Today is all we’ve got

Last night in a text conversation a friend of mine was listing out some impressive goals for 2015. I reiterated my opinion on New Year’s resolutions (i.e. I make resolutions every day, so a new year is sort of arbitrary) and stated that I basically have a short list for the future me: be better.

Then this morning I was mulling that over and thinking about how we never know when we will run out of tomorrows and so just striving to be better each day is probably the very best thing anyone can do anyway. Even if you are just a little bit better than the version of yourself that you were the day before.

When we got to church, the priest started with a “Happy New Year!” to everyone and I smiled at the theme that seemed to be running through my life. Today is the first day of advent and so the first day of the Christian calendar. Time to prepare for Jesus’ birth on Christmas. Time to prepare our hearts for the coming year. Time to be better. Likewise, the gospel echoed what I had just been thinking about: no one knows when the master will arrive, so we must be watchful and alert and do what needs doing now. There may not be a tomorrow.

I’m grateful that I stuck with NaBloPoMo this November. Writing daily posts has pushed me to work on myself each day. I’ve often said that I write every day, but mostly in my head. When it comes down to putting the words on paper or onto the screen, I’m less diligent. But this month has trained me to stop overthinking, over editing, overanalyzing and take an idea and run with it. As much as I would like every post to be a masterpiece, it is enough that I am just writing and trying to be a little better every day.

My plan is to treat this upcoming month in a similar way. I will write, maybe not daily, but as close to it as I can come. I will spend quality time with my boys reading, decorating, making cookies, writing Christmas cards, playing games, and generally turning off all electronic devices as often as possible. I will count to a hundred before losing my temper. I will take time to exercise. And pray. And prepare my heart. Because no one knows when we will run out of time. And despite what Clarice sings to us in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, there may not be a tomorrow for your dreams to come true. So we must do what we can do each day and hope that we will be given another chance to be a little better the next.

I did it!

I did it!

Enough

Cleaning my house stirs up mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, when everything is clean and orderly, I get a deep sense of satisfaction. This is my house. This is what I am providing for my children. Yes, a lot of the furniture is second-hand and was given to us. Yes, the kitchen decor is from the 70s. Yes, the wood floor could use some work. Yes, there is only one bathroom that was wallpapered in psychedelic silver foil paper with bright pink and green and blue flower designs with a striped wallpaper on the ceiling giving one a sense that they were relieving themselves within a gift wrapped by someone on an acid trip, which made me immediately tear the paper off upon moving in, although I still haven’t replaced it four years later. Yes. But it is mine. And theirs.

However, while I am in the midst of cleaning I often have a bunch of other thoughts running through my head that sound a lot like this:

When I get some extra money, I am going to replace that table. I’ve always wanted a big farmhouse style dining room table with lots of chairs and a bench. It would totally fit here and be perfect. Maybe then this table could move into the kitchen as sort of a breakfast table or I could just get rid of it because it is on its last legs. I’d like to move this other table down into the basement and keep using it as an “art” table. Actually, I should probably spend money for a table on replacing the carpet in the basement. How much could that possibly cost? If we then paint the paneling and get some comfy beanbag furniture like at that new place that the boys always run in to when we pass it at the mall, it would be the perfect place for the boys to hang out with their friends and I could finally clean off that desk and make my little “office” down there too and we could have a place to do crafts that wasn’t the kitchen! But, I guess if I do have extra money, I should consider re-doing the cabinets in the kitchen. Or replacing the dishwasher. Or the microwave. Actually, I should really just suck it up and spend the money to have that bathroom built out in the basement. The people who lived here before had the wiring done and put up the beams to wall it out. How much could it cost to finish? It would be so nice to have an extra toilet in this house. And a shower, especially for the summer when coming in from the beach or being super dirty from sports, they could just get clean before even going upstairs. Perfect! I can’t imagine even having that kind of extra money though. There are always other things to spend money on. First, I should have my brother-in-law stop paying for my EZ pass. Then, when I am really on my own I can consider spending money on home improvements. Oh, and I still owe Dad money from what he loaned me for summer camp for the boys a couple of years ago. I never finished paying him back. I’ll do that with my tax money this year. If I even get any back. Of course, I need that for camp this year. Maybe I should start putting away a little money each month for all of these things. So many things! I would love to buy an electric fireplace for the blue room and a rug, then that would be a perfect room for our winter reading and snuggling. I suppose I could break down and get a TV for that room, too. If only I could get a new couch for the TV area that I could be sure the cat wouldn’t pee on. Then we could all stretch out. The boys are getting so big. That area isn’t going to hold all three of us for much longer. And I want them to be able to have friends over. I want them to have a house that they want to invite friends to. A house that will be a comforting place for them and for everyone to be.

And then I stop and sigh. And realize that for a house to be a comforting place, it is about the love of the people who live there and not about the decor. And realize, again, that I’m doing the best I can and should probably not even go down that wishful path of “It would be so great if…” We have enough. We don’t need more. Better that I can take them to the movies from time to time, or out to eat. Better that I pay for groceries and clothes. Better that they can play the sports they want. Better that we can sit at our second-hand table and play a board game and eat supper and know that someone thought enough of us to give that table to us.

We are constantly barraged with images of “perfect” homes and families on the television and in magazines. It is easy to slip into the mindset of wanting more, of trying to reach this standard of living which is pretty improbable for the majority of people in the world. It’s easy to confuse this idea that having the perfectly decorated house means you have a perfect family and life. It feels almost like if you can achieve that perfect backyard, you will certainly have the loving family memories that go along with it. But of course it doesn’t matter what your house or yard looks like. I don’t love my family any less because I have an unfinished bathroom and a Brady kitchen (sans avocado fridge).

