You Don’t Have to Love Christmas {And other truths about December}

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It’s the most… complicated time of the year. For plenty of people I know, Christmas time, the holidays, New Year’s… They can be a tidal wave of emotion, reflection, regret and just plain sadness.

The toughest things I’ve ever been through have almost all happened in the month of December. A baby on the 23rd when I was just the tiny age of 19. The loss of my first husband in a car accident on December 28th when we were both just 26. (Only to bury him on New Year’s Eve. If you’re really feeling festive, you can read more about that here  or here. ) And then the final undoing of my second marriage on the darkest Christmas Eve in my history, when we finally could not un-ring the bell.

And all of this among a few other losses and if-onlys and what-ifs.

But enough about me.  There is a pressure to love December and Christmas and all things holly jolly like no other time of year.  You can say you hate summer or the 4th of July or Labor Day, but what kind of a jerk doesn’t like Christmas?  There’s a shame attached to it that’s unmistakable.  Months in advance we’re impressed with how we’re supposed to feel about the holidays. There’s an anticipation that begins around Halloween and doesn’t relent until the final carol has been sung. You’re supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to feel joy. You’re supposed to feel lighthearted and whimsical and ready to party and celebrate and exchange food and gifts and time and affection. So when you don’t feel all these things, the only reasonable conclusion is that there must be something wrong with you.

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But the truth is, holiday depression is a real thing and more people feel this way than are willing to admit. For so many, the dramatic emphasis on love, cheer and goodwill only reflects the lack of it in their own lives. Any other time of year, we know how to deal–but December’s over the top expectations have us staring a little too hard and long at all the spaces in our lives that fall short and feel empty.

Just think of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge– both infamous for their dislike of December 25th.  (Although  truthfully, the Grinch never really hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.)

If you want cold hard facts, one North American survey reports that 45% of Americans dread the holiday season.  Ouch. Pass the eggnog.

Here’s the good news: December is just another month. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one bringing brand new chances and opportunities for peace and happiness. And although it seems to loom for weeks, Christmas is only one single day. If it turns out to be a good one, hooray for you! But if it ends up going off the rails, clock out early, crawl into bed and wake up renewed on the 26th and move on with your life.

You don’t have to love December. You don’t have to love Christmas. You don’t have to be or do or feel a certain way. About anything. Ever. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a sad person, or a less-than person. It makes you a real person.  And there’s nothing better than being real about yourself, where you’re truly at in life and how things are actually going. If you’re not feeling strong enough to celebrate and socialize, don’t feel bad about telling the people around you, “Thanks, but I’m just not up for that right now.” With no apologies. On the flip side, sometimes getting out of your own head and being with people is exactly what you need if your sadness has you turned a little too far internally.

But the best part? You get to choose.


This is my happiest December in decades. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel the heaviness I’m usually carrying this time of year. I’m wildly in love with someone who pursues my happiness like it’s his job.  I feel peaceful and grateful and actually, a little bit Christmas-y. But I never forget about my friends who are not. And I still don’t love December or Christmas. Accepting that and not judging myself for it has been, well, a gift.

Cheers to January, friends. We’re almost there.

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It’s Not a Match

Writing about your dating life isn’t necessarily easy. And yet, it’s still easier than actually dating. I’ve been a little slow writing this sequel to Plenty of Fish in the Sea, but a recent article in the Buffalo News was so sympathetic to my plight, I knew it was time for an update. (Mom and Dad, do NOT panic. And maybe don’t keep reading along.)

I can’t JUST include the link– I must SHOW you the article for complete and thorough understanding of this bizarro world of online dating:

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A new study lists Buffalo as the nation’s most dangerous city for online dating.

The study, conducted by security review company SafeWise and HighSpeedInternet.com, ranked 56 U.S. cities based on two risk factors that researchers said were key to online dating safety: STD cases and violent crime rates, both adjusted for population. Using these metrics, researchers produced safety scores for each city.

With the highest STD rate in the study and the 11th highest violent crime rate, Buffalo was found to be twice as dangerous for online dating as the study’s next most dangerous city, Riverside, Calif.

“Buffalo residents may not have a lot to do while cooped up indoors for those long Buffalo winters, but clearly some people could use more precaution,” one of the researchers, John Dilley, wrote in a summary of the findings.

Alrighty then.

STDs and violent crime? So basically Gonorrhea and stabbings? Is that all you got, Online Dating?  Psssh.  Buffalonians are a hearty bunch. You’re going to have to do better than that!

