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SPEAKER OF THE FLOCK

Here’s to You, Mrs. Buchanan

“There is nothing so stable as change.”—Bob Dylan

Growing up, I remember a house that stood out from all the others in our neighborhood. All around us were rows upon rows of boilerplate, square homes, shingled in varying neutral shades, all with a similar wide front porch, brown front door, narrow front yard and some form of a brick chimney.

But this house was different. It had the same asbestos shingles as the others, but they were bathed in a sunny shade of buttercup yellow. A gabled roof was perched atop a quaint entrance with a freshly painted white front door. The porch was not the standard issue front-facing variety, but screened in, and thoughtfully set off to the side, under a grove of shade trees. You could see that there was sturdy white ceiling fan turning lazily, offering gentle assistance to whatever breeze was already there, and the puffy cushions on the patio furniture looked positively nap-worthy. The corner lot was meticulously manicured; a stark contrast to the surrounding lawns in this working-class neighborhood where yard maintenance was a low priority for the begrudging homeowners and renters. The house was an example of above-and-beyond smack in the middle of a lot of just-getting-by.

Every Autumn, a tall maple tree on the street corner of the yard would burst into a beautiful blaze of gold that would literally stop traffic as onlookers slowed down to admire it. It was one of those trees that most people would think was more trouble than it was worth. The glorious display would last no more than a week, at which time every single leaf would make the ultimate sacrifice and careen off the tree and onto the lawn to make a thick golden blanket beneath the empty branches. Unlike the other lawns in the neighborhood, whose leaves would remain until they were brown and crumbly and half-blown away, these gilded leaves would be scooped up within hours of when they reached the ground, stuffed into lawn bags that looked like gifts, and lined up orderly along the street, waiting for the City to come and pick them up.

One day I asked my mother who lived in the golden cottage. She replied, “Oh, that’s where the Buchanans live.”

Buchanan. I knew that name. But it couldn’t possibly be the same Buchanan that I was thinking of. The Buchanan I was thinking of was Mrs. Buchanan, the meanest substitute teacher in all of Greer, SC. Maybe even all of Greenville County. And while it would have been hard to prove, I would have bet my whole piggy bank that she was the crankiest, toughest, and downright saltiest sub in all of the great state of South Carolina. Everyone agreed. Kids who couldn’t see eye to eye on anything would unite in synchronized groans when Mrs. Buchanan entered the classroom. In general, substitute teachers were welcome, sometimes even cause for celebration. Maybe because of their ignorance of classroom rules, or their fondness for showing movies instead of following lesson plans, or just because having a substitute was a departure from the ordinary humdrum of school days. None of this applied when Mrs. Buchanan was substituting. It was as if she wanted to be tougher than the teacher for whom she was substituting. She wasn’t about to phone anything in. She doled out plenty of schoolwork and even assigned homework for the evening. She was there to teach, and she expected you to learn; no, master the material she presented. She wouldn’t take any lip, as we said in those days, and in the rare instance that a student dared to buck her authority, it was straight to the principal’s office.

Everything about Mrs. Buchanan was no-nonsense. Her silvery blond hair was coiffed into a perfectly wispy helmet, likely the result of a weekly wash and set. If there was a threat of rain, she would proudly don a clear plastic rain bonnet to protect her investment as she walked through the parking lot to her spotless, waxed gold Buick. She wore small reading glasses that she kept on a golden chain hanging around her neck. When not needed for reading, those glasses rested on her formidable bosoms, unmovable in their WWII-era underpinnings, meant to withstand a bombing with nary a jiggle. Smart, neutral sweater sets paired with polyester blend pants and sensible flats provided her with a uniform that was both comfortable and the height of appropriateness. She was there to do a job. Not to make friends, or to waste time, or to collect a paycheck for doing the bare minimum, and, heavens above, not to merely babysit.

“Class, today you will have a substitute teacher, Mrs. Buchanan.”
All together now: “UUUUGGGHHHHHH.”

So, of course, this house must belong to another set of Buchanans. A cousin, perhaps? There was just no way that that Mrs. Buchanan could live in this lovely house full of goodness and light. It was like seeing the Wicked Witch of the West wearing Glinda the Good Witch’s dress. It was all wrong.

My mother was still talking. “Oh, you know them. Mrs. Buchanan. She used to be a school teacher when I was your age. I think someone at the church told me she’s a substitute now. Couldn’t stand being retired…”

Nooooooooooooooooooo. How could this be??? Mrs. Buchanan (a.ka. Mrs. ButtCannon; kids can be so clever in their mean-ness) was the force behind this lovely home of sunshine and buttercups? You’re telling me that the woman who used wooden rulers to paddle little hands came home to relax with a tall glass of sweet iced tea on that breezy screened porch? The same stoic lady I saw stand like a stalwart captain behind my teacher’s desk by day also stood gazing out the window with the delicate white curtains patterned with sweet little yellow flowers washing dishes by night?

As a child, I could not possibly reconcile the two. So, I blocked this knowledge out of my brain. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I knew where she lived. I stopped looking at the house when we passed it in the car. I don’t know why, but it felt like some sort of betrayal. My imagined story for this place had been shattered by cold, hard truth.

As an adult, however, it makes complete sense. The perfect home doesn’t just happen. You either have a full staff at your disposal, or you have to be a no-nonsense battleax to stay on top of the never-ending tasks. You have to have a Mr. Buchanan who will take orders. And you have to be willing to work. HARD.

Mrs. Buchanan, who was old even when my mother was young, has long since passed away. I think I was in college when I heard the news, and it made me sad. Meanie or not, she made an indelible mark on my childhood, and I think I always knew that deep down she had a soft heart. She showed her caring through discipline, not coddling. And there was always the case of that lovely home. A beautiful and welcoming space can only come from a beautiful and welcoming soul. She might have hidden it from us crass kids, but to those she kept close, she was surely a loving person.

Homes carry the character of those who inhabit them, and once Mrs. Buchanan left us, the home began to pass away, too. I see it often when I go to visit my mother, and I’m usually disappointed to see how it has deteriorated. The once cheerful yellow has taken on a very tired, almost sickly hue, and all the bright white trim paint is peeling and flaking away. The lawn is full of weeds and almost always in need of a trim. I can sometimes see people relaxing on the screened porch, but I also see that the ceiling fan blades are wilted from humidity, and the screen is torn and stretched out in places. Someone must have decided that the traffic-stopping maple was indeed too much trouble; all that remains of it is a ground-level stump.

I know that Heaven is not a place with disdain or annoyance, so I can’t imagine Mrs. Buchanan as I’d like to: an angel glaring over the top of her reading glasses at these ingrates who have run her haven into the unkempt ground. Instead, maybe she looks down with love on those that are leisurely enjoying the simple pleasure of sitting on that shaded, screened porch without the hours and backbreaking toil of the upkeep. Maybe.

I don’t like change. I never have and, unless something changes, I never will. But, change we must, and if Mrs. Buchanan can accept change, then I guess so can I.

 

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Featured post

Much Ado About May

“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive.” Fennel Hudson, author, naturalist, and countryman

“May is trying to kill us.”—Parents everywhere

A slightly bedraggled, yet smartly dressed couple, somewhere in their late-30’s to mid-40’s stand together in the well-appointed foyer of a large, bright home, filled to the brim with guests. Their heads close enough to touch, they speak in hushed tones, while looking over each other’s shoulders, seemingly in an attempt to not be seen.

 “I mean, aren’t you ready to go?” the man asks imploringly.

