As 2012 comes to a close, I considered writing a reflective piece about what I am taking away from this year. But, I decided that this year was too incredible to summarize with words alone. So, hubby and I sat down today, went through 366 days’ worth of photos, and created an end-of-the-year video recap. I wanted to share it with those who took some time out of their busy lives to look into the window of my world this year. Thanks for sticking with me. It’s been one hell of a journey.
Monday night was Christmas Eve. I wanted to write that night, but I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional. If I were F. Scott Fitzgerald, I probably would have had a bottle of gin and used my inner angst to compose a brilliant and yet widely under-appreciated (at least in its time) novel. Alas, F. Scott I am not. So instead, I helped unload the car, removing a plethora of freshly-unwrapped Christmas gifts, and finally collapsed around midnight. During the course of this week, though, I’ve not been able to shake the image I wanted to write about on Christmas Eve. After having taken most of the month of December off from writing this blog, I at last have something I want to write.
We spent Christmas Eve at my in-law’s home this year. For five months each year, they live in a loft in LoDo (lower downtown, for the uninitiated), a few blocks from everything amazing that Denver has to offer. Their place is the quintessential loft space, open, airy, filled with great light and exposed concrete. They have managed to make it feel cozy with warm wood furniture, textiles, and art. There’s nothing cold or industrial about their home. We love celebrating the holidays there, standing out on the deck with its 6th floor views and taking in the downtown atmosphere at Christmas. Monday night was especially festive because it was snowing. Denver has a white Christmas approximately 11% of the time (yes…I checked), so to be wrapped in the magic of a Christmas snow Monday night was fantastic. We had everything. A yummy dinner of Swiss raclette, the comfort of a loving family, good conversation and wine, every single gift any of us had asked for, and snow.
When we’d finished unwrapping and were preparing to make room in our cheese-filled bellies for dessert, Steve and I decided it might be a good idea to make a preemptive trip to our car with some of our newly acquired treasures. When the boys were young and the sheer number of toys they received seemed immeasurable, we would take several trips to load up our loot. Old habits die hard, I guess, because even as the boys’ gifts have dwindled in number while increasing in cost, we still feel the need to take down a load. That is what we were doing this snowy Christmas Eve when we were confronted with yet another reason for gratitude.
As Steve, Luke, and I walked out onto a snowy 15th Street, heavily laden with a giant duffel bag stuffed with clothes and several bags filled with large Lego sets, we noticed that between us and our car there was a homeless gentleman sitting on a bench. The snow was coming down hard now, and he was hunkered under a Colorado Rockies umbrella. Next to him on the bench in a clear plastic trash bag were his belongings, the sum total of his life’s possessions. I’m certain he wasn’t enjoying the Christmas snow the same way I was. My eyes welled up. I tried to keep it together. Steve and I exchanged a look. I could tell he felt the same way I did…heartbroken and somewhat guilty. We hastily loaded our things into the car and headed back into the dry building feeling unfairly fortunate.
On the way up in the elevator, I knew Steve and I were thinking the same thing. On the way out, in possession of our wallets, this time when we saw the man we would gift him the way we had been gifted. After all, we had everything already. We could certainly spare some of our Christmas cash for someone who not only had no one to celebrate with but who was spending his holiday in soaking clothes on a metal bench on a cold, wet night.
Twenty minutes later when we left the loft full of homemade apple crisp, we found he had moved on. He was no longer on the bench just ten feet from our car. We looked around for him, thinking we might have missed him by only a minute or two, but he was gone, hopefully to a dryer, more sheltered spot somewhere. The City of Denver, after all, has its “unauthorized camping” ban to enforce and there are no exceptions…even on Christmas, even if you’re not camping so much as living outside involuntarily.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about that man under the Colorado Rockies umbrella. For the first couple days, I felt sad that he hadn’t been there when we emerged. I wondered if receiving a $100 bill on Christmas Eve would have felt like a small Christmas miracle to him. I was certain that it would have made me feel better to give it to him. Because he wasn’t there, though, I’ve come to consider that perhaps he gave me a gift with his disappearance — the opportunity to be uncomfortable with my status as a Have and not a Have Not. Seeing him on the bench downtown in the snow reminded me how arbitrarily, unreasonably lucky we are in this house. It gave Steve and I an excuse to talk with our kids about the homeless and about gratitude. As a result, I’ve been looking at things a bit differently after Christmas for the first time in years. Instead of noting what I didn’t receive, instead of thinking about what I can buy with my gift cards, I’ve been focused on how much more I have than what I need. That’s one hell of a gift.
