American Woman…and Yes, I do like Dennis Miller

I remember a time when being a young American Girl allowed me to believe.

I believed in the idea of reverence for Heroes, Olympians, Religions, Movie Stars, Political Parties, Presidents, First Ladies, the Media, Teachers, Police Officers and even just my Elders. In school, we celebrated Washington, Lincoln, King and Columbus with holidays, plays and homework worksheets hot off the Mimeograph machine. We honored them, admiring what they had done well, instead of picking apart that which may not have been so great. Revering not so much the individuals, we placed value on what they represented. We respected authority, our nation, its beginnings and stood willingly awestruck by things so much bigger than the sum of their parts. We placed esteem because we needed to. It gave us something to believe in and it was awesome to believe, instead of standing armed with poison pen to pick apart the legitimacy of those beliefs.

I remember reading a biography on Abraham Lincoln many years after making crafts with cotton and black crepe paper for the class bulletin board and thinking, “Wait, he sometimes failed too? He had flaws? He had haters? Good ole Honest Abe was imperfect, wait, what?” I was so happy not to have known any of Mr. Lincoln’s limitations (or anyone else I revered) when I was young because it gave me time to hope and dream about what America offered to me. I needed to believe in all my heroes, in what each stood for and to this day, I am glad that too much information did not get in the way of those beliefs.

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As a little girl, I stood proud with hand on heart when my class pledged allegiance to the American flag. Doing so was not open for discussion and I learned to respect the teacher who held us accountable. Along with my classmates, I recited poems about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and wondered not only how the earth could possibly be round, how anyone could be brave enough to set sail in order to find out. At least back then, we wondered. I liked imagining what it was like for explorers to set out and find spices and places to call home some new day in a faraway place. It seemed back then, that talking about discovery was much more important than being politically correct about the discoverer.

As for Columbus and his men and the fact that some cities now refuse to celebrate him anymore, I am not saying that all they likely did upon arrival (even if that arrival was by default) in already inhabited land would have been things to revere. I am saying however, that as a young child having a chance to do so, allowed me to believe in the idea of discovery. That belief mattered. Was it really so terrible, those of you who insist on banning Columbus Day, to allow children to believe in a story of “sailing the ocean blue in 1492?” Did it really have to become an ethnic battle cry? Can you not see that the simplicity of the belief back when, served to help some of us dream of exploration of our own some day?    

Regarding trophies and grades, the way it worked was this:  we played games resulting in a winner and loser; some kids got trophies and some did not (I was one of the “did-nots”), but no matter what, we learned about perseverance, disappointment and sportsmanship. We experienced the feeling of victory and yes, the agony of defeat, but within each we were compelled to stand still in emotion. We got A’s when we worked hard and D’s when not so much and we felt joy and disappointment depending. Does that even happen anymore? Does anyone have to feel disappointment? Do our children even have to stop long enough to feel? I read that some colleges cancelled class and allowed students to bring pets to the dorms to help them process unhappiness during this past presidential election. Seriously?? Today, our nation focuses so much on making sure that everyone is comfortable and everybody wins that we seem to have lost sight of the value that discomfort and even losing have in forming our individual dignity and strength. This refusal to stand still in emotions anymore within our schools, our sports, our games, our elections, our country, this avoidance of discomfort in such an enormous way in our society, makes me so very uncomfortable.

Maybe that is why so many potential young discovers these days seek their high from drugs. They set out for the instant gratification, dopamine buzz from a substance instead of the long-term one that comes from setting out and trying and even sometimes failing, from an origin of purpose. Perhaps many of our young Americans today are just going with what they are learning, to cop out and make excuses instead of feeling. Or, maybe they feel blocked from seeking new heights because they are afraid of the judgment fishbowl they will likely have to swim in after they achieve them, the one in which every move, every thought and every comment will be picked apart by society and the media. Perhaps it is because no one is teaching our young people anymore that life is not about being always comfortable or always understood or always right. It is about striving along the way.

