A Hard One…

We have all had them.

Holidays where loved ones shunned us. Times when dear friends died. Just those shitty times that we thought were going to be wonderful, but somehow turned out quite differently.

Well, yeah. Nothing horrible happened this year. I mean, 12 years ago, my middle sister had a fatal car wreck outside Atlanta, so this year was pretty tame.

Still and all – perspective and all that aside: middle son went “back home” this Thanksgiving. Let me clarify: two months after he graduated, our family moved 1500 miles away from where he grew up and graduated high school. Since then, he has come home to what – for all intents and purposes – is not home. This Thanksgiving, his dearest friend had her debutante ball, and he was invited. Her family, who has always loved my son, invited his attendance at this important family occasion. How could I object?

He got to see his middle and high school friends. Be a part of his dearest friend’s family. See his old teachers and mentors. I’m not mad.

My eldest son and his girlfriend had a baby earlier this month. I have a granddaughter. This Thanksgiving they wanted to do a “new family” thing. I get that. I have been there. Establish your own turf – what and how you want to mark the holidays and the passing of time. How can I object?

Youngest son is still at home. So, I guess he’s stuck. We had a fantastic meal that we prepared together. We watched movies. We talked. We made Christmas plans. Nothing to object to.

The funny thing is: I have always been the person who wanted some version of Clark Griswold’s holidays. I want a house crammed with people and pets and food and drink. I have never had that. Two marriages. Three kids. One grandchild. What I have always thought I wanted has never happened. But…

… it was a Thanksgiving with one person (a great person, don’t get me wrong!), and was a hard one. Well, it was hard for a minute. Then, it was pretty great once I remembered to embrace what is.

1We all get it – right? No one owes us anything. And, often the whole grass-is-greener scenario is all too real. But, think about this: if this first holiday of the season wasn’t exactly what you wanted: it’s ok. If it was a hard one: it’s ok. Things didn’t turn out how you wanted? It will be ok.

This holiday season, I resolve to embrace what is. Enjoy every person who is there. Enjoy every minute of every candle, carol, and cookie.

My hope for everyone who reads this is that during this holiday season – regardless of your religious and cultural ties  – you are able to take time and have love for all of those in your life.

Let go of preconceived notions and unrealistic demands. Just be. Let the happiness of the season –  the happiness of being alive – envelop you in its graciousness.




Game. Set. Match?

December 1

“Let’s put up the twinkly colory lights, Daddy!”

“Okay, pumpkin, just a sec, ok?”

“Um, Dale, I put out the red and white lights for the deck.”

“Well, Maddie wants the colored lights, Kels.”

white and red lights“Right. Well, I put some of those upstairs on the bannister and in her room. I have white on the tree and the front should be red and white – you know so that it looks like a candy cane.”

“C’mon, Daddy!”

“Just another sec, pumpkin. So, can we just do the colored lights, I mean, Jesus, Kelsey she’s only gonna be three once. If she wants colored lights – who gives a flying fuck?”

“Language! Honey, go play upstairs until Mommy and Daddy get the lights ready – then you can help Daddy, ok, sweetie?”

“Ok, Mommy.”

“Now, look Dale. It’ll look really great with the red and white in the front with all white on the tree. The whole theme is red and white downstairs and outside. I put the colored lights upstairs to make her happy, but she does not get to run the whole house. The whole holiday. It’s for me, too. And, I want the lights to – you know – coordinate. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we don’t want Maddie to turn into a bossy bitch, do we?”

“Right, Jesus, Kels, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”


February 8

“Hi! Anyone home?”

“You’re late. Dale: the lights.”

“Dadddydaddydaddydaddydaddy! Our lights match the Valentime streamers at preschool! They are so valentimey!”

“Dale. They are Christmas lights for God’s sake. They need to come down.”

“You heard her, Kels. They are valentimey, right, pumpkin?”

“They need to come down today, Dale. The neighbors are judging us. Christ, they are candy cane colors not Valentine’s Day colors.”

“They are valentimes, Mommy, really they are. We have white and red and pink all over our room!”

“Kelsey, I don’t care what the goddam neighbors think. I put those lights up against my will, and now they will stay up through valentinesValentine’s Day – hell, through the end of the month – maybe till fucking St. Patrick’s Day.  This holiday is not just about you – it’s about Maddie, too. Anyway, Christ almighty, t’s not even seventeen fucking degrees out there, and I am not getting on a ladder in the snow. Valentimes lights, right Maddie?”

