbucks pendant to show my son who is currently in a local production of Annie Jr.) and I chance upon that pendant, it reminds me of how poignant I felt upon finding it that day after my wedding.  It also reminds me of how misunderstood I always felt by everyone in my life, including my own parents.

Bob’s Burgers is my new television obsession.  It’s about a family running a struggling Mom & Pop business.  The family is made up of a weird Dad, a weird Mom, and three weird kids.  And I mean that in the most loving way possible because I absolutely adore all of the characters and I can relate to every single one of them.  The middle child, Louise, is nine years old and is often a source of confusion for her family.  She’s three handfuls and sometimes they simply don’t know what to do with her.

So last week, the kids and I were watching an episode called “The Kids Run Away” where Louise

The Belchers being the best family of all time.

The Belchers being the best family of all time.

finds out she has cavities and runs away from home to avoid fillings.  After failing to manipulate her into coming home, the parents just leave her with her aunt, also weird.  By the end of the episode, the aunt has concocted this elaborate scheme where the entire family and the dentist and a family friend participate in acting out some kind of illegal undercover CIA-esque drama, all surrounding her dental work.  As I watched each member of the Belcher family bust into the dental exam room with their pretend guns, delivering rehearsed lines in order to execute the charade, I found myself bawling my eyes out.

This family gets Louise.

Weird, complicated Louise is not always easy to figure out but, by golly, this family will literally do anything to help her out and see things from her perspective.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be raised in a family like that.

All three of my kids are pretty unique.  Sometimes I am not sure how to deal with them and I don’t always understand them.  But I work my tail off trying to understand them.  I ask questions.  I pay attention.  I apologize if I don’t comprehend right away.  And I work hard to embrace everything about their minds, their hearts, their personalities.  I can’t help but imagine how Linda would respond after hearing Tina monologue on and on about finding Bob’s handkerchief the day after her wedding.  Hypothetically, I bet it would have been a much different response than the one I received. A more empathetic, earnest, and passionate response, even if she had no idea about that which her daughter was going on.

I may not have experience that same level of patience in my own family of origin but I’m learning so much from the Belchers.  Never before have I witnessed members of a television family show one another such unconditional love.  And sometimes it’s just too much to handle.

On a side note, if you aren’t watching this show, seriously… this must be fixed.  Right away.

Keep Your Disturbing Elf Away From Me

Maybe it’s an aspie thing (I can blame stuff on that, can’t I?) but I really really really don’t get the Elf on the Shelf.

Sure, we’ve done Santa around here a little bit.

But only after my daughter kinda wore me down. (Which, by the way, she doesn’t remember and this week she came out with, “Mom, when I’m a parent I don’t want to lie to my children so I will not be telling them about Santa.  I will tell them their gifts come from me.”  Apple doesn’t fall far, does it?)

So there has been a pretend giant elf sneaking into my house for the past three years on Christmas Eve.  He won’t come this year, though, because the five year old is no longer convinced that Santa is real.  I asked if I could still pretend and do all of the things that Santa always did and he agreed.  I’m glad that part of my parenting isn’t quite over with just yet.

But this notion of some Elf, sitting on a shelf, that comes to life at night, assuming you haven’t touched him, right?  This notion BLOWS MY FREAKIN’ MIND MAN.  And not in a first-time-I-watched-The -Wizard-of-Oz-while-listening-to-Dark-Side-of-the-Moon kinda way.  More in a way similar to how my son feels about E.T. (meaning he screams and has a melt down, even at nearly 11, any time he sees the little dude).

So he sits there, glaring down with his creepy smile, at my children, taking notes about how they are behaving, and relaying that information back to the North Pole?  Is that how it works?  I am so totally not okay with that.

My youngest already believes he’s on the naughty list.  He told me this just yesterday.  We were listening to Christmas music while making dinner.  He was cutting hot dogs and I was opening a pomegranate.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was playing and suddenly, in the middle of the song, he said to me, “I’m on that.”

“You’re on what, Buddy?” I asked.

“The naughty list.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I’m always bad.”

“You aren’t always bad. You are sometimes bad.  But so am I.  Everyone is sometimes bad.  Do you think I’m on the naughty list?”

“How should I know?”

Poor guy.  Does he really need some creepy doll taking note of his every move and judging him, like

Yes, yet again, I feel all alone in this mindset.

Yes, yet again, I feel all alone in this mindset.

some scary version of God?  I don’t think so. We aren’t Jewish but you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the level of guilt experienced in this home.  Nope, my kids and I are a guilty group.  We’re well aware of our misdoings and we aren’t proud. And we are punishing ourselves more than enough.

Honestly, to my knowledge, I’ve only ever been in a house with this “Elf” once and the experience was traumatizing.  So maybe I’m a little biased.  But for the record, when I recounted the ordeal to my children, they were offended by the idea of this Christmas tradition.  Feeling great relief, I was, yet again, thankful for the like-minded kids I’ve managed to produce.

Our Christmas traditions range from super weird (writing television characters on the tags attached to the gifts under the tree) to pretty typical (drinking hot cocoa in the car while we look at Christmas lights… oh YEAH, I bet that’s where the brown stains on my car seats came from).  But this is one neurotypical holiday tradition I don’t think I’ll ever be able to embrace.

For the record, I do like the idea of playing tricks on my kids.  I’ve been a trickster mom for as many years as they could possibly enjoy it and I will continue to play tricks on them until the day they tell me that I’m crazier than they need me to be.  And I hope that day never comes.  But I’ll be darned if any sinister holiday ornament gets to take credit for my tricks.  Those are mine.  Allllllll mine.