Saturday, December 31, 2011

It shows us what the light looks like.

All over the news and from lots of friends and family, I keep hearing declarations of how happy people are to see 2011 peace out, how much it sucked, how they can't wait to start 2012. And, I kinda understand. It wasn't an easy year. There was a lot about the year that was kinda sucky. When I think back on it, I see that there were probably more major struggles than major triumphs in our own little world. There were things that had me downright worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, for some reason, I don't see all of these things as downright terribly awful. Some of them, yes. But, some things kinda had a glass half-full deal going on.

To be sure, I'm most certainly NOT a typically half-full person, either. Let's just get that out of the way right now. I often take small things and make them into humongous things and assume the absolute possible worst about situations. It's exhausting, but I think it has to do with the voodoo in me. It's just how I roll.

So, I'm not sure where this half-full stuff is coming from, but some of the crappy parts of the past year have taught me some things about life and perseverance and not knowing and not being able to control every aspect of my existence. And, those last two might be my biggest things: not knowing and control, because there was A LOT of stuff about which I was uncertain and that was way out of my realm of control, and that really drove me bananas. More than that, though, it put me in my place in this whole game of life. Realizing that I don't have complete governance over everything, that my influence is limited, helped me let go of some of my neurotic ways. It helped me relax a little. Not a lot, but at least a little.

It taught me that even if I don't know exactly what's going to happen next, even if I can't control the exact direction of life, things work out. For better or worse, they work out, and what I can do is groove along and do the best me with the life that I have. I learned that strife is just part of every year, some more than others, but that the best feelings come when you conquer that which could have possibly taken you down. And, most of all, I learned that the beauty in my life is much more vivid when I've seen the ugly.

The boys from Widespread Panic sing a song called "Pleas" that always pops in my head when life gets really difficult. Part of the song goes, "Now, you can't have the good until you've shared the bad," and I think it couldn't be more true. There's wisdom in the darkness that helps us appreciate the light. It shows us what the light looks like. So, that's how I'm going to leave this year: thankful for the good and the bad.

Happy 2011! Happy 2012!

Here are thy lyrics for that song.

Verse 1:
They say turn the bright lights on
And there you'll find the truth
Here, open up this book
And now you'll find the proof
It feels like a can of worms
Keep the lid on tight, and they say
   Don't let it get too bright  (x3)
   No not this time

Verse 2:
They tell me it takes sorrow, boy
To help you feel the joy
They say it takes poverty
To let you love a toy
Now you can't have the good
Until you've shared the bad

Don't let it get too sad (x3)
No, not this time, time

Verse 3:
They say it takes hardship, boy
To let you love the rest
Sometimes underneath the load
Is where I show my best
Go, put your work clothes on
Go and leave your mark
And they say

Don't let it get too dark (x3)
No, not this time

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy Birthday!

The month of December marks some very important dates for our family. Three of my kids' grandparents celebratre their births in this month: my mom (December 8), Matt's dad (December 20), and Matt's mom (December 27). These special days honor some of the most incredible people in our world, and we are very blessed that they are ours.
There's also the birthdays of loved ones who've passed. My most special beautiful, blue-eyed Grandmother, graced this world with her presence for the first time on December 29, 1924. I always loved having fun on her birthday; even as an adult, I'd convinced myself that we'd be celebrating it for as long as I was alive...that she'd just live forever. And, though the world that I could never imagine as a child is now a reality, I still like to remember her on her special day. She does live on in our hearts, after all.

Instead of gifts now, I like to think about those things that made her happy: playing Scrabble, home-cooked meals, making vegetable beef stew, telling stories about the past, jokes with her brother, letters, good books, hymns, cookies. More than anything, though, it was her family that made her world go 'round. Popa, her daughters, her grands...for us all she lived and breathed, and nothing pleased her more than knowing that we were happy, healthy, and successful.

I remember how excited she'd get when she'd learn that someone was finishing college, starting a career, getting married; any opportunity for growth was music to her ears. Not surprisingly, the news she loved the best was whenever she found out that her family was growing. I think that was the major measure of success for her - a big family. New babies put an extra sparkle in her already glittering eyes, made her smile grow a little fuller, helped her heart sing a little louder.