“Of course I’m ready to go, Derek. I was ready to go when we got here! I just feel bad. I mean, there are still so many people here, and no one else is leaving. And, besides, I can’t find my purse in this mess. I swear I put it right…here. Somewhere. Do you see it?” They both dig through a mountain of purses and light jackets scattered over a pair of matching swanky chairs. Chairs that have probably never served their purpose of supporting a single derriere.

“Susan, I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what your purse looks like, or why you even brought it. You don’t need anything in it! I’ve got your phone and lipstick in my pocket, for Pete’s sake. And, I promise you, everyone here wants to leave. It’s just that no one wants to be the first one to go! Come on. Let’s do it. No one will even notice. Seriously. Come on. We can go to Waffle House on the way home.” Derek wiggles his eyebrows at this prospect and reaches for Susan’s waist. “The babysitter’s not expecting us for at least—“

“Oh my goodness! Are we bringing the party out into the foy-AY? Tell me you are not leaving?! Not this early!”

The gathering’s hostess, Lillian (spelled “Lillian, but pronounced “Lilly Ann,” a nuance that everyone knows, is rarely questioned and, if it is, only once, and never again), has appeared from thin air, riding on a gust of strong floral perfume and wearing a brightly geometric printed, floor-length caftan that she purchased on her last exotic vacation. Derek and Susan look at her with wide eyes and simultaneously burst into nervous laughter.

“Oh no, I just…I just came out here to help Susan look for her purse…” But Derek doesn’t look at the purses, he just looks down at this shoes, positively sheepish.

“Yes, I just could not find it anywhere!” Susan babbles away. “There are just so many of them out here… I mean, all I needed was to grab my phone. You know, check in with the babysitter… Let her know that things were running a little late… Just having so much fun (more nervous laughter)…” She tries to change the subject. “Goodness, Lillian, these chairs are just gorgeous! Where in the world did you find them?”

Lillian ignores Susan, but playfully slaps Derek on his behind. He is momentarily shocked, then manages more nervous laughter. “Looking for your phone, darlin’?” she simpers. “Well, I think I found it! Right here along with this scrumptious little peach!” Another pat (and maybe, no definitely, a squeeze, a firm one, in fact) on Derek’s rump, and raucous laughter from all three of them rings out in the foy-ay, while Derek mockingly slaps himself on the forehead as if to say, “Oh, silly me.”

“Yes, darlin’, you just go ahead and text that babysitter that you are gonna be LATE TO-NIGHT! Sweetheart, they are just now linin’ up for the three-legged race, so y’all just get right on in there! And after that, we’ll do the potato sack race. Were you in charge of bringin’ potato sacks? I can’t remember who signed up for that… Anyway, after all the games, there are AWAAAAARDS! You can’t miss the AWAAAAARDS!!!! Have y’all had a cupcake yet? Margie made them from SCRATCH, and they are simply amazing. I promise you, you will not even MISS the gluten a single bit. Y’all just come on back in, now, I will not hear another peep about you leavin’ and missin’ a single thing!”

Lillian throws one arm over Susan’s shoulder and loops her other arm around Derek’s elbow as she steers them away from the foy-ay and towards the backyard, where a multitude of weary adults shoot serious side-eye at them for their attempted escape. Lillian whispers in Susan’s ear, “Oh, and the chairs? They’re from Paris. I saw them and just could not bear to leave them there. Cost more than the whole darn trip to bring them back here! Bwahahahahhahaha!” Susan offers a half-smile and cranes her neck to see how the wine levels are holding up at the bar. The wine. It just seems so far away…

“Dude, why didn’t you tell me? I would have gone with you,” a man whispers to Derek, as he walks by. He’s in the process of tying his right leg to his wife’s left leg.

“Man, I couldn’t. It was a split-second decision. We thought we saw a way out, but…” Derek’s words trail off as he looks wistfully at the doorway leading back into the house, now filled with Lillian’s caftan-clad figure.

Through gritted teeth, the woman who is now firmly attached to her husband’s leg hisses, “We. Are. All. In this. Together,” As if to further drive this point home, she tosses Susan a large burlap sack. “Here. Get in.”

three-legged-racei

This? Yes, this. This “party.” This is what it’s like for parents of school-age children during the month of May. A party that started out reasonably fun, but now? We’re just so over it. We’ve met the people, we’ve made the small talk, we’ve eaten the canapes and sampled the dessert. It is time to G-O go. Vaya con Dios, suckers. We out. At this point, all we want to do is go home, take off these stupid pants and lie down for, like, 10 minutes. But the hostess of the gathering is a snapping turtle that just will not let go.

Well, legend has it that a snapping turtle won’t let go until it thunders. So I say, MAKE IT RAIN. The thought of another awards ceremony, recital, performance, recognition event, or season-ending wrap party makes me want to just lock myself in the pantry with all the snacks I signed up to bring and tell everyone to come back for me in June. It feels like everything is ending, and yet, it’s all still going on, requiring more involvement than ever! How is this happening? And some of these people want us to go ahead and sign up for next year. Next year? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t think about next year! Honestly, I checked out of this year right after Spring Break.

I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same place seven times than call out spelling words ONE. MORE. TIME. Hello? We’ve been going at this for, what? 8 months? Clearly, some of us in this house know how to spell, and some of us do not. No one has crossed over into a level of spelling proficiency any different from the one in which they started. We have auto-correct now. Can’t we move on?

If given the choice, I would choose to put my big toe in a mouse trap over trying to calmly figure out how to divide fractions. I mean, why is this still happening? One-quarter of one-eighth of a… Don’t know, don’t care, don’t wanna do it. Google it. Mama’s going out on the patio with this WHOLE glass of pinot grigio.

This week we’ve gotten multiple messages from our school as to how to best prepare our children for standardized testing. TESTING? Lord above, we are being tested every morning that we have to drag our ragged selves out of bed. Here’s a test. Can we get to school, on time, with shoes that fully enclose our feet, and shorts that go past our fingertips and last night’s homework completed, and a check for lunch money? No. No, we cannot. We do not meet standards.

Lunch money. Did someone say “lunch money?” Oh, my lands, I need to send in lunch money. Like three days ago. Please feed my children, kind lunch ladies, who are surely just as over all this nonsense as I am. I commend you all for not just tossing pizza slices to children at random. I know that’s what I’m doing for dinner tonight.

Once upon a time, May meant day-drinking and getting dressed up for parties that came with pretty invitations, not links to a Sign-Up Genius. May is supposed to represent a new beginning: the bright foy-ay leading into summer; the award we get for making it through the long, dreary winter.

Wait. Did somebody say “award?” Don’t you even start with me, May. I might be off my game, but I’m on to yours.

MAY

 

Featured post

Check Your Privacy Settings

“If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product that’s being sold.” –Unknown

Unless you’re completely off the grid (which makes me a teensy bit jealous of you), by now you’ve heard there’s been a privacy breach at “the Facebook.” Also, if you call it “the Facebook,” you’re likely a victim of the breach. Even if you don’t call it “the Facebook,” but you have friends or relatives that enjoy forwarding you quizzes about your celebrity spirit animal, then those people probably exposed you to the breach somehow. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it sounds a lot like internet lice. Ewwwww.

urkel quiz
Dude! You just got Internet Lice from Urkel!

