the annual REAL Christmas letter

Every year I like to write the kind of letter that people used to send with Christmas cards but with a few important caveats. First, I do not have it together enough this year for Christmas cards or even pictures of my kids both smiling and with their hair brushed.  Second, those old school Christmas letters are mostly crap – so I started writing REAL Christmas letters about seven years as ago as a joke, in response to all the fake and cheesy ones people send out about how perfect their lives appear on paper. A friend and I laughed about how refreshing it would be if people wrote real Christmas letters. Confessed to filing for bankruptcy or bragged about their kid’s straight C report card.  What if those letters were a place where they shared the highs, but didn't ignore the lows. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Most people don't write Christmas letters any more. These days we do not save our perfect lives for yearly updates; we post them in our Facebook status and on Instagram 365 days a year. I am just as guilty. I post pictures of all the fun places I go and eat, not all the nights I am in pjs before the evening news. So now every year I try to rewind, reflect and share the highs and a few honest moments as well. So here it is - my year in review.  I have learned a lot of things this year, but brevity was not one of them….so settle in.

This year is harder for me to reflect back on than others because it has been rough and at least a few months of it are a complete and total blur or pain pills, hospital bills and Netflix.  Usually I find myself in this time of year writing about cool places I have gone, races I have run and what my kids have learned.  This year I haven’t gone to many places, I haven’t need to buy new running shoes all year and I am pretty sure I have learned more than my kids. Usually when I reflect, I feel like everything is the same. Same job, same house, same pant size…it is only my kids that seem to grow. This year has been nothing but change. Since this time last year I have gone back to school, I have changed my address and added some hardware to my skull. Currently no new tattoos – but there are still a few days left in the year.

Shaun has taught my kids to ski and they have totally caught the bug. Owen zips down the mountain with young 10 year old legs that don’t ache that put mine to shame.  He loves the ocean like me, but he is still Shaun’s carbon copy and pouted all the way home from the mountains this year pausing only to argue over Pokemon cards with his sister. Owen has moved up from elementary school to intermediate school complete with lockers, lock-ins and dances. He is still completely oblivious to girls and never uses the deodorant I bought him.  He knows way more science than me, but cannot remember to turn in his homework.  Shaun coached his soccer team again. Owen managed to score a few goals and Shaun managed to not get a red card this season. He is outgrowing all kinds of things, like finally some of his jeans but also kids meals and the tooth fairy. He is only 10 but can sleep late and disappear into his room for hours at a time venturing out only for food. I love the extra sleep and my new ability to go to Target alone….but sometimes miss the little kid that left Legos all over the floor. (I take that back--- he still leaves Legos all over the floor!)

Tess has lost a handful of teeth and some of her girly-ness but none of her sass. She still loves a fancy new dress, lip gloss and doesn’t think there is such a thing as too many Barbies, but she has also into Star Wars, Minecraft and overalls.  She is a “maker” and wants to create things all the time. Out of little blocks on my phone, or cookies, or Legos or anything made from pipe cleaners and glitter. She will not however make her bed.  Tess doesn’t love school as much this year unless they are doing crafty things or serving chicken nuggets in the cafeteria that day because she also almost never remembers to “make” her lunch…..which is just as well because last time she made her own lunch it involved 3 bags of chips and some Oreo cookies.  Her hair is usually going in all kinds of directions and her socks are always mismatched, this however does not seem to deter her because on the way home from school recently she told me that a boy kissed her on the playground. On an unrelated note, I think Owen is going to start karate soon.

Shaun has been busy, running, traveling and picking up my slack (and counting down the days until the new Star Wars came out).  The rest of his time he spends in his garage. I love the fact that our new home has an actual pantry and that the yard takes so much less time to mow (ok, for Shaun and Owen to mow). Shaun loves that he has his own garage. To make things in. I guess he is a “maker” too, like Tess.  Sometimes he even makes dinner. With my surgery and school, Shaun has had to step up and help out in all kinds of ways that I am so grateful for.

Moving was a little traumatic for me. Leaving behind the place that I brought home my babies from the hospital to. The first place where we built a home and drew sharpie lines on the doorframes.  We packed it up and emptied it out. I have been to the old house a few times (because I forgot to change my address on Zulily and they keep getting my packages).  They have replaced all the floors, painted all the walls, wiped out the flowerbeds and scraped the popcorn off the ceiling.  It looks amazing but feels empty to me.  Which is ok because it took us no time to fill our new sink with dirty dishes, fill up the junk drawers, the clothes hamper with laundry to wash and most of all fill this new address with laughter, leftovers and dog hair.  There are still a few boxes to unpack, but this new place quickly went from our new house to our new home.

