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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C what I mean?

by stevendepolo via creative commons

This post is brought to you by the LETTER C as in codeine, which stops the hacking long enough for me to talk and to sleep a bit and which wraps my world in a warm, fuzzy of blanket of calm.
C also stands for Christmas, the day on which my robot battery pack failed. After nearly two weeks of scrambling to shop, clean, keep up with everyday stuff, shop, attend holiday concerts and events, wrap, stress, shop, cook and stress some more, I gave in on the 25th.
C also stands for clammy sweating and chills. I faked it through the 23rd and 24th. I went roller skating on aching legs and ignored the creeping malaise. I pushed one of those ridiculous wonky carts through IKEA, past all those inviting couches and beds, whose siren songs had an almost irresistible pull. I sang Christmas carols at a candle light service on the 24th in spite of a raw throat and watery eyes. I skipped sleep one night to scrub my guest bathroom clean.
On the 25th we hosted dinner. So I downed some NyQuil, used some nasal spray and throat spray, put on extra makeup and a big smile and carried on.

“Are you sick?” one of my relatives asked post-dinner, when we were sipping tea and munching on home-baked cookies.

“Me? Oh, no… allergies, I think.”

Denial. Why the denial? There’s a family history.

By the 26th I was flat on my back. No more faking or denying. I missed two holiday parties. I missed an opportunity to go ice skating and sledding and to get together with friends over coffee.

C also stands for common sense, which is in short supply around here. I finally realized that practicing medicine without a license never ends well.  So I went to my awesome doctor, the one who treated me two years ago after I mixed the NyQuil/Benadryl/nasal spray/throat spray denial cocktail — along with real cocktails and outdoor swimming — on a trip to Las Vegas. I didn’t come home with a hangover. I came home with pneumonia in my left lung. My doctor is a swell guy, and he spared me a lecture this time around because this time I came in before I started coughing up blood. He just gave me the much-needed pills and cough medicine. He also gave me a copy of my chest X-ray on CD.

The good new is that my X-ray is clear. No scary dark spots. Just a bacterial infection of the respiratory system. That does not begin with C.


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Wǔ jiǎo xīng

“Mom, we should get a tree topper for our Christmas tree.”

Girl from the East and I were in the car, on our way to Target for household items.

Rather than fire off all the reasons why we didn’t need one, I considered that we actually might need a new tree topper. The old Father Christmas model with the burned-out candle light and yellowed fur trim was purchased when Girl from the West was a baby, when her father and I were newlyweds, trying to assemble a set of decorations and decide on a theme. We never did. (He wanted a monochromatic, modern tree. I wanted traditional pieces.)

Each year, without thought or question, we mounted old Father Christmas on the tree, making passing jokes that he had  a stick up his butt. Aside from a few Baby’s First Christmas ornaments from the early 1990s, everything on our tree reflected my new life with my second husband. Everything but the worn-out, stick-up-the-butt Santa. Yep, it was time to get a new tree topper.

Inside Target, Girl from the East and I made a beeline for the holiday decoration department. Thankfully there were a number of toppers available. I let her choose. She grabbed a box containing a sparkly red five point star — or a wǔ jiǎo xīng as we like to call it around here. It seemed kind of big and unwieldy. We bought it anyway.

At home, we unwrapped the star and placed it atop the tree. You know what? I love it. I love that my five-year-old came up with the idea and made the selection. It’s not something I would have picked. This is a wonderful thing. She is her own person. She is leaving her mark all around our house and in our hearts in so many ways. This is the upside, the amazing benefit of having children.

Children open your eyes and your heart to endless possibilities.

This one, she said.

The amazing topper and transformation

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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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Did you hear? Did you see? Did you discuss?

So this thing happened in the airspace over my city. Yet, I was blissfully ignorant of it for most of the day it happened.

I saw a quick headline online that said something about a problem on a flight.

It was Christmas Day. I had Christmas stuff to do. I have two children. We had to get on the rain-slicked roads to grandmother’s house in mid-state Michigan. Even over dinner that evening, the conversation barely touched upon the disaster averted. We were too busy debating political correctness at the holidays, Obama’s first year in office, and if striped cats are gassier than solid-colored ones.