 

When the news of this latest privacy breach broke, I had to laugh. It’s hard to think about anyone squawking about their privacy on a platform where so many people share entirely too much information. Every day I log in to Facebook and I see intimate details of the lives of people who I barely know in real life. Literally hundreds of people that might not speak to me in the grocery store, but I know exactly what their kitchen looks like, where their children go to school, their favorite spot for takeout, and what they like for breakfast. And that’s just the standard stuff. There’s also a subset of people who freely share the particulars of their latest injuries and maladies (complete with pictures) or remarks about very personal bodily functions. So, you’re telling me that you want me to know about your bowel habits, but your gender and birthday are privileged information?

we did not need to know that

If I sit and think about it too much, I can get really angry about all the cost and effort I put into protecting the things that are, without a doubt, MINE. We are in a constant battle to defend ourselves against people trying to take our things. Our homes and cars have alarms to alert us to intruders. We install video surveillance to record suspicious activity. We use shredders to deter people who might go through our trash. We struggle to set up passwords that are challenging to hackers but are still simple for us to remember. We get stumped trying to remember the answers to our own “secret questions.” My favorite one is the company we pay monthly to protect us from identity theft. They were breached several months ago, exposing millions of their customers’ personal information. The fox lives in the henhouse. You work hard so you can have more things, just so you can work even harder to keep what’s yours out of the hands of others. Frustrating to say the least.

Nice-henhouse

It’s one thing to protect your hard-earned, physical possessions from theft. It’s quite another thing to put safeguards on the objects that are more cloudy and ethereal, like your online presence and your personal and financial identities. These are things that may carry far more worth than many of your tangible belongings, and their loss or misrepresentation can cause you more hurt and hassle than any collateral damage.

I consider myself at an intermediate level when it comes to technology. I do all I know to do to protect myself and my family online. But this latest privacy breach has forced me to take pause and consider my personal privacy settings. Not the buttons that I push on the screen in my profile, but the decisions I make about what I want to share about myself and my family with the social media community.

I’m a mother, and like most parents, my children are the things in my life that I am most proud of. I think they’re funny and smart, beautiful and clever, incredibly unique, and, at times, a giant pain in the neck. Something in me wants to share their awesomeness with the world, and, likewise, find company in our situations that maybe aren’t so ideal. Enter social media to the rescue. “Thumbs up, mama.” “Love to you, girl.” “Those babies are precious!” “I know, my kids are bloodsuckers, too. We’re all in this together!” It takes 30 seconds for me to post, but I might receive a day and a half of affirmation. If it weren’t for the kids, my social media would simply be a place for me to ask for handyman recommendations, avoid sales pitches, and make smart remarks about traffic. Not nearly as affirming.

One of my daughters is camera-shy and generally attention-averse. Often, when I whip my camera out to capture a moment, she puts a hand up over her face like a harassed celebrity. I get it. I’m not a huge fan of having my picture taken, either. But I’m the mama, and it’s my job to document our lives, so I coax and coerce until she gives in. Also, because I’m the mama, I worry about the reasons behind her photography ban. Is she unhappy with the way she looks in photos? Does she think I’m being pushy? Am I spending more time on getting the photo than experiencing the moment? Worry, worry, worry. Then one day, while convincing her to let me take a photo, my daughter said, “Fine, take it. Just don’t post it, OK?.” “Oh, sure, darlin’,” I answered. “This one is just for me, I promise.” And I meant it. Because if I don’t honor her requests regarding social media now, how can she feel empowered to control her own social media narrative later, when it becomes a much bigger issue?

I truly dread the day I have to start navigating the social media waters with my kids. As it stands right now, they’re not old enough to have social media accounts, and they’re really just beginning to get to the age to even think about asking for access. I rarely tell them when I’ve posted a picture or anecdote about them, and I never tell them how many “likes” they’ve gotten. For girls especially, frivolous compliments (in this case, in the form of “likes”) are a fast way to fill the self-worth bucket. But that bucket drains quickly, and what good is a full bucket if it’s filled with a bunch of junk anyway?

I don’t know what Facebook is doing with my data. I don’t know what my bank is doing with my data. Or my CPA, or my doctor, or my dry cleaner. I realize this sounds naive, but I don’t care if the Russians know my birthday. (Although, you would think they could send a card with some of their finest vodkas if they really wanted to influence my voting habits.). Unfortunately, the risk of having your basic information exploited is the cost of doing business these days.

 

vodka-russia
My new #squad. We’re making it Facebook official. Y’all my devushkas!

 

So, yeah, my name, my address, my birthday, and who knows what other about me are out there floating in cyberspace, waiting for someone to snatch them up and analyze for their own purposes. The analysts would say they’re trying to “improve my online experience,” which I think is just code for “we’re trying to sell you something.” Is this a justifiable risk for having access to community event information, the kids’ activity schedules, and the privilege of seeing that random girl from high school’s new living room addition? 2.2 billion Facebook users think so.

But I can’t stop thinking of my daughter asking me, “Just don’t post it, ok?” My kids, my family, my friends, my home, our special times, those are the things that I hold most dear. There’s a difference between your basic demographic information and your personal details. Those personal, intimate details are the things that make us who we are, and some of us are sharing those details without so much as a second thought. We’re making multiple copies of the keys to the castle and handing them out like candy at a parade. Of those 2.2 billion Facebook users, it’s estimated that the median number of “friends” each user has is around 200. Do you know 200 real people with whom you feel comfortable sharing your most precious moments? Would you say you have 200 people in your life that you trust enough to hand a picture of your child and have zero concerns over what they will do with it? What if you were asked to fill a room with 200 people that you could easily stand in front of and share a funny anecdote from your recent family beach trip? I can’t say that I have 200 of those people in my life. And that’s not so unusual. See, the average Facebook user has 200 “friends.” But a recent Gallup poll asked people how many real close friends they have. Spoiler: The answer was not 200. Not even close.  A real poll of real people revealed that the average real person has about 9 close friends. Nine!

 

dont post that
It is unclear as to whether the Gallup poll included animals in their statistics. However, it can never hurt to consult your pet about your posting decisions,

Maybe I can’t keep my social security number from being sold on the dark web, but I do still have control over how my real personal information is shared. It might be time for my social media to be just that: social. I do have 200 or more people who I don’t mind knowing that I have been blessed with an incredible family and group of friends that make me so very happy. I want to share my happiness and success and, likewise, see theirs. I even have 200 or more people who I don’t mind if they see some of my smaller failures, with whom I can laugh and commiserate over this crazy life we’re all living. The first day of school, the Santa visits, the beach pictures. All those I will share with pride and reckless abandon. But that funny little booty shake my daughter does when she’s feeling happy? Or that sweet, sincere smile that shows the dimple that both my husband and other daughter share? What about that uncontrollable laughing-until-we’re-snorting fit I had with my friends last night over dinner and wine? I don’t know 200 people who would appreciate those precious moments for the pure gold that they are. Those moments? They’re all mine.

 

I want to keep more of that mined gold for myself and those few people who can accept what I’m giving with an attitude of joy, empathy, and mutual respect. My most treasured experiences are not on the virtual auction block, put forth to be scrolled past and swiped over. In a day and age when is so much is being taken away from us without our permission, why would we willfully give so much away?

Simply put, I think it’s time to update my privacy settings.

lock-1516241_1920

 

 

 

 

 

Featured post

I Have One Word for You

 Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.—Buddha

 Several years ago, I abandoned the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I reached a point in my life where I knew myself well enough to realize that whether it be a result of unlucky circumstances, low willpower, or goals that were set too high, any resolutions I put forth would likely be shattered before Valentine candy replaced Christmas decorations in the stores. I start my New Year much the same as the rest of the world, puffy and exhausted from the holiday happenings, gently nudging my loved ones out the door so we can all get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I resolve nothing, except to continue being the same delightfully moody, disorganized, running-five-minutes-behind contained mess that I’ve always been.

