Empty chairs and envelopes

One of my favorite holiday rituals is dusting off Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” CD and putting it in the musical rotation. Guaraldi’s nimble hands dance on the keyboard in “Linus and Lucy” and before long I’m toe-tapping, shoulder-shrugging and head-bobbing my way around the hardwoods.

The classic recording serves up a combo platter of emotions: generous portions of cool jazz, sprinkles of childhood joy, all swimming in a thick soup of  nostalgia.  I’m reminded of what the holidays are really about. I’m reminded of what I like about the season and what breaks my heart.

What kills me are the empty chairs. Consider my holiday ruminations: It is often lonely to be married to an only child of divorced parents who live far away. It is also lonely to be the daughter of one living parent and the sister of an unmarried, childless sibling who almost never comes home for the holidays. It’s a little heartbreaking to be the parent of one child whom I must relinquish each Thanksgiving as dictated by custody agreement. It’s frustrating to be the parent of another child who cannot understand what a custody agreement is and why she can’t see her sister. This past weekend had mental moments reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge slurping cold gruel in his drafty apartment.  I longed for a brightly lit room filled with laughing children. I longed for the Ghost of Christmas Present.

In the midst of this contradictory state of dancing and moping, two envelopes — not two ghosts — came into my life.

The first, a white business-sized envelope slipped to me at a holiday party,  contained a set of reprinted photographs from Independence Day weekend and other events from the mid-1970s. Back then, my brother and I were scrappy kids with bony knees and gapped teeth. My parents were a young couple, both smooth-faced and seemingly joyful. My dad had a mostly full head of auburn hair and huge sideburns. My mother’s long locks reached halfway down her back.

The pictures stirred long-buried memories and a deeper understanding of the swift passage of time and its sweeping changes. I admitted out loud that I missed my father, or at least the concept of having one around. He was both the party giver and the life of the party. He had a way of gathering a crowd while he spun one of his hyperbolic tales of work and life. He loved Christmas, singing Christmas carols off-key, getting into character, and lots and lots of crazy dancing. Christmases have never been the same since he died.

The second envelope arrived in the mail, a card of thanks and encouragement from an unexpected source.

I’ve learned a lot from this person in the last two years, made a lot of mistakes and probably went over the top in an effort to prove myself. I never knew if any of it registered. I figured my journey is mine alone and it’s not about the accolades. So, to get  a pat on the back like that out of the blue? Well, it was better than a double serving of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Way better than cold gruel.

Dance like the Peanuts gang, my friends. Dance every day.

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Once a workaholic …

… always a workaholic?

Is this true?

Until a little more than three years ago, I worked full-time outside the home. When I wasn’t working full-time, my schedule was a combination of full-time school and part-time work.

To those who work full-time it may seem like a dream to be home for three years. At first, I thought so, too. I allowed myself big blocks of time to get caught up on TV shows and movies, to nap when my baby napped, to go on long walks. We went away on long weekends and enjoyed life to the fullest.

Then, the guilt began creeping in. Most of it self-induced. I realized I didn’t exactly feel comfortable with an unstructured life. I needed deadlines and commitments to get things done. Somehow having every day of the week to go to the zoo or the park made it less special.

Now, I have filled almost every block of time in my week with something, whether it’s time for work (when it comes my way), volunteer commitments, working toward personal goals, and the ever-present house and yard work and child care. It’s like I dread an unplanned expanse of time.

When I worked full-time, I was famous for bringing my work home, taking on projects, staying late, and coming in on weekends. I suppose in the beginning it was designed to get ahead. In the end, it was a curse. It did not lead to promotions. It led to more work because I was known as the go-to person for this stuff.

It’s easy to  blame all this on my upbringing. My mother and father always kept busy. They didn’t allow their children to wile away an afternoon. If you were home, you were upright and holding something with a handle: a broom, a rake or a paintbrush.  If you were caught empty-handed, you were given a broom or a rake or a paintbrush.

In some regards, I’m glad they passed on to me this work ethic. (I wish I could pay it forward to my children. Direct requests are always a battle. teaching by example only seems to work with my preschooler.)

Yet, I wonder sometimes why I deny myself basic pampering and selfish “me” time. I’ve literally been at the salon or in a bookstore and felt the weight of guilt bear down on me so heavily I have the urge to flee.

Is there hope for me?

This post brought to you by the lovely Brenda and Flog YoBLogFriday. Click on over and enjoy:

mummytime

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Meme Monday: the Honest Scrap edition

honest-scrap
To complete the trio of awards bestowed upon me recently, here is the Honest Scrap award from Lorna the Bathtime Blogger.

Lorna passed this on to me for what she called “my heartfelt writing.”

Thank you, Lorna,  for thinking so. I try.

Nevertheless. This meme requires me to do the unthinkable: list 10 honest things about myself.

Holy crap.

Well, since I’ve done a number of these in recent weeks and revealed a bunch of mundane stuff, I thought I’d take the sprit of this award and delve deeper. Here goes:

1. I never meant for this site to be an anonymous blog. When I set it up more than two years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I thought I’d somehow work my identity into it, but I never got around to it. Now? I really don’t know how to break out of this pattern or if I should.

2. People who should have taken care of me in my childhood hurt me. People in positions of trust. So, I have trust issues, particularly when dealing with people in one particular profession.

3. The people who did these things largely got away with it because I didn’t say anything until many years later, when it was too late. It’s fair to say that some members of my family do not believe my stories.

4. I was on antidepressants for three years. I kept it a secret (big shock!) but quit for two reasons: I gained way too much weight and I didn’t cry at my grandmother’s funeral. I could not shed a tear. I loved that woman with all my heart. I was her favorite granddaughter. Here she was dead and I felt — nothing. I decided to wean myself off them when my prescription expired. I have better ways to deal with my demons. I don’t fault anyone who takes them. I fault greedy doctors who push them on patients and never inquire afterward about how they are working or ever suggest maybe it’s time to get off them.

5. I am not easily honest. You can imagine the amount of gut wrenching involved in hitting publish on this post. It’s not that I set out to lie. I do not like lying.  I just like to protect the truth, even if there is no good reason to be so secretive. Lately for the purposes of not letting history repeat itself, I’ve been more forthcoming.

6. It has taken me more than two years to realize a lifelong friendship that ended badly needed to end. It was toxic. Always had been. I had so much guilt over it. Then one day I realized: I deserve better. Magically, I have made countless new and wonderful friends. I’ve also learned to treasure the longtime friendships that are healthy.

7. I just replace one addiction with another. As a child: nail biting. As a teen and into my late 20s: cigarette smoking. In my 30s: exercise. Today: Food.

8. I don’t like a lot of fuss about anything. Once, when I was quite young and on a class field trip, I climbed into a wooden fort, fell through an opening in the floor and plummeted into a mud puddle below. I didn’t utter a peep. I just stood up, waited for the swirling stars to stop orbiting my head and joined the group as if nothing happened. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

9. I am not now and never was a flirt. I figured if guys were interested in me, they could have a real conversation with me. I am not interested in bullshit banter.

10. I am an (almost) daily meditator. After searching for a number of years, I found a community and a practice that met my needs. My life is so much better because of this discovery and a commitment on my part.

Well, there you go, my  guts are on the table, steaming and stinking for all to inspect. It’s taken me a long time to get the courage to post this.

I’ve met some folks in the last year or so who’ve opened my eyes to the idea of a more authentic life, one in which I walk around wearing robes of my own design and follow the path less traveled. If you are so inclined, pass this along to any blogger or writer you feel speaks from the heart.