“Yay! Daddy! Valentimes lights”

“Right, Jesus, Dale, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”


Darcy grew up in the apartments of her mother’s boyfriends. Whenever a breakup was imminent, Mother would take Darcy and her brother out to Sunday afternoon open houses. They would walk through empty houses, and Mother would ask them which rooms they wanted, describe the furniture she would buy for the spacious rooms: a cozy table for the breakfast nook; beds with colorful blankets; a pillow-filled couch for watching Disney movies on a flat screen TV.  The next month would find Darcy and her brother huddled in the unfurnished corner of their latest “uncle’s” spare room.

Darcy grew up. She worked hard, bought a small cottage, and took great care in housekeeping. Years passed before she invited Mother to holidays. Delighted but bedraggled by yet another failed “relationship,” Mother arrived early and offered to help. None was needed – everything had been ready for days, including the eighteen individually and gorgeously wrapped empty boxes – each one inside of another  – that Darcy presented to Mother that evening.

empty box

A Christmas Parable

Years ago when I was a child, a package appeared in our village. A box wrapped simply: brown butcher paper and a red bow. No one
knew where it came from nor what to do with it. There were long months of talk about the package. Priests said it was a harbinger of doom and should be destroyed; commoners suggested we should open it and allow fate – bad or good – to take its course. Scholars could find no mention of such a happening in the histories of any of the villages. Tradesman thought we might sell the package to buy goods. Arguments, gossip, and schoolyard banter swirled around the mystery.

Solstice came and the decision was taken to mark the occasion by opening the package. At the midnight hour we all gathered, and the elders carefully removed the wrapping and set it aside. The most perfectly faceted gem was lifted from the box, and as the icy air hit it, a red-purple light penetrated every soul. We were, from infants to elders, mute in awe the gift lifted from its ordinary container. A warmth that surrounded every person, an invitation to acceptance and pure love. We stood in wonderment.

The reverie was broken when someone lunged at the gem, knocking it off the pedestal. A scuffle mutated into an outright fist fight among men and women alike. Children bit and clawed alongside their elders. The light began to fade as the gem was knocked about in the dust, but no one seemed to notice. It was as if the entire village had a singular goal: to get the gem for themselves only. Greed and fear obscured the light and love that had embraced us just moments earlier. The brawl continued until dawn when a man yelled out, “It’s gone!”

As if on cue, the townspeople, bedraggled, cold, tired, and defeated saw the wrapping that had been set aside so carefully. It fluttered in the wind at the edge of the well. Hands grabbed, elbows flew, eyes were blackened, and the wrapping was torn. People went home with tiny bits of ribbon while priests took shreds of the wrapping to their temples, ensconcing them in protective glass behind locked doors. The gem was gone entirely.

Many years have passed, and there are those who have never heard the story of the package; but we hear rumors that the gem is still near our village. One fisherman told us he saw such a light in a shallow at the river, and as he dove to retrieve what he thought was the gem, he felt filled with kindness and love. But, he was unable to bring back the gem. Once a child said she found the gem under some moss in the forest. She told a fantastic story of playing with and talking to it. No one believed her then, and we labeled her simple. She still wanders in the forest, gathering flowers and talking to herself.

Now, the priests retell the story of the gem and reveal the remnants of the wrapping twice a year. In homes, the story of that winter solstice has been passed down, but no one dwells upon it; to do so would be to mourn the loss of the purity of the compassion and mercy we felt in the all too brief light.

Changing Seasons: Not Home for the Holidays

Christmas lights

He’s done it again. Son #1 has altered my Christmas.

The first time he did this was twenty-three years ago when he arrived seven weeks early thanks to my preeclampsia and his wanting a Christmastime birth rather than Valentine’s Day. Even though that first Christmas was in NICU, we have spent each of his birthdays and every Christmas together since then. Academic calendars being what they are, the poor guy was even home for his 21st birthday.

Despite the life changes that I have created or endured, I have always imagined that all the boys would would want to be home for the holidays. Of course, intellectually I understand that this may not be the case. I can envision a future wherein they are all spending holidays with their own families or in far-flung corners of the world. That’s a path that I once trod, as well. I get it – in my brain. My heart whistles a different tune, though.