In the midst of blocking out all the Fresh Start and Resolution propaganda, my attention was drawn to some people who were starting out their New Year with “One Word.” Not a laundry list of resolutions waiting to be broken, but a one-word mantra to give guidance throughout the year. Hmmmmm. One word. I could probably handle this. It’s just one word! But it needed to be a good word. Strong and lasting, as we were going to be partners for an entire year. One of the websites I visited advised, “Your one word will shape not only your year, but also you.” Another person said that when you pick your word, you should ask yourself, “What would you like to be more true about you at the end of 2018 than is so now?”

Whoa. This one-word thing was serious business. What if I picked the wrong one word, and for a whole year every time I needed to invoke my mantra to bring me back to my center, it was the wrong word and all I would think about was how I couldn’t even pick the right ONE WORD? At the rate I was going, my one word was going to be “stressed.”

Words chosen by others filled my screen and my thoughts. Fearless. Obedient. Courageous. Grit. Beauty. Focus. Depth. Strong. All of them inspiring in their own right. It’s true, a lot of meaning can be packed into just one word. I was sold on the concept, but no closer to finding my one word. I tried several on for size, but none felt right. Not trendy enough. Not classic enough. Not insightful enough. Not introspective enough. This was going about as well as making resolutions.

Ugh, ENOUGH already!

Wait… “enough.” “Enough.” While not the prettiest word on paper, nor lovely on the lips, for me the word is just as smooth as a worn river rock, having been delicately honed by rolling around in my head for so long.

When the children are unruly… “That’s enough, now.”

When I push back from a table heavy with delicious food and drink… “Heavens, no, I’ve had enough!”

When someone disrespects me or those that I love… “Well, that is enough of that.”

All those enoughs are empowering. In those times, I am holding the river rock. It is pressed into my palm, cool and smooth as I turn it over and over again, giving me a sense of calm and control over my circumstances.

But what about the times that I feel like I’ve been overtaken by the idea of enough? When the river rock grows to a size that I can no longer hold in my hand? When it grows so big that I have to put all my weight behind it to roll it along with me?

When my husband or children want something from me that I can’t provide to them, whether that be time, or patience, or material things… “I’m not a good enough wife and mother.”

When I’m tempted by unhealthy food, frivolous spending, or idle time… “I’m not strong enough to deny myself.”

When I refuse, ever so politely, requests from worthy people and organizations for my time or talents… “I don’t do enough.”

When I compare myself to others, not knowing their full circumstances, but still in awe of how amazing their lives seem to be… “I don’t have enough. I don’t do enough. I’m not working hard enough. I am not enough.”

Deep down I know those things aren’t true. In my core, I know that I am and that I have so much more than enough. My cup runneth over with love for and from my friends and family. My comfortable home is bursting at the seams with more things than we could possibly need or want. And on the days that I feel like a wandering soul with no lasting purpose, I remind myself that my Heavenly Father put me here for His purpose, and the only person who thinks it isn’t enough is me.

2018, I’ve got your “one word.”

ENOUGH.

I have enough.

I am enough.

I have love to give and love to receive, and that, my friends, is ENOUGH.

 

 

Featured post

Moms on Trial

“The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.”
–Michael J. Fox

Do you delight in having your every move scrutinized by strangers in public places? Strangers who seem to know how to handle your life better than you do?

Do you find joy in receiving unsolicited advice from distant relatives or pearls of wisdom from random women on the Chick-fil-a playground?

Do you bask in the glow of hard stares from your fellow shoppers or diners when you raise your voice to the tiny human(s) accompanying you?

If so, I have good news! PARENTING IS JUST THE THING FOR YOU!!

Just between us, I don’t like any of these things. But like a bunch of other stuff that comes with parenting (sleep training, potty training, training wheels, all the TRAININGS), no one told me that being tried in Mom Court on a regular basis was part of the parenting package.

I made it through my pregnancies with a few misdemeanors, mostly related to food: sushi, cold lunch meat, and the occasional diet Coke resulted in a sentence of serious side-eye from the Mommy Militia. My baby registry choices faced the firing squad (“You don’t really want that stroller, do you?”). My birthing plan, or lack thereof, received several citations (“You do not want to deliver at that hospital.” “You can’t do that birthing class; you need to have this lady come to your house.”)

My grand jury trial as a mother took place when my baby arrived and we began the arduous task of breastfeeding. This was an aspect of mothering that I had been warned about, and I thought I was going into it with my eyes wide open. I was fully prepared for the experience to be hard, but rewarding. I was banking on being motivated to stay the course by the vast amount of data that undeniably proved what a superior choice breastfeeding was for both me and my baby.

As it turns out, there is no amount of preparation, motivation, or hard data that can ready you for the real-life experience of being solely responsible for sustaining another life. Breastfeeding was not a magical experience for me and my baby. It was kind of awful, actually, for everyone involved. The baby was frustrated and hungry. My husband felt helpless and excluded. And I felt…all the feelings. Exhausted, hopeless and unsure of everything except that I was a complete failure as a mother, unable to fulfill the most basic of mothering functions. It was literally what my body was constructed to do, and yet it couldn’t. How would I be able to give this baby the best life possible if I couldn’t even feed her? Each time someone suggested how to increase my milk supply, it felt like a veiled way of saying, “The real problem is you’re just not trying hard enough.”  My confidence level was in the tank, and each judging comment sent it sinking lower and lower. I remember being so ashamed when I would feed the baby a bottle in public. It felt like everyone was staring at me and whispering about the poison I was feeding my baby.

You know, there are classes you can take that will certify you to be an official lactation consultant. OR, you can be like some people who think classes are for dummies, and just up and decide one day that you are an expert on all things related to breasts and milk and feeding babies. You can also roughly push all your thoughts and opinions on to sleep-deprived, confused, and emotional new mothers who can barely process the plotline of a 3 a.m. episode of The Golden Girls. You can tell these women how they should feel about this unfamiliar body that they are inhabiting. A body that is no longer their own, and yet it must be their own, because every inch of it hurts in some new way, and they feel every ache, pain, and tear. Something else you can do is deliver all that very useful, personal information in a way that makes it seem like your way is the only way to do things so that this baby will thrive, that anything less will result in a child with the IQ of a tree stump, and it will be 110% the fault of the hopeless mother who selfishly refused to perfect the football hold. You need a license to be an official lactation consultant. But all you need is a mouth to be an UNofficial lactation consultant.

It seems that when it comes to parenting, all you need is a mouth to be ANY sort of consultant. Who knew? Parenting experts are everywhere! And they are more than ready to tell us exactly what they think. About what we’re doing, about what we’re not doing, about what we should be doing, about what they’re doing, on and on and on.

“When have you been judged as a parent?” This short question posed on my Facebook page garnered some lengthy responses. The stories were as varied as the ways you can feed a baby (yes, there is more than one way). Working mothers felt judged when someone thought they spent too much time away from their children. Stay-at-home mothers felt judged because they felt society viewed them as lazy, pampered, and insufficiently contributing to their household. Mothers with small families felt judged as selfish because they didn’t have more children (as if that decision were completely under their control). Mothers with large families felt judged by others who thought maybe they had taken on more than they could handle. Mothers of children with special needs felt judged by people who didn’t understand their child’s differences, or worse, thought that they should keep that sort of thing at home, away from view.

The individual stories were each different, but they all followed a similar sequence.

1. Mother finds herself vulnerable in a situation of uncertainty.
2. A disconnected person intervenes with unsolicited opinions and/or advice, usually under the guise of trying to be helpful.
3. Mother experiences a range of emotions, including shame, rage, defeat, frustration, and more uncertainty.
4. MOTHER NEVER FORGETS.

“I don’t know why you even had these children if all you’re going to do is work all the time. They never see you!”

“Oh, so you don’t work? What in the world do you do all day? Must be nice…”

“Just one? Well, you better get on it. Can’t wait too long, you know.”

