My annual REAL Christmas letter

(things to note...I make super cute kids, but they don't wear shoes and we don't rake our leaves...win some, lose some)

One of my favorite traditions for 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 truthful and a whole lot more entertaining.
I don’t set true New Year’s resolutions, because I know that I will eventually break them, but I always reflect this time of year and set a few goals. In this case, “few” might mean dozens. Last January, however, my only goal was to make it through the Spring semester. I had my first internship, my last true graduate class (that seems to be a lie because I keep having to turn in papers) in addition to my normal day job, two kids and a condition that can set me back for weeks at a time. I bought a calendar and used it religiously. I crammed extra hours into my work day by eating lunch while walking down the hall, during passing periods or occasionally even skipping it all together (and I am not known to miss a meal). I went to more meetings than I ever have in my life. I took notes and I did my best to listen even though I am a girl that only wants to talk. I made it through only to repeat the same thing (sans class) in the fall. This internship has in many ways engulfed my year, free time and perspective. I spent an entire year learning to be someone that I am not quite yet. I constantly felt in between who I am now and who I eventually want to be while trying to figure out who that even was. I tried to make some professional changes, such as using an iron and keeping my mouth shut (of course I am still working on both of those), but there are personal lessons in that as well. We often find ourselves in a state of becoming and it is hard and awkward and unsteady to see who we want to be but haven’t managed to figure out all the way. Getting a grade for it somehow makes it easier to pursue, ask questions, to seek and to stumble. I occasionally wish there were those formalities in my personal becoming. Permission to figure it out and learn instead of the expectations I put on myself to already be.
My husband turned forty in October. These next few months are my only season to tease him before I join him in June. The truth is that I am looking forward to it. I  have made forty out to be this decade of permission to give up expectation. To wear house shoes into Starbucks, to say no when I want and to stop buying jeans with holes in them. To stop caring about the things that I think other people care about when I doubt they are even paying attention. I know those things have very little to do with waking up some magic day a year older and suddenly wiser, so I am trying to ease into it earlier. Giving myself extra permissions and nos and certainly buying a better moisturizer.
As I tried to sort out what to write, so much of my year seems like the last. I have the same job, the same address, went on the same vacations. It sounds almost boring and disappointing at first, but there is thankfulness in that sameness. The goodness and steadiness that this year has brought me when I see so much disruption in some of my loved ones lives and the world around me. All I have to do is watch the news or check the weather and it seems like everything else has gone off the rails. I do not expect so much steadiness in the year to come and am glad for this year to catch my breath.
My husband practically lives in the garage and has taken on an entirely new scent of saw dust and spray paint. He makes amazing things that hang on my walls and are given to friends. He has been trying to sell some of them, mostly to buy new tools and pay for ER bills when he skills saws his thumb instead of the wood. His sales are slow, but I love the extra inventory to give to gift and that fact that my husband is putting himself out there in my own season of retreat. I often come home from an errand to find his car gone, and my kids tell me he has gone to the store. Great I think and text him a list of five more groceries we are running out of, turns out to my husband “going to the store” means….going to Lowes, which unfortunately, does not sell cereal or coffee. Our kids can mostly stay home alone without a sitter, which means I manage to see more of this guy and have meals alone with him even if it is just across the street because we are too tired to go North of 20, much less into Dallas.
Owen started junior high and the transition has not been the smoothest. He loses all the things, his lunch, his jacket, his homework and often his shoes. He has started taking drum lessons and praise Jesus for electric drumkits with headphones. I think he is holding out for a lead singer and guitar player before he starts booking shows. Junior high does not have a soccer team, so he has started playing tennis instead. I think he has found his sport, at least for the next two years. He medaled at his first tournament - even if I did have to tell him not to rub in the score.  In addition to his sportsmanship and organization, we are working on his grades. Despite my desire to jump in and organize his notebook every night, lay out his clothes and email his teachers when I disagree with something, we have really given him the lead and stepped back. Just like the rest of us he stumbles and forgets a deadline, but mostly he has managed to navigate all of his changes. This last six weeks he had a random acts of kindness project. We have been spending time at the food bank, picking up trash, busing tables, opening doors and returning shopping carts. It has been my favorite way to spend time with him and such a reminder of this kind almost teenager that occasionally smells funny. In addition the manager of Chick-fil-a noticed him cleaning tables and offered him a job. At least we know he has options if those grades never go up.
