The dressing down, issued
by a 7-year-old CEO

Mom, you need to get a job.

But I do have a job.

What is your job?

(This is where I explain what I do, and that it is work. I have assignments, must meet deadlines, and I get paid to do it. I work from my home office, at the coffee shop or the public library.)

But that is not real work like what daddy does.

Why is it not real?

Well, because you’re just on your computer, like always. You should be building something or in a store or something.

Some people work on computers all day. Mommy used to work in a building on a computer all day.

It just doesn’t seem like you do anything.

What about all the stuff mommy does at home? Shop, cook, clean, laundry, shovel snow, gardening, pay bills, take care of you? Is that not work?

That’s just stuff parents do.

So, you don’t want mommy home in the morning to help get you to school? or after school, to help with homework and projects, or take you to the library?

I could go to latchkey. (She says with a light in her eyes.)  I just think you should get a job.

———————————————

There it is. My seven-year-old, channeling Marissa Mayer

Nothingburger, with ketchup

 

Turns out that sneaking into your daughter’s elementary school looking disheveled, with an object clutched to your chest, and breaking into a run down the hallway is a really, really bad idea.

Last week, life was a solid blue-green on the suburban terror index, it was a nothingburger.

This week, slather that dull burger in a coat of screaming code red.

I do not mean to make light of the recent tragedy — I cannot think of it for a second without welling up and feeling helpless.  I do not mean to poke fun of our growing fear for safety in public places. I am merely casting light on my total lack of forethought earlier this week. After recounting the story dozens of times in the last few days, I recast my role from bumbling doofus to undercover security evaluator. So there’s that.

My story starts as many do, with a solid excuse: I was tired and in a hurry.

My modus operandi was to hurry to the school to deliver my daughter’s water bottle, which had the misfortune of tumbling out of her backpack at the bus stop. It’s been a rough few weeks around here, with me working a little more than usual, the holiday stuff that adds layers of duty and stress to everything, and extra homework projects to keep my daughter up too late each night. Twice in the last two weeks she’s forgotten her water bottle. Just the day before there was an unfortunate sock choice that led to tears and frustration before school. I just wanted a good day free from glitches.

I just wanted a good day.

I arrived at the quiet building, before it bustled with the energy of young students, to find administrators and support staff standing stiff with their heavy duty at the main entrance.  Clutching the bottle, I ducked and ran. Not for long. As I bolted to get to her locker (This is more about me not wanting to be seen in public in glorified PJs and a knit hat than anything else.) I stepped over some invisible sensor, triggering a few moments of alarm and embarrassment.

Within seconds the front-door crew shouted “Hey! Hey! HEY!” and ran after me. I felt a hand hook my arm. It was the school principal, his brow crinkled in consternation.

“What are you doing?” he asked, gently but firmly.

“Don’t you watch the news? Don’t you know what’s happening?” said one of the hall monitors, with a hint of shrill.

“I, uh, my daughter dropped her water bottle at the bus stop,” I said breathlessly, noticing them gather around me. I felt like a criminal. My entire psyche wilted in humiliation.

“I just wanted to put it in her locker. I’m in a hurry,” I said.

“Didn’t you read the district newsletter?” the hall monitor asked again, taking the bottle from my hands and turning it over to find a name label. “No one is allowed in the building without a pass from the office.”

“No, I mean, yes, I know what you are talking about but I thought ….”

“Water bottles should be labeled,” monitor said. Another admonishment. Should I just bend over and wait for the spanking?

The moment was over. I gave them my daughter’s name and room number and skulked out the door. I was not a gun-toting madwoman, just a frazzled mother with an overly tired daughter and a raging case of mommy guilt.

Just a week earlier I’d strolled right into the building before morning bell as I helped my girl carry her special project to her classroom. Just a week ago, we had school security, but moods were light and breezy. The very same people smiled and waved at me.

Everyone said they were glad to know the school was taking security seriously, even if it was at my expense. I guess I feel good about that part of it.

What I don’t feel good about is the rising paranoia and fear and the idea that more weaponry will make us safer. Each morning at the bus stop, parents talk of homeschooling, of pulling their kids out early before holiday break, of a renewed fear of what might happen on Dec. 21. War zones are stocked with guns and weapons. They are not safe places. What I don’t feel good about is a society in which one false move, one lapse in judgment puts you and me and anyone else under suspicion for plots and evil deeds. Although it may be necessary, making school entrances as tight as airports makes me very sad.

At times like these I feel very old. As cliché as it sounds, I long for the simpler times of my childhood.