“My, you have your hands full. I don’t know how you keep them all straight! How will you ever be able to send them all to college?”

“I don’t know why she brings that child out to things like this. Isn’t there someone who can stay at home with him? It’s just so uncomfortable.”

Mothers everywhere are feeling judged. The traveling courtroom can pop up anywhere: your local Target, a PTA meeting, even in your own living room. The presiding judges are constantly rotating. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning, but know-it-all friend sitting on the bench. Often the robe is donned by a complete stranger. The holder of the gavel could be a mother-in-law, a sister, a teacher, or a Sunday School matron.

Or it could be me. Wait, what? That’s right. Guilty as charged. If I’m under oath, I have to admit to passing judgment on my fellow mothers. Even though I’ve been judged and know the pain, even though I know I’m not the perfect mother, even though I know it’s counter to everything I want to teach my children…I’ve done it.

 

sheep as judge
Judge ChicWhiteSheep, presiding.

“Can you believe she has that child out at a restaurant this late? That baby should be in the bed!”
(One of the parents does shift work, and a 9 PM dinner is the only time of day they can be together.)

“I mean, he still has a pacifier! He must be 5 years old. That mother needs to put her foot down.”
(I literally have no idea how hard it is to wean a true paci-addict. Don’t hate me, but my babies gave them up almost voluntarily. Also, just because he looks 5 doesn’t mean he’s not just a really big 3-year-old.)

“She doesn’t work, but I can’t get her to sign up for a single volunteer position in the classroom! She needs to step up.”
(But she can’t step up because she has a controlling husband and crippling anxiety. She’s barely holding it together.)

“Kids, do you see that child acting out? This is why I tell you girls to behave in public. Don’t be that kid.”
(There are children with all sorts of special needs that I have no way of understanding. I have no idea what their mothers struggle with every day. But those mothers need groceries just like everybody else does. There’s no telling what sort of pep talk she had to give herself to walk into that store, knowing her child would probably act out in a big way.)

Let’s flip the script one more time. If the judge is not always some terrible, horrible insensitive monster, but rather a harmless busybody, or a normally kind person such as myself who sometimes indulges in a bout of self-righteousness, could our feelings of being judged actually be somewhat self-imposed?* Stick with me here. I’m not saying we’re asking for it, but could it be possible that while we’re swimming in this sea of self-doubt and vulnerability that we call motherhood we’re constantly judging ourselves, and thereby jumping to the conclusion that everyone else is judging us, too?

Hold on a minute. My head just exploded a little.

OK, I’m back.

(*FYI, I’ve already contemplated this whole idea about how we judge ourselves unfairly. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.)

Let’s go back to when I said I was embarrassed to feed my babies bottles when we were in public. Remember that? I felt like people were shooting daggers at me with their eyes as I poisoned my child with powdered infant formula. But what if they were looking at me just because I was holding a beautiful little baby? An angel with bright eyes trained on my face, and chubby kicking legs, so excited to have that delicious bottle to drink, and a warm, squishy body to melt into. What if those people I perceived as judges were actually admirers, or at least appreciators? Maybe my “judge” was actually a fellow mother who remembered what a hard season of life this was, but knew that if I heard “Enjoy every minute,” one more time I was liable to go into full-on rage mode. How I wish I could go back to that unsure version of myself and tell her to stop worrying about what everyone was thinking and just return the gaze of that sweet baby, and know that she’s happy. She’s fed. She’s loved. And, in this moment, it’s all good. You’re good.

I have so much to learn about parenting. For each perceived “mommy win” I secure, there are countless failures propping it up. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. It’s all a giant game of trial and error! The very best parents are simply doing the best that they can.

Mom Judging is real, and it needs to stop, no question. We need a village to raise these children and not one that wants to prosecute each other on the Town Square! (I mean, who will microwave the chicken nuggets if all the mothers are stuck in Mom Court?) The best place to start is with ourselves. We are our own worst critics. We have to start giving ourselves a break when it comes to parenting. When we are gentle with ourselves, it gets us in the habit of being gentle with, or at least tolerant of, others.

But let’s also be realistic here: haters are gonna hate, and judges are gonna judge. A bunch of self-care mumbo jumbo isn’t going to eradicate the scourge of Mom Judging. So, the next time you feel that you’ve been put on trial, take a beat. Your judge likely doesn’t know your heart or see your full situation. Your judge is imperfect. Your judge is misguided; possibly acting out of feelings of their own insecurity. Most importantly, your judge wasn’t picked to be the parent to your child: YOU WERE. Momma knows best.

To Mommas everywhere, doing your very best and giving it your all, just let those judgments roll off your shoulders. Remember that your judge is self-appointed. The conviction they hand down is unenforceable. You can skip bail. None of this is going on your permanent record. I found a quote that summed up the situation nicely: “Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn’t label who they are, it labels who you are.”

Court is adjourned.

olderfemalejudgewithgavel

Hello, Lovers

“Romance is thinking about your significant other when you are supposed to be thinking about something else.”—Nicholas Sparks

 Love is in the air. I see it on my husband’s face as he tries to decipher if I really mean it when I say, “You don’t have to get me anything.” Love lurks in the stores I frequent, where candies and chocolates taunt me at every turn. Love lies in stacks and heaps on my kitchen table, in the form of cards and treat bags to be handed out at classroom Valentine parties. Love is all we need. That and some calorie-heavy chocolates, dinner reservations, and some refrigerated red roses. OK, so maybe Valentine’s Day is not my thing. Even though I am comfortably rooted in a romantic relationship, and I have plenty of friends and family to love on, the holiday feels contrived and overwrought with expectations. I make a point to tell my dear ones that they are loved throughout the year, so setting aside this one day for something we should always be doing feels terribly insincere, both for the lover and the lovee. (Man, I hate the word “lover.”)

 

IMG_4620
“Is this a test? Because it feels like a test.”

Anyway, all that said, I do plan to participate in the holiday, because I’m not completely heartless. Also, I love all things chocolate, red and pink are great colors for me, and I am a hapless victim of pretty much all marketing schemes. My nearest and dearest, which include my husband, children, family members (the ones that I actually love and not just have to say that I do), and my closest friends, will be showered appropriately with love-themed candy and cards. They should understand that they will have to share any candy they receive. In the case of my kids, I’ll give them a lot of useless junk that I will have to pick up over the next few weeks before finally throwing it away, and some candy that I will secretly eat in the pantry after they go to bed. Because I love them, and it’s not healthy to eat that much candy.

But what about my other loved ones? Some of my nearest and dearest literally don’t know I exist. Still others know that I’m here and may suspect that I love them, but a Valentine’s gesture might be a little weird. So, I’m taking this opportunity to get in the spirit of the holiday and say something from the heart for these beloved ones that might otherwise go unrecognized this Valentine’s Day. This is for you, Lovers. (Ew.)

  1. Target

My dearest Target, you smell so nice.
And everything here is just the right price.
My love for you shall never die,
As long as my RedCard you do not deny.

target-marketing-to-women

  1. NetFlix

Oh Netflix, sweet Netflix, it is so true
I want to spend the whole night with you!
Let’s skip the intro and get this thing started.
If the queue is full, how can I be broken hearted?

netflix bffs

  1. Tamiflu

Kids are so great, but they can carry the flu.
When the test comes back positive, You’re My Boo!
You keep us all well, which makes my heart flip,
Maybe my stomach, too, but we’ll overlook that bit.

kid taking medicine

  1. My Girlfriends

All day long, we’re on the group chat.
Cursing and moaning about this and that.
I just don’t know how I’d make it through
Without a hundred stupid GIFs shared with you.

mom jeans

  1. Seat Warmers

On these cold and dreary winter days,
When the winds like a knife can cut,
I shiver as I climb into this freezing car,
And, in no time, you warm my butt.

seat warmer meme

  1. Justin Timberlake

The way you move, it’s just too much!
My kids are at school, wanna meet for lunch?
You’re clever, you can sing, and we all know you’re cute.
Just give me a chance, and give Jessica the boot.