So, on Friday morning we were just lounging around home, accomplishing nothing. With all the gift buying and wrapping, card writing and sending, cleaning, and cooking in preparation of the holidays completed, we were firmly rooted in a state of vegetation. Sitting on the bed, staring out the window, it occurred to me that for the first time in weeks we had no plans. Not one thing needed to be accomplished. No errands to run. The house was clean. The laundry was washed, folded, ironed, and put away. For giggles, I checked the calendar on my iPhone. For the next three days, there was nothing on the calendar but a dinner reservation we could easily cancel. A brilliant plan hatched in my brain. Our mountain house was vacant. When it’s cold and snowy and there’s nothing pressing, the best place in the world to be is on our couch in Steamboat, watching the snow fall and hanging out with our boys. We needed to get there. Stat!
Thinking this was such an incredibly genius plan, I sprung the idea on my husband.
“So, what are we doing today?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Just hanging out.”
“Well, we could go to Steamboat,” I suggested. “We’ve got nothing going on for the next three days and it’s empty. If we’re going to hang out, we could do it there.”
“But what about our dinner reservations for Linger tonight? I was kind of looking forward to that.”
“They’re reservations. We can get in another time,” I said.
“It took us a long time to get a reservation there,” he replied.
“I know. But, we can find another reservation.”
“I don’t know,” he hedged.
I am not proud, but at this point I began pouting. I love a spontaneous trip..a change of plans…a shift in scenery at the last minute. The boys would be home with me for Christmas Break for the next two weeks. I felt I’d already seen enough of the inside of our house. I wanted out. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t have the opportunity I have to lounge at home. For him, a few unscheduled, unstructured days at home sounds like heaven. He saw me pouting and took the bait.
“It’s just a lot of work to get out of here,” he said. “We have to pack everything up. I need to get a haircut. I don’t feel like spending three hours in the car.”
I continued pouting. It was obvious we were at an impasse.
“There’s nothing left to do,” I said. “We’re all ready for Christmas. We haven’t been to Steamboat since July. The place is open. We have three free days. We could head up there and spend some time relaxing before three full days with our families,” I tried again.
“Maybe we could find some fun things to do around town and do those instead?” he suggested.
“Like what?” I inquired in my best you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about tone.
“I don’t know. We could do some research.”
“Go get your haircut,” I said, clearly annoyed.
“We can talk about it,” he said. “I mean, I guess we could go. You’re right. There’s nothing stopping us.”
“But, you don’t want to go. And, now I know you don’t want to go. So, if we go then I will know the entire time you’d rather be doing something else and that kind of ruins it for me.” After a long pause, I said, “We don’t ever do anything spontaneous anymore.”
“Yes, we do,” he said.
“Deciding on take out Thai food instead of cooking is not the kind of spontaneity to which I am referring,” I said plainly.
“It’s harder to be more spontaneous when you have kids,” he replied. I cannot argue with this. It is a fact. A sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.
“Well, we’ll talk about it after your haircut,” I sighed. “Whatever we do today it can’t happen until after you get that taken care of, anyway, so go.”
I sent him on his merry way. While he was gone, I did a little prep work. I knew he would come around to the idea of a quick getaway once he had some time to get used to the idea. I packed up our winter gear. I gathered up holiday movies, our Christmas stockings and their stuffers, and prepped the boys on what they would need to pack. When he got home and realized how quickly we could depart, he just might give in.
When he got home, his attitude had been adjusted as I suspected it might be. We quickly tossed a change of clothes into a duffel bag, grabbed some food for the dog and a couple groceries from the kitchen, and hopped in the car. Three and a half hours later, after a stop for gas and the required latte bribe, we were in Steamboat. It’s not that we’re not spontaneous anymore. It’s just that spontaneity requires a bit of lead time when you have responsibilities. First you have to throw off your natural inclination to size up the amount of work the spontaneity requires. Then you have to let go previously visualized plans, no matter how loose and open they were. Then you have to be willing to give yourself over to the moment. If you can break through those three obstacles, adult spontaneity is entirely possible. A bit delayed, perhaps, but still possible.
“Worrying is using your imagination to create things you don’t want.” ~Esther Hicks
My good friend, Lisa, is an English teacher at Columbine High School (yes…that Columbine High School). Every year as she grades projects she posts quotes from her students’ senior portfolios on Facebook. Each and every time she does this, I find a gem of a quote I will use later. Today it was this quote about worry. I am not a worrier by nature. As a general rule, I’m not a great proponent of borrowing trouble because, quite honestly, I have enough of it already and I’m not really looking for more. I simply want to get through today. If I can get through today, I’ll tackle tomorrow’s problems when I get there. While I am not a big worrier, I am married to one and he passed his genes along to our oldest son. Beyond that, I have many friends who carry the genetic marker for worry. I feel for them and wish I could help, but there’s nothing I can do.
