All that you can’t leave behind

A wise friend recently told me I need to cut ties with people who no longer serve me. “Clean your closets or make room for them on the shelf,” she said.

It occurred to me during my 4 1/2 hours of reading, sunbathing, sipping cocktails and quiet contemplation while the boys were at a party yesterday, that this bit of wisdom doesn’t only pertain to certain relationships in my life, but also to many habits, thought patterns, and behaviors of mine. My closets are chock full of useless crap and it is time to do a serious purge.

And I need to be ruthless about it.

I started taking inventory on everything I was holding on to: shame, guilt, anxiety, unhealthy eating, smoking, fears, insecurities, negative relationships, anger, childhood stuff, young adult stuff, stuff from last week…all competing for space in my closet. And I wonder why I can’t find the good shit when I need it.

I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. I have a hard time letting go of things and people, memories and feelings. I wrote once about why I thought it was I kept so much crap in boxes and bins: photos and old letters and toys and things of sentimental value. And my conclusion was that I’d had a fantasy of my future child going through the boxes and learning about me; that my child and perhaps the world would come to know me through what I had chosen to keep, as if they could be pieced together like a puzzle to reveal me at last.

So I had to ask myself, “Is everything you are holding on to part of who you are and part of who you want to be known as?”

The answer is no. Not even close.

Today is day 2 of my 60 days of gratitude countdown to the boys’ tenth birthday. It’s the perfect time to take the trash out.

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Pride and prejudice

One of my darling boys was honored as one of the Students of the Month in the fourth grade classes. They put a big emphasis on character, as well as academics, and I think it is a good thing to start ingraining in these young students’ minds; that what they do, and how they do it, counts for just as much as regurgitating answers on a test.

Ironically, this same child challenges me every step of the way at home. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very loving. He’s very smart. He can be incredibly kind and affectionate. He’s also so stubborn I forget that he’s a child sometimes. And argumentative. And relentless. I guess, in some ways it isn’t so ironic since these traits are also what helps him succeed in school and will serve him well in his adult life if he learns how to manage them: he’s persistent, he questions everything, he won’t back down from a challenge, he will stand up for what he believes to be right no matter what. And–he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks.

Now, in theory, it’s good to be your own person. It’s admirable to be someone who isn’t easily swayed by the crowd. I don’t worry too much about peer pressure with him. He’s a classic example of “marching to the beat of his own drummer”. However, the flip side of that coin is he is sometimes insensitive to other people’s feelings. He becomes singularly focused and acts like it’s his way or the highway. And I know that he is only nine and that eventually he will mature and some of these traits will mellow into a happy medium where I see just the coin, instead of the positive heads and negative tails. But sometimes it is harder to focus on the big picture and I end up mired in the negative parts.

This morning when he was getting dressed I told him to wear something presentable. He put on this nice button down blue shirt. He combed his hair (more on the hair later). He brushed his teeth. He was looking very handsome and proud and ready for his recognition breakfast. I was satisfied.

Then, he began unbuttoning his shirt. He also has this tendency to wear a nice shirt and leave it hanging open with his undershirt showing which isn’t my favorite look, so I told him that when he came in for the ceremony, he should rebutton.

“I’m not wearing this shirt”.

“Why not? You look so nice! It’s perfect”. One of these days, I will learn reverse psychology.

“I don’t like it.” He starts opening his dresser drawers and I know there is nothing in there. He’s already missed the bus for school and I’m going to have to drive him. This is the sort of thing that makes me nuts. But why? It’s a shirt. Who cares?

“What about this one? Is this nice?” He holds up a wrinkled, possibly dirty, stained t-shirt that once upon a time was pretty nice as far as t-shirts go, but that time had passed.

“No! It’s stained and wrinkled!”

He huffs and puffs back to his room. I follow.

“Don’t you want to look nice? There will be a lot of people there. Do you want your friends’ parents to think you are a slob? That your mommy doesn’t care about the way you look or dress or that your mommy doesn’t take care of you?”

He couldn’t care less. I care. That’s obvious. It was even more obvious to me as I began my little spiel.

“No one said we had to dress nice!” he yells.

“But don’t you want to look nice? Have some pride!”

We open his closet where several nice polo shirts and button down shirts are hanging. He chooses the shirt he wore for school pictures. Excellent. I leave the room to get my keys so I can bring him to school.

Then I hear the dresser drawers again. I come out of my room and he has on another wrinkled t-shirt, BACKWARDS, no less…

“No!”