How much for a spotless mind?

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

— Alexander Pope, from “Eloisa and Abelard”

My favorite movie ever

The phone chirps just as I am heading into the grocery store.

Do you have a moment? Can you talk?”

Hearing the signal for a sit-down conversation, I get back in the car, set down my shopping bags and settle in.

The story, which takes a while to tell because it involves bad deeds, an innocent, the criminal justice system and heartbreak, by all avenues of logic should summon tears to my eyes, set my heart racing, stir my gut. Instead, I sit in the car watching shoppers unload their carts and wrestle their kids into car seats. I do not pound my fist on the dashboard. I do not declare the world a wretched place. I just sit there.

The information only sinks in as deep as a tattoo artist’s ink, sparing deep tissue and nerves. Is it because the people involved in this story are far-removed from my life? Is it because they were not nice to me in the past? Does their heartbreak mean less to me than those who’ve been kind?

Let’s go back to the weekend, when my husband and I had one of our occasional date nights. Part of the plan was to see Samsara. But when we entered the theater for the late showing, my husband changed his mind, fearing the artsy think piece would inspire snoring and drooling on the less-than-hygienic theater upholstery. I let him have his way. We ended up seeing The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

(For the two readers of this blog, this is what is known as a spoiler alert. If you’ve not seen this movie, skip this paragraph.)

The coming-of-age flick, heavy on early ’90s nostalgia, seemed fairly safe until the main character Charlie’s problem is revealed close to the end. I had my suspicion about where things were heading but dismissed it as my dark thinking. When the two main characters bond over the revelation that trusted adult figures in their lives molested them, I am teary-eyed and sweaty, and the wine and appetizers in my stomach start churning. Instead of snoring and drooling on the upholstery, I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I am moderately devastated over movie characters.

So during this phone call, in which I find myself unmoved, even though the characters in this story are real and not played by actors, I’m told by the bearer of the news, who ought to know better:

“I know this isn’t something you’ve experienced in your life, but try to have some sympathy. Say a prayer.”

Now I’m ready to pound my fist on the dashboard. Now I’m ready to rail against humanity. Why do we make assumptions about others? Why do we make judgments when passing on information? Is it possible to erase our minds of personal history?

In the amount of time it takes the guy next to me to return the shopping cart to the corral and get in his car, my head implodes: How could she (of all people) say this to me? Wasn’t she there? Does she remember nothing of the last 30 years? Did she say that to see how I would react? How should I react? Right now, right here it could be a major fight. Oh, it could get ugly. But toward what end? Maybe she has forgotten. Maybe she never really knew or understood. Maybe the day I told her she was preoccupied. Maybe after all those sessions in family therapy she had a brain cleanse and her memory is spotless. 

Much later I think about the girl at the center of this new story. A girl like me at that age, surrounded by dysfunction, largely forgotten. Now she’s the object of pity,worry and gossip. Is this her legacy? It might be years before she emerges from the fog of this story and connects dots between things that happened to her then and how it has colored her world. Rather than be angry that my very old story is forgotten, or that I have unpredictable reactions, I should think about the parade of girls and boys to whom this is still happening.

So, like the wind sweeps trash from the store parking lot, I let go of the comment, let it slip into the gutter and out of sight. It’s better for the news bearer to believe nothing ever happened to me. It would be better for me, too. Maybe I should seek a spotless mind.

I’m working on having more compassion for those who have hurt me, who wished the worst for me when we were young, who maybe knew my secrets and thought less of me because of them, and who now find themselves on the other side of this divide.

I’m working on avoiding assumptive statements.

How sure am I of such things? How sure is anyone?

Always, I’m seeking eternal sunshine.

Up and down

I watched as a sizable limb cracked free from an elm and plummeted to the earth with a shuddering thud. It was a busy day in a fast part of the city. I think I was the only one to see it.  Who looks up?

Days later, standing on the sidelines of a bustling outdoor market, I watched a bouquet of  mylar balloons bob on the current until they entangled themselves on power lines. The resulting blast vibrated my ribcage and sent the overhead wires bouncing like jump ropes. Again, no one else saw it. I had to point up to several worried folks clutching their chests and looking around in confusion. Someone even called the police.

I don’t know what makes me notice these things. Perhaps some small movement, or a shift of air pressure, but at just the right moment, my eyes shift skyward. I’m a daydreamer, a thinker, and I’m prone to studying even the smallest of details. Sometimes I see things no one else does and miss the obvious.