I’ve read many quotes about worry that I have passed along to the people I care about who are sufferers. The reason this particular quote speaks to me is its reference to creativity. How sad it is to squander precious creative energy on worry. I’d never looked at it that way before. I wonder how many hours’ worth of creative energy my husband has lost worrying about worst case scenarios that never happened. If you are that honestly creative, shouldn’t you spend time envisioning the best rather than the worst? Today I told Joe that instead of imagining Luke being run over by a car, maybe he should picture Luke becoming the President of the United States and taking him as the first one of our family members to ride on Air Force One like he’s already promised Joe he would.
I wonder how much creative energy is wasted daily worrying about things that will never happen. Then, I imagine what might be possible if we pooled and then redirected all that negative creativity toward a better purpose…repairing the damage to the ozone layer or cleaning up the ocean gyres or pursuing world peace, for example. The next time you’re tempted to worry, stop for just a moment to think where that creativity might be better spent. Perhaps instead of creating a problem for yourself, you can solve one that already exists.
My son has dyslexia. I blog about it quite often because I’m still struggling to understand it. If I ever get through the 400 page book I started reading about it, I might know more. But, for now, I’m picking up bits and pieces and starting to get a glimpse into what this revelation means for Luke. There are moments in your life when you’re struggling and something (call it fate, God, the Universe, whatever) gives you a pearl of insight that helps you see things more clearly. I had that experience today.
I was rifling through the papers in Luke’s take-home folder from school when I ran across a reading comprehension page he had done in class. He scored 2 out of 5 on it. This is not surprising given his reading issues and the fact that he’s only been in dyslexia tutoring for about six weeks now. He’s not there yet, so a 2 out of 5 isn’t a problem. He’s working on it. What bothered me about the paper was that in the top, right-hand corner his teacher had penned this comment: “Please read carefully!” When I read that, my brow furrowed. Really, lady? What part of dyslexia don’t you understand? Isn’t telling a dyslexic kid to read carefully a little like telling a blind person to watch where he’s going? It’s not as if Luke doesn’t want to read well. He can’t. It’s his fondest wish to be exactly like his classmates. He doesn’t want to be different. He doesn’t want to read slowly. He doesn’t want to ask for special accommodations or additional help, but he needs to. Chastising my kid for something he can’t help seems a bit unfair. Weeks ago I had a thirty minute conversation with his teacher so she could understand his struggles. Clearly, the information I presented to her didn’t sink in.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that this is what Luke will struggle with for the rest of his life. There is a significant portion of the population that doubts the very existence of dyslexia. These people think that the person with reading difficulty simply needs to work harder. The fact is that Luke doesn’t need to work harder to learn to read. He needs to work differently. That is what the dyslexia tutor is doing with Luke. She is teaching him to read a different way. I’ve already seen a difference. For the first time ever, he’s starting to be able to name rhyming pairs. This is progress. With tutoring like this, the kind that focuses on teaching to the way a right-brained person learns, he will read eventually. He will never be as fast or successful at it as a person without dyslexia, but he will read. And, he will spend his entire life trying to convince people that he really does need the extra assistance he requires. At least through college he will have to undergo hours and hours of testing every two years to guarantee his access to accommodations to help him keep up with his fellow classmates. Dyslexia never goes away, but you’d be hard pressed to convince most people (and most schools, apparently) that this is the case.
Luke’s best shot at success will come from his ability to self-advocate, to understand his issues and to be able to fight for and earn the necessary accommodations to ensure he gets onto a level playing field with his classmates. He’s going to have to be able to look a teacher who tells him to read more carefully in the eye and tell her that he’s reading as carefully as he can because he is dyslexic, and if she would like him to read more carefully he’s going to require extra time. Luckily for him, Luke has loads of self-confidence and charm. He has never been afraid to ask for what he wants or to negotiate to get his way. Those skills will serve him well in the future. As for me, I’m still working on my bravery and my advocacy skills. I’m going to start by reminding his teacher that he’s doing the best he can on his reading and he’ll probably go a lot further if she curbs the presumptive admonitions on his reading papers and sticks to positive reinforcement instead.
