Do I need to rethink my entire life?… Or is it just the holidays?
I found myself texting this to a friend who casually asked me how it was going?
Not good. Not good at all.
I mean, there are good things happening. But I think I wandered into the holidays a little off kilter. You see, I had the double whammy of Halloween and my son’s birthday this year. It’s something we probably didn’t think through very well when we set out the holiday schedule in our first parenting plan.
These two near holidays fall to the same parent each year and this year, felt like expectations were high. I think five-going-on-six, might be the year when kids become fully aware of and have full buy-in to such events. By this age they’ve got a little track record of their prior celebrations and other celebrations they’ve attended, so they now know enough to get whether they are at a fantastic or weak-ass celebration.
So the pressure was on.
I did the birthday party at the Air and Space Museum and invited his entire kindergarten class because we are new to these people and still making friends. It was a great success but way outside my comfort zone to invite 25 strangers and their parents to a museum to eat cake and open presents. I walked away feeling really thankful for the community we have with school. It was an enthusiastic, generous, beautiful group of people.
The week before that was Halloween. We did the regular thing of changing costumes last minute but luckily it was to the astronaut costume he wore last year. He wanted to be a fighter pilot originally and when we were looking at costumes, I asked if he thought I should be one too. He liked the idea back then (like late September!) but as Halloween grew closer, he grew out of that age where it’s cool to dress like your mom, so my Lucille-Buster Mother-Boy fantasy slipped away and not only was I not permitted to wear the fighter pilot costume, but he asked that I wear NO costume—just regular mom clothes.
I now see how this arrow found a weak chink in my armor of self confidence. I started to ask him if he was embarrassed about how I dress. I started to rethink my bohemian Free People clothes, not just for their over-pricedness and impracticality….but was I humiliating my son….who is in kindergarten!?!
It took me a couple of days to shake that off but eventually returned to my usual mantra of, Ain’t no man gonna tell me…not even the short one who lives in my house.
Then I made the theme park mistake.
For Veteran’s Day we were invited to go to Knott’s Berry Farm with some friends. To understand my tentativeness, you’ve gotta understand my theme park experience. I liked theme parks as a kid, but I was mostly terrified of the rides. I remember huddling on the floor of that giant rocking boat, The Tidal Wave, screaming in terror while my mom giggled and implored me that this WAS fun.
When I graduated high school, someone advised me to make a sort of bucket list of things to do before I graduated college. Roller coasters were on the list. I grew up in Wyoming so it wasn’t like theme park rides were plentiful, but I had never chanced a ride on a big roller coaster and I wanted to face my fear. I planned a trip to Elitch Gardens in Denver. I took ginger root to ward off any motion sickness. And I rode all the roller coasters. I even paid an extra $15 to ride the SkyCoaster, which was really just a harness attached to a cable, attached to a sky arch. I strapped in with two other people and the harness raised hundreds of feet in the air until the employees counted down and one of the guys I was strapped to pulled the rip cord. We plummeted in a free fall until the cables caught, swinging us gently back up toward the sky. I liked it! It was what it should be—exhiliterating.
After that I learned I liked rollercoasters! It was within the same stretch of a few years I found out I had these adrenaline-producing tumors in my abdomen. A while after they were removed, I remember visiting Lagoon in Utah on a slow night in the Fall. The park was empty and we ran from rollercoaster to rollercoaster and the adrenaline reminded me of how I used to feel somewhat regularly with all those little adrenaline-junkie tumors inside of me.
It was when I became a single mom that theme parks changed for me. Gosh—the dark Disney Land days of 2019! I bought a discount pass via the military because I was still not divorced. R and I would make the trip by ourselves, he would refuse to ride 99% of the rides, talk me into spending more money on overpriced toys in Cars Land and then fall asleep in the stroller, leaving me to drink alone in California Adventure, until he woke up and we could walk around for another hour before we got in the car to drive home. Those trips were a lot of work with a very minimal reward and they left me mostly feeling very alone. Dark, dark days indeed.
So in 2020, I declared NO THEME PARKS. Ummmm…I guess so did everyone else.
