Ready or not....

I signed up for some new things this year. I am going to be teaching an introductory course in public speaking at our local state university. Crazy! But it is always something I have wanted to try so when they saught me out, I had to say yes. Of course, I am a bit scared. Not in the "Oh shit, what am I doing?" sort of scared, but more in the low grade, fear-of-the-unknown scared. The content bothers me none. Monroe's motivated sequence is as motivating as it was 10 years ago. 18 year olds are still 18 albeit with more technology. What I am happy about is that public speaking is pretty raw and you cannot hide behind much of anything. A gadget will not save you- of this I am certain.

So...I will instill confidence through the espousal of preparation and practice, practice, practice, and heed my own advice starting....tomorrow.

It's my birthday and I am going to live it up by eating a carbohydrate and cleaning. Both are things I do not do on a regular basis and I always want my birthday to feel different than a usual day.

I love birthdays- mine or anyone elses. Again, I know some people just kind of roll their eyes but to me, I need more than stacks of normal days on end. That is why I am constantly on the look out for any little thing to kick my days up a notch. I will take a smarmy holiday, a pretty sunset, or a unexpected kind gesture as the hint to amplify if I can.

On this birthday, my 43rd, I want to cry because I am just so-out-of-this- world blesssed and that crazy girl you see grinning is me...wondering about the challenges she will take on this year with a fervor and committment that seems newly-found yet long-brewing at the same time.

What I didn't say...

What I didn't say in my holiday letter is that there is so much that never makes it to the page. No one wants to read about your heartbreaks and disappointments and struggles and mistakes. We carefully craft the news of our year to suggest our positive outlook, highlight our endearing offspring, and nuance our hopes and beliefs for the future so they seem similar to everyone elses.

Some years, however, it is just too much. One storm after another blows through, and it is good enough to just be standing. I get why many just send out a picture. What is in your heart can be just too difficult to share and feels impossible to ignore.

Thankfully, I always have the spirit of giving in my heart. In fact, it is one of my favorite things to do. I got this from my mom, who has perfected the art of gift-giving. She thinks about it, carries little bits of people with her all year round in order to find that something that shows she knows someone, gets them, and most of all loves them enough to find just the right item to express this love. How much money she has had to do this over the years has varied, as it has for me. That is the part that never matters. Through careful planning, ingenuity, and just plain thoughtfullness, she always manages to give the perfect gift.

My mom has had some tough years. I have, too. But it seems we always rebound for Christmas. Even if we can't set a word to a page, we can get outside of ourselves long enough to think of someone else and that is what saves us. I know many who view the commercialism of Christmas tiresome and shallow. I will agree to a point. But it feels good to get out of your head and into the heart of someone else: how can I make their day? how can I show what they mean to me? Words do fail. What is left is to offer our hearts through a gesture of kindness or a small, tangible offering of love that cannot be verbally expressed.

Merry Christmas.

Restless Gray Girl

Save the last dance for me

My kids got a disco strobe light recently. A friend decided it was just what we needed to christen a large space that we have that seems to scream, "Dance Party!"

We do dance. I dance, the kids dance, Big Man dances. Ok. Big Man dances in the I-am-a-fun-dad-and-won't-be-a-stick-in-the-mud sort of way, but he does dance. However, he loves to exaggerate the white man's overbite, and fluidity is not part of his game. Still...he dances.

When the kids were smaller and the death march was upon us (these are the hours between 4:00 p.m. and dinner for the uninformed-a time that can stretch out forever), we used to just head to the basement and dance through it. Spinning and twirling and improvised break dancing would get us all sweating and the death march eased into a pleasant stroll towards dinner.

Today, we continue to dance but less often. The new strobe light has prompted the kids to have other kids over to make up their own shows and routines. Only when no one is available do they call in parental troops.

Last weekend, Big Man felt like strolling down a musical memory lane and had the most eclectic mix blasting from his home computer. Lionel Richie, the Beastie Boys, White Stripe, and some heinous opera wafted through the rooms of our home and it was interesting to see what made the kids move. What was more interesting was this: Big Man asked me to dance.

I said yes and off we went twirling around the room. Thing 1 was grinning and Thing 2 alternated between giggling and gagging.

"You don't look like you are having much fun," said Big Man.

"Hey! It's hard to look like you are having fun when you're in shock!" I replied.

Many moons ago, Big Man and I won a free dance lesson three months before our wedding. We went thinking we might take a few more lessons to prep ourselves for our big day. They never asked us back. Even though Big Man is 6 feet 2 inches tall and I am not, the height difference was apparently the least of our problems. It still stings to think that we never got pimped to buy lessons for our own wedding.

And that was the last time we really danced together. There have been dance parties a'plenty since kids, but he and I just don't take to the dance floor together.

Until this past weekend. Briefly, I did wonder what was going on in his head. But my experience with men in general and Big Man specifically suggests that complexity of thought isn't usually part of the equation. I am sure it was something very simple like, "I like this song. I need to grab my girl and dance." I am proud to know I have matured out of the "needing to know everything he is thinking" phase in our relationship. I have learned the hard way that more often than not, it just isn't that complicated.

So he asked me to dance and I said yes. And while I don't think it was our last dance, it was a good one...and I am glad he saved it for me.