(And yet. This article still says nothing of the other real danger out there: The Heartbreak.)


I must point out– the few people I met and went on actual dates with were TOTAL gentlemen. Total. (No STDs or violent crimes, thank the sweet baby Jesus) It was weeding out the crazies to actually get to the first date part that was the toughest. But still, I was in near tears before every first date. My girlfriend would say to me EVERY SINGLE TIME, “For F*#&s sake, Bean– it’s a DRINK. Not a proposal.” And I would whine back, “I knoowwwww. But I don’t wanna goooooo.”  Super attractive, right? And I get it- you’re thinking, wait- I thought you wanted to meet people and date…?

Well I do. But I just want to skip ahead to the part where we’re happy and it’s a match. Are you saying that’s not realistic?

So I started corresponding with a few people and emailing back and forth and getting to know each other a little bit, because that’s how this gig works. And I did go on a few first dates.

Here is a very abridged version of my experience:

#1 was married and still living with his wife. This was a touch confusing. I thought- well- I thought we were all gonna be single and available. “We” weren’t. Not a match.

#2 was not a match from the second we met— and when he said he didn’t believe in God, I told him that was a deal breaker for me. Later in the week he messaged me to say he was going to attend church that weekend and “give it a try.” (I make the boys believe in God! It’s like magic! ) Ultimately I told him I would’ve had more respect for someone who stayed true to their beliefs (or lack thereof) than someone who was so willing to jump the atheist ship for a girl– ‘cuz we’re not just talking about switching from Protestant to Episcopalian. We’re talking about THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. It’s not a match.

I can’t even remember #3. I was too jacked up from #1 and #2

On Date #4, I distinctly recall waiting and wishing he would swear first so we could just sort of relax a little. And also order a third drink. It was not a match.

There was also one in there that- I’m not exaggerating- spent THE ENTIRE date talking about his ex and repeatedly and emphatically convincing me just how over her he is.  Even the bartender was rolling his eyes. Check please. Not a match.

On the last date, I knew from the second we met it was not a match. His online persona and his real life persona were… incongruous. And that’s being polite about it.

And then I quit Match. I cried and quit and shut down my profile. Match could go match itself.

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And then I tried one more time because I only learn from my mistakes after I make them approximately 437 times. (On the low end.) And whaddya know? I met a match. I fell in love. And then it turned out to just..not be a match.  No matter how much I wish it were or wanted it to be. Love is a complicated thing. Not everyone is for everyone.

More than 500 times once I’ve said, “As soon as I saw him, I knew we were not a match”, and I’m not just talking about someone being attractive. Each of us has a very unique and specific vibe that is made up of so much more than just physical appearance: Body language, mannerisms, energy, spirit… So much of our chemistry and attraction with another person is about everything that’s unspoken.  Within minutes of meeting someone, your subconscious is already deciding if this person feels good to be around and is someone you’d want in your space. (So to speak. Ahem.)

There are three general immediate responses:

“This is okay.”

“No. This just doesn’t feel like me

Or “THIS! THIS! THIS! ALL DAY LONG THIS!”

The last one is like a unicorn–rare and extremely hard to find.

The heart wants what the heart wants. The heart is not always schooled in reality. Sometimes the heart is a drunken fool that won’t shut up. That’s the problem. You think you know exactly what you want and you think you know exactly what you don’t want. Getting those things to collide, well, that’s another story.

Stay tuned. And if you live in Buffalo, stay safe my friends. Love is a dangerous game.

 

A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

Your Kids are Watching You. Man Up.

Yesterday was a bad day. It didn’t start out that way, but at some point in the afternoon, it slid sideways.  Kid issues, pain from a jacked up back, the death of someone we know- by dinner time, I was done. DONE. I felt irritable and sad and just off.

And boy did my kids feel it.

I was short. Impatient. Annoyed. Quiet. They’re not used to that version of me- at least not anymore- and it was awful. By the time we sat down to eat, there was silence. And so on top of everything else, Mom Guilt over the atmosphere I had created was washing over me heavily. After dinner, I laid down with a heating pad on my back and texted each kid an apology.

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That might sound lame, but that is definitely how we handle some things around here and it works for us. Sometimes it’s a little easier to say exactly how we feel when it’s not face to face. Plus, everyone scattered after dinner, no doubt, to escape me.