“But I don’t want to wear a button down, it’s not comfortable! I don’t want to! No one else cares!” He starts stomping and doing his impression of a three-year old not getting their way.

At this point we are late and now I’m going to end up having to wear sweatpants to this thing if we don’t get our acts together.

“Fine!” I yell while doing my own spoiled child impression and stomping into his room looking through the paltry selection of ratty t-shirts. “Look like a ragamuffin! Look like your mom doesn’t take proper care of you. Let people wonder whose mom lets them get an award in messy clothes.”

Now I’ve realized that I’m more concerned about what his appearance says about ME than I care about what he’s comfortable in. We go into his brother’s drawer and he pulls out a faded tie-dye shirt that we got on vacation in San Diego. “How about this one?”

I look it over dubiously. There doesn’t appear to be any visible stains, but who can really tell on a tie-dye? I insist on ironing it and then we race out the door so that he is not late to school on the day he is getting an award for showing good character, assumedly punctuality counts for something.

“What would you think if I wore sweatpants to your award?” I asked, because I can’t let it drop. “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed?” He shrugged. “This is why parents dress up for work. What if I wore sweatpants to work? What do you think they would say? I mean, when you grow up, you have to look presentable. You should always have pride in your appearance. Wearing jeans for adults is dressing down, not dressing up! You think if you wear jeans and a clean t-shirt it is dressing up!!…”

I went on for a while and the kid, to his credit, just let me ramble. Because as I’m going on about the clothes and thinking about how much it really matters in the grand scheme of things, inevitably I came to my own conclusion.

“I guess there are more important things to worry about, huh, bud?”

“That’s right, mom.”

Maybe this kid is on the right track, after all. Being comfortable in your own skin is more important than what other people think. If people are going to judge him or me by his tie-dye shirt and his messy “he-is-growing-it-out-and-it-is-in-the-awkward-stage-and-he-hasn’t-quite-gotten-the-hang-of-gel” hair, let them. They don’t know all the awesome things about him. They don’t know all the awesome things about me as a mom. And if they want to judge a book by its cover, they will miss out on one hell of a story.

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I can do this

she_turned_her_cants_into_cans-387235We took down the Christmas tree this evening. Usually I dread this activity, but I was more than ready for it this year. Usually, I like to prolong the coziness and the beauty and the feeling of the season as long as possible. Maybe it was our incredibly dry tree with its drooping branches, maybe it was the extra long break we had from school and work, but whatever the cause I am not feeling the usual way about packing it all up and getting on with the new year.

I would like to think that this means I am incredibly hopeful for the new year and am ready to take whatever comes.

2014 was a year of ups and downs, as most of them are. When I began to reflect back, I was struck by how I glossed over the early part of the year which had been rather rocky in parts. In fact, I had been in a nasty depressive funk the likes of which I hadn’t known in many years. I suffered through it mostly alone, not feeling the need to burden anyone with my feelings, assuming it would eventually go away on its own. After all, I blamed myself for even feeling so low because there was no real reason for it beyond a bruised and battered heart and ego. But that’s the funny thing about depression. It doesn’t necessarily hit you when things are so bad. When you might actually be expecting it. No, it knocks on the door like an uninvited guest and tries the door if you don’t answer it, waltzing right in and pouring itself a cup of coffee intending to stay, expected or not.

It was only when faced with the sudden ill health of a friend and the death of a young family member that I was able to dump depression’s coffee down the drain and unceremoniously kick it to the curb because I simply didn’t have the time or energy to deal with all that when there were real issues at hand.

Not that it is always so easy. Not that it was easy at all. But I’ve had a bit of practice dealing with that particular unwanted guest.

The second part of the year was both harder and easier. I opened myself up to second chances and accepted that some things weren’t meant to be. I faced my 40th birthday and took a once-in-a-lifetime trip with the boys. I made memories. And mistakes. I made new friends and said goodbye to others. I made new habits and began to break old patterns.

Maybe that is why I am OK with putting this past year in the books and moving on without sadness or regret or sentimentality. I spent the better part of last year positioning myself for this one. And I don’t plan to waste the golden opportunity.

2015 is now. And now is all that matters. We’ve rebooted. What happens now is up to me.   And surprisingly I find that I can’t wait to see what will happen this year. I’m certain it will be one of the best ones yet.

