A Christmas Comedy of Errors

Happy 2018, blog world! That happened pretty fast. And considering what the last weeks of 2017 were like for me… well, I can only really say, “Hallelujah.”

After a bit of a hiatus, thanks to a healthy dose of writer’s block and my own personal holiday overwhelm, I’m back to chronicle what I can now only describe as my “Christmas Comedy of Errors.” They say a Comedy of Errors is when so many mistakes happen or things go wrong that it becomes funny. That is exactly what the last couple of weeks have felt like for me, so much so that “Are you kidding me?!” became my holiday mantra.

For starters, the holiday season is tough enough for toddler parents — with Toys-R-Us and American Girl Doll flyers rushing in with the vigor of a Polar Express Train and children who believe that everything they circle on the pages will magically appear Christmas morning… meanwhile waddlers are breaking every ceramic knickknack mistakenly placed within a two-footer’s arm-reach, leaving the bottom third of your tree embarrassingly naked and holiday decoration stock half depleted.

Then on top of that, all the extra commitments and unrealistic expectations of the season are right there nipping at your heels and turning the stress up full blast. Ironically I wrote a piece on holiday stress on my mental health blog before the crazy really started, but I think I neglected to speak on just how hard it can be to climb your way out from under the mountain of disappointment when you don’t live up to all the hype. Then, when you add everything under the sun that can seemingly go wrong to the juggling act, well no wonder a mom turns Grinch-y this time of year.

I wish I could say that Christmas 2017 was filled with comfort and joy, that 10 days off from work were dreamily spent with family and friends sharing nostalgic traditions and building warm memories by the holiday hearth. But that’s just not how things went down this time. No, Christmas for us this year was more like a long annoying Chevy Chase film where one pitiful hit after another kept coming, almost to a point that we began to lose count.

The season started out well and good enough, with Amazon packages rolling in on time and our gift lists whittling themselves steadily down. But things I believe took a turn for the worst somewhere mid-month when my husband and I missed my daughter’s daycare holiday performance — the one she had spent weeks practicing by herself, saying she couldn’t show us because she wanted it to be a surprise. Despite all our best efforts, our 4:32pm arrival delivered us exactly two minutes too late to see her class’s special reindeer debut. And while we do now have a video to memorialize the cute production thanks to another responsible parent who showed up on time, the footage of our daughter anxiously scanning the crowd for our faces brings too many tears to our eyes to ever watch again.

Next, on to Christmas Eve, where the best laid holiday vacation plans went awry with two grandparents falling ill to the stomach bug — and one family member a day succumbing thereafter to some form of illness through the week. While I somehow managed to escape the viral clutches of all the swirling pathogens, still every belch and gurgle I felt naturally left me convinced I was inevitably next, making it impossible to enjoy one savory sip or morsel of food without flash-forwarding to what could be my later digestive demise.

Needless to say, when the halls are decked with more bacteria than holly bells, the holiday stress is almost more than a mom can bear. And while grandparents are ordinarily happy to help sweep up careening toddlers and holiday messes, they were understandably stripped of their own usual good tidings this year, leaving my husband and I to corral our two small energy-sucking humans all alone on the holiday prairie. The week was utterly exhausting, and lonely, and by the middle of it I found myself feeling ready to just go back to work already, as that felt more like the vacation at that point.

But there was still New Year’s Eve and a glimmer of hope for a concert date with my husband when said grandparents recovered and graciously agreed to keep our kids as we squandered just a little time (finally) to ourselves. But then, in true National Lampoon fashion, a winter ice storm (that somehow no one saw coming) set in over our town, blanketing roads and surfaces in a slippery glaze that ultimately cancelled our show and had us home in bed watching Netflix by 10:00 instead.

Here I’ll just pause and say for the record, too, that I haven’t even mentioned yet how by this point every holiday gift I had bought for my husband was a bust, how my five-year old wouldn’t go to the bathroom alone thanks to Jim Carey The Grinch, or how poor planning resulted in 700 tiny new lego pieces snaking their way down our mythical chimney, now lying in wait for my 16 month-old’s windpipe.

Ohhh M…G… the anxiety.

If you can’t tell, Christmas this year for me felt like anything but a holiday, with every gaffe only amplifying the stress and undressing my good will tree. This too then became somewhat a despondent feeling as the hard reality of being parents with young children set in, all the while still knowing I should be savoring every moment, looking for the joy, and cherishing these special times with my kids while they are still young.

So where to go from here?

Well writing this piece has in itself been somewhat therapeutic as I reflect on the collective experience, and I have to admit it does make me laugh now (just a little). Turning over my thoughts and sounding them off with my husband too has helped me reframe my outlook, as I realize what a gift it was to have the extended time with him and my children that I did, even if it was chasing them around with a broomstick or a garbage bag most of the time. And finally, as I close out the first week of the New Year, I’m beginning to feel that proverbial new leaf naturally turning over inside me as well, so I know these farcical memories will fade and make room for healthier new growth soon.