By orvalrochefort via Creative Commons

It was not until our long, dark, rainy drive home that we switched on the radio and learned this airplane thing was more like a failed suicide bombing and it was here in Detroit. The next day at my mother’s house we talked at length about cheery things like if the plane exploded in the air, how big an area would the fallout cover? What was the typical incoming flight path of a Northwest/Delta plane? Are there parts of the area that are under flight paths more than others? We realized that no matter where it happened, if it had happened, it would have affected someone we know.

Beyond the bounds of family walls, I’ve heard squat. I mean the news media is squeezing every drop out of the story. But around town, the one that was in the would-be bull’s eye, as far as I can tell, not so much. I asked friends who traveled by air over the holiday if the incident affected their psyches or boarding experiences. Not much, they said. However, they traveled domestically. I didn’t talk to anyone who traveled overseas.


This thing. It didn’t happen as planned. If I understand the story correctly, by the description of things, it wouldn’t have happened even if passengers hadn’t intervened. The guy didn’t have his chemicals mixed properly or something. He didn’t have all the details straight. Thank god. Most likely he terrorized his man parts. Oh, he did terrorize some of the passengers. I cannot minimize that nor will I make light of it.

Two things come to mind in the wake of this:

First, Jeez, can we ever get a break here? Must every bad story, losing sports team, failing industry, worst educational system, all emanate from the Mitten State and specifically from the base of the thumb of the Mitten? I know the situation was random, that it was not specifically designed to make Detroit look bad. One populated American city is as good a target as the next if you are the enemy and on a mission, right? Still, I had a Rodney Dangerfield moment in which I bemoaned “Why can’t we get any respect around here?”

Second, news about heightened security and full body scans horrify me. Are you among those who think nothing of it? Or, are you like me and shudder at the thought of some Dwight Schrute type sweating and giggling as he scans your bits and parts in search of weapons and hidden contraband?


I’m still creeped out about the jaw X-ray my dentist gave me a while back to “hang onto, please.” No further explanation. I took it home and looked it over and felt kinda itchy and twitchy afterward. Don’t count me among those who find skulls and internal organs and neural pathways to be interesting viewing.

via FOX News

However, we are a nation of entrepreneurs and mavericky rogues or is it roguish mavericks? I wonder how soon before an independent contractor sets up shop at the airport to sell copies of your scan as a vacation souvenir? You know how you can ride a roller coaster or go whitewater rafting and at the end there’s a booth with a picture of you all bug-eyed, mouth agape and you wonder where in the heck the camera was and then you pay $25 so you can have it as a memory of your experience?

Who doesn’t want a key chain or a framed collage of the family body scans from the Christmas 2009 holiday vacation?

While I love to travel and I’ve never had any fears of flying, I have come to detest airport security. My worst experiences were traveling both into China and around China. Aside from the trashing of my luggage and the suitcase searches were the confiscation of things that were in compliance with the posted guidelines. As baggage screeners dangled my stuff over the trash can, I’d point to the signs at the gate illustrating the 3-oz containers in small Ziploc Baggies and then wince as my Baggie was tossed into a trash bin anyway.  “You cannot have” was the only explanation. I seethed as I had to continuously shrug out of both a backpack and a baby carrier and unload my purse. Apparently baby wearers with backpacks are No. 1 on the suspicious list.

Since then I clench up like a sissy boy in prison every time I approach security. Give me turbulence and crazy takeoffs. I can handle that. But don’t come at me with the latex gloves, Dwight.

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'I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together'


Photo by MZ

I’m not sure what Christmas means to me anymore.
To my children it’s a wonderful time of year filled with wishes and cookies and Santa Claus and sparkly things.
To me, it’s a Dickensian mix of shadows cloaked in chains, bacchanalia, sprigs of holly and Tiny Tim’s enduring hope. Christmas music, particularly Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” and Vince Guaraldi’s  “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” wet my eyes and stir memories of childhood innocence.