And this year – for the first time – the son that changed my world in 1992 has decided he would prefer to mark the holiday season and his birthday on his own. At first I was sad. Quite sad.

Of course, there are those who have different Christmases every year: traveling and adventuring; or, in the case of one woman I knew: every holiday season seemed to usher in a new round of stress and death in her family. However, I have found a kind of comfort in the traditions that the boys and I have created over the years. Perhaps the holidays with all of us at home served as a sort of anchor for the rest of the year, no matter what curve balls came along.

That Christmas in 1992 launched the ship that relied on my holiday anchor. Still life changes, and shifts are felt most acutely at the holidays. Babies are born; people die; students study abroad; neighbors move away; loved ones decide to stay home; sons forge their own paths – it’s all part and parcel of this world.

Looking into a future where Christmas includes only me and my dog is weird. Maybe I’ll sit home and eat chicken pot pie and watch bad TV and feel sorry for  myself.

No, no, (I don’t even like pot pie!).  I’ll find a Tuscan lodge and mark the holidays there. Or, I’ll work in an African orphanage over the New Year. Or, I’ll take the dog and visit children in the hospital. A Christmas in Wales appeals to me, as well. Or, I’ll show up unannounced at my sister’s house.

Changes are just that – changes. Some can be sad. If you have lost loved ones this year, my heart goes out to you. If you are struggling with illness, I send you light and health. If you’re just sad, I empathize. Changes can be good, too. Perhaps you have a new baby. Maybe you’ve moved to a great house. You’ve gotten engaged or landed your dream job. Regardless of what is happening around us, our joy depends only on us.

Candles can be lit. Prayers can be offered. Meals can be made. Toasts can be proclaimed. Greetings can be exchanged.

Life is a continuum of change; we must embrace it at all times – perhaps most especially at the holidays.

Join me.



The Wrong Question

dont' grow upSince his senior year in high school, middle son has been intent on law school. Eldest son has had a number of varying plans from high school to present day. Youngest son recently said, “I want to be a middle school principal so maybe I can help kids solve their problems before they get too big.”

When I was a college counselor, I would interview juniors asking them a battery of family, personal, and academic questions. Chief among these questions was: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Wrong question.

Last week middle son called. He is a sophomore in college. The upshot of our conversation can be condensed to one pointed question he asked: “What if after graduation I want to do something interesting with intelligent people and go from there?”

The numbers vary, but students in high school likely will encounter many jobs that are not yet invented. So many of my sons’ friends are combining experience and studies and interests into really interesting futures.  My middle schooler might be a principal, but he might be something that is TBA. One real question is:  why do we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up if we can’t even fairly present all the options to them?

In fact, many of the adult generation cannot fully understand high school and college students when they talk about their possibilities. We were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up; we took early weird computerized when did that happencareer inventories that actually suggested a legitimate option for me was “trash collector.” (Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my trash collector; I had a dog training chat with him last week. I just don’t want his job.) Many of us also thought that our majors in college would dictate what we would do: major in business work in insurance; major in education equals a life in the classroom; major in biology go to med school; poli sci majors went to law school.

There are so  many more options. I admire and commend everyone who saw beyond such traditional paradigms just as much as I respect those who translated such traditional paths into personal and professional success.  But, when we talk to our kids, our job is to open up possibilities for them.

So, maybe the questions we should ask of young people are more along the lines of:

  1. What kinds of problems do you want to help solve?
  2. What kinds of communities do you want to be a part of?
  3. What kinds of people do you want to spend your time with?

Ultimately, we don’t want to present life to our kids as going to high school to go to college to get a job to buy some pay bills and diestuff to save enough to retire to grow old to die.

Middle and youngest son have it right: they want to help and be among interesting people doing great things. And, really, won’t that make the world a better place? It’ll probably be pretty damn rewarding, too.

So, this holiday season when the college kids come home and the high school seniors are getting early decisions from universities, be kind. Don’t demand that someone who can’t even have a legal drink plan their future while decorating Christmas cookies. Forget about what they’re majoring in, the most recent ranking of their school, and what they plan to be when they grow up.

Ask them – ask yourself: What do you want to contribute? Where might you want to do it? If we all open our minds, listen to our consciences, and engage with our communities, we just might find what we are really meant to do. We might just have some fun along the way, too.

Think about it.

Join me.