So, it is in her honor, today, that my news carries even more love. There's another one on the way, Grandma! Happy birthday!

Let's just stay here forever.

Well, it's over. Today, when I hit the button for it in the car, 106.7 was playing "Everything I Do, I Do It For You" by Bryan Adams, followed by UB40's "Red, Red Wine." (Not that I wasn't really happy for BOTH of those songs.) Gone was the constant rotation of holiday tunes. The Christmas tree will be down by tomorrow afternoon. The house must be re-organized to fit the new stuff. The kids must re-learn most of their manners. Frisbee, our Christmas Elf, has left for his 11-month vacay. (Must be nice.) Yes, Christmas has left us, and I'm sad to see it go. This was a good one. A busy one, but a good one. We were all excited for it from the start of the season, maybe from even before then.

For some reason, this year more than others, I've been keenly aware of how good we have it. I've seen how unfortunate a great many people are, how many folks are struggling, just struggling, every day, and it's made me a lot more grateful for my life. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we had our share of heartbreak this year...Matt's Grandma Kelley and Grandpa Wood both bid us farewell, and we had our worries with our precious little girl, among other things...maybe that helped put into perspective some values that I had mixed up in previous years. Whatever the case may be, I've sincerely tried to relish the time this holiday, and, I think, doing that made it so wonderful.

It wasn't about the gifts, either...I could have done away with those, but the kids have so much fun opening them, and, to be honest, I love seeing the looks on their little faces as they tear apart the wrapping paper. Mainly for me, it was the time we had with each other. Our family and friends. Seeing people happy and healthy and simply enjoying life and being together...that's what made this Christmas so great.

The weekend before Christmas, we were in Raleigh for Matt's cousin's wedding, and most of his Wood relatives were there. The wedding and reception were perfect, but the smiles and warmth from family members were something for the record books; everyone was so content and genuinely excited to be together. Back at home, the kids had play dates with friends to make gingerbread houses and cookies, to just enjoy time away from the constant seriousness of school days and to get back to the business of being children. (Couldn't we all use a lesson in that?) And, there was the annual Christmas party at my dear friends' house, which never fails to let the good times roll.
Christmas Eve and the big day were given back to family time. We spent the day and night at my parents' house (per my dad's request). We ate lasagna and went to church and read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and wrapped presents after my little loves fell asleep. We woke up early on Christmas morning...Kent wins the award for 4 am (but that guy had to go back to sleep), and opened gifts in two sessions so we could take a break to eat some of the best biscuits and gravy my parents' house has ever seen, and my mom even cooked them! Ha!

It was during that break where my sweet 4-year-old little boy spoke the words that captured my feelings for the time that we have together. We were laying on the kitchen floor...weird, I know, but it was his idea...our heads on his and Ella's new pillow pets, our family milling around us, and he grabbed my face with his little hands and his learning, peaceful little eyes stared straight into mine, and he said, "Let's just stay here forever." And, oh, if I could have, I would have. Held that moment right there, with my family around, in the comfort of our jammies and the contentment of simply being right there and realizing how utterly, perfectly perfect that was.
But, I think that's how I feel about this time in my life. It's moving past so quickly; even the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas felt shorter than the blink of an eye. The more I appreciate it, the faster it goes. Knowing how fragile life and stability and constant joy are, knowing how impermanent life is makes me consider how much I need to enjoy just right now, how lucky I am to live in just right now, and that helped make Christmas so special. It's what makes every single day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Then the Fun Can Begin!