This summer I pressed his pediatrician to look into his growth (or lack thereof) and after X-rays, biopsies, blood work, passing out and bone scans, we came back with a positive for celiac. He has no other physical symptoms but it makes sense that he would grow so slowly if he is not absorbing nutrients properly. The great thing about celiac is the easy fix - give up gluten and be super vigilant of cross contamination. Celiac is genetic and I have always had stomach issues, so I gave up gluten with him. That is easier said than done, and my son is handling the lack of donuts much better than I am. I am still grieving my glazed friends. My son just had to write a memoir for a class, the idea of my twelve year old writing a memoir is hilarious to me. He wanted to write about a not so great kindergarten year….but fell short after only being able to remember about two sentences worth. Instead he wrote about this diagnosis and change. Other than the occasional blood work and huge fear of needles it does not seem to be that big a deal to him. To me, it feels like just one more thing to give up (or a million things if you count all the pies). They said it would take about 3-6 months for his gut to heal and hopefully then he would start growing. It has only been about two since he has been on his diet and I measured him yesterday just to see. The sharpie mark has already moved up a bit. It was a good reminder that sometimes we have to give things up to grow. Up doorframes and in our own hearts.
My Tess is having a slightly less eventful year. Last Spring her soccer team lost almost all of their games, this season they were undefeated. Same coach, same team, same fields  - sometimes all it takes is making it through one season and entering another. Off the field we are rushing off to  drama class, or choir practice, or UIL. She works on her accents and writes plays in all her free time, despite the fact that I have to bribe her to read books. She is her own person who is hardly influenced by my tastes in food, clothing or music. We almost had a knock down drag out in the clothes section of Target last week based on my shirt suggestions and she still holds firm to her dislike of cheese and guacamole (I am considering genetic testing to see if we are really related). She prays every night that she is not gluten free because cupcakes are her favorite food group. She loves horses and blue jeans but shares my love of the beach. We have finally learned how to tame her wild mane, which involves embracing the curl, rather than brushing it down. I have a feeling we will be embracing some form or another of her “curl” for the next dozen or so years. Who knew there were such life lessons in her fine locks? She is my creative child, “making”all the time, just like her daddy, with words, markers, boxes fabric  or even Q-tips (like the brand new box I purchased and hunted all over for). Some days it is hard to remember that she is nine because she feels fifteen. All of her emotion is too much and sometimes just explodes in tears or screams and I do not have a clue how to handle it.  I know well the too much, just not how to get across to a third grader that this is normal, that you will feel it your whole life. I tell her to breathe, to count to four, to cry it out, or even to go scream in her room  - just not to draw blood on your brother or yell in my face. I tried to tell her cleaning her room (or heck, even my room) would make her feel better but she didn’t buy it. We are still working on this. It is hard. What isn’t hard, having her crawl into bed and watch a movie, getting frozen yogurt, watching her score a soccer goal, hearing how smart she is and seeing how proud she is to learn something new. This girl hates to back down and she hates to be late, both of which come straight from me, just like her freckles. I think both will serve her well, but currently the refusal to back down is getting her grounded on a weekly basis. Some mornings I think we should seriously rethink the acting classes.
The highs: Owen was confirmed and baptized (all the tears). I passed my prelims (all the tears). Less pain. I had the biggest snow cone in all the land and finally found a place within a 20 mile radius that makes gluten free donuts (on Sundays, if you can get there in time).  Owen pulled off the best Halloween costume ever. Tess rocked her school performance with a leading role as a seven legged-octopus. Renting a pub bike to celebrate 40 years of my husband on this planet, even if it was ridiculously cold. Hearing some of my favorite authors and speakers and bands (even if I did wear earplugs and complain about how late it was). Less wine and more laughter.  The beach, the mountains, the lake and at least once or twice managing to hang up every single article of clothing in my house.
The lows: Since this is an “honest” Christmas letter - I will tell you that there were plenty. Just at the moment, as I reflect on the year….they are not the ones that stick. They are the ones that I have to think harder about to remember. They are the ones that I don’t plan on carrying with me into the new year so I won’t waste time typing them here.
Unlike this past year I expect very little in the new year to stay the same. As I look at 2018 and I look at 40, I look forward to giving myself even more permission, change, travel, new roles and relationships, to let go of things as I reach for new ones and to constantly outgrow myself. I expect it to be hard in all the best ways and unavoidably a few of the worst ones. This has been a good year, but there is so much more waiting for me in the next.
(look how cute and happy my kids are.....just know that my friend paid them 20$ to let her take this photo)




