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the annual REAL christmas letter

One of my favorite traditions for almost a decade has been to sit down and try to write a REAL Christmas letter.  Not just the highlights, but a few honest moments as well. It started as a joke with one of my friends, thinking how refreshing it be for people to share more than just their perfect lives that we are used to seeing on Facebook and Instagram. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Now, every year I look forward to sitting down and reflecting on what I have learned, what is still a struggle, what is funny and of course the things that still make my heart want to burst in the best and worst ways. I even tried to reflect that in my Christmas card this year (well....the ones I was together enough to get out). The front is a tight shot of my family looking oh so cute on the couch....but zoom out and ...well. Truth. Laundry to hang, empty cups and of course...pajamas. It is meant to be funny, but there is also some perspective here. We usually only see just a little bit. I am tempted to compare, just like everyone else, but there is usually more to the scene. This is my attempt to zoom out just a bit.

As much as my personal life changed in 2015 -- moving, starting grad school and surgery, this year stayed the same. Same house, same job, same school, same meds. The biggest decision my family seemed to make was whether or not Tess would get bangs. The world around us may not have followed suit - it seemed to be a year of violence and a shocking election. Humanity, or at least social media, somehow showed both its worst and best. I have decided to choose the best even when the news does not always show it. I suppose my year looked a little like that. Pain that resurfaced again in the Spring, this time without the hope of surgery. In the past I have always worked hard to push through and on and anyways. This little strategy seemed to stop working for me. I needed a new one. So, I started listening, resting and giving in. I take my meds, I mostly don’t do the things I am not supposed to do and I get plenty of rest. Miraculously, most days I am back on my game. I have tried to apply these same lessons to other places in my life. The idea that physical pain works much like the heart version. It is managed so much better when we listen to it, give it room and feel it when  we would rather ignore it. It is such a damn inconvenience, but still better than being flattened.

My graduate school work is still going strong. People keep asking me when I will be finished. When they can finally call me doctor. So let me clarify for everyone, I have forever left. This program is no joke and a finish line is hard to see. I have no idea when my weekends will be back to being my own and when I will help my husband do laundry again, but there will be at least two or three more of these yearly letters in between. I am loving like the things I am learning, as long as you don’t make me cite that in proper APA fashion.

These little people of mine keep growing, learning new things and losing things and losing teeth. I slipped earlier this year and Tess overheard me on the phone telling a friend how I forgot to put money under Owen’s pillow. I am sure Owen has known for years, but Tess was surprised to hear the news. I felt like a mom failure for a minute, but it has worked out quite nicely ever since. I just hand over a few dollars and we call it a day. Santa, she is not quite ready to give up on and I will try to let them hold onto as much magic as I can. I will keep those lies coming, as long as she thinks she has to stay off the naughty list.

I have always wanted to live a big and loud life, but this year I have moved towards a smaller one. (As for volume, I still only have one setting). I haven’t given up on dreams or anything like that, I have just learned that I have to do less. And by less I mean I can’t cook dinner grade papers, check my own kids’ homework, meet friends for coffee, write a 20 page paper, hang out with my family and binge watch The Crown on Netflix. Each year I seem to have to make more choices. Say more Nos. Let things narrow.  There is some mourning in that. I still secretly hate the fact that I have to walk instead of run, but walking has its advantages too -- like good conversation along the way. The narrowing is a loss, but I am choosing more intentionally and healthier when I really still want to choose all of it. This means I should know when to stop or turn back or that I will have to find that little voice inside that governs all the things. The one that I have been telling to shut up for decades and decades. My knees might sound 38, but that voice just isn’t quite there yet. It is getting louder though. Many of my text messages go unanswered. I go to bed early. I wake up early. Instead of dozens of people...many days I only  want just a few, some days only the three I share an address with. Don’t worry, I can still find that loud obnoxious version of me and bring her out for special occasions….but the rest of the time, this girl is going to be in bed before 10 o’clock. (ok 9:30...especially on a school night).

