Bittersweet

I wrote this post during the late night hours of December 26. After having the following conversation with my editor, I knew I was trying to push this post out too quickly. So you’ll have to stretch your mind  and pretend it’s actually this past Wednesday evening.

Conversation with my editor concerning this post:

Me: I don’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter whether I use the little dash or the big dash.

Editor: Yes, it does. You’re doing it wrong. You need to use the em dash.

Me: I don’t care. That’s not the way I do it. I’ve never used a big dash. [Who knew the big dash is called “em dash” anyway?]

Editor: I’m going to look it up.

Silence for several minutes while I continue putting the dishes away and Editor reads the computer screen.

Me: Are you going to tell me “I told you so” now?

Editor: Not yet. (but-it’s-coming tone of voice)

Editor proceeds to read me several paragraphs of grammatical jargon, and I still stubbornly refuse to use the em dash even though I know I should. I lay down on the floor, unable to process anymore.. Time for bed!

My apologies for my grievous misuse of “-”in my past posts. I admit I’m wrong according to MLA. Now onto the actual post written on December 26…

 

Such a bittersweet day. Yes, it’s the day after Christmas, but we’re not experiencing the post-Christmas blues yet. To be perfectly honest, due to our packed! family/friend-get-together schedule from December 22nd through 25th, we haven’t opened the gifts under our tree, so we’re still anticipating more excitement and fun headed our way, thus staving off the post-Christmas blues. (We did peek in our stockings on Christmas morning during the less than 1.5 hours we were home, but that was all the kids wanted to do.) Even this morning, no one asked to open gifts, so Daniel and I decided to wait another day setting Thursday as the target date for gifts.

Today started out sweetly enough by sleeping in and then snow beginning to fall around 10:30am; of course the kids were excited. “Can we go outside to play?” they wanted to know by 11am. “Let’s wait until there’s a little more snow on the ground, hopefully after lunch,” I told them. By the time lunch was over, snow was covering most of the grass, and snow boots and pants came out of the closet and engulfed little bodies, shaking with excitement. Both children were ready to try out the green saucer I bought last winter, the one we never got to use because the snow was finished for the season by the time we bought it. The kids were dressed, out the door, and down our backyard hill before I could find my own snow gear and camera in order to capture their first-ever sled rides.

We live halfway up a rather large hill. Over the years I’ve become increasingly annoyed at our situation on this hill; our backyard is, of course, definitely a hill. Overnight camping in the yard isn’t very comfortable; the same goes for picnicking. We’ve actually taken to spreading a blanket on our driveway to keep from feeling like we’re tumbling head over heels down the hill while trying to eat. It’s hard to garden because of water run-off. One of the worst parts about living on a hill is that every run ends with running up hill to get to our house. However, today I found one good reason to enjoy our hill: the kids had a blast sledding, something I could never do in my own backyard growing up.

The kids took turns with the saucer as single riders and also riding together. Laughter, giggles and howls filled the air until Ian’s cough, aggravated by the cold air, drove him inside (or was it the excitement of continuing his play with his new crane truck?). Alice and I moved to the driveway, extending the hill even more, although the natural slope of the hill landed Alice in a forsythia bush at the bottom of our property, much to her surprise. I even took a spin on the saucer, bailing before the forsythia bush—so much fun!

We enjoyed the day… the slow pace of naps, writing thank you notes for our Christmas loot from extended family, eating macaroni and cheese (a family favorite), playing Memory and Uno, rearranging our advent nativity scene, topped off with a visit from my brother-in-law in the evening.

But it all took a quick turn as I flopped down on the couch after my brother-in-law left, and I opened my computer to read an email from a close friend. The words “best case scenario…. stage 3 cancer” stabbed through the sweetness of the day, like a knife in my heart; and I tried not to think about the incredible consequences of the doctor’s words, clinging instead, as she does, to the shred of hope that it’s all a huge mistake. In a daze of shock, I sat and thought about her  life changed forever in one “non-significant” instant of thinking she had the flu or some other inconsequential virus. Then my thoughts shifted to parents in Connecticut who never dreamt they would spend this Christmas aching to hold their child, willing to give anything for just another moment. I wept for so many people, those that I love dearly and those I do not even know.

In my selfishness, I was glad I had given my day to my kids for the most part, making memories and steeping them in love. I know I’ve written about this before (maybe ad nauseam), but again I’m struck by the fact that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. “Wake up,” I said to myself. “This is not a dress rehearsal for your life.” Christmas of 2012 has been bittersweet for me and many others. Events both near and far away have tinged this season of joy with a sadness that has often threatened to suffocate my laughter and peace. I will not sermonize about making each day count by loving others as I have done in the past, but my hope is that I continue to learn to cherish and treasure the relationships I have been granted. They are indeed a gift—perhaps the best gift of Christmas.

 

Christmas Letter 2012

I’ve been reading Christmas Letters – the ones that come neatly folded inside your Christmas cards showcasing all the beautiful people in your life on the front of the card. “We’re all doing great, and life can’t get any better,” is what the overwhelming majority of the letters say. I considered writing and posting a Christmas letter earlier this holiday season. I gave up sending cards three Christmases ago – the time in my life when I felt something had to go or I would explode. My apologies to those of you who send a card to us and wonder when you’re getting one in return… because it’s not coming. But yes, I did ponder a Christmas letter for my blog as an attempt to ease my conscience, just for the sake of saying I wrote a Christmas letter like every “good” housewife-mother should (that’s sarcasm by the way). So a couple of weeks ago, I thought about what I would say about 2012 and came up with something like this….