The severed limb jarred me the most. Something about its limp form splayed in the parking lot, long green fingers enveloping the car next to it, seemed apologetic. I looked up at the tree again, to what seemed a healthy and whole entity. How freakish, I thought, and yet totally the way of nature. Unpredictable, deadly, awesome.

Then, the what ifs began.

What if someone had been in that car? What if a small child had run up to the parked car? What if we had picked that parking space? I’m always asking what if?

Sometimes I don’t see what’s right there. One of our cats has an inoperable tumor.  Just a few weeks ago it wasn’t there at all. One of my girls discovered it as a small lump and called me tearfully when I was in a meeting.  I dismissed her worries. What did she know that I did not? Today that smallish mass that felt like a gummy bear it is now a heavy rock crowding the cat’s pelvis. It grows and grows and there is nothing to be done, the veterinarian says.

Our finances are, as they have been for a while now, like a slowly filling balloon. Letting the air out of the balloon is a careful, discriminating process. Who or what will make the cut? Years before, when we had lines of credit, we maxed out a card trying to save this cat’s brother. All the IVs and shots we could afford, all the tests we could manage did nothing to save him.

Make him comfortable, the vet says. You’ll know when it’s time.

There are a few things on life support around here. Things that even a few years ago I thought were rock solid, like a tall, seemingly healthy tree with strong branches and full leaf cover. But inside, like a tumor, a slow rot devours the core. One day, which seems like all the others, something crashes within inches of your skull.

I’m wide awake, but I’ve numbed a part of myself to imminent loss, to the threat of loss, to upheavals. When pressed for answers I can’t give any. At the same time, I’m making flip-flopped choices.

I spent a month saying yes to every invitation I received at the expense of my yard and gardens and personal affairs. Why not? There’s always a reason to say no to living life.

I spent a month seeking my happiness. I loved it. I felt closer to myself than I had in years. Now, I pick up the rake and shovel, I prepare for another good-bye, rub the healing balm between my palms and massage what is fixable.

I’m easily bored. I’m also a bit of a thrill junkie. When things get boring — or scary — I need something to divert my attention. I had an old tattoo modified, made it about four times the original size.

I welcomed the cutting, stinging sensation. I can deal with this, I thought. This pain has a beginning and an end. I can breathe through it, manage it. The tattoo artist was young and good-looking and he bought me cookies from the bakery next door (because I admitted I hadn’t had much to eat that day.) It was not lost on me that although it was part of his job, he was leaning into me for more than an hour. Pleasure for the price of pain?

All week, the sting at the site, the healing throb and itch, kept my thoughts away from the inevitable. It’s the free-floating emotional pain, at sea without land in sight, that is unbearable. I’m not so good with that. Is anyone? Is that why so many of us don’t look up?

Who carries the seeds of a fast-growing tumor? What heavy limbs dangle over our dreams?

What can we do to make the most of every day?

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade
Edenland has resurrected her Fresh Horses Brigade meme. In it she asks: Who are you? I wrote this a few days ago while trying to make sense of recent happenings. It says as much about who I am as anything else on this blog.

 

Back end

Object is much smaller than it appears

I found this unhatched robin’s egg on the lawn, abandoned for whatever reason. Being the person I am, I couldn’t walk away. I cupped my hand and carefully lifted the egg from the grass, nesting it on my palm for the short walk inside.  I set it in a small ceramic pinch bowl and considered it for a few minutes. Did the egg plummet from a nearby nest?  Is it a stolen egg dropped by a panicky, clumsy predator? Worst of all, did it pop out of the old girl while she was worm hunting?

The answers aren’t important. These past few weeks have been havoc on my patience and will. My husband answers my complaints of every day veering madly off course and what about all my plans and goals with ‘this is the stuff of life.’

Buck up, sister. I’m glad I have his voice of reason even if it sometimes makes me want to strangle until an egg pops out.

Sometimes it’s just too many lost eggs, too many scatter-brained middle-age mother moments, too many predators peering in the blinds, too many embarrassing moments when you’re worm hunting and something unexpected pops out of your back end.

 

Deal or no deal?

Someone I met recently shared some potentially deal-breaking information with me. The kind of information that makes you think you jumped in too fast. It was personal, but necessary, information. This made me realize how much I judge, shape an opinion, decide the worthiness of someone,  and how much of it is based on appearances.

In this case: my opinion was very high because this man is always very well-dressed,  mild-mannered, eloquent, and impossibly polite by today’s standards. It’s as if he just stepped down from a Victorian-era hansom with top hat and walking stick in hand. I mean this in the most complimentary way. He always appears to be the epitome of the true gentle man.