My kids were forgiving and gracious and understanding and I’m grateful. And as I went to bed early to put us all out of our misery, I promised myself, “I’ll do better tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing: It’s not that there’s no room for us as parents to be human; of course there is. Actually, it’s important that our kids see us feeling and see us working through some of our stuff  (when it’s appropriate), but it was impressed upon me for the millionth time: My mood and attitude sets the tone for everyone- and it’s not a job I take lightly.

If I’m happy, they feel it and they’re happy, too. If I’m sad, they feel it and they’re concerned.  If I’m mad, they feel it and they don’t like it. If I’m worried, they feel it and it makes them anxious. If I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, they see it and they take note. When I’m proud of them, they stand a little taller, work a little harder.

You get the point. And I know you see it in your own house.

Man, that’s a lot of power. And a LOT of responsibility.

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And so when I woke up this morning, I knew I needed to regroup before the day got underway.  I made coffee, wrote in my gratitude journal, prayed for myself, for them, for all of us on this journey together. I looked over some meditations to strengthen and encourage myself and basically re-center myself in goodness and positivity. And it worked. I woke the youngest and as we sat at the table while she ate breakfast, we talked and laughed the way we always do and I knew she was relieved I was feeling better today.

So I want to tell all the other Mamas and Daddies out there today: Regroup. Do whatever it takes. Make whatever changes you need to, big or little. Get counseling. Get medication. Get time away. Get a hobby.

Your kids need the best and brightest version of yourself.

They need you to man up. They need you to find a way to push through the bullshit of life like a champ. They’re watching you and taking their cues from you. And they’re modeling much of their own behavior after YOU.

There is no excuse. There is honestly no excuse. My back still hurts. Today will bring the usual crap any day brings. But the sun is shining and today’s a new day. I’m here and I’m ready and so are they. Let’s do this.

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Taking the Long View

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One of my kids recently had to do something really hard. They had to go make something right that they had kind of screwed up. This is no easy feat, no matter how old you are. Making a mistake is so much easier than making amends. But making amends is so powerful. So much better. So freeing.

And so as my kid was going out the door to go do this thing– and just DREADING it, I looked them in the eye and said, “You are GOOD. YOU. Are. A good, good soul. You’ve got this.”

And then I cried at my desk. Tears of gratitude. Tears of compassion and humility and overwhelming love. Motherhood, personhood, is so raw and exhausting at times.

And what I’m learning right now is that it takes decades to build a person. Decades.

We expect so very much from ourselves and from our kids. And yes, it’s good to have standards and expectations; of course we should. But our character, our true selves, our best selves, our real selves…those things are built over a lifetime. An entire lifetime. And yet we expect things from each other that we just haven’t had the time and life experience to develop.

 

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Rialto’s Drift (USA) by Patrick Marson Ong

As a mom, this moves me deeply and challenges me to see my children in a different light. I expect so much of them. Self awareness and emotional intelligence are a high priority for me personally, but at 43, I’m just barely there. And it’s hard, conscious work all the time. I’m not sure how I can possibly expect the people in my house who have the distinct disadvantage of less time and less life experience (and let’s be honest- less therapy) to be even close to that.

So I’m learning to take the long view. Nobody needs to be perfect right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. (Or quite frankly, next month or next year. Mercy.) Nobody needs to get it all right, right now. We need to keep stumbling forward. Making tiny strides and picking each other up with lots of empathy towards how hard it is to grow up and adult. Lots of forgiveness. Lots of grace. Lots of Love. Lots of acceptance. Lots of quiet conversations about who we are and who we want to be and if our actions today are helping us get there.  Lots of laughter at ourselves and with each other as we’re  trying to figure it all out. Over decades. Over a lifetime.

Because here’s the thing about the short view: It’s incomplete. It’s underdeveloped. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfair. It’s unforgiving. It’s unrealistic. It’s impossible. It’s an exercise in frustration– with ourselves and with each other. It’s harsh and uninformed.

It’s true the longview takes a long time– a lifetime– But since that’s all we’ve got, I’m going to stick around for it because I can see in the distance it’s going to be beautiful.

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Where I End and You Begin

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Not long ago I was on a first date with a nice guy. (We’ve already had our last date, but I’ll get to that later.And if it seems as though I’ve become the Taylor Swift of dating and then writing about it, I feel that. And you’re welcome.)

My date and I were chatting over a few drinks and having a very typical getting-to-know-you type of conversation when he started to describe a sticky situation in his life. It was a little weird and after he finished describing it and how he got into it, etc… He looked at me and smiled and said, “But if I were in a relationship with someone who didn’t approve and asked me to get out of it, I would.”