A few weeks ago I went on a whirlwind girls trip to NYC (thanks Rhonda!). I spent a weekend in the cold watching ice skaters, standing on top of skyscrapers, eating hot dogs from carts, riding around Central Park and having every hair on my body stand up when they hit the right notes on Broadway. My summer I found hope on the beach, floated the Comal and tasted as much wine as I could in Fredricksburg. So obviously my slightly smaller life is still overflowing and only boring when I want it to be. I mean there are some days you should never get out of your pjs (it is very possible that today might be one of those days!).

This is my yearly review, but I am not the only one in the story. Tess changes clothes, future careers and looks by the minute. She is quiet at school and more than makes up for that volume at home. She constantly has to be reminded to shower, brush her teeth and sleep in actual pajamas rather than the clothes she wore that day. She quit dance but is still playing soccer. I am begging this girl to take piano or violin or anything musical, but all she wants is to make things and ride horses.  Give her a few boxes and a roll of tape and she will have built herself a new bedroom downstairs. I suggested that maybe she make a cardboard horse…..She makes great grades, has won awards at school but I still have to battle her nightly to do her homework. Her room is a disaster and she would eat Easy Mac every night for dinner if I let her. (sometimes I do). But she is kind and fierce and trying to find her way in the world. I let her. Sometimes in overhauls, sometimes in sequins, rarely with hair that looks like it has been brushed.

It is a miracle that my husband is letting my son (the one just like him) see 2017. He loses everything. EVERYTHING. His homework, his gym clothes, money and all electronics. The more expensive it is --the faster he loses it. He is only in the sixth grade but some days it feels like he is older, mostly because he marches up stairs and only comes down only when I yell for him the fourth time. But he still looks so small and young and I can count all his freckles, embarrass him and make him laugh at inappropriate jokes. Recently he marched downstairs for church wearing plaid shorts, a long-sleeved striped shirt, both so wrinkled that they were barely recognizable. I told him to rethink the wardrobe choice. He responded by telling me that he was “unlucky” today. Stumped, I had him elaborate. He explained that when deciding what to wear each day he just grabs two things from his closet and hopes they go together, some days he is lucky and some days he is not. He wears them either way and likely doesn’t know the difference. Lord, help him.  He doesn’t have a clue what he wants for Christmas and I am sure it is because he thinks he is too old to ask for Legos, but I know for certain he isn’t too old to actually play with them. If he is, someone please tell my husband. He is getting old enough to pull away and talk to his parents less. I am trying to make sure I listen when he does, which means I hear way more about video games than I ever wanted to know. This is a complete foreign language to me, so I pray there is a special place in heaven for moms who can tell you all the Pokemon. (ok, Pokemon Go is pretty fun and I suspect responsible for me losing a few pounds this summer….I mean those eggs don’t hatch themselves). And have I mentioned that this forgetful, mismatched almost tween may not have the best fashion sense, but he opens doors for women, has a thankful heart and can flip a water bottle with the best of them. I, on the other hand have banned water bottles from my house in 2017.

Shaun has put the running on hold and these days only runs to Lowes. Nightly. He has more new tools and ideas than I can keep up with. He spends his night scribbling designs on graph paper and making things in the garage. He has taught my kids how to do the dirty work (sanding and staining). He has made some amazing things, some of which are for sale. What else he has made, like every year, is this family work. He does more than his share of dishes and laundry, and the worst job of getting kids up and off to school since my school starts most days before the sun comes up. When he is out of town, I have to make sure they don't miss the bus, eat breakfast and don’t wear pajamas to school. It is exhausting. I need a nap after Tess tells me how to do a ponytail thirteen times and eventually does it herself, and trust me everyone can tell she did it herself. This year marked 15 years of marriage for us, and we celebrated with a return trip to Boston. We spent our honeymoon there, where I spent most of it puking from food poisoning...which is not exactly the honeymoon anyone dreams of. Round two was much better and puke free. We had dated for what felt like ever before getting married, but we were still strangers who had no idea how to share a room much less a life back then. Fifteen years later, we know how to share a life, just not the covers.

Despite the fact that I have not written many words publicly this year, it has still been my most reflective one ever. In some ways that has been hard, but it has shown me hope, thankfulness and progress. I’m thinking those are things we could all use more of heading in to 2017.


Peter Johns said…
Thank you so much for sharing this. I really enjoy your honest Christmas letters....not only because the content is interesting, but because you craft a really good sentence :)

Happy holiday to you and yours!


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