Then, because we are considering working on a project together, we began talking via e-mail. There came a turning point, when he had to bare a small part of his soul, something only those who need to know know,  in order for me to gauge whether I could take on the project.  I didn’t see it coming. I’ll admit I had to take a deep breath and process.  I was thankful this happened virtually rather than face-to-face because my expression may have betrayed my feelings.

The man he is today is the result of a painful process involving grievous mistakes and inescapable consequences. There’s probably a lot more that I don’t know — but might if I sign on to this one. So, what now? Walk away? Proceed with caution but draw clear boundaries? Forge ahead without prejudice?

Would I have been less shocked if he was a slovenly, ill-mannered sort of person? Why did appearances play so heavily in this matter? How well do we know anyone in our lives?

This got me thinking about my life and how I seem to others. If you don’t know my back story, you could come up with any number of conclusions about me. I’ve heard them all. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. I could go to the same store dressed two different  ways and receive very different treatment. If I go in a skirt, makeup applied and hair styled, I get attention. If I go in paint-splattered pants, bare-faced, hair twisted in a clip, I’m ignored. I’m treated one way when I’m with my children at the park, quite another when I’m at a concert venue in high heels. Is this fair? Is this right? I don’t know but it’s the way of things.

Recently I gave up trying to be friends with someone. I thought we clicked, that we would be fast friends. At first I think we were, then something changed. I don’t know what I did; I can only assume I committed a deal breaker. Slowly it occurred to me that she was dumping me.

She started saying things like: I thought you hated (insert name of my favorite band/food/wine/restaurant.) so I didn’t ask/invite you.  She started recalling details about me that were not my story: that I had carpal tunnel syndrome, that I was a homebody who never liked to go out, that I contradicted myself.

It hit me then: She didn’t know me at all and really didn’t want to. She just reached a hand into the junk drawer of her brain and pulled out scraps to form her idea of me. She had already made up her mind.

Deal breaker.

 

What did you just say?

People are made in China, too.

We all do it.

The brain issues the statement and the mouth broadcasts it faster than the censors can hit the bleep button.

Then, my dear, you are in the throes of an awkward moment.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving end of one while volunteering in Girl from the East’s kindergarten classroom.

In case you are new here, Girl from the East was born in China. She is an American citizen through adoption. She is the world to us.

Girl is six years old. We became a family in 2006 when she was just under 11 months old. Everyone who knows us well knows our dynamic. Although we cannot shield her from the ignorance and hate of the outside world, we are fortunate to travel in fairly educated and enlightened circles.

But when something changes, like starting a new school, we have to start fresh. We have to go through the shit — again.

So it came as a kick to the gut during a classroom holiday party when one of the volunteer parents uttered an insensitive statement for everyone to hear.

Apparently upset that the plastic glue bottle would not produce a dot of adhesive for him in a timely manner, he began banging the container on the craft table. Then, he stood up, handed the glue bottle to the teacher and said something close to this:

“Another useless piece of crap from China.”

OK. I know. We are in an election year. The anti-China rhetoric is blowing around like trash in the streets. We, especially those of us in the Rust Belt, gripe about the outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas factories. We all grumble that things are not made to last.  I’m just as upset about it as you are.

As I mentioned, my daughter was made in China, quite possibly to hard-working farmers, or severely overworked and under-compensated factory workers. It is not the fault of the collective overseas workforce that products are inferior. Look to the greedy corporations, suppliers and governments. Many of these factory workers travel hundreds of miles away from their home villages to earn wages to support their whole family. Some have children they never see.  It is an ugly situation and we all suffer the consequences of it through low-quality and sometimes tainted goods as well as job loss right here in the United States. It is a huge problem.

Please direct your anger where it belongs. Boycott products and companies that take part in these practices. Write letters. Start a movement. Please do not China bash, especially in front of my daughter or your children or anyone of Asian appearance.

Telling me, oh, I thought she was Korean, does not make it OK.

Our classroom is somewhat diverse. We have a racial and ethnic mix. Open bashing of any of the other races or ethnicities is unheard of in today’s hyper-sensitive school climates. Yet, China bashing is rampant.

My daughter is proud of her roots. She is too young to understand the complicated relationship between the United States and China (heck, I don’t get it, either.)  She is too young to understand things like Communism and the Cultural Revolution and emerging capitalism. She’s just a kid.

We teach her there are good and bad people in China. Good and bad businesses in the United States. We must take things on a case-by-case basis.

