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December 1. It doesn't seem possible that it's already the beginning of the last month of 2011. As a rule, I dread December. I love what the spirit of Christmas represents, but I hate all the extra things that need to get done this month: the family pictures that have to be taken, the clothes that need to be bought before those pictures can be shot, the Christmas shopping that needs to be done, the Christmas cards that have to be written and mailed, the last-minute gifts that need to be purchased and wrapped. It's a lot of stress.
As parents, we want our kids to be happy, but sometimes we can't do everything they'd like. For example, today I didn't take my children to storytime. I know they're disappointed, but I need to do other things. Enter Mommy Guilt.
My mom didn't drive, and my dad worked long hours, so I didn't get to do some of the activities my peers did. I also missed many of my friends' birthday parties. I'm sure Mom must have felt the guilt I do now, but I don't feel deprived. My children won't either. I need to remember that.
When I owned those amaryllis plants--more than twenty--I thought of them as my kids and worried about them in the way one worries about her children: Are they getting enough sun? Enough water? Are they too cold? Too hot? I suppose I behaved that way because I didn't have any human children then. Still, the plants were my babies. I had invested a lot into them, and I wanted them to thrive. These new bulbs I bought recently are not my priority now that I'm caring for my own kids, but I still want them to do well.
I've written before about my admiration for creative people like writers, artists, and musicians, those who aren't afraid to push boundaries with their work. I found such an artist online last night, a painter whose work is so inspiring to me--or maybe it's her endless creativity and passion I find most inspiring, the way she "does her thing" her way and for her reasons. With my own craft, my writing, I sometimes unwillingly hold myself back. I don't know where to find the freedom that others seem to come to so easily.
I want to be free.
It's raining today, one of those I-wish-I-could-stay-in-bed-and-forget-about-the-world kinds of days, gray, no sun, the only sound the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof. It's an I-want-to-read-all-day kind of day, curled up on the couch with a blanket and cup of tea, letting the world go by while I live someone else's story, another life. It's a never-get-dressed kind of day, a day to let the world go on without me while I disappear inside myself and hide, safe behind my walls.
I saw two ravens this morning, both perched at the very top of adjacent trees, both swaying gently in a wind that was clearly evident so high in the air but less so down near the ground. I've often wondered why birds always seem to sit on the highest branches, but I suppose it's because the higher they are, the better they can see where their next meal is coming from, what unsuspecting animal will serve as their dinner or, for those who aren't omnivores, what lovely plant or food morsel or pile of garbage will be their next feast.
I should have gone to bed earlier last night--I tried to--but just as I was getting ready to say my Twitter and writing chat room good-byes, just as I was beginning to shut down my computer, I was hit by a wave of inspiration for a poem I'd been writing, and so I stayed up later, much later than I had intended, because as all writers know, when the muse calls, she must be answered and tended to and babied and cajoled, for it's never certain when she'll grace us again, and we must seize every opportunity.
It's sad that writing highs don't seem to last very long, at least for me. That poem I wrote two nights ago? I loved it for a day, but now I see its many faults. I don't think it's bad to be critical about one's work--on the contrary, I think it's a good thing--but still it is discouraging when Lady Doubt (as I call her) steps up and whispers in my ear, eager to give her unwanted opinion: You can't write. This is terrible. Why would anyone want to read this? But despite it all, I keep writing.
It's snowing today, the first real snow we've had so far. I remember how excited I used to get as a kid when I saw those white flakes falling from the sky and covering the ground. I would immediately think of snowmen and snowball fights and snow forts, and my sister and I would beg our mom to let us go out and play, then spend the proverbial forty-five minutes donning snow pants and coats and hats and boots and mittens before venturing into the snow, only to come in fifteen minutes later with cries of "I'm too cold."
Today I plan to start Christina Hopkinson's
The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs
, a book about Mary, a woman who's fed up with her husband's aversion to domestic chores. Taking a cue from the star charts used to motivate children, Mary decides to implement a similar plan to make her husband see that he needs to do his part. I picked up the book because I thought the premise was funny--I mean, what woman hasn't felt the same? It's gotten mixed reviews, but who knows? Maybe I'll even pick up some useful tips!