While I wouldn’t exactly stand in line to buy a ticket and popcorn to watch over again the comically inauspicious series of events that were these last weeks of 2017, I am beginning to see a silver lining and believe that 2018 could just be a new year with a little happiness to be claimed after all.

A Gray a Day

I’m trying out a different voice and spin on my next (it would seem weekly) blog entry, but baring my true (gray) colors as boldly as ever with this one!

I think I mainly just need a little reassurance that either 1) I’m not really all that crazy — or at the very least 2) I’m not the only one.

So here it is (in all its brazen, embarrassingly honest truth) –

Every night – I mean EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. – just before I head to bed, I find myself in a stand-down of sorts with my bathroom mirror. After meds are guzzled, face is washed and teeth are brushed (maybe even flossed if I’m not too utterly exhausted.. the ADA did recently say after all that there’s no real benefit to it, right?) — I then pull out my armed-and-readied tweezers to begin a private hunt down of the day’s new adversarial gray hairs.

Whether from the temples, around the nape of my neck, or the ultimately gratifying spot so close to the back of my head (you thought you could hide from me, eh?!) – I proceed with the undignified practice of plucking away these rogue hue-less tresses, as if one-by-one I’m winning back my youth in this unbecoming game.

And — this may perhaps be the truly crazy part — there’s an unmistakable glorified feeling that I really do get with each newfound follicle thrusting its coarse and wiry white head. It’s like an instant zap of dopamine across the neuron synapse with each pluck that victoriously emerges baring the enemy’s remains — short, colorless, demoralizing.

It’s ironic really, because here in my very last post I reflected on themes of aging and how I intend to embrace this transition more gracefully – even enthusiastically, as I know there is so much to feel grateful for and celebrate as beautiful in my growing age!

And yet I can’t help this nagging feeling that I’m losing something, like some part of myself that I can never reclaim is slipping away from me with each fading particle of pigmentation. As if the sagging bags under my eyes, darkening freckles on my cheeks and deepening frown lines across my brow weren’t enough, these gray hairs are now multiplying like bountiful rabbits – (ALL over my body, if I’m really being honest) – seemingly just to rub it in that I am in fact getting older.

And so for me, even in the face of all this work to transcend pesky cultural pressures, the war wages on every night as I return to the mirror and toe-up to my reflection — going head-to-hair in an impetuous battle to save my youth with a whimsy pair of Sally’s Beauty Supply tweezers. It’s laughable really when I stand back and think about this ridiculous ritual, but it’s one nonetheless that keeps me sane (at least for tonight).

In what ways are you fighting (or embracing) the fact that we’re all aging on? I’d love to know I’m not alone and that we can do this, if not in a dignified way, at least together!

So Fresh and So Clean

So about a week ago, in advance of my approaching birthday at the time, my 4 (almost 5) year-old daughter Ella Jane asked innocently after her bath one night, “How old will you be, Mommy, when it’s your birthday?”

My first thought was, “Wait, am I 36 or am I 37?” In that panic-stricken moment I quite honestly couldn’t remember if I’ve just been telling myself these last few weeks that I’m already 36 to get used to the idea, or if I am in fact on the eve of my 37th year..?! And if the case was actually the latter, my next thought was, “Damn, where did that time go?!” I hung suspended in bewilderment for a few seconds, questioning all I thought I knew about myself and reeling in the blast of a year that just flashed before my eyes.

But thankfully, in the next instant, my sense of clarity — along with a few rudimentary math skills — graciously returned, reminding me that the year is 2017, which means if I just subtract one (i.e., I was born in 1981), then TA-DA! I’m only turning 36!

I then relished, if only for a few seconds more, a delectable feeling that I had not in fact squandered away an entire year of my life.

But, as if that heart-stopping moment and narrowly averted age crisis wasn’t enough to digest for one night, what Ella Jane would demonstrate for me next was beyond all the existential I could handle for a Monday.

Amidst the sweet smell of baby shampoo and slippery rollicking as I attempted to wrestle her dry with a towel — the child, also now trying on her own new rudimentary math skills, asked me “Can you help me count to 36, Mommy?”

Before I could even respond, she was off: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…,” breezing through the next set with skillful ease, “11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20…,” only to follow without any real help from me, “21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29,” and finally rounding out her count without missing a beat, “30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, … 36!”

And just like that, with the speed at which an almost 5-year-old’s fledgling counting skills could keep pace, all the years of my life were rattled off without pause or interruption, one after another, coming faster and faster, in the span of what was actually about only 30 seconds all in all. Apart from feeling genuinely impressed in how my daughter’s arithmetic expertise is growing — I was more powerfully taken aback in that moment by the magnitude of my implicit realization and just how effortlessly, impossibly swift not only a year — but my entire life can pass me by.