You could tell he thought that was a pretty smooth, impressive thing to say. And a few years ago, I would’ve thought it was too. Except now I have better boundaries. (Thank you, therapy. I love you. You are the one for me.)

And so instead, I thought, wait what?

Side Note: If the dating scene isn’t a freakin’ messy and bizarre melting pot of bad boundaries and crazy boundaries and no boundaries, I don’t know what is. And admittedly, I have not perfected the art of boundaries, so I’m not throwing stones as much as I’m making observations. But even I knew we had a boundary situation on our hands here.

A Boundary is a definite place where your responsibility ends and another person’s responsibility begins. Boundaries stop you from doing things for others that they should be doing for themselves.

A Boundary prevents you from rescuing someone from the consequences of their destructive behavior that they need to experience in order to grow.

Boundaries help other people understand how you will and will not be treated.

A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.

I smiled sweetly at my date and said, “You are a grown man. And I’m a grown woman. I would never tell you what to do and you will never tell me what to do. You’ve chosen to be in that situation and that’s cool. But it will never be my job to tell you to get out of it. What I would end up telling you is that it’s not for me, but I wish you well.” (That’s some fine boundary-setting. Well done, Jules!)

Good luck! Godspeed!

Next.

He seemed to be a little confused that I wasn’t swooning over this generous offer to let me dictate his behavior.  But now the idea of that makes me want to run. I have a hard enough time figuring out my own stuff- I don’t want to figure out yours too, buddy.  And why on earth would you want me to?

Fast forward a few weeks and this same nice guy cancelled plans at the last minute twice and stood me up once.

And I’m not the kind of girl who gets stood up twice.

So that was the end of that.

But funny thing, he started calling and texting again recently. And I very nicely told him that the way he operates and communicates is not for me. I like him. He’s a nice guy. But I won’t be treated that way. (More good boundaries. Rock. On.)

Boundaries make it so simple, don’t they? They aren’t meant to be mean or inflexible. They’re meant to keep us safe and keep expectations clear. We teach people how to treat us. And when we’re clear about what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t, it helps both people decide if the relationship will work for them. If it won’t, we can both move on.

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It’s much harder to set boundaries with people we love deeply–Our children. Our partner. Our parents or sibs. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or see people we love suffer. But the truth is, we’re the ones who end up suffering when we fail to put healthy boundaries in place.

I’m getting better at boundaries all the time. And now that I’ve prioritized self-respect in my life, it’s easy to recognize situations that compromise my boundaries.

So how about you? Do you know where you end and someone else begins? If you don’t, there’s no better time to figure it out than now. But I’m not telling you what to do. Because that’s your job, not mine.

BOOM.

 

 

Well That Escalated Quickly

Literally just DAYS after I posted my last blog, {How Does a Widowed and Divorced Single Mom Teach Her Kids About Love}   the relationship I was in fell apart. Like. Nuclear.

And one of the first things I thought was:

“EFF! Why did I just write that stupid Pollyanna post about love and believing in love and love being a good thing?? Why was I feeling all shiny and Valentine-y and loving and like I needed to write about it??”

Because that’s what I do. Because that’s Real Life. Truthfully.

Which is why I’m writing this.

I wrote it because I was trying. Trying to love smart. Trying to be optimistic. Trying to believe it was true.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t.

And also Real Life, Truthfully?  My knee-jerk reaction was predictable.

I hate love. I hate relationships. Men suck. Men are all the same. This is why I like being single. Single is easy. And fun. And free. This is…Shambolic. Calamity. Nonsense. 

But the next day as I was regrouping from disappointment and anger, I started flipping through one of my favorite new books, Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. Every single page has a powerful punch of a quote– and I came across these:

The first one got me totally fired up.

Yes, Cheryl Strayed! Yes!

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But then there was this one, which had me like…Ugh.

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And finally, there was this. The worst one of all:

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“To love and be loved. That is the meaning of life.”

Sigh. Eye roll. So precious.

Except it’s true.

There is TONS of love in my life. Romantic love is only one stream in a vast and deep and breathtaking ocean of love. Love rains down on my life from so many different directions, in a hundred different ways from the loyal people in my tribe.  And all of this love… it is, indeed, what gives my life such beautiful meaning.

So.

Love still doesn’t suck. Love is a good thing. Sometimes people suck. Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we pictured. (Um. Make that most of the time.)

But love is still the meaning of life.

And I still believe.