Christmas traditions, yesterday and today


Tree at parents’ house, 2011

It’s around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and for the first time in my entire life I am not celebrating with my family. I’m not at my parents’ house, where right now my brothers and their families, my sister and her boyfriend, my parents and their dachshund, Max, are hanging out. I don’t know what they’re doing. Probably the cousins are running around, playing games or watching TV or doing crafts before the 4 p.m. mass, while the adults sit in the family room, where a fire blazes in the wood stove, chatting with each other about this or that. There might be snacks already, but it might be to early for Mom’s pizza rustica and my sister-in-law Trish’s sausage pastry rolls and whatever else anyone prepared. I know there’s probably not spinach dip, because I am the one who usually makes that, and I’m not there.

For the first time in 11 years — their entire childhood — my kids are not going to sing carols or exchange homemade cookies with their cousins. My kids won’t get tucked in together in the upstairs room, wishing for sleep to come as fastasthis so Christmas morning will come as soon as possible.

When Ray and I decided to not export our Christmas this year — for the first time in forever — I knew things would be a little strange. Frankly, it was a huge relief to not to shop online and ship all the gifts out of state, to not spend Christmas Eve feverishly wrapping everything, to not have to pack and drive three hours and live out of a suitcase for a few days. I was really excited to start some new traditions in our house for a change. For the kids to creep down our own stairs on Christmas morning and peer around the corner to see what Santa may have been up to while they slept.


And we are. Joanna and I just mixed up a batch of sugar cookie dough and are waiting for it to chill before we cut and bake. Although I don’t have a piano, and for the first time ever won’t be accompanying the carols, I did strum my guitar the other day and feel reasonably sure I can provide a little background for our singing later.

It’s a little strange. Change always is, I guess. New traditions don’t just spring up, fully formed and familiar-feeling. They come from years of tending and feeding, and the strongest ones are the ones that stay. This year, right now, I’m feeling peaceful and right about staying home for Christmas.

But I miss my family — the noise, the stress, the chaos, the annoyance, the laughter, the song — I miss all of that. I sure do.


Easter brings new beginnings, big and small

Sure, I was an English major in college.  Sure, I write fiction and read a few books a week.  It’s not hard for me to see symbols and metaphors and allegories in the text before me.  But in the real world?  Sometimes I’m a little too skeptical and pessimistic about the mystical quality of the universe.

Most of the time.

Then I have experiences like my lost-and-found engagement diamond, where you have to wonder if finding the small stone in a house full of floor cracks and crevices was more than luck.

Other things are more subtle, less dramatic or laden with emotional weight.  A few weeks ago, a package came in the mail for Mitzi — six tiny caterpillars that we got so our budding scientist could watch them morph into butterflies some day.  And they did their thing, finally housed in dangling chrysalides, which we transferred to the butterfly house.  And we waited.

The first two butterflies emerged last Saturday, shortly after we’d finished coloring our Easter eggs.  We were thrilled, not only by the actual happening, but the timing.  What could be more special than new life on Easter?

But they weren’t through.  By the next morning, Easter Sunday,  another three had found their way out.  We marveled and ooh-ed and aah-ed  and hustled out the door for the rest of the day.  Number six was still hanging, and I was a little worried.  Mitzi would be very sad if something went wrong. Which of course, it didn’t, and as I was sitting at my computer that night, catching up on emails and Facebook status updates, I heard a crackling coming from the window sill where the mesh container sat.

Butterfly number six had broken free, wings wet and useless, clinging to the shell that helped it change so drastically, resting, waiting to fly.

I know that six painted lady butterflies, with their 3-week life span, are not going to make a difference to the big, wide world.  But in our little universe, in our little family, those six butterflies, rebirthed on Easter, have reminded us that change is always possible, that new beginnings can happen any time, and this is just the season to get started.

Happy New Year!

To all of you….to all of us …thanks for 2008!  It was incredible…some highlights for me:

2008 was a year of reconnecting with old, old friends, via Facebook, primarily.  I’m glad for the service, because without it I would never have gotten the energy or motivation to reach out to the friends I’ve contacted these past six months.  I mean, what’s better than a virtual reunion — getting caught up without having to diet?  I love it!

2008 was a year of NOT being diagnosed with terminal illnesses.  My health exams continue to be clean.  Praise.  Please donate to any breast cancer or women’s health care society.

2008 was a year of NOT being pregnant.  A post for another day; an ambivalent emotion.  Finally, a birth control that works (email me for details).  Still, cuddling my niece/goddaughter Cameron makes me wonder, am I really done having babies?

2008 was a year of watching my children cultivate their independence.  School and friends expose them to stuff I’d put off a while (” The Clone Wars” and “Hannah Montana” spring to mind).  But natural maturity leads them to not only tie their own shoes but also wonder why water freezes and how babies are made.   Potty training parallels social obligations in frequency, demand, and unpredictability.  I am sort of not prepared.  Oh, how do my kids feel?  Hmm…is parenting about them?

2008 gave me the chance to remind myself of my identity beyond being a Mom.  Since Mitzi’s birth seven years ago, I’ve done little but change diapers, lactate, give birth, nurse, change, play with, dress, cajole, punish, and adore 4 remarkable kids.  Will you think less of me when I admit that sometimes I feel that I have a bit more to share with the world outside my home?  This year I took stock of my skills as a Mom, a teacher and a writer, and hopefully have set into motion the beginnings of new adventures for me, Jennifer-beyond-Mom.

2008 showed me that commitment is more than passion and interest.  It’s staying connected regardless of the dry spells, the confusion, the apathy.  Commitment is acknowledging that nothing is easy, no matter how important or miniscule it appears to the naked eye.  Love, marriage, parenting, career, it all takes work.   Any day we can wake up bored, uninterested, tired, uninspired.  Taking the next step, seeing beyond the moment of apathy to the moment of enlightenment — well, that’s the stuff of commitment.

“No one said it would be easy.   At least, no one said it to me.”  — Name that movie!! (Seriously, I may give you a prize!)

For 2009, mostly I wish for you all honesty, in feeling, in manifestation, in conversation, in the quiet of your bedroom, in the chaotic anonyminity of Donovan’s or whatever local bar you and your significant other have visited in order to share some Guinness stout and truthful revelations.

For my part, I can honestly say this — I am not perfect.   In any area of my life.  That’s okay with me — in fact, it’s a relief.  When you’re staring down 40 years old,the imperfections and failings of your adolescence are as mushy and in-the-past as pureed peas.  I hope that my kids can see me and know that despite my imperfections, I strive each day to better myself in ways big or small.  I don’t want perfection; I want to avoid stagnation.  I want to be better for them and for me.

2009.  Here it comes.  We’re all ready.  The question is, is 2009 ready for us?

Live out loud.

Hot Wheels

We got our new car today!

It’s my first red car and my first minivan.  I know, not very eco-chic, but honestly, any Green car is either too small for us or out of our price range.  (Isn’t it funny how so many green/organic/eco-chic products are hugely expensive?  But that’s a rant for another day.)

The kids love it, although Joanna refused to leave the old car for quite some time while we were at the dealership.  Then on the way home she kept asking where “our” car was.  The roomy interior is dreamy, and of course it has a myriad of bells and whistles, mostly media-related stuff, that I will likely never figure out how to use or care to use in the first place.

It’ll be interesting to see how the four kids and I, plus all of our stuff, fit into this new set of hot wheels when we make our trip to Connecticut for vacation tomorrow!