When I later broke it down, what 36 actually turns out to be in the context of time is a whopping 13,149 days, 1,872 weeks, and over three and a half decades that I have been alive. While some of those days or weeks live on with incredibly poignant vigor in my mind, some painfully so, there are far too many others of which I have no recollection — absolutely none, whatsoever. To think, so much of my life faded into the obscure corners of my subconscious while I wasn’t paying attention or really noticing it go by. And when I think about it in those sad terms – well, that is a LOT of time, there must be a million moments lost, and really, now I just feel OLD.

Once I got over the initial blow of this brutal new point of view, the harsh reality of how old I really am (at least chronologically), and a sense of mourning for all the life that I’ll never be able to reclaim – I found yet another moment of clarity.

Somewhere from these ruminations emerged a voice reminding me to be gracious with myself and remember that the sum of this very moment — this realization in and of itself — is a collection of all these parts: the laughs that still make me chuckle, the tears that still sting, even the countless hours of inebriated oblivion that were my early 20’s (not my finest). My very arrival at this ability to recognize and appreciate my life for exactly what it is today wouldn’t be possible without the culmination of these experiences, precisely as I have lived them, whether they were memorable or not.

And so with that, I’m thinking maybe 36 is the year I finally scrub down to a cleaner, lighter version of myself, choosing to wash myself of the negative self-criticisms and nagging “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve-beens.” Instead, maybe 36 can mean just embracing the day I have at hand, being more present in each and every moment, and feeling grateful for the beauty that lives around me and also in myself, just the way it is.

Maybe then 36 will also mean enjoying even more playful bath time conversations, delighting in my daughter’s zeal to share her budding masteries with me, or just simply breathing in more of the freshly bathed, beautiful smell on both my children, whose souls somehow remain the purest clean of all.

While I know age is really just a number, somehow these recent reflections, revelations, and gratitudes that have followed, make turning 36 feel more special than any other birthday I’ve ever had. Perhaps it’s because at the very least I know now that a new year means insights are sure to be richer, lathered in more forgiveness, and honored with a little more proverbial bubbly by sudsy candlelight, as I more intentionally work hard to soak it all in.

And then — just maybe — that is a new kind of clean that makes turning 36 — and adding another number to the life count — something worth truly celebrating.

Autumn: Harvest the Happiness

Today it occurred to me as perhaps ironic that my “Mom in Bloom” blogging journey, with spring-like themes and flourishing undertones, has in fact been born in the full swing of Autumn — a season in which most living things begin to turn brown, shrivel up and die.

I know that Autumn is archetypally a time of gathering the last vegetative yield, preparing for colder months, and adjusting to fewer hours of productive daylight. And yet, while everything around me suggests that new growth and fruitfulness is coming to a close, still I can’t help but feel inside an emergence of new budding life.

Maybe fall has just always incited this feeling of excitement for me. But then again, from the prolific autumnal explosion of all-things pumpkin spice — from coffee, to Cheerios, to shampoo — I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

This prompted me to wonder then, why, in the face of dying leaves, barren trees, and fading color, do so many of us feel this kind of renewed energy and anticipation at this time of year? Why do we feel invigorated by falling temperatures and swirling leaves, sweeping out with them the vivacious promises of spring and summer? Why are so many of us revitalized by that first fall frost, which actually just predicts the imminent onset of an ecological (and for some, spiritual) winter?

My ponderings (and professional training) suggest to me that this phenomenon probably occurs because, like any experience in life, how we interpret something depends on the meaning we have attached to it. Much of this meaning also lies in the emotions we attribute to the experience — hence fond memories often usher in that very same powerful feeling when they’re recalled in our minds or re-encountered in our environment.

Thus I guess it makes total sense for me that fall incites an excitement for growth and change, as I nostalgically remember going back to school this time every year, feeling enthusiastic to reunite with old friends and tackle new scholarly challenges (yes, I may be a little bit of a geek).

And maybe for others, it’s safe to say that Autumn means a delicious frothy latte, a warm and cozy sweatshirt, the electrifying percussion of marching bands and clashing football pads, or the scrumptious flaky crust and gooey center of a freshly baked apple pie.

There are so many sensationally appealing things that come to mind when we think about fall, maybe our sensory centers are just too overloaded in delicious goodness to notice the copious decay otherwise all around us.

So what does all this say about Autumn — or maybe even about life?

I think Autumn teaches us to celebrate all that is wonderful at a time of year when otherwise we might pessimistically obsess about the impending gloom of the winter ahead. Even as the days start to get more dreary and vibrant colors fade to an early darkness, Autumn still inspires us to delight in simple joys like clean crisp morning air, the warm cinnamon aroma of a spiced candle, or the creamy glorified amazingness of a Starbucks PSL (when we can afford one). Therein Autumn actually enables us to fill our spiritual cup, one simple sensory delight at a time, no matter who we are or how short on emotional change we may be.