They say that women get a low self-esteem from reading fashion magazines. Well, I had to stop looking at Pottery Barn catalogs and home magazines for similar reasons. If a furniture catalog comes in the mail, I throw it out.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses,” especially when one lives in an affluent, Northeastern suburb like I do. Many of my children’s friends live in large, gorgeously decorated homes. They often “wish” we had a bigger house. I always respond with, “Who would clean it? You boys don’t even like to clean the one we have!”

And now with Christmas rapidly approaching I will be faced with the boys and their desires for toys that are way too expensive and homes all around us that are beautifully decked out for the holidays. We will make our humble house homey for the season with our tree that we pick out together and a collection of ornaments that I inherited from my mom from my own childhood, as well as ornaments the boys and I have been picking out and collecting over the years. The boys’ will get new bikes for Christmas and a few other gifts and will be spoiled by their relatives and not even realize how lucky they are. But I’ll know.

The truth is we are luckier than 99% of the people out there in this great big world. We have our health  and a roof over our head and food in the refrigerator and a loving family and lots of “extras”. My kids complain that they are bored if they aren’t playing video games on their ridiculously expensive devices. I was able to buy and cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my mother and brother and have leftovers to feed us for a week. I have a job and a steady income and my boys can go to school and get an education and learn music and art and play sports. And at the end of the day, we are together. We can snuggle on our almost too small couch and read a book or watch a movie.

We have enough.

The Santa Question

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Seeing if he could catch a glimpse of Santa or the reindeer on Christmas morning.

There is a new M&M commercial on TV that has the talking M&M characters discussing whether Santa will like the red and green M&Ms they are going to leave him. They run into Santa and red M&M says, “He does exist!” and promptly faints while Santa does the same. It’s cute. Except for the insinuation that red M&M may not have believed that Santa existed before he saw him with his own eyes.

These types of wink, wink commercials are everywhere and it amazes me that kids go as long as some of them do believing. I think it is despite what some evidence may point to, despite the looks adults give one another, despite the kids on the bus declaring there is no Santa; kids believe because they want to believe.

C saw the commercial last night and promptly asked,

“Is Santa real? Or is it you that puts the gifts under the tree? Besides the ones you give us, I mean…like, Santa’s gifts? Are you Santa?”

“What do you think?”

“I think he’s real.”

I nodded and smiled and said no more. I’ve struggled a little with the Santa myth and in general try to downplay his role in Christmas. Mostly because I think kids get way too focused on Santa and forget the Jesus part of Christmas and the peace on Earth and goodwill toward man part; I’d rather they focus on the giving, rather than the receiving. Which, naturally, is pretty nearly impossible for most kids.

But, I had a former colleague who staunchly believed that letting kids believe in Santa was simply lying to them and teaching them that lying was OK and that people who let their children believe in Santa were doing them a huge disservice. I am so glad that his kids don’t go to school with mine.

I want my kids to believe in magic, and kindness, and giving. I want them to know that sometimes you just have to put faith in things you can’t see or know for sure. Like God. And Love. And Goodness. I read this lovely article which reprints a letter which appeared in the New York Times which expresses these very sentiments. Perhaps, when they really start to doubt, I will use this letter or one similar to give to my boys.

For now, I think we are safe. If the boys have an inkling that I am Santa, I am pretty sure they will blissfully look the other way. I’ve been telling them for years that you just don’t ask questions around the holidays. This has allowed me to carry in giant boxes from the mail and keep them in plain sight in my room, stating “Nope, not for you!”

I do hope it won’t be a let down for them when they learn the truth. I hope the season will continue to hold fascination and excitement for them. In some ways, I hope they believe forever. After all, believing in magic is the only way to experience it.

Why I can’t count my blessings

I thought I would re-share this post from last year, since I realized I reused my favorite Thanksgiving quote for One-Liner Wednesday last night. And since I have gained so many thoughtful new readers, for whom I am extremely grateful, I thought I’d repost my expanded thoughts on counting blessings. Today, I am grateful for the sounds of my boys playing together in the other room, the hot coffee in my cup, the opportunity to cook for my family, food in the fridge, friends all over the world, the air in my lungs, the brain in my head, and my sensitive heart that can at times seem like a curse, as well as a blessing. And I am thankful for the people who read this blog and encourage me in my writing pursuits, however good or poor the results sometimes. And I thank God for choosing me to live out this adventure; I have faith that even though the path is sometimes rocky, it is leading somewhere amazing.

Thanksgiving Belly

Giving thanks for his Thanksgiving Belly

 

Adventures in Single Mommyhood

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is “thank you”, it will be enough. – Meister Eckhart

Recently, C has been having a problem sleeping thanks to a scary book that his brother had brought home from the library. I told him that he just needed to think about happy things as he was drifting off to sleep. He said, I can’t think of any happy things. WHAT?! There are so many things to be happy about, I told him. So I started rattling off the biggies: his family, his friends, his pets, black-and-white his beloved stuffed animal…but I could see from his expression that this just wasn’t doing it for him. Then I remembered the book: 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. C was intrigued and a bit skeptical. 14,000 things? We got the book from my room and we got him all snuggled…

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One-Liner Wednesday– Thanksgiving

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.

-Meister Eckhart


My favorite and oft-quoted thought on Thanksgiving and gratitude is brought to you as part of Linda G Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday: http://lindaghill.com/2014/11/26/one-liner-wednesday-dragons/