In my mind’s eye, Christmas is a room aglow with flickering candles, a crackling log burning in the fireplace and a sparkling tree. It’s waking up to sunlight bouncing off a fresh layer of snow.
In reality, it’s a time when triggers of past hurts and traumas lay ahead of me like a minefield. Tonight, as my family baked cookies and wrapped gifts, I recalled my own family’s Christmas Eve tradition: Midnight Mass. After a heavy meal, gift opening and merry-making brought about largely by excessive alcohol intake, we’d while away the hours until it was time to slip on coats, step into boots and stumble in the station wagon for a quick, dicey ride to St. Something or Other. You had to stay awake for Midnight Mass but there was no rule about staying sober. Just ask the fence.
And thats where the happy memories fade and shape-shift into darker times. That’s where the shadows live.

I don’t want to give up Christmas. My inner world has shifted away from these early constructs. But I need to live in the outer world, too. I just need to make peace with those ghosts of the past.
In spite of my efforts to simplify the present, to make the holiday something meaningful on my terms, much of it really is beyond my control. Whether or not I embrace the religious aspect of the day, it’s a cultural institution and a seasonal rite.

With that in mind, to all of my wonderful blog friends, thank you for this community.

Thank you for making me laugh and making me cry.
Thank you for sharing a slice of your life with me. Thank you for taking an interest in my world.

Some of you are local and maybe I’ve met you a time or two or we’ve become friends.
Some of you are far away and I hope to someday meet you in real life.
Some of you have had a tough year. I wish you well in 2010 and will continue to follow along on your journey.
Some of you lead lives I’ll never know but am fascinated to observe from afar.
Some of you I’ve followed from the beginning. Some of you I’ve just discovered.
No matter what we celebrate or how we choose to do it, we have something in common.
I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together ….(Lennon and McCartney)

Jolly ChristmaKwanzaHanukkah!

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Third time's the charm


Christmas 2008

This is Girl from the East’s third Christmas. She’s been alive for four observances, but in 2005 she was only a few weeks old and living in a land where Christmas is not celebrated.

Sometimes I try to image what she looked like as a newborn. Sometimes I try to imagine what her first December must have been like, without a family cuddling and adoring her. I hope it wasn’t too cold where she lived. I hope she wasn’t too lonely. 

Thankfully we arrived that following autumn and carried her home in loving arms all the way to her first birthday cake. Soon after we scooped heaping spoonfuls of food into her mouth on her first Thanksgiving, and then set her in Santa’s lap for her first real Christmas.  I think most of what she experienced on her first wave of holidays with us was overwhelming and incomprehensible.


Christmas 2006

Christmas 2006

But it also awakened something inside. Slowly afterward she began to unfold like a spring bud responding to the sun’s warmth. By Valentine’s Day she was walking and babbling and becoming the roly-poly baby she was meant to be. Is there any better gift for her or for us?

 I have only one early picture of her, taken at two days old. The thumbnail-sized image is safely locked away and not for public consumption. It’s a grainy shot, taken quickly and from overhead, so that I barely recognize the girl she is today in that first image. 

Much has changed over the course of three Christmases. This year she understood the simplest concepts of Christmas: the celebration of a birth; the giving and receiving of gifts; the decorating of a tree; and the pleasure of sharing the experience of a nuclear and extended family.

This year was the real charm for her. While it was a simple holiday by past standards, her joy at the smallest touches: frosting on a cookie, silly ornaments on the tree, hugging her new Care Bear, made all the worries of the everyday world wash away.

Classic holiday moments


When Girl from the West was much younger, she questioned the many holiday cards, decorations and symbols around our home.

She asked about the Creche and I explained the Birth of Christ story. She asked about Santa Claus and I told her what I could recall of the history of St. Nicholas and the many variations of the story of gift giving and helping the less fortunate.

She asked about the candles and the decorated tree and we talked a little about Yule and the Winter Solstice. 

Then she picked up the Dreidel placed between a wooden reindeer and a merry snowman character. The item was given to her in a Sunday school class at our church. Ours is a non-denominational house of worship and often  includes special celebrations of other religious holidays. I thought the Dreidel was an interesting piece and added it to our holiday collection.

“Mom,” she asked, spinning the four sided wooden item in her hands. “If Christians celebrate Christmas, who celebrates Hanukkah?

“Is it the Hanukkanians?”

Such an innocent question. We still laugh about it today.

Apologies to all my Jewish readers and friends; Happy Hanukkah.