I think my favorite part of this time of year, besides how excited my kids are about it, are the lights. Because I really am not down with day light savings time and how light is completely extracted from the latter part of the day, the only thing that really makes this time of year and the darkness surrounding it acceptable is the light from Christmas decorations. Twinkling lights, colorful lights, white lights, simple, gaudy, glaring, whatever, I love 'em. Christmas decorations usher in color where Fall has taken it away from summer, and the lights are the icing on the cake for me. We even decided to put up the outside lights a week before Thanksgiving this year so we could enjoy them a little longer. I might leave them up for the month of January, too, just for kicks.
Every year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we put up our Christmas tree. We like the real kind. The frasier firs that leave your fingers covered in sticky sap and fill the house with that refreshing mountain-air aroma that tells you that Christmas is just around the corner. Every year we go as a family to a local place to pick out the perfect tree together. Horton's Produce was our dealer of choice this year, and I think that may be our guy from here on out. He does have the best boiled peanuts around, so it's no surprise that his Christmas trees rank right on up there, too. Like me, Ella loves the big, over-the-top trees, the ones that really don't fit in the house, but fit in our minds. Luckily, Matt's there to pull us somewhat out of the clouds, and we compromised on a nice, full, big tree that fits perfectly pretty good by the fire place.
The decorating of the tree is my job. I've never been one to deny the fact that I am a control freak. Most every one of my friends is pretty much appalled that I won't let anyone else put the ornaments and lights on. Sorry, but there are some really special ones that I just can't risk losing to little clumsy hands. And, I don't have time to be moving ornaments around and explaining why they're in different spots. I just cut to the chase and let everyone know that the main tree decorating is my business. The kids have another one that they can doll up if they so choose to. This year, they chose not to decorate it in favor of playing. Go figure.
So, I decorate my tree. I mean our tree. I love it. There's something so peaceful about doing this. Since Matt and I were first married, I've put a red stripe of lights around the tree. The rest of the lights are white, but around the center are red strands. It's been so long that I can't remember why I started doing it, but it's become a tradition...a signature design, if you will. Every year, I love seeing our ornaments and remembering where they came from, who gave them to us, who made them, when we got them. In some ways, they tell a small story about our lives as a family, and for that reason, they are precious to me. Almost as much as pictures. And, because my kids are also precious to me, it's just better that they not touch the ornaments, if you catch my drift.
After the tree is up and the mantle is dressed, the fun really begins. No it doesn't. That's a lie. After the pictures for the Christmas card are taken, then the fun can begin. Ohhh, Christmas card pictures. Is anything more painfully obnoxious and obliteratingly annoying than trying to get a good Christmas card picture? Some part of me feels really bad for my Ella and my Summit. I know it has got to suck big time for them to have to sit down and pose for some 200 pictures. But, dang it, it sucks for me, too. Knowing that out of those 200 pictures, only half of one will look alright. I mean, why, dear Jesus, can't they just smile together, keep their eyes open together, and sit still together? Why? After an hour of bribes, fake smiles, tears, blatant disobedience, snarls, threats, yelling, sweating, cussing(yes, it's true, I cuss), it's over. Thank goodness for digital photography.
Then the fun begins. Merry Christmas!

Parties, Performances, Ballets, Classroom Workshops, and So On.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Well, maybe the most incredibly busy time of the year...

These past weeks have been jam packed, people, jam packed. The kids have been here, there, and everywhere, and like a mama duck following her brood (wait is that right?), I've been trying to keep up with all of the activities that this time of year requires of the little people in my life. I guess the tides have turned when their social calendars take precedence over mine...

Parties, performances, ballets, classroom workshops, and so on.