I remember the notion that I could safely strive for greatness someday; it gave me something to hold onto back when; I was in awe of athletes, strong, able and excellent competitors and loved watching the Olympics and being proud of another medal for my country. There was a sense of awe, of connection, of belonging to something so much greater, something that I may be able to try to know or find someday. I am glad I was naively unaware of which athlete drank too much or smoked pot or took steroids on their down time.

With our celebrations, our explorers, our Presidents, our heroes, there was a spirit of hope. I loved being a little American girl. I loved not knowing as much as I know now about each one of the individuals that helped me believe in their greatness. I am grateful to understand how flawed I have been myself in getting to any measure of accomplishment achieved in my own life; and am so very thankful to understand that we are each so utterly human. It saddens me that so many refuse to allow others the right to their humanness, with all that being human entails.

Back as a girl in school, although I did not really like all the rules, I understood them. Being accountable helped sure up the foundation under my feet. I loved that a teacher could still give a hug if I scraped my knee. I treasured, yet dreaded the excitement of getting a test back after studying hard for it and when the paper was void of a gold star, I valued the sense of effort from having to work harder next time.

I loved Christmas being Christmas and Hanukkah being Hanukkah and the fact that we did not have to watch out for offending anyone when we wished them Happy or Merry. Thank goodness, the news was not on round the clock and that we were not privy to every sideways sneeze someone famous made. I loved being a little American girl when I was one and I pray for those who are growing up now in this world that seems so afraid of grades and awards and hugs and mistakes.

I realize that today, I get to choose to love being a grown American woman and that is the choice I proudly make, although it is not always easy when I watch what goes on out there in America land. I must choose not to grab hold of the ugliness thrown out as bogus factoid grenades each minute of every day and remember how nice it was not to know what I didn’t’ know when I was little; how awesome it was to still believe in people, in their greatness. Each morning I commit to remind myself that I, that we, are flawed humans striving to do better and that yesterday I was not nearly as far as I am today so maybe you weren’t either. Things I said or did in my past, especially thirty years ago, are laughable because I am no longer that woman who spoke without always meaning what she said and I must ignore the media asking me to judge the latest person up for slaughter this week for what they said during their own back when. I am aware that I have made heartfelt mistakes and stand grateful in the knowledge that if my every quote, deed or action through life had been under a microscope the way our coaches, teachers and politicians’ are, I would likely be very lonely. For I have said, done and even thought things that would not bode well in the public eye or even within my inner circle.

Why are we so afraid? Why are we scared of mistakes made along the road to excellence? Why do we focus so much on ugliness and errors? Why do reporters so willingly tout what is bad instead of what is amazing about a person? Why do we the public pay so much attention? Why are we so terrified to give our children A’s and D’s when they deserve either as grades and why, oh why, don’t we understand that getting a D just may inspire someone to work harder next time for the A? Why do we think that everyone should get a trophy, whether for first place or last? What is happening here? Why are so many so quick to smile at or “Facebook like” things that are unkind and result in others undoing? Why do picketing and rioting get airtime, so very much airtime, when both incite confusion and violence? What happened to grace? Why does everyone have to argue about everything? Why are folks so fearful of healthy competition and why are some so intent on slander?

I wish, I hope, I pray, I dream that there are a few others out there that remember a time when we were naive enough to believe; a time when what we didn’t know allowed us all to grow. A time when you did not have to be afraid of picking plain milk over chocolate in the cafeteria, for fear someone might misunderstand and when you could bring a peanut butter sandwich without having to sit alone at a lunchroom table or even a boardroom one. I wonder if please, please, please we could stop going over the top to make sure everyone’s rights are being valued, because it seems like in doing so, we are getting lost and blowing others rights to kingdom come.

I wish we would start by opening our heart to honoring one another more simply and not taking anyone apart piece by piece to prove they were not or are not worthy of making the difference they tried to make or are still trying to make. Forgive them, those in the past, those in the present and one another for being human and move forward in that humanness so that we can all find love and respect along the way. God Bless all the American girls, boys, men and women who, like me, are grateful for the seekers and the finders, the settlers and the pioneers. God Bless the Indians and the cowboys, the military and the peacemakers, and PLEASE Dear God, help us find some balance. Thank goodness the earth is round so we can’t fall off the end of it, or worse yet jump. Wait, are we sure it is round? Who knows what the next explorers, pioneers and politicians will find out, if only they remain brave enough to set out and try; if only they remain unafraid of failing or being judged long after finding whatever they may find.