So by Fall 2021, I felt like I *should* (always a dangerous word) be ready for another theme park experience. And I wouldn’t be going alone. And I wasn’t driving up and back in the same day. So it *should* have been fine. But apparently everyone thought the same thing because Knott’s Berry was packed! Literally a two hour wait for lunch. If we’d have known, we would have walked out of the park and driven to a nice restaurant and then home! It was sort of a disaster.
So on the heels of that and in the midst of being a kindergarten parent for the first time, I find myself a little overwhelmed.
The sun is going down at 2:30pm when I walk out of work.
I find myself complaining about the cold when it’s 66* (but it’s humid! and there’s a breeze!—people in California are suffering!!!)
After a week-long hiatus from the mom gig, while R traveled with his dad, I thought I would be rested and ready for the business of Christmas. I planned to get a tree ASAP (terrorized by some goddammed article on Apple News that promised they would be scarce and expensive). I took R to Lowe’s (our traditional California Christmas tree lot, since the mountains of Wyoming are no longer accessible). We picked a good tree and got a few other home essentials followed by a full on Kris-Kringle-meltdown on the drive home because I said it was bedtime and we would have to decorate the tree tomorrow.
Rather than giving toys, I have been taking them away all week because it appears I have given birth to the mouthiest kid on the planet. I am tempted to tell him that I AM Santa just so I can garner some of the awe and fear I deserve! (Don’t worry, I’m not a monster…I won’t do that—but I’m not above shoving his precious toys in the top of the closet if it buys me a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t.)
I scheduled family photos this week because the week before Thanksgiving felt too busy (Note: This week was also too busy and there is not a good time to take family photos around the holidays). My friend Nick is an artist with a camera (and a wizard apparently!) because he got several great shots even though I was struggling to look easy-breezy while my kid and dog barely held still long enough for a 1/500 shutter speed in waning light at 4pm. God bless you, Nick.
I’ve been so out of sorts I took a pregnancy test this morning just to be sure that wasn’t it—it wasn’t. No announcements here! [Including this because it occurs to me that this is something men never have to worry about, holidays or not.]
I’m guessing you are picking up from my tone that I am sort of crash-landing into this first weekend of December, which prompted my initial question: Do I need to rethink my entire life?… Or is it just the holidays?
In the words of Eleanor Shellstrop: “I mean somebody royally forked up. Somebody forked up. Why can’t I say ‘fork’?”
On Friday I went to the gym today for the first time in two years. It felt kind of gross to me—you know, such a collection point for viruses after the pandemic changed everything. So I was reluctant. But I did back squats and box jumps and hip thrusters and I walked out of there feeling slightly better, which bloomed into decidedly better over the course of a few hours. I suspect because, I finally put the thing that my body and soul had been asking for, for months, at the top of the list—for just an hour.
I think the holidays are hard because we have the expectation that we can bumble into this darkest part of the year eating garbage food and giving up on the beach body of summer, substituting the religiosity of the holidays for any meaningful spiritual practice. Maybe the extra pounds become the padding we need as we attempt to embrace all the feelings of family and holidays, past, present and future, which, for many of us, are a mixture of beautiful and horrific.
We stay busy and satiated so we don’t have to feel because some of us are haunted by loneliness and loss. Some of us are compelled to see and talk to people who have inflicted some of our deepest wounds. For most of us, there is a sense of loss that comes with the rift between the life we thought we would have and the one we had to leave behind, or left us behind.
It feels incongruent with the tinsel T-rex sitting on my bookshelf, the happy-colored lights outside my house, even the nativity of Christ or the victory of the Maccabean army—because those are stories of hope—and sometimes hope feels dangerous.
Cheryl Strayed wrote, “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
Sometimes the holidays feel like a small, quiet room to me, even as I go through the insane motions to make them noisy and crowded. Some of the bustle is just me trying not to notice the small, quiet room. The place where I have to sit with my idea of what I thought my life would be when I was a bright-eyed, silly, enthusiastic, hopeful little girl, and the reality of what it is today, which is actually something much more complex and rich and deep and interesting than what I could have imagined back then.
That’s hard. It’s forking hard.
So please, take care of yourself. Let the dark nights and cool whether, drive you to the small, quiet room.
Pain is on the other side of the door. But so is peace.