Christmas is only two weeks away, and I haven't done much to get ready. The kids and I picked up a few presents for Daddy, but that's been the extent of my preparation. Today after church we'll buy our tree, and then hopefully this week I'll find the time to buy more gifts and decorate. There's just so much to do, and I get stressed thinking about it. Every year I vow that the next year I'll be more organized and shop early and not have to stay up all night on Christmas Eve, yet every year is the same.
I remember watching the last episode of
with my dad, he in his green armchair and me on the floor with my back pressed against the couch. It's one of those snapshot moments I recall from childhood, small vignettes of things I did or said, memories that for whatever reason have stuck with me all these years. I remember asking my mom once what M*A*S*H stood for, and when she told me--Mobile Army Surgical Hospital--I said it over and over again for weeks, like a chant or an incantation.
The kids wrote their Santa letters yesterday, dictating their lists to me. They're still little and needed encouragement about what to say, but it was fun to hear what their two- and four-year-old minds came up with! I remember when Mom would ask us to write our letters. She would sit us down with the JCPenney Big Book, and we would thumb through it, adding toys to our lists. I remember one year when I just had to have a giant teddy bear and another when my most-desired gift was a woodburning set. Santa delivered both times.
There are days when I don't like how much power a mom holds. When I see my kids mimicking me--especially the parts I'm not proud of--it's like a spotlight shines on my soul, showing me all of my imperfections. I suppose that realization is good, as it highlights the areas I need to change, but it's heartbreaking as well because I don't want my kids to use my actions as examples. I have a short temper, and sometimes I have a hard time holding back. I say things I shouldn't. I don't want them to be like me.
My husband, who is thirteen years older than I, keeps telling me what hell it is to get old--how hard it is to watch things that previously worked well start to deteriorate, like eyesight and knee joints. I'm not quite to that point, but I have noticed in the past year or so that I can no longer go without as much sleep as I could in my college days. Back then I could survive for days on a couple of hours, but now I long for days when I can sleep for more than five hours a night.
The weather we've been having so far this season has reminded me a lot more of spring than of almost-winter. Yesterday it rained, and the air had that wet-mud smell, that fresh smell I always associate with spring, and it made me long to skip the cold winter that likely lies ahead and go directly on to the season of freshness, newness, and life, that time when buds start bursting on trees, the grass turns green, flowers bloom... I like the starting-over that spring represents, the idea that everything--that
--gets a second chance.
I've always loved butterflies. Even as a young child, I was content to sit and watch them, inspired by their colorful wings and their seeming delicacy. I hated to find dead ones and would bury them in my sandbox, feeling in my heart that a creature so beautiful deserved not to be stepped on but mourned. As I grew older and learned more about them, butterflies started to represent something else to me--new life and the possibility of change. If caterpillars could spin cocoons, then emerge from them new, changed beings, then maybe I could too. Butterflies became hope.
"An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many, and grows inveterate in their insane breasts." ~Juvenal,
When I tell people I'm a writer, I'm met with one of two reactions: "Why?" and "Huh." The first includes people who associate writing with school and find it unfathomable that I write willingly. The second includes the disbelieving admirers. According to them, writing is "cool," but I get the feeling that they don't think what I do will amount to anything. No matter. I write because I have that "incurable itch." I write because I have to.
It occurred to me when I looked at the date this morning that the countdown to Christmas has truly begun, and I'm starting to feel a bit of panic. When my sister and I were on Facebook last night, chatting as we wrote Christmas cards, she told me she had finished all her shopping last Monday and asked if I was done yet. My answer? "Hahahahaha. No." It seems to be my tradition that I finish most of my Christmas preparations at the last minute, so I fully expect to be wrapping presents right up until the moment Santa arrives.
When I was growing up, I could look out my bedroom window and see two nearby trees, a cherry and a pine. The cherry tree was old, and it had all the character that old trees possess: crooked, perfect-for-sitting-in limbs; peeling bark; an aura of history. I knew by looking at it that it had seen many things as it bore its fruit year after year. The pine was younger. I had watched it grow from small to suddenly tall, a sentinel next to the shorter cherry. The pine is gone now, but the old cherry remains.
One thing that truly boggles my mind is my husband's seeming inability to put the glasses he uses into the dishwasher. Most mornings I'll find them lined along the countertop, even though the dishwasher itself is only a few steps away. I guess we all have things that irk us about our loved ones. I know that I do things that drive my husband insane. For one, I'm a proud member of the time police. When we have to be somewhere, I nag the family to hurry up, counting down the minutes until we have to leave. Annoying, I'm sure.