 

Justin Timberlake
Took this video when I went to lunch with JT.  We’re bringing pie back.

 

  1. Snapchat Filters

You make me a better woman, (or a cat, dog, or bunny.)
You smooth away my wrinkles and make my voice sound funny.
You keep my kids entertained and cause all my friends to snicker.
This mom over 40 won’t take a selfie without her Snapchat filter.

snapchat meme

  1. My Dry Cleaner

Dry Cleaner Man, I have to say, you’re really not that sweet.
But when I pull up in your drive-through, you never miss a beat.
I also want you to know, your plight I understand.
I’m giving you all these shirts, because I can’t do ‘em, man.

seinfeld dry cleaner

  1. Tacos

You’ve been with me through thick and thin.
Mostly thick, because I want you again and again!
Made of crispy corn, or the softest flour,
If it were up to me, I’d have you every hour.

 Notebook Taco

  1. Wine

You can be red, or you can be white.
It doesn’t matter which, as long as you’re here tonight.
And when I feel that I must partake during the day,
It’s perfectly acceptable to lunch with Rosé.

wine poem

 XOXO, all you Funny Valentines. Show extra love to your people today, and don’t forget them the rest of the year. And if you’re feeling a little lonely on this made-up holiday, just remember, there might be someone loving you from afar, or someone who might be pleased as punch to get a quirky poem from you.

i-like-you-funny-valentines-day-card-sexy-valentines-day-card-funny

An Open Letter to January

 

“And I’m like… ‘I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like,
We are never getting back together. Like, ever.’”—T. Swift

 Oh, January. Do we have to do this again? Really? Must we trudge down the same slush-covered, black-ice paths that we’ve trod so many times before? Is it really necessary to huddle by that proverbial campfire to hash out our feelings, just so we can walk away with hot faces, cold backsides, and smoky-smelling hair? Okay, fine, let’s do it. Let’s go there. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all, you absolutely exhaust me. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I’ve spent our entire time together in a bleary haze. Much like Dorothy running through the field of poppies on the way to Oz, most of my days are spent barely putting one foot in front of the other. Must. Lie. Down. What in the world? I’ve taken more naps in January than I did all of last year. I’ve lost all will to be productive. January, are you drugging me? If so, NOT COOL. Stop it.

giphy
“Poppies…”

Speaking of cool, you’ve got a cold, cold heart, January, and frankly, I’m tired of it. (See? Tired again! What’s in this drink?) Seriously, you’re freezing me out, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m a Southern lady, and my blood just isn’t thick enough to withstand all this Arctic blast nonsense. My core body temperature has dropped and I’ve taken to wearing blankets as clothing. In public! I simply don’t care; I am THAT cold. What’s that? You say you tried to make it up to me by tossing a few spring-like days into the mix? We both know that’s a bunch of malarkey. You were just being moody and manipulative, toying with my emotions and giving me a glimpse at a Spring that is still far, far away. I’ll tell you how you can make it up to me. How about you show up with some Benjamins once this gas bill lands in my mailbox? Yeah, just what I thought. You’ll be long gone by then, I’m sure of it. Deadbeat.

cold lady
I only walk as far as the cord on this space heater.

You know something else, January? You’re making us all sick. Literally. Flu here. Strep there. Stomach bug hovering all around us. I feel like I need a mask and latex gloves every time I go outside of the house! Once I put all that on along with my blanket, I’m pretty sure I’ll get picked up and put on the first train to Crazy Town. So, I’ll just stay home, where all the real germs can be found, because I’m too stinking tired and cold to clean anything up around here.

sick-person-costume

January, we’re just not good for each other, and I think we both know it. We were doomed from the start. The first day you were here I had a roaring headache, a slovenly house, and an appetite for all things fried and gooey. I know, I know, you tried to make me feel better by telling me all the things I could accomplish in the New Year, but where are we now? My jeans still won’t button, and I just tripped over a pile of laundry while looking for the remote under an empty bag of chips. Those aren’t kale chips, January, that laundry isn’t clean, and I’m not looking for the remote so I can watch a thought-provoking documentary. Oh, and those Snow Days you threw in? Way to turn our attempts at a Dry January into a wet, sopping mess. Good one. Nice touch. Honestly, you bring out the worse in me.

drunk woman

You’re right. It wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t always this bitter. There was a time when you could whisper words that would inspire joy and excitement. Words like “inclement weather,” “wintry mix,” and “school closures.” But things have changed. That was a different time. A time when those words meant that I had no responsibilities and could live recklessly. A time when someone else picked up all my things and washed them for me. A time when hot chocolate and marshmallows and warm cookies had no calories. I’ve grown up, January, and you and I have grown apart.

unhappy-couple

That, and, also, you’re a jerk. We’ve been through this enough times for me to say with confidence, it’s not me, it’s ALL YOU.

Buh-bye, January. Don’t hurry back.

bye felicia

Happy Awkward-Days

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”—Clark Griswold expertly navigating an awkward situation in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’

A How-To Guide for Handling Festivity Fretfulness

It’s been said that Christmas isn’t a season; it’s a feeling. Unfortunately, sometimes that feeling is nagging uneasiness. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that most of our holiday get-togethers involve the people we’ve been avoiding all year: distant relatives, casual acquaintances, quirky co-workers, and that one neighbor with the yappy dog that wakes us up at 2 a.m. This mixing of unlike, yet related people for an annual gathering outside the confines of their natural habitats can be, well…awkward. Whether you’re headed to a 3:30 “dinner” at MeMaw’s house, your office Holiday Happy Hour, or your neighbor’s Progressive Dinner / Ugly Sweater / White Elephant Gift Exchange, consider this a primer for identifying where the most common pitfalls lie and how to avoid dipping your sleeve into the awkward sauce.

Respondez, s’il vous plait.

grinch at mailbox
That’s the long version of RSVP, the oft-ignored plea from hosts that you let them know if you’ll be attending their soiree. It sounds more formal than it has to be. Call your mom and tell her to let MeMaw know that you’ll be at Christmas dinner, or lunch, or lupper, or whatever you like to call it, and that you’ll be bringing a friend. Better yet, call MeMaw yourself. She’ll be thrilled to hear from you (if she still hears well), and it will give her a chance to get some of her more probing questions out of the way. For your office party, shoot an email to the organizer letting them know you’re looking forward to the get-together, even if you would actually rather take a razor scooter to the shin than make small talk in the break room with Bob from Accounting. If your neighbor is hosting a gathering, roll down your window next time you see him at the mailbox to say you’ll be glad to pop by for just a little while, but not too late, because you have to go to work early and it sure would be great to get a good night’s sleep without waking up to that darn dog EVERY NIGHT, HOW DO YOU NOT HEAR THAT?? On second thought, leave that last part out, because we’re going to focus on being joyful and avoiding police presence. The point here is, there are people who have extended an invitation to you. They plan to provide you with something they believe to be edible and company they believe to be enjoyable and the least you can do is to let them know if you’re going to show up. A bonus of the RSVP is that it also gives you a chance to get some advance directive on the details of the gathering. Maybe you can even find out what exactly “Festive Casual” attire means. If you do, please share with the rest of us, because I have to admit, I’m feeling less than confident about these bedazzled sweatpants.