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December 26th – The Best Gifts Can’t be Wrapped

I woke up today with mixed emotions, feeling both blissful and crestfallen. I am immeasurably happy because of Christmas successes, yet slightly melancholy because the days unfolding in no way resembled what I had planned for it. This morning I am truly ecstatic over the gifts Santa left behind for me and the ones I watched others open with delight, but I am sorrowful over what I was unable to accomplish that I wanted to. Ah, the unwrapping of Christmas..

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Thinking back to 30 days ago, to the first yuletide thought I had, the one occurring directly after the turkey was put away on Thanksgiving, I have to chuckle at how December 25th this year was so unlike what I had planned for it. I remember taking out the bins of nutcrackers and other decorations and scattering them around the house on black Friday thinking, “Tis the season and this year it will be perfect.” After that, all I recall is putting one foot in front of the other until today.

The list I made for gift buying could never possibly accommodate all I would have liked it to because neither budget nor logistics allowed this year, but it held a few names of people to whom homage had to be paid because of the light and love they share with us all throughout the year.

Soon after the quest began for the right and perfect trinkets which would say, “You matter” on this most sacred holiday, I had to hide the packages from our crazy paper chewing cat so that he wouldn’t destroy the corners of all the boxes and gift bags. I have come to believe he does this to somehow be part of the holiday bustle that goes on in our household. Each time I added another package to the pile, I touched the others in hopeful excitement that it would be perceived with the same spirit it was wrapped in.

Today, the wrapping paper which was crinkled in delight yesterday, now fills our recycle bins to overflowing. Our bellies are substantially rounder, at least in this house, and the day is over. But my heart has a tad of unfinished processing still needing to happen, which is why I must write about it.

Christmas this year involved an effort of accommodation which made it awkward to know where we could be and how we would possibly do it all. In my efforts to appreciate all of my family, I made a choice to honor my husband’s hectic work schedule and so, postponed travel plans up north. My son and I agreed that a slightly later celebration together would be just as cool. I also decided to say, “W\e will be here whenever you come, don’t worry,” to my stepson who always makes the effort to see us. This statement of “whatever and whenever” quietly spoken to my husband in the midst of reshuffling our day was made with so much love that I now realize it became the best gift I could ever give anyone. I gave myself and my family the gift of being allowed to set aside expectations in our showing up for one another and to trust in our love this Christmas.

What is it about holiday expectation that creeps in and tries to wreak havoc? Why have I been compelled in the past to analyze the gestures of others and what they mean to my big picture? At what moment did I realize I needed to remove travel stress from my husband this year? How was I able to stay in the now yesterday and allow this Christmas to unfold the way it did? What grace do I experience in my relationship with my son that made it more than OK to postpone our gift giving slightly? How was I able to set plans aside to take pressure off my young stepson in a way he wouldn’t possibly understand until he has his own children? When did it become possible to trust that my friendships are intact enough to simply have to put my immediate family first yesterday?

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I have no explanation for any of it except to say that somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas planning and hoping, Christmas spirit took over and it became about simply being with the person that is my right and perfect Santa, the man who stands by my side always. It became about realizing what was truly best for our family.

Today, December 26th I am in awe of those who thought of me yesterday with calls, texts and presents. I am astonished at the kind invitations we received from people we love who love us back. Beyond that, I am filled beyond overflowing with gratitude for my family. Remembering all the hopes and dreams that came up for all of us over the twelve months past, the challenges we surmounted, the triumphs and accomplishments and the ways we have done our best to show our love, I am proud and blessed,

No, my Christmas did not go at all as I had planned it weeks ago. A few invitations could not be honored and a few others came out of the blue. Yet, it went perfectly. At about 11 PM I texted my son who was celebrating with his girlfriend’s family up in Connecticut. Within seconds his response came back, “To all a goodnight, I love you mom.” What a perfect way to end the day.