As the stay-at-home parent, I am the primary grocery shopper in our household. The record will show that I am at Super Target (and/or Safeway) no less than three times each week. The first time I go, usually on Monday morning after I drop the boys at school, I do our shopping for the week. Or, at least that is what I am planning to accomplish. What usually happens, though, is that as soon as I arrive home I realize (often with an audible dammit!) I’ve forgotten something I needed. So, my second grocery shopping trip often occurs on Tuesday, when I revisit the aforementioned store to pick up the items I missed the first time around. The third trip to the store occurs around Thursday, or sometimes as early as Wednesday, because my children have pointed out that they’re out of Goldfish crackers or yogurt or some other thing they neglected to mention we were out of but must have all the same. The clerks at Super Target see me coming with my cloth bags and can probably rattle off what I have in my cart before I even start unloading it. Yes. Sadly, I am that predictable.
Every once in a while, to avoid the embarrassment of showing up at my regular Super Target for a fourth time in as many days, I will ask my husband to grab something from the store on his way home. It’s one of those things I try not to do, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. Now, you might think I don’t ask my husband to shop because I feel it’s my job or because I hate troubling him after a long day at work. That is not, however, the case. I hate asking my husband to stop at the store because it’s inevitable that when he does he will come home with not exactly what I asked for. In addition, he will have purchased several items that were not on the list at all. I will never understand how he can live in the same house with the kids and I but have no idea what our regular family items are. He will purchase more or less what I want but not exactly. I’m not sure about you, but my kids are fussy about brands so it makes me insane when hubby goes rogue in the grocery store. We’re supposed to be a team. The reason we’re still married after 17 years is that I have come to expect this. Therefore, I try to avoid sending him to the store. It’s a matter of marriage preservation.
For a long time, I thought this was a quirk of our marriage. Then, tonight, a dear friend told me about her husband’s trip to the grocery store. She had asked him to pick up jam. He was apparently confused by her use of the word jam so he sent her a text to clarify. This cracked me up. Steve would have done the same thing. He would have messaged me from the store to ask if I meant jam like in a glass jar or did I really mean jelly like in the Smucker’s squeeze bottle we get for the boys’ peanut butter sandwiches. This would have annoyed the living crap out of me because I would feel he was pestering me because I wasn’t explicit enough. In actuality, he’s be pestering me because he had no clue what I meant and he didn’t want to get in trouble by coming home with the wrong thing. Still…I’d be frustrated because, seriously, doesn’t he live in this house and know what type of jam/jelly we use? What is wrong with him? How can the clerks at Super Target know what I buy while my husband has not a clue?
I told my friend that I get perplexed when my husband consistently returns from the grocery store with some completely bizarre brand I’ve never even seen before, one I’m certain our children will not eat. (You see, I know that my kids will not eat off-brand Goldfish crackers. They’re food ninjas. They know when you try to pull a fast one on them. I don’t waste our money on anything but Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers. Buy imposter Goldfish crackers once, shame on me. Buy imposter Goldfish twice? Well…I’m just not that stupid.) Steve’s blatant disregard for my brand loyalty and specific shopping instructions has led me to only one conclusion. He buys what he wants at the store simply to assert his decision-making power within our family unit. Years of feeling henpecked about his shopping choices have led him to a subversive tactic for retribution. Bad grocery shopping has become his silent rebellion, his non-violent protest against oppression. He thinks he’s Gandhi. I simply wish he’d be Gandhi-esque about something else. Maybe he could non-violently protest the unlawful gathering of shoes on his side of the bed?
I’ve struggled for days now trying to find an appropriate place for my mind to rest regarding the events in Newtown, Connecticut. Alas, no matter in which direction I turn, I cannot find my zen about this topic. There is not a thing about it that is right. I’ve done my best to avoid too much detail in the news, to acknowledge the miserable facts without becoming morbidly curious or rushing to judgment or conclusions. At the end of the day, as cold and as hard as it seems, I need to live my life in the wake of these all too common violent attacks. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been trying to distance myself from the news to keep from losing my entire holiday season to a dark abyss of the unthinkable. It has not been easy. Even my guilty escape, Facebook, has become a non-stop editorial column about the event.
Because I can’t seem to escape it, despite an entire day spent on a ski slope, tonight I would like to offer just this one comment. As we continue to think about the families who lost loved ones on December 14th, I hope we don’t forget that Adam Lanza left behind a father and a brother who are innocent of his crimes. They lost loved ones too. And, worse than that, they will have to live with the the anger, the scrutiny, and the unanswerable questions. I can’t imagine facing both the loss of my mother and brother and the non-stop judgment of the American people. My heart goes out to that family. They will never understand what happened or why, but they will always be held somewhat accountable via guilt-by-association. That’s a tough road to walk.