Pretend it's the front of the card

Dear Family & Friends,

Family Highlights – We vacationed at the beach in June. Also we spent the better part of Sept. through Nov. renovating our bathroom. We absolutely love the new look! Going to Hershey Park in September was another exciting day for our family.

Daniel is in his second year working as a software developer at a small company about 10 minutes from our house. He enjoys riding bike to work in nice weather. Also, he was in charge of the plumbing and electric for our bathroom renovation. He loves reading on the side – technical articles and the classics – and discussing theology

Alice thoroughly enjoyed the end of kindergarten and is currently adjusting to first grade. She learned to ride her bike this summer without ANY adult help or training wheels. She is an avid reader and is working her way through the Ramona series. Alice enjoys helping around the house – folding wash and gardening are her favorites, and she is a great big sister.

Ian is ALL boy. But his big accomplishment this year is being completely potty trained. He spends hours in the basement “hitching” our bikes/wagon together with a jumprope and loves to tape together smaller vehicles with random trailers. He has quite an imagination and a very serious side when it comes to “work,” but he also loves to laugh.

Natalie is at home full time and does some part-time babysitting. She enjoyed an enlarged garden this summer and training for a half marathon which she ran in October. She continues to play piano for church occasionally and co-ordinates 10 community meals throughout the year for 80 people.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Love, The Millers

Blah… blah… blah…. Today was not a good day for me as a mother (understatement of the year) and reading those happy, nearly perfect letters where everyone is doing “just dandy” (because obviously everyone else has it all together) made me feel worse about my poor attitude toward motherhood. Recently, I’ve been reading the book “The Myth of the Perfect Mother” by Carla Barnhill. One of Barnhill’s premises is that many mothers walk around trying to look like perfect women who have it ALL together – perfect house, perfect husband, perfect kids, perfect pets, perfect job… perfect, perfect, perfect Christmas letter. What’s really happening is that we’re all suffering by trying to portray this perfect life because first of all, we’re not able to achieve it, and on top of that, we’re not able to share our true feelings and frustrations with other people. So for all the not-so-perfect mothers out there, this is my revised Christmas letter, written Barnhill-style. While the above letter is 100% true (and I’m not bashing those of you who wrote Christmas letters because I usually really do enjoy them!!), the following are some of my “real” thoughts for 2012.

Dear Family & Friends,

Overall, 2012 has been a better year than 2011. (Most of you know 2011 wasn’t the best year of our lives. If not, refer to past posts.) However, you’ll have to excuse me as I write today because I’m essentially drained, sitting at the computer half-asleep and delirious, but knowing I need to get this finished in order to fulfill the culturally inflicted motherly duty of sending the Christmas Letter. So here goes….

I have a great family whom I love to death, but our household is like many. We struggle with normal issues. For starters, getting the kids to eat what’s put in front of them without raising our voices or telling someone to leave the table until he/she can appreciate what’s on the table is a daily conflict. Also shopping of any sort continues to be a challenge since the car-carts no longer fit both children, and they’re too big for strollers. I spent much of February through October in the bathroom helping Ian become successful at using the potty. I guess since I was in the bathroom so much helping my son it shouldn’t be a big surprise that everyone else thinks they can be in the bathroom when I need to be there for my own personal reasons. Just tonight, I had 2 people visit me while the third was calling my name on the other side of the bathroom wall. The evening toy swoop continues to be one of the most frustrating times of the day for Daniel and myself. I think we may have taken a baby step forward as Ian does help now – especially when we turn on the timer. Speaking of toys on the floor, the house continues to feel like a disaster zone even though I spend enormous amounts of time putting things away and cleaning.

The ENTIRE family is adjusting to first grade and how it has changed our daughter (poor little thing!). We’ve spent huge amounts of time conversing with her about her school days and talking to teachers, other parents, and counselors about how to help her with this adjustment. The stress of knowing what to do for her feels like a chokehold squeezing the life out of her and us each day as she exhibits behavior issues like we’ve never seen before at home. Words like “homeschool,” “unschool,” and “cyberschool” have become regular household words between Daniel and myself as well as living with over 20 internet tabs open ready for researching next year’s options if needed. (Don’t worry though… the school counselor said it should get better by February. Dear God, can we last that long??)

Recently, I’ve been totally exhausted by 8p. All I can manage to do is sit in front of the TV while Daniel shakes his head at me. I find myself trying to regroup in my bed after supper while Daniel cleans up the table and I pretend that I don’t hear the two small voices parading through the house wondering where I am. I recently had the opportunity to spend an evening with some friends. Everything was taken care of – supper cleaned up, lunches packed for the next day, and Daniel was ready for the kid-responsibility part. But I couldn’t go; I was too tired. I didn’t think I could muster enough energy to drive the car to my friend’s house much less engage in meaningful adult conversation. I have obviously had very little inspiration (and time) to write uplifting, encouraging posts recently so all you get is this downer of a post called “reality.” Oh and did I mention I’m so out of shape I can’t even run 3 miles without walking? So discouraging.

On the flip side, life is good! We have a roof over our heads, heat to keep us warm, food for every meal, and many people who love and support us. My two kids are the best in the world – yes, I’m biased. You are too if you have your own. And my husband is a great man as well. Our lives aren’t perfect, but we’re very! thankful for all that we have this year. Some days we just have to get through and know that tomorrow will be better… and there’s nothing wrong with that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t appreciate the perfect days that do come our way once in a while.

Merry Christmas from The-Not-So-Perfect-Millers