What I can't say

Most years I can't wait to get to my holiday letter. I like updating in a self-deprecating, newsy sort-of-way. As the month cruises by, I get cards and holiday letters with little notes in them that say, "Looking forward to your letter". I like that others look forward to reading as much as I do writing it.

But this year I really struggled.

Generally, I like to write what I might like to read. Hinting at the downside suggests that no one life is perfect, yet a total scrooge-out misses the point completely.

But sometimes what is in your heart just isn't what people want to know.

What I can't say is that I still think about Andrew, not because I knew him well, but because I am a mom and as such, wonder how a person moves on from such a loss.

What I can't say is that his death is still working on me in ways I don't get and my need to do something grows stronger even if the what seems just as murky as it was when it was fresh.

What I can't say is that my brother is braver than I will ever be for working his AA steps one day, one hour, one minute at a time, and that his work is far greater than anything I will ever do.

What I can't say that while I love my kids, I don't feel that need to micromanage and coach and schedule the hell out of their life. I love it when they leave me alone as much as I love when they pile in my bed at 6:30 a.m. for massive snuggling and tickle time.

What I can't say is as much joy as family can bring you, there can also be immense pain.

What I can't say that I don't get why I want what is best for everyone more than what is best for me as an individual. Taking it for the team has always been good for me and when the talk turns to politics, the divides seems greater than ever before and I want to scream, "It's about all of us...not just you."

I get it now...why I get those pictures of a happy family with a name stamped on the bottom. Because it is hard sometimes to paint a picture of your year in an honest fashion....all you can do is choose the moments you want to share. And sometimes, the moment you plan for and create is the one you most want to work with.

What I can't say is that I view the letter as a gift and when you are struggling inside, it is hard to give.

Thing 2 decided to helps me sign and stuff the envelopes, and she voiced what I knew to be true. She was disappointed in my letter full of pictures and little text.
"Mom, where is all your writing? That is the best part. You are funny, mom!"


I can disappoint the masses just fine...but my baby doll?

"Well, hon. It was really hard this year. I had a lot going on in my head...and I just didn't feel funny."

With the shrug of a carefree tween she says, "Next year will be better" and continues to sign in her middle school script that is sure to bring a few smiles.

What I can say is her nudge of optimism is just what I needed to let it all go and enjoy what really matters this season.

A picture-perfect tree

The kids love getting the Christmas tree. We go to the same tree lot every year--there are singing decorations and a mass of people in a heated garage drinking and tying things on wreaths "artistically". Between gulps of PBR, they remember to ask our kids if they would like a candy cane over the noise of the chainsaw that is trimming the trunk of our tree. What can I say? I am a sucker for tradition.

We always manage to find a decent looking tree and Big Man gets the lights on just so thanks to years of serious tutelage from his father. He retreats to the couch admiring his work and waiting for the odd request to "hang this up there, dad" or "I can't reach this, dad" never really minding about the particulars.

The best part of the whole experience is getting out the ornaments. I started giving the kids ornaments when they were babies- things to reflect their interests and experiences. It's always fun to have them take them out because they laugh at what in no longer of interest to them. Last year's fling with ice skating is barely noticed when Harry Potter and friends are revealed. Various dragons and dinosaurs show the steadfast love of a little boy. The small, glittering Eiffel Tower reflects a big dream of a little girl and the Darth Vader who stands watch over the heard of dinosaurs suggests the influence of a father and an auntie. "Let's hitch a wave!" gets thrown about when we spy the San Diego Zoo ornaments because the kids got to boogie board for the first time on that trip to California.

And this is ends the romantic part of decorating the tree.

A few days ago, I realized we had mistakenly thrown out lights in the never ending quest to pare down and get rid of stuff. Big Man and Things picked up some lights one day while I was working. Apparently, there was quite a discussion over what sort, color, and size. But as we were pulling out the ornaments, Big Man tested the lights and a strange look came over his face.

"Oh! They are so big, bright, and cheery!" chirped Thing 1.

"Umm...that's because they are meant for the great outdoors," replied Big Man.

Jumbo, mulit-colored LED lights. Or obnxious, loud, and head-ache inducing.

But no matter. I can tell by looking at my family that re-doing lights is not on the agenda. Things are now anxious to fill this gaily lit (or garish, depending on your take of things) tree.

Most of Thing 2's ornaments sit at the four and half foot mark. Darth Vader presides over the dinosaurs and the Christmas Dragon that every boy must have- suggesting that the battle between evil and evil-er could start any minute. Thing 1 was more thoughtful in her presentation. The glittering replica of the Eiffel Tower could not compete with the hot pink tutu so they were distributed in a manner that one could really appreciate each ornament on it's own.

It is obvious that I have given these ornaments to my kids without a thought to color coordination or taste. I was simply finding things that would chronicle their interests and experiences. Why, 10 years into this, did it now occur to me that they must put these suckers somewhere is beyond me. In years past, we have had two trees. I bought a cheap artificial one and put it in the basement where they play and let them have at it. In my cleaning spree,however, I decided two trees was totally unneccessary.

Oh well.

My family clumps together a lot like the ornaments Thing 2 placed at foot four and half of our tree. Depsite eight perfectly good rooms in the house, we all seem to end up in the same space, the lights are bright (and loud) like my kiddos, and I just don't have a Martha Stewart bone in my body to un-do what might appear to some as a garish tree. But I know a reflection of joy and enthusiasm when I see it. And to this beholder, it really is quite beautiful.