Gifting.

gremlin gift
Be careful what you wish for…

They say it’s better to give than to receive, but no one ever said what to give. Gifting scenarios are tricky and rate high on the Awkwardness Potential Scale. Tread lightly here. Show up empty-handed and you risk being typecast as stingy and thoughtless. Overdo it and your gift recipient may feel inferior. This is where your RSVP skills will come in handy because you’ll have already taken the temperature of your host. For MeMaw’s house, first ask if you can bring anything. If she insists that no, she has it all under control and all she wants for Christmas is to see your smiling face, then give her what she asks for…and add a small, useful gift that she’d never buy for herself, like a pretty tea towel. MeMaws just love pretty tea towels. And don’t make a big production of giving it to her, because your sister-in-law will just think you’re sucking up and that you’ve always been the favorite. (WHATEVER, MADGE, just go sit at the kids’ table and quit trying to cause drama.)

The office party will probably have some lame Secret Santa type thing. Unless you know all of your co-workers really well, avoid the gag gift route because you never know who might get offended and plot a New Year’s lawsuit, putting everyone out of a job. (“Why would you give me a Chia pet? Don’t you know my ancestors rubbed dirt on their heads as an ancient fertility ritual?? You mock my traditions and this is a hostile work environment. I am outraged!”) Avoid finding yourself in this awkward spot by bringing a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, perhaps a pleasantly neutral tea towel.

The neighborhood party may include a gift exchange of some sort. Gift exchanges are hard, because your gift is on display, and let’s face it, ultimately judged. This can lead to stress shopping, putting you at risk for picking something awful, which will be super awkward. Keep your wits about you and think of a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, like, I don’t know, maybe a humorous tea towel??

Keep this same level of focus when considering a hostess gift. Don’t be the guest that stumbles into the party with a showstopping but unwieldy bouquet of fresh flowers that requires your hostess to drop what she’s doing to put into a vase, or your delicious but insanely messy Mississippi Mud Cake that she’ll have to cram onto her carefully curated buffet table. No, instead, you should consider bringing a small, useful gift that one would never buy for themselves, such as a festive little tea towel.

The moral of the story is unless given to a small child or a frat boy, the gift of a tea towel is universally well received and rarely awkward. (You’re welcome.)

Eating.

vegan santa

‘Tis the season to eat, drink, and be merry, not to eat, drink, and preach to others about your strict dietary regimen. The holidays are about spreading comfort and joy, so if some folks find their comfort in a plate stacked high with homemade fudge and their joy in two cheeks full of sausage balls, they don’t want to hear your views on the addictive properties of sugar or the irresponsible swine production industry. Every party has a quiet corner with some celery, carrots, and cherry tomatoes, and that is where you will find your people. You may even find someone who plans to run a Jingle Bell 5K tomorrow! Of course, the exception to this would be if you have a serious or life-threatening food allergy. That would be pertinent information for your host to have. You could address it in your RSVP and then offer to bring a gift of food that doesn’t have the potential to kill you. Best of all, your host will not have to stop entertaining to comb the house for an epi-pen or have the party flow interrupted by EMS, all things that would be incredibly awkward for everyone involved. And while we’re on the subject of “eat, drink, and be merry…”

Drinking.

drunk uncle

During the holiday season, almost all events become an Occasion with a capital “O.” Everything is a little more sparkly and it feels natural to loosen up a bit with a celebratory cocktail or four. Here are the Cliffs Notes for boozing it up at the holidays: If you’re normally a drinker, then drink as you normally would. If you have a tendency to drink to excess, take it down a notch. If you rarely drink, now is not the time to start. To expand a smidge on the subject, the irony of alcohol is that it starts out as a means to cringe less and laugh more, but it often causes us to take a hairpin turn straight towards a steep ravine of awkwardness. The holidays are filled to the brim with stress and sentiment. We spend large chunks of time in confined spaces with people we love, people we hate, people we used to love, and people we just plain don’t understand. Pouring alcohol into this mix creates an environment that can turn a cozy hearth into an all-out dumpster fire. This is not meant to be an intervention (we’ll save that for the dessert course at MeMaw’s house); rather, a reminder to recognize and abide by your limits when the drinks start flowing. Don’t seek solace in the bottom of a bottle once Uncle Bud starts spewing his political views. The last thing you want to do is toss your cookies on MeMaw’s antique Persian rug, even if you do plan to inherit it one day. (You think I don’t see you eyeing that rug, Madge. Back off.) How awkward will it be when MeMaw has to clean up your mess with her new pretty tea towel? Although it would certainly make a memorable story. Which brings us to our next topic…

Small talking.

small-talk
Our society seems to be in a perpetual state of taking offense, so the act of making small talk is kin to walking through a minefield. We all know to avoid the big three: sex, politics, and religion, but now even our safeguards can be misinterpreted. Don’t talk about the weather, because it will spawn a discussion about global warming, which points a finger at our elected officials, and the next thing you know, the environmentalists won’t leave the living room because there are real estate developers over by the food table. Take caution when complimenting another guest’s appearance, as they may prefer that you see their inner beauty instead of their snappy take on “Festive Casual.” A decent opener is, “How do you know <host name?>” However, this won’t work at MeMaw’s house, or at the office party. You’re kind of supposed to know the answer to that already. Another icebreaker is, “So what are your plans for the holidays?” This question puts legs on your conversation and leads to helping you find out what holiday they celebrate, what sort of family connections they have, their vocational commitments, or in the case of unbearable silence, if you need to find another person to entertain with your sparkling conversation skills. At a family gathering, they’ll want to know about your work. At a work gathering, they’ll want to know about your family. Speak respectfully about both those subjects, as it’s called “small talk” for a reason. Save the “big talk” for your therapist. Think of your small talk as little hors-d’oeuvres that are meant to be consumed in bite-size pieces, giving the other person a chance to easily move on to speak to other partygoers if they feel the need. For example, tell a quick story about your entertaining Uber ride to the party instead of the endless wonders of your two-week Alaskan cruise.

Wrapping it up.

byefelicia-sq2

All good (and painfully awkward) things must come to an end, so keep your eye on the prize and don’t let your departure leave you or your host cringing. You may be tempted to pull an Irish Exit, which is the act of “ghosting” from a party without telling anyone you’re leaving. This is only acceptable when the party has clearly gone on too long and most of the guests have ignored the booze guidelines. It would be simply unforgivable to ghost on MeMaw, and in the best interest of your livelihood, you need to make a special point to thank your boss for that ah-mazing gift of membership to the Jelly of the Month Club. The best practice here is to thank your host personally for their hospitality, wish them a happy holiday season, and make repeated empty promises to get together again sometime soon.

Congratulations! You’ve made it through your holiday gathering. Now it’s time to treat yourself. Go out tomorrow and get something nice, something you’d never buy for yourself. Might I suggest a lovely tea towel?

treat-yo-self.jpg

 

Find Your Merry

“May the day be the bowl of cherriest; And to all, the Merriest!” –June Christy, singing “The Merriest”

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Is it? That’s the message that gets shoved in our faces at every turn before we can even put away our Halloween candy. But by the time December arrives, things are feeling a little less than “wonderful.”

What is “wonderful” about madly dashing from one get-together to another? Arriving in a full-on sweat, watching the clock to make sure we make it on time to the next party, or to relieve the babysitter, or just figuring up how many hours of sleep we can get if we leave right now? I suppose there’s quite a bit of “wonder”-ing involved in the process of figuring out what to wear to an event described as “Christmas Casual,” or “Festive Attire.” And while all the heavy foods, drinks, and tempting sweets are incredibly “wonderful” the moment they hit our lips, the headaches and extra pounds they leave behind are certainly less than desirable. And what about the gifting? I would estimate about half of my gift list is enjoyable, but the other half is admittedly out of duty or given to people for whom I have absolutely no idea what they may want or need. Another holiday activity I’m 50/50 on? Christmas cards. I love having a great picture of my kids to share, but the arduous process of locking down the perfect photo can be downright painful. I have so much fun combing the web for all the different design options for the card, but panic sets in when I have to commit to the one that will be ours. I get so excited when I go to the mailbox and find holiday greetings from our family and friends, but I feel a distinctly Grinchy sense of dread when I look at the box holding my own unaddressed cards, waiting for my late night undivided attention.