Every year since she was 2, my Ella has been to the Nutcracker ballet at the Koger Center. It's become a tradition for us to take her there. (Living in South Carolina, you have to grasp hold of any kind of cultural event that comes by and hang on for dear life.) Thankfully, the Nutcracker is beautifully done, and we love going to see what the Columbia City Ballet has in store for each year's interpretation of E.T.A Hoffman's story. Ella adores the ballet, the dancers, the costumes, the music, everything about it. And I love to see the sparkle in her eyes as she watches everything unfold. She's the kind of person who understands the emotional quality of what she sees, and it's amazing to see the expressions on her face change with the tone of the music.
The preschool where Summit attends (and where Ella went) has a field trip every year to the ballet at Christmas time for the wee ones. It's an abbreviated performance, for obvious reasons, that hosts preschools and young elementary students around the area. This wasn't Summit's first visit to the ballet, but it was the first that he'll remember going to. He got all gussied up for our special outing together, and rocked out his best behavior. Did he like it much? Not really. Was he impressed by the dudes in tights? Nope. But, he sat there so patiently and quietly and only asked ONCE when it would be over. When I asked if he'd like to go back a few days later with Ella and my mother and I, he told me, "No way. I have to watch the Panthers." Nice. I don't think his daddy could have been more proud.
With the ballets under our belt, we tended to the other events. Summit had a sweet performance at his preschool where all of the kids sang Christmas songs to their adoring parents. I'm always amazed by his stage presence. He LOVES the spotlight. He LOVES having everyone's attention. I always get a kick out of seeing my boy up in front of everyone shooting me thumbs up and blowing me kisses with the biggest smile this side of Texas super-glued to his little face. And, then there was Summit's classroom party. His teachers seriously rock. They had freezing cold letters, sent straight from the North Pole, delivered to the kids, each one personalized just for them from Santa, topped with a little magic dust. Awesome! However, I did learn of a few items requested of Santa of which I was unaware. Not so awesome. Guess I'm not so done with that shopping as I thought I was.
To end the semester for the second grade, Ella's teachers organized an Economics/Christmas Workshop for the kids for which I got to volunteer. At first, I was confused...well, bored by the idea of an economics workshop for second graders...but the whole thing was pretty neat. Each class was given and item to create. Ella's class made Christmas tree toppers. Within each class, there were different groups assigned to specific points in the production process... tracers, cutters, gluers, etc. The kids set a goal for how many toppers they'd complete each day, and for each day, they were paid $5 for their work. On the fifth day, each class took their products to the school's arena, where we set everything up like a market, and the kids were allowed to go shopping to spend the $20 (obviously not real money) they earned on the items that the second grade classes made. I was down with the whole thing except that each child HAD to spend ALL of their money. I didn't think that really taught them so much about savings or being charitable, especially when they were buying Christmas-themed items at a time of year when the idea is to give more than receive. But, I digress.
Parties, performances, ballets, classroom workshops, and so on. Sometimes it seems like so much, but I know that every second that my kids smile and enjoy life is so worth it. I would say that this is the most wonderful time of the year, but I think that every moment that I get to live my life and watch my kids laugh and grow and learn is the most wonderful thing in the world.

Friday, December 9, 2011

To My Mother: Happy Birthday

When I was a little girl, I thought my mother's birthday was one of national significance. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that it is right next door to December 7, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Perhaps. But, I think a lot of it was because that I think my mother is something of a national hero. She has, after all, been one of the most special and amazing and spectacular people in my life; certainly the same should hold true for everyone else who knows her.
So, yesterday was her birthday. Why, you may ask, am I writing this today? Well, I wanted to give it to her on a day that she could appreciate it. Why, you may ask, couldn't she appreciate it yesterday? Well, she was doing one of the things that she's done for as long as I can remember... something for someone else, or rather, something for an entire school of people, rather than celebrating her own birthday. This happens to everyone, yes, but for her it seems to happen more often than not. She makes a countless number of sacrifices for other people. Countless. And, many of those sacrifices go by unnoticed, unthanked. She doesn't say much about it, least of all to the person who receives the fortune of what she gave up. That's just her style.

When I was young, she did this a lot for me. She gave up her time to take me places, her new clothes so I could have the cutest stuff to wear, her sleep-filled nights to worry about making sure I was alright. I didn't appreciate then how much she was giving up for me, for my brothers and dad and grandmother and popa and her students and and and. As I've grown older, I've learned to pay attention, and I realize that her sacrifices are many. I know that she often feels torn between people, between things, between time. I know that it can be hard on her, unfair and exhausting, and still she does it. When she's sick, worn down, tired, overworked, unappreciated, you name it, she makes room in her life for the needs of other people. She loves that much.

I don't know too many people quite like that. I don't know too many people who deserve to have someone like that in their lives, me in particular. I know that I'm incredibly lucky to have my mother as my mama, and my kids are lucky to have their Babi as their grandmother. We couldn't be anymore blessed by her. Her beautiful smile and sparkling blue eyes and giving spirit. Her great, big heart.
For all that you do for us, thank you, mother. Happy happy birthday.