So with that, I believe Autumn bestows a much larger gift — and lesson — if I’m really willing to lean into it.

If I can become more mindful in my intention to stop and notice the simpler joys of daily life — not just the fortuitous gifts of the autumn season — I might actually be able to harvest a little more happiness out of every life experience, no matter when, where or how small.

And when this becomes the practice I intentionally set for myself and begin to live inside of every single day, well, it is then that perhaps I begin to cultivate a richer and deeper meaning for my life and that of my family, no matter the size of our harvest or climate of our season.

Here I Grow…

Hello online world! Woman, mother, novice blogger here. And I use the term “novice” pretty conservatively — I literally had to look up what “blog” means when I was first getting started, and I’ve now spent hours sifting through an endless web of information just to find and learn the platform that will support what I think I’m trying to do.

But here I am, finally, with a budding creative energy and a readiness to put a pen to the page. I’ve always enjoyed writing and connecting with people, but never have I tried merging the two, much less in this vulnerable, put-it-all-out-there kind of way. I’m very much a perfectionist, and don’t usually feel confident enough in my own voice to share it with others so publicly. But I’m sensing a seasonal change coming on, and a burgeoning need to stretch my limits — as if being a mom of two kids under five doesn’t already do that enough for me!

This feeling was likely first planted about a year ago when a series of events began to evolve for our family and set into motion our present day life, — which has kind of become something like a game of “Duck, duck, goose!” At the time, we had decided to grow our family, and would be adding a spunky boy to our otherwise calm composition when he was to join his easy older sister in September of 2016. Also, in advance of this pending change, we thought it responsible of ourselves, and the financial planning of our growing family, to combine what had otherwise heretofore been autonomous bank accounts and ambiguous spending habits. Then finally, to really shake things up and keep us swift on our toes, my husband Blair decided to uproot his ten-year tenure as an elementary school teacher to pursue more long-term security by going back to school, if only temporarily, still full-time.

With this perfect storm of transformations, you could say we’re all still reeling a bit in the whirlwind, as not only do our daily schedules and hourly responsibilities shift on a whim, but also our budgeting strategies have had to become a bit more tedious and activity plans a little more improvisational. Also in the process of these transitions, I have had to become more transparent in my personal accountability, and begun to feel uneasy not only with the unpredictability of our family’s future, but also the loss of my otherwise lifelong spending sovereignty.

It’s a complicated feeling, and one that I admit isn’t really fair. But to explain, our family’s lifestyle until recently had comfortably afforded me regular frivolous treats like a mid-afternoon Starbucks or the latest new J. Crew sweater. I had also come to enjoy indulgences like a biweekly professional house cleaning, a whimsical trip to Target, and a late night rendezvous with Amazon Prime. I had grown complacent in our modest affluence and frankly quite content in my ability to indulge all my self-supported cravings. What I didn’t so much realize is how deeply connected these little luxuries — and when I could have them — were to my total sense of sanity! While I’ve always been an anxious person with a slight depressive tendency, I’ve never been forced to pay such close attention to how spending money — or the autonomy to do so — actually impacted my mood until now.

Today, in our new set of financial circumstances and family demands, I’m finding myself at a crossroads of emotions without a roadmap and a significantly compromised internal compass — feeling irritable about the sacrifices I’m having to make and guilty because I know that’s selfish of me to see it that way. Feeling unhinged without my spending power and most prolific coping strategy, and aggrieved that I can’t make the autocratic decisions my lifestyle once afforded me. Feeling sorry for myself when I can’t have the $5 latte with whipped cream and cinnamon sprinkle, and pissed off when I get the enticing retail ads so strategically delivered to my inbox but know I just can’t click on them.

So where to go from here?

Maybe this crossroads, in all its uncertainty, is actually an opportunity — a chance for me to grow if I seize it just right and nourish these uncomfortable seeds beginning to take shape. If I can enrich the soil with meaningful reflections, forge new blooms with healthier perspectives, and connect roots with others who can maybe relate — perhaps I will cultivate a deeper gratitude for my actual daily fortunes, and find a more meaningful organic balance to better serve my family through any season we’re sure to fare.

Herein, I’ve arrived at the journey of a personal blogger, with an endeavor to take a closer look at anything that relates to the experience of women today, examining in the process how my own idiosyncrasies fit in with these themes and the larger feminine ecosystem.

I don’t expect it to be easy, I fully understand the discomfort I may be up against, and know that like any season there will be times of less and more. But my hope is that by opening myself up to community, sharing my journey as it unfolds, and learning from anyone willing to listen, maybe this can be an opportunity to not only grow myself but perhaps even share in the yield.