Permission granted

December is a hustle-bustle month. Aside from the obvious holiday preparations, it also seems to be the month where we try to squeeze in everything we have put off the months preceding it. This seems especially true at work as people are trying to meet their end of the year goals and budgets and suddenly everyone has a renewed interest in getting work done before things more or less shut down around Christmas and New Year’s Day. And on a personal side, people are planning visits and outings, trying to meet their own goals for fitness, love, new jobs, school exams…the clock is ticking down to a new year and everyone gives that last push to make the most of the current one. It’s exciting and exhausting.

I gave myself permission to take a week off from writing, from thinking, from planning, from stressing about Christmas preparations and to ease into this month. We bought the Christmas tree last weekend and took all the ornaments down from the attic. We did a little home decorating and called it done. I knew this week at work was going to be a hectic one, so I gave myself permission to go to bed early each night. Midway through the week, after a particularly stressful day and the mind-boggling realization that my son seems to have lost his brand-new winter coat, I gave myself permission to drink more than one glass of wine, stay up late, and watch my guilty pleasure show (Nashville, don’t judge) on television. I gave myself permission to let the laundry pile up, to eat all the leftovers and meals made from staples in the cabinets, to play Words with Friends and scroll through Facebook at night and not do anything remotely productive. I gave myself permission to be a total slacker.

The thing is that being a total slacker is a lot like binge eating or drinking or shopping or anything else people do in excess. It feels good in the moment, but the next day(s) you feel dirty and gross. And while I do feel that I earned a week to concentrate only on my day job and completely unplug and disconnect from everything else in my life, I have definitely reached the point where now I feel a little, well, disconnected.

So now it is time to jump back in. Even though this season can be taxing, especially for single mommies, I feel that I’ve reached a new place in my adventure where I am actually prepared. My expectations are in the right place. I’m giving myself permission to make this holiday as low-key as possible. We’ll do only what feels right for us as a family and not try to force any Christmas cheer where it doesn’t belong. We don’t have to follow some predetermined path for what constitutes a “Merry Christmas”.

It seems to me that there is a lot of pressure to make Christmas this magical time when families are perfect and homes are perfect and our hearts are perfect and we have pictures with Santa and elves on the shelves and Santa breakfasts and holiday boutiques and Christmas tree lightings in our towns and the cities and school concerts and church plays and parties and ice skating and caroling (wait, no one does that anymore…a shame, really). And while all of that is perfectly lovely, we shouldn’t feel the need to do it all. In fact, we shouldn’t feel the need to do any of it if we don’t want to. Giving yourself permission to be a bit of a holiday slacker can go a long way.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no grinch or scrooge. I’m not suggesting slacking to the point where one feels lazy and dirty. I’m just talking about being selective. Discriminating. Picky. Following traditions is a wonderful thing for a family, but if each and every year you are trying to top the year before, pretty soon you are in manic holiday mode and that never ends well.

Traditions have definitely formed in our little family, but they are the ones that we’ve chosen over time together and therefore aren’t stressful to uphold: making paper snowflakes to hang in the window, choosing the Christmas tree, picking out special ornaments each year and then finding just the right place on the new tree for all of them, making cookies for our neighbors and delivering them along with dog biscuits for our doggie friends, watching Christmas movies and snuggling with hot chocolate. These are the holiday preparations that have emerged as important to us as a family, so these will be the ones that continue. And I am sure in time, new traditions will develop and maybe some of the former ones will fall away, and that’s OK too.

Last year, I told my mom that I just couldn’t do a big thing for Christmas dinner. So, she said she would cook a meal at my house and we would just have a quiet dinner. I felt a little guilty at first, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My brother and C played chess, while my mom and I read and G played with his own new toys until we were ready for dinner. We had a simple meal and everyone was happy and content. It was peaceful, pleasant, and perfect really. I just had to give myself permission to see where my limit was and stick to it.

Give yourself permission to make your holidays as simple or extravagant as you wish. Know your limits. Know yourself. Know what you are doing with love and joy, rather than obligation and only do those things. You’ll be so happy you did.

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Naked tree waiting to be decorated

One-Liner Wednesday– On responsibility

I’ve always loved this and was able to use it in a legitimate text conversation today, so I am pretty jazzed;

Not my circus, not my monkeys

-Polish proverb


One-Liner Wednesdays are brought to you by Linda G.  Hill: http://lindaghill.com/2014/11/19/one-liner-wednesday-analogue-or-digital/