I haven’t forgotten that day or those words. I’m still wondering what to do. I started writing a proactive type of letter that could be distributed via the school’s weekly newsletter, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Why didn’t I call him out? Why didn’t I pull him aside afterward? I’ve done that before to little satisfaction on anyone’s part. Perhaps I’m not the most diplomatic. Perhaps those who say such things are firm in their beliefs and are just twitching to engage in debate.  When I approached an offending parent at toddler play group a few years back, she vehemently stood behind her words, asserting that there is no correlation between statements of inferior products and the people of a nation. She suggested I grow thicker skin because the issue isn’t going away.

I’m not going anywhere, either. The day I held my Girl from the East for the first time was the day I knew I’d taken on an extra duties, ones that require added defense and offense for the inter-country adoption community.

So, please, take a moment to think about the source of your anger. Think about your audience. Think about the innocent people you might hurt with your uncensored remarks.

Thank you.

 

 

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Putting the ow in wow

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned my right knee made a sound like a chip bag being crumpled? Remember how I made it sound like it was a funny thing?

Even funnier is now I have a matched set. Two knees that sound like crumpling cellophane when I kneel or try to lunge or squat in exercise.

Maybe I can sell them on eBay.

Do I need new knees? I’ve saved for a good pair of running shoes. Oh, and one of those titanium sports bras. Now, it looks like knee braces are on the list. But not new knees, oh god, no.

Getting old — older — sucks just like I thought it would.

As you may be aware, I have all these goals for the summer and beyond. Goals that need a higher level of fitness. Call these things carrots or brass rings or whatever. I use them as motivators to get in the best shape of my life.

So, what happened on the sweaty road from fat to fit?

Failure is not an option is my mantra. Since October I’ve worked hard to reach a goal that seemed impossible.

Two weeks ago, the tiniest tip of my big toe lightly brushed against that goal. I was so wowed by this I lost all sense.

Suddenly I was Jaime Sommers, the bionic woman. As I ran I heard that ch-ch-ch-CH-CH sound in my head. At least until the first commercial break, then I fell down a flight of steps, bolts and screws flying in all directions, my toe miles from any goal. Back to the lab.

I pushed myself too fast, too soon. I attempted to work through the pain, like I thought you were supposed to do. Turns out there are subtle differences between a sore muscle and inflamed tissue. Turns out I do not have a degree in sports medicine or physical therapy. Turns out my journalism degree is good only if I employ the research aspect.

Sure, I downloaded training schedules, read articles on the process, talked to others.  But if the order for the day said run 2.5 miles, I said, fuck it, I’ll go for three.

Turns out that at a certain age that is not the best workout plan. Turns out my parts are not titanium like the sports bra I covet.

Now, instead of sweating and feeling the burn, I’m on the couch icing my legs and losing the battle of willpower with those boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the pantry.

What is the sound of patience? Better yet, can I buy it on eBay?

 

 

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Sorry …

Sorry, I'm a bit of a flake.

“Can’t you just e-mail me with this stuff?”

Words coated in ice, slippery with sleet, sliding down my sensitive little back. They don’t roll off and shatter at my feet. They stick at the small of my back.

My ex-husband — father of my Girl from the West, a beautiful young woman now who reached legal age this week — chose these words in response to my phone call on our daughter’s birthday. This is what he had to say when I summoned the courage to call him to say, Hey! Our baby is all grown up. Imagine that?

I was being maudlin, thinking of that winter-storm level snow day in 1994, tethered to that hospital bed, hooked up to countless monitors and a pitocin drip, waiting for this unknown quantity to blast into our lives. And now, here she is, fully grown and ready to take on the world.

Of course, I know better than to just dial up without a good reason. He is not a chatterbox type. I called to discuss what to do about her medical insurance, college loan applications, and the like. I thought I’d lead in with the obvious, to rise above the politics of our divorce.

Sorry …

I retold the story to my mother a few days later, as a way to illustrate how people can be so disappointing and how we have to move on. She harbors her own disappointment with me, apparently, and grabbed my words mid-air and lobbed them back at me. She does not and never will support most of my choices. She’ll always think I could have done better. It’s useless to complain to her about a messy bed when I am the one who tangled the sheets. She is of the school that you take your licks or you rewrite the story in your head until you believe it.

Sorry …

And here is where I have a small epiphany. Maybe the one who was the physical abuser was the least of the matter. Emotional/verbal abuse slithers around me almost continuously and I am color blind to its stripes. I’m rewriting my story, too.