Some holiday activities start out as “wonderful,” then take a hairpin turn into woeful. Take, for example, holiday decorating. For me, decorating anything is a painful process. Bookshelves, bulletin boards, cookies, console tables, even trying to pick out a necklace to go with an outfit is a journey of intense indecision for me. I can look at the placement of objects for hours, wondering if it’s just right or blatantly wrong. So, the task of adorning my home to make it festive for approximately just a month and a half is, well, maybe not the most wonderful time of the year for me.

Each year I start out full of joy and positivity. I don’t do my decorating until after Thanksgiving, so by then I’ve had time to look at scores of catalogs that have landed in my mailbox, making holiday decorating look fun and easy, and most likely completed by Santa’s very own elves. Just a few weeks ago, I captivated an audience of ladies at my daughter’s ballet practice by telling them all about my plans to purchase an all-white Christmas tree and decorate it with shiny ornaments and multi-colored blinking lights. Sure, it might sound tacky, but I saw it in a catalog, and it looked so fun! So easy! So festive! Everyone thought it was a fabulous idea. No one had any advice on where I could find an elf to bring my catalog idea to life. Fast forward a couple more weeks. The Christmas card pictures were snapped, scrutinized, and selected. Thanksgiving was planned, prepared, and consumed. An 8-year-old’s birthday party was hosted and (barely) survived. The Clemson vs. Carolina game was endured. The decorating was next on the list. *sigh*

So, as I’ve done in every year past, I trudged up to the attic and opened the oddly shaped little door that leads to the dungeon where unnecessary things go to finish out their useless lives. There, my gaze settled on scores of boxes and bags of merry and bright STUFF that would all have to be carried downstairs, unpacked, placed, then their boxes returned to the upstairs dungeon. All to be enjoyed for just a few weeks, when the entire process would then have to be reversed. *sigh*

It took almost 2 days and 427 heavy sighs for me to sprinkle holiday cheer around my home. Garlands and wreaths were hung and fluffed (and cursed). Ladders were climbed and dismounted. Three pre-lit trees were assembled and adorned. One had zero working lights. One had a random section of lights that were burned out, which required me to manhandle the entire tree to turn the offending section to the wall. The last tree, the biggest one, didn’t let me down until we added on the last section. I was proud of the way I held my composure up until the moment I had to snake an extension cord from the top of my pricey pre-lit tree down to the floor. The top section needed to be plugged into the timer that I’d carefully set up to provide us with automatic sparkly merriment from the hours of 3:30 to 11:30pm. Like some sort of Christmas Marine, with my belly on the floor and greenery snagging my hair while I dragged myself by the forearms towards the outlet, I searched for the carefully hidden extension cord. I found it and went to connect it to the timer so I could survey my twinkly masterpiece. This was when I discovered that the timer only had one outlet. An outlet that was already occupied by the cord supplying power to the rest of the tree. If I wanted scheduled sparkly merriment, my only choice was to start over with a new timer. *cue cursing and kicking under the tree*

angry elf

And that is the story of how I started drinking wine at 2:00 on a Sunday.

And this is the start of the story of how I turned it all around. The timer dilemma is actually a rather small event in my storehouse of holiday snafus. One year, half the lights went out on the tree after it had been fully decorated. I was planning to just slap a bunch of extra lights on it, but after a closer examination, I noticed that I’d put the sections together in the wrong order. The whole thing had to be disassembled and reassembled AND extra lights strung. Incidentally, that tree ended up at the dump the day after Christmas. One year, the entire tree fell over approximately one hour after the decorating was complete. That tree ended up on the curb, along with dozens of shattered special ornaments. And what about the year that I dragged our little family onto an odyssey to capture the Christmas card photo, only to arrive at the destination and realize that I’d forgotten to pack the camera? That was a long time ago, as in, before the days that phones had cameras. We don’t really talk about that, actually.

So, in the midst of all this drama and these less-than-wonderful duties, where can we find our merriment? For me, it’s not surprising that I find my merry in a song. After I shimmied myself out from under my half-lit tree, located a new timer (and, yes, a glass of wine), and got my corner of the living room sparkling bright, I turned on a little mood music to carry me through the final stages of decorating. I stood back and surveyed roughly 500 pretty little lights and all the boxes of ornaments that were about to escape their exile to get their chance to shine when I heard the first strains of the song that would usher in the official start of the holiday season for me.

“I-I-I don’t want a lot for Christmas…

 “There is just one thing I-I-I need…”

 Y’all, I don’t care what kind of diva-like behavior she displays, Mariah Carey is an angel. She could rob a bank in broad daylight wearing a full-sequined Dynasty-esque dress, carrying a Chihuahua, and when she went on trial, the attorneys would play “All I Want for Christmas” as Exhibit A, and all charges would immediately be dropped.

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But maybe that’s just me.

Christmas music, when used in moderation, can cure many holiday ills. I’ve seen it firsthand! In the interest of spreading merriment, and because I can’t buy you all a present individually, I made you a mixtape. Enjoy responsibly.

Jingle All the Way Playlist (get it here on Amazon Music)

“All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey. Because the song is magic.

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Michael Buble. Because it’s a law that every holiday must include some Michael Buble.

“Run Run Rudolph” by Kelly Clarkson. Because she completely rocks this song.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. Because he’s the King.

“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. Because of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, duh.

“Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong. Because he, and this song, are the epitome of cool.

“Donde Esta Santa Claus” by Augie Rio. Because it’s adorable and catchy and we all need to know more Spanish.

“The Man with the Bag” by Kay Starr. Because if you’re not waiting for the man with the bag, you are the man with the bag.

“Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Because we can all empathize with Clark Griswold and his swimming pool dreams.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert. Because your family drama doesn’t seem so bad when you compare it to hearing yourself on the radio singing Christmas carols with your ex. Ummm, awkward.

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Lou Rawls. Because “got me some good music on the radio…”

“Jingle Bells” by James Taylor. Because it’s funny to watch people sing along to a song they think they know, but it’s arranged completely differently.

“My Favorite Things” by Tony Bennett. Because Tony Bennett is a national treasure.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by The Temptations. Because once you get past the first 15 seconds, your whole family will be singing along.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles. Because sometimes Christmas is sad and it makes us miss our people.

“Sleigh Ride” by Harry Connick, Jr. Because you gotta bring the party back up after those Eagles made you sad.

“Christmas in Hollis” by RUN-DMC. Because the lyrics are actually family friendly and you also want to know who’s really listening to your playlist (hint: they’re looking pensive and saying, “Wait, is that…RUN-DMC??”)

“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder. Because it’s happy and has the right message.

“Winter Wonderland” by Aretha Franklin. Because, in true Aretha fashion, she hits it hard from the first “Sleigh Bells RING.” Oh, I’m listening, Aretha. Bring it.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Ella Fitzgerald. Because that’s what I want for you.

A holiday full of merriment and quality time spent with those precious people that you love and enjoy, free of stress and pressure and unrealistic expectations. It’s a tall order and will take nothing short of a miracle to achieve. But it just so happens that this is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and miracles abound if you just open your eyes.

 

 

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