And all was right and good with the world as my head hit the pillow shortly after that text. And yet, when I reached over to hug my husband goodnight, the tears simply would not stop falling as he hugged me..

 

 

 

HO HO HO…I guess…

Ho Ho Ho

Thanksgiving weekend is over…
And on to Christmas…Ho Ho Ho…

And I am wondering…what are the Holidays really for? What do they mean? A time of wonder and delight? Or a time of tripping over each other, pushing to get that last Black Friday deal? A time of writing profound notes in the cards to folks you cherish far away or a time of quickly sticking a photo in an envelope to someone you got a card from that hadn’t been on your list…

A time to wrap the exact perfect gift for that exact perfect person you have found to spend Christmas day with? Or a time to compare Christmases past and worry how he spent them before you and what gifts he bought for others? A time to delight in the joy you got from hand painting your cards? Or to be sad that you don’t have the mantle that you used to decorate with fresh greens and berries? A time when you still believed in magic and family and tradition and when you didn’t get blocked by images of the photos you saw of the mountains of gifts “He” had under the tree that his children decorated when “He” had a different Mrs. Claus? Or a time when you stress out over finding gifts for stepchildren who might possibly wish you weren’t even in the holiday photo card, let alone buying them gifts.

A time to go over the river and through the woods or to struggle to find an airline ticket that you may finally pay off two years from next Friday because fares are so jacked up at this time of year. In fact so pricy that you have to bail on getting a ticket for your son because it costs as much as one months rent…actually more…

For me…it is a time of giving yes. But also a time of an ache so utter and so deep and so visceral that I cant imagine it ever going away. A time of “If only” and “what if” and “What else” and “How come” and “Where did it all go?” “Where did they all go?” Where are my mom and my dad and Grandma Kay and Pop, Aunt Pat and Cousins and company and magic? A time of knowing there is no Santa but knowing there absolutely is. Of hoping beyond hope that He will come and of wishing you had appreciated all the times he came before dressed up as other people who aren’t even on your list this year because they have played out their role in your Christmas story past.

The stockings may be hung, again, but the feelings behind them are conflicted…Hope that they will be filled, but sadness that they were hung on other fireplaces and everyone is grown and tired….especially me.

I am babbling, rambling, but that’s where my thoughts are at, where my heart is on this Christmas that mom will spend in heaven. I feel sad and lonely. I want her to ask me where my list is. I want to pretend not to be spoiled and acknowledge that dad was getting socks and underwear wrapped up as a present because it was all they could afford after taking care of us kids. I want the magic of this Christmas to fill my heart and overcome the heaviness living in there over missing Christmases past.

I want the family Christmas and don’t want to wonder what his Christmases were like before. I don’t want to feel sad that my son has to be torn between his mom’s house and his dad’s …although I am so very proud that he works to figure it out in a loving and graceful way…to accommodate step parents and all that entails…

I don’t know how to describe the sadness that comes over me when I think of sitting around the table at mom and dads before they went to Christmas in heaven and feeling stuffed not only with dessert but with the fullness of family. Family that I took for granted and complained about having to sit in traffic to get to on the drive from Connecticut. But family that I would kill to be able to spend the holiday with today. All of us, together, under one roof, at one table, with wrapping paper getting thrown into the fireplace in shifts- never all at once because there was so much of it –

I don’t want the feeling (totally irrational that it is) that I am the family after the other families’ Christmas that is weighing heavy on my heart. I want tradition but it hurts too much to pull it together here, because of all the other tradition that came before for me…and for him that I imagine… And I really miss my mom. Maybe that’s really what all of this is about. I miss her because She WAS Santa. I miss the way she had us all believing that this holiday actually was magic…

OK Mom, I guess I better turn off the computer and go make a list and get into some kind of spirit, because as I am typing I know that you, my Santa, Our Santa, would tell me to and that even if noone else ever sees that list, you somehow will.