School has always been easy for me. Unless we are talking about waking up for 8 am classes, Calculus or these days remembering to take attendance. I started school, as a student, again last January after a decade, 2 dogs, 2 houses and 2 kids later.  And aside from lots of coffee, the experience couldn’t have been more different from my last two degrees. I’ve been know to say, only half joking, that I am getting a doctorate in humility. My degree plan is in curriculum and instruction and I have learned a few things about that. But mostly I have learned all kinds of other things I did not anticipate. It only took me one week in to realize I was not going to be learning what I thought. I was so eager for someone to teach me everything I wanted to know about education. I wanted help finding internships and mentors and guide me through my own research. Instead I quickly learned how much I didn’t know and how little someone else was going to do for me. My first semester I learned more life lessons than academic ones. I learned a little about how to budget my time, how to ask and how hard it is to use punctuation properly. The last year has really taught me to budget and use my time more wisely - to make checklists, set timers and always keep a book or article in the car. I am a procrastinator and an extrovert. I hate to say no to something fun or miss out on an opportunity. I say yes even when I have stacks of papers to grade or laundry to hang. Those quizzes can wait. Laundry can stay in the basket, but I doubt my professors will understand that there was a concert I wanted to go to, that my kids wanted to go swimming or there was a Gilmore Girls marathon on TV. I still get to say yes occasionally but I had to be a whole lot more selective. No is a struggle for me, but I have tried to recognize that every yes I say is a no for something else. I am like the weight watchers of fun these days…saving up my bonus points for the people and things that I love most (and naps). I am learning that I can’t go to every birthday party, happy hour, concert or movie and that I should use my yeses for things like my kids soccer games, queso and not wait until the last minute to read 80 pages of journal articles. These days I waste a lot more time with people and things that I love rather than just things I like.

 I usually pride myself on being able to do things myself or figure things out (or asking Shaun to do them) but becoming a student has given me far more questions than answers. I am constantly asking all kinds of things to all kinds of people. I have sought out some of the best leaders and smartest people around me. I have taken notes. Sometimes I have listened more than I have talked (this is a small miracle for me). I have caught myself saying, “I read and article that said”…..about a million times to many to people who probably could care less and others who should care but don’t. Regardless I have asked, for help, for direction, for information, for whatever insight they can give me.  Not every one is thrilled with my ideas or questions. One meeting actually left me in tears. Most people, however, like to talk about what they are good at or experts in if I will just shut up long enough to let them, whether we are talking about school, cooking or Gilmore Girls. 
In many ways I am so ready to be rid of 2015.  The year has been expensive a struggle and not my most fun. I ran no big races. I did not go to DisneyWorld. Most of my pants no longer fit.  Someone recently plowed into Shaun’s car and he will probably be driving a rental all the way into 2016. Balancing school, work and my shrinking social life only gets more complicated while on bed rest or in pain. I have spent so much time thinking and writing about pain this last year that I can’t bear to give it more than a few lines here. I am so eager for a new theme, but it has taught me about hope, gratitude, anger and doubt. To be still and to wrestle. I am tired. Some days are easy, but some are still really hard. All I know is if I can write a paper while taking heavy narcotics and still make an A then I can do a hell of a lot more than I think I can.
This year has left me broke, tired, hurting and out of shape.
But. I. Have. Never. Been. So. Loved.
By professors that give me As on terrible papers.
By my friends and family that brought me meals or unpacked boxes.
By my husband that hangs up the laundry and does the dishes.
By my God that lets me wrestle.

So I am glad for my year. Tess’s lost teeth, Owen’s lost homework, our new home and the hard and beautiful lessons I have learned. In 2016 I hope for better, but I am still so very grateful for right now.

and if you are interested....from last year and the year before


Margie said...

A real letter. Love it - I feel the same way about the fakey smiles and perfect vacations. FYI, my kids' hair is not brushed in our Christmas card, and it shows. I just think people should be pretty happy to get one!

Merry Christmas, Michelle!

Martha Poole said...

Finally! a Christmas letter that doesn't make me gag about half way through! Beautifully and lovingly written. Good thoughts and prayers are with you for a wonderful new year. Cissie