Sorry …

Last fall I had a long phone conversation with my brother, who lives thousands of miles away from all this. He was telling me why he decided not to come home for the holidays. He felt the message he was getting was one of disappointment. That his choices, his lifestyle, were unacceptable to my mother and that he was tired of justifying his life to her.

“I think, sometimes, that she’s upset because she can’t brag about us at the knitting circle,” I said. It was a bonding/healing moment for us.

I’m sorry — sometimes — that I returned from the estrangement arrangement.

I am sorry I didn’t accept your gift of baptism. I’m sorry you can’t understand my need to question the existence of a god or for doubting so-called sacred texts.

I am sorry you don’t notice I have a brain and that I use it to question everything.

I am sorry that no amount of perfection will ever be perfectly perfect enough for your level of perfectness.

I am sorry that I often model this behavior with the ones I love.

I am sorry that I don’t take more of my advice.

I am sorry that it takes me so long to recognize abuse.

I am sorry that I allow others to decide what makes me a good person.

I’m sorry I’m not warmer, more huggy and kissy, and loving and giving.  (I want so badly to be that person.)

I am sorry I am born of such cold people.

I am trying to thaw.

Sorry it’s taking so long.

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade
I am hooked on Edlenland’s weekly Fresh Horses Brigade. That woman challenges me every week. Cheaper than therapy, I tell you.

Dealing with disappointment

by anon de plume via creative commons

Ever since the first time a boy said, “I’ll call you” and didn’t, I’ve had trouble coping with disappointment. I figured like other things in life: learning how to balance a checkbook, checking the oil in your car, knowing what RSVP means, I’d get better at it.

Yeah, not so much.

The past six weeks have been the ultimate “I’ll call you, babe.”

Instead of a phone call, we’ve been waiting, waiting, and waiting, then losing hope, then worrying, then wondering what legal action we might pursue, to get money owed to us. Money earned for hard work. Money that was to finance our Christmas. Big money. Money to pay bills. Money for milk and cat food and gas for the car. Money to get us through the lean, post-Christmas weeks.

While I waited for the mail every day, I moved through the spectrum of emotions: denial, anger and depression. I suppose I’m at acceptance. Maybe.

Isn’t this The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Aside from the first Christmas after my father died (which felt hollow and forced as we went through the motions) and the one following my divorce (not having my only child on Christmas Eve was hard), this has been a bleak season.

Before we knew, we began planning an amazing Christmas. We plotted one really nice gift for each family member. We ordered tickets to Greenfield Village, we decided to host dinner on the 25th, something we haven’t been able to do in a few years due to our financial hardship. We even talked about getting away for a few days.

My husband bore the brunt of this disappointment, as he’d planned it all out so carefully. I bore the brunt of the added stress, as I’d spent so much of the money before it arrived. Neither of us could have predicted this outcome. Anyone who has ever been on shaky footing financially knows that one bad turn of luck picks up speed at a scary pace, especially when you are slowly rebuilding your safety net. It doesn’t take much  to rip it to pieces.

I said yes to social events, but I felt myself entangled in the growing web of white lies. I lied to spare other people the story during this happy time of year. I lied to protect myself because such stories are inadvertent invitations for constructive criticism and suggestions on how we might “do it next time” or worst of all, some veiled appeal for money. I was very careful to stay sober. Once not too long ago, lubricated with alcohol, I talked.

I retreated to reflect. I was all over the place. One day happy that I could have a simple, low-budget holiday, relieved of shopping mall and tree trimming duty. The next day I was bitter with disappointment. Every Facebook post, almost very blog entry, was of something wonderful happening to someone else.  I felt like I was watching it all through a one-way glass.

Finally, we had to concede defeat. We called to cancel, reschedule, decline. We pared the holiday down to its roots: candles and stockings and gifts only for the children (thankfully I’d shopped in advance). Our hosted dinner became a potluck. We confided in our closest relatives and they came through for us. I suppose that is the real meaning of Christmas. I have gratitude for these acts of kindness.

Throughout all of this, I’ve been reminded that it could be so much worse.  This is true but it has not helped ease the disappointment.

I’d like to say I was able to take the long view here and see that this is just a blip on a continuum of constant change. I think both my girls sailed through OK. One is old enough to understand; the other still young enough to enjoy the simple pleasures. Even my husband seems to have moved on.

So much more could be said about fiscal responsibility of families as well as businesses, the excesses of the holidays, unrealistic expectations and my own stubborn behavior.

But I am done. For now.

 

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