I used to say that I have no regrets, but as I've aged, I've realized I do--some big, some small. Today I regret getting angry with a truck driver who didn't move over as I was coming up a freeway entrance ramp, causing me to run out of lane and drive across the rumble strip. I was upset and showed him, but I realized later that I shouldn't have let my anger get the best of me. The trucker didn't move because he couldn't; the cars on his left wouldn't let him. I feel bad for my hasty reaction.
My parents' bedroom shared a wall with my bedroom, and I remember surreptitiously taking a glass from the kitchen before going to bed on Christmas Eve, then holding it up to the wall, trying to hear what my parents were saying as they wrapped gifts. When morning finally came, my sister and I would sneak peaks at the tree in the living room while we waited for Daddy to get up, then head to our stockings, always filled with chocolate and small gifts. Christmas was the only day of the year that Mom allowed us to eat candy for breakfast.
When I became a mother, it seems that my brain's reasoning portion was removed, and I lost all my ability to make even small decisions. Case in point: tonight's 1.5-hour-long Christmas Eve service begins at 11 p.m., and I've been debating whether we should go. It seems like such a late night for the kids, and when I think of all I still have to do after they go to bed, I feel exhausted. Still, I want my kids to understand our Christian faith and the true meaning of Christmas. It's sad the service isn't earlier.
It's just past 6 p.m. now, and after only three hours of sleep last night, I'm ready to drop. It was a nice day passed in a whirlwind of torn paper and crumpled bows, a constant chorus of children screaming their delight over the gifts Santa brought. But for all the preparation that went into the holiday, it's over much too soon. The late nights spent wrapping presents, days spent baking cookies, time spent writing out cards...all for moments that pass too quickly, and suddenly night has fallen, leaving only the lingering echo of my children's delighted laughter.
Now that Christmas is over--now that the gifts have been unwrapped and life is starting to return to its less hectic, less busy phase--my thoughts start to turn toward the new year and what it holds. In the next few days I will no doubt be writing another list of resolutions (I prefer to call them goals), things that I hope to accomplish in 2012. I went through the list I made for 2011 and was happy to discover that, while I didn't achieve everything on it, I did meet many of my objectives. I'm hopeful for 2012.
Last night, for the first time since the holiday season began--and we all know it seems to begin earlier and earlier each year--I was able to sit down and really concentrate on my writing. It felt wonderful to be back at my computer working, editing some poetry I hope to submit in the next couple of days. I get frustrated when my writing times are interrupted; it's like a piece of me is taken away, leaving me empty. Being able to write again--
write--was like coming home. I was finally myself--my true self.
Today looks to be the first day this winter that we're getting snow that sticks, not melting away immediately after falling to the lawn and driveway but remaining, blanketing, warming in the way only cold snow can warm, and I know the children will be excited when they awaken this morning, when they race to the living room window and discover that finally--finally!--the cold, white, frozen fun awaits them, and they will want to play in it, don their coats, boots, and snow pants, mittens, hats, and scarves, but it's still too early, much too early, for that.
New Year's Eve will be the same as it's been for the past several years, I'm sure. Hubby and I will rent a movie or two, then after we put the kids to bed, we'll sit down in front of the television with our "treat": bags of chips, bowls of dip, and a bottle or two of wine to toast in 2012. I sometimes miss the New Year's Eves we spent before kids arrived--the leisurely dinners, the fancy clothes, being out with other excited, half-drunk people... But NYE now is nice, too. It's homey, comfortable. It's about family.
Now that it's nearly the last day of 2011, today's project will be evaluating the year's list of resolutions--I like to call them goals--and writing a list for 2012. I know without searching for my list, though, that 2011 was a good year for my writing. I accomplished many of the goals I set for myself, including submitting some of my work. I also wrote more in 2011 than in the past few years combined, so all in all, I'm very happy with where I stand on the creative front. I hope to do even more next year.
Last night, just as my family and I had finished renting two movies at Redbox, a woman standing at the lottery ticket machine beckoned to my four-year-old son. "Little boy, if you were going to pick any one of these two-dollar tickets, which would it be?" she asked. My son was confused, not sure what she wanted him to do, but with some prodding from my husband, he pointed to a ticket. The woman thanked him effusively, then gave him thirty-one cents for the work he'd done. My son carried the coins proudly throughout the store.
The Tip Jar