voice

I remember waking up the day after the election tired and stunned. When I got to work I went downstairs to make copies and make some tea and did not make it back to my classroom until right before the tardy bell rang. I have a large class, full of all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds. I had not even thought about how they would respond to the election and that since we begin school so early that I might be the first adult they saw that day. 
Immediately an African American on the front row told me that she was disappointed in our country. I teach science, not government and thought that I needed to turn the conversation as quickly as I could safely back to the objectives on the board, but I could not ignore her hurt and the rest of the quiet in the room. I told her that  regardless of what candidate she supported that this country is run by more than one person, that very soon she would be able to vote, that she had a voice. Behind her, a student that also has different color skin than me, asked with an honesty and an ache in her voice that did something to my gut, 

“But do I have a voice???”

I did not know what to say. I wanted to have a great reassuring adult answer, but all I had was a new ache.  So I did a terrible thing and moved on to the lesson, even though there was a more important one being asked of me that day.  Throughout my morning I heard my Hispanic students joke about walls and being sent back to Mexico. They joked, but there was still some fear in their laughter.
I wanted so badly to reassure them, but I did know what I could promise or offer.  My own relatives and address were not on the line.

Months later, no matter what is on CNN or Fox News or posted on social media …. I still see my 5th period class. I try to filter it through their 62 eyes.
The jokes and questions and discomfort. The ones that I know where glad about the outcome and the others who felt uncentered, unheard or afraid.
I hear the question, “but do I have a voice?” in their voice, when I read my friends’ opposing opinions, when I read a new executive order and even when I read my Bible.
They wear boots.
They wear hijabs.
They wear hand me downs.
They wear rainbow pins.
They wear clothes I can’t afford.
Some of them still struggle with the language.
And a few of them aren’t in dress code.

Until recently I have shied away from talking about politics, publicly and even privately.
I often felt confused, bored and disconnected from it.
I never imagined that I would be watching Senate sessions on you-tube. 
That I would tell my husband who used to never vote to stop watching CNN and go do something about it. And that he would.
That I would paint posters.
That I would march.
That I would call senators and write letters.
That I would be explaining immigration polices and the electoral college to my elementary age children.
And that I am not the only one.
I have seen so many people who usually just post pictures of their cute kids or pretty food on Facebook and instagram, post articles and petitions.
That people on both the right and left would do all they can to promote public education. (keep doing it!!)
That many people disagree and that sometimes even a few do it with class and while seeking understanding.
I have learned that I think differently than some of my friends….and yet we can still be friends.
I have learned that there are all kinds of ways to have a voice. And that to really be heard that voice should be followed with action. And spoken in love.
That there are all kinds of voices.
And that everyone.
EVERYONE should have one.
This is, in fact, what democracy looks like.

So to my fifth period class,
I didn’t tell you that I snuck into my storeroom as soon as I could to wipe tears away.
I didn’t know how to answer your questions on November 9.
But I do now.
Yes, my students, my own children, my friends, immigrants and neighbors, Badlands National Park Twitter guy, people I agree with and even to the people I do not:
You have a voice. 

USE IT.



( I can not tell you how much that picture made my heart swell.)





different

Someone recently sent me a meme about tattoos. I reminded them that I have over half a dozen, although none in such obvious places as the picture. I thought about it while I washed my hair, and how once my hair was also purple, and what kind of memes could be found about that. And also, my nose was pierced. Other than the first two tattoos, none of these were things I did in my youth. All were in my thirties.


Currently my hair is a plain brown in a sensible cut. My tattoos all easily hidden with most clothing and only my ears are pierced. As this decade closes I have made efforts to dress more professionally, drink less, stay on top of the laundry although I still refuse to make my bed and talk at an appropriate volume level. Yet, I only looked back on my purple-haired days with longing rather than regret.


See, I used to do those things to be different.  


Sometimes I’d feel just a little trapped by my suburban life although perfect, felt a little too predictable. I felt like I was going to lose myself in Starbucks cups, Target bags and privilege. Other times I just wanted to feel different. I didn’t know how, so I’d at least find a way to mark it. I’d mark it on my wrist or the top of my foot with a symbol to remind me. I’d go buy a box of just a tad too red hair dye and hope that looking different would be the same as feeling it.


In either case, I was no different than before...I just had some new ink or a bad dye job.


I’m glad for every permanent mark, I have and I’ve learned that hair always grows back as you are not who you want to be. Marks, be it tattoos or scars, always tell a story. This I know. I can’t promise to never get another tattoo or always keep my hair close to my natural color, but I will tell you that I feel very differently about wanting to be different. I don’t need to feel that way anymore.


People who want so desperately to be different, never really have been.
When you actually are, all you want to feel is just like everyone else.


At least that has been the case for me.


A year and some months ago I remember feeling isolated in so many ways. I don’t know anyone in real life who has the diagnosis I have and could have really used a friend to sit down and have coffee with an ask a million questions to. I hurt physically and emotionally in ways I never had before. All I wanted was for someone to relate. I felt different and isolated in the worst way because I actually was.


My differences were actually easier than most because for the most part no could spot them on the outside. No one could judge me for them. No one could kick me out of church or deny my rights. I found groups of people like me online. It is no cup of coffee or hug, but occasionally I have a forum to ask questions to or just scroll through when I feel pain.


Growing up there is a such a tension between wanting to be different, but not so different that we weren’t like everyone else. Wanting to be you, but wanting to fit in. To still have a place. To still feel accepted and included.  Teenagers constantly walk in this tension. I guess I took a little longer to grow up than most. I don’t mind. You have to be at least 18 to get a tattoo anyways. And I probably needed to be at least 30 to be able to afford it.

Not always, but for a long time now, I have made an effort to love people who are different than me. To include them. To march for them. To learn from them. I actually prefer it and the more I listen the more I realize how un-different we are.  I’m pretty boring and can use all the perspective I can get. I still think it is a place where I fail all the time. I want so desperately to be different, but am sometimes afraid of it. Afraid of what to say. Or do. Or doing it wrong. That it will rub off on me.
Afraid that other people will judge me as different as well.


God, I hope they do.

Even if my hair is brown.