Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Visions

While children have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads on Christmas Eve, mothers have visions of children's faces lighting up as they open their long-wanted gifts, or visions of smiles erupting into laughter as the kids attempt to create the perfect gingerbread houses, which collapse from the weight of the gum drops (oh, well, more to eat) or visions of loved ones singing carols and eating and drinking good food with good cheer.

Those visions are what keep us moms going... through the crowds, through the flu, through the bills, through the mess, through the tears.  Christmas visions of happy children and a loving family always keep us going.

After the flu, we finally made it to see Santa
On this Christmas Eve, if you're tired from shopping and cooking or haven't recovered from the flu (like me) REMEMBER: if it takes a little imagination to embellish your reality - so be it.  Use it.  It's a gift from God, too.  Keep the happy visions.  Remember the smiles and forget the tears.  and always Love All. 

(I always want to look like this at Christmas so
I'm pretending as my present this year.)
I end with one of my favorite Christmas poems by Roald Dahl... I hope it brings you a smile:

Where art thou, Mother Christmas?

Where are thou, Mother Christmas?
I only wish I knew
Why Father should get all the praise
And no-one mentions you.

I'll bet you buy the presents
And wrap them large and small
While all the time that rotten swine
Pretends he's done it all.

So Hail to Mother Christmas
Who shoulders all the work
And down with Father Christmas
That unmitigated jerk.

- Roald Dahl

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Memories

Christmas is a celebration of family.  The birth of God's child and the promise of salvation for all His people.  When Jesus was born, He created a family: a family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and a family of God's children.

As a mother, I feel my main responsibility at Christmas is to create memories for my family.  I prefer they be happy memories, but sometimes it doesn't work that way.

Two years ago in Canton, Georgia, a rare event occurred- we had a white Christmas.  Thick, fluffy flakes fell quietly all day creating an unforgettable winter wonderland in our own backyard.   Unfortunately, if you asked Anabel about that Christmas, she'd reply, "It was awful.  I was sick all week with pneumonia."  Many things are beyond a mother's control and occasionally, even Mother Nature fails to impress.

When I was a child, my brother desperately wanted a dirt bike.  Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, he tried every way he could think of to obtain that bike. He left copies of Dirt Bike magazine in conspicuous places around the house.  He talked about places he could ride nearby- how helpful he would be taking the trails to the store to pick up milk or a loaf of bread.  Each mention triggered the same response: "No way, it's too dangerous," much like Ralphie's constantly heard refrain, "You'll shoot your eye out!"  My little brother's last ditch effort was to ask Santa and felt certain his request would be granted.  On Christmas morning, he opened his circa 1977 loot, which ironically contained an Evel Knevel doll and ramp, but no dirt bike appeared.  Opening the last present, he pulled out a silver spiraled coil and his face lit up.  Looking at this item, his nine-year-old-wishful-thinking mind saw shocks for a dirt bike.  The note on the bag said to look on the carport for the rest of the gift and sheer joy carried him across the room.  He flung open the door to reveal... a trampoline.  The coil was a spring not a shock.

Of the many cheerful Christmases I experienced as a child, this one I remember the most vividly.  Why?  Was it because all the others were the same with each of us children receiving all that we asked for?  Difference does make unique memories.

Thanks to our sabbatical journey last year, we experienced an unusual Christmas.  I loved decorating with our homemade ornaments and the few distinctive travel ornaments we had gathered in cities on our journeys during the year.  Since the kids had no friends on the island, I enjoyed creating special activities for them to do in preparation for Christmas Day.  We had no family to visit last year so we reveled in the quiet day by reading aloud to our children.  We baked without rush and cooked without agenda.  We walked on the beach and wrote wishes in the sand.  I will always treasure last Christmas, but if you asked the children, they would probably say, "Last Christmas was so boring!  It didn't feel like Christmas at all."  Oh well, not every Christmas is perfect, but I bet they'll always remember it.
Visit my posts on our unusual Christmas last year:

Which Christmas do you remember the most?  Why? (This is not part of a psychological study.  I'm just curious...)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Life Break Coach- Midlife Crisis Ultimate Solution

Could a year of traveling save my sanity?

Greg made me lose my original train of thought after nixing my Eat, Love, Pray reenactment, but the seed of the idea took hold in my mind and I began watering it carefully and bringing it out for a little sun now and then.  I capitulated my fantasy of following Elizabeth Gilbert’s exact steps.  We didn’t have to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia to change our lives; nevertheless, the more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt that something drastic must happen. Just taking the kids out of activities couldn’t turn around our lives. 

I searched phrases like “taking a break”, “getting away”, and “life break” online.  My first two searches resulted in 50 ways to leave your lover and 101 ways get away with murder- no help, but I bookmarked those for future reference.  When I searched life break, I struck gold.  I discovered there were other people who wanted to take a break from life; so much so, there was a link to an actual life break coach.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding me! Who needs a life break coach when you have girlfriends and martinis?”  So I decided to run my brainstorm by my friends.

     While Greg taught a night class, I threw mac and cheese at the kids, slung some applesauce their way to include the fruit group and got everyone to shower, finish homework and prepare book bags and lunches for the next day.  All accomplished by 8:15!  Wearing a supermom glow that resembled a sweaty sheen, I was shaking the martinis as Bridget and Jane arrived.  Anxious to share my ideas, I tossed back a pink drink and launched into my plan.
     “Greg and I want to take a family sabbatical.” Of course, Greg didn’t know it yet.  I used “sabbatical” as a nice term for “quitting” our jobs- it sounded better to me and was part of the psychological game I played to convince myself I wasn’t a complete slacker.
     “What’s a family sabbatical?” asked Bridget as she sipped her cocktail.
Would you travel with these kids?
     I gave my rehearsed answer in one breath.  “Basically, we quit our jobs, rent our home and road school our kids while traveling the highways and byways of the great USA and abroad for one year.”
     They laughed.  Maybe I did need a life coach. 
      “What?  That’s insane," Bridget managed to say between giggles.  "Drop everything and see the world?”
     “That would be nuts," interrupted Jane.  "Not work? Not send the kids to school?  Not participate in a thousand activities, committees, or sports?” She finished her drink in one gulp. 
     I realized they weren’t taking me seriously. Looking each one in the eye, I said, “I’m dead serious.”
     “Holy cow, you are," said Jane.  “Take me with you!"
     “Lord! Me, too.”
     “So you don’t think I’m crazy?”
     “People may call the doctors and carry you to Milledgeville faster than your head can hit a pillow, but personally, I think it’s the sanest thing I’ve heard in a long time!” said Bridget.  The martinis were kicking in.
     Fueled with my friends’ approval, I expounded on my rationalized plans for our one-year off the grid. "We could rent out our house- furnished, of course.”
“You would leave all your stuff?” said Bridget.
“Who would rent this big house- furnished?” asked Jane.
“There must be some business people that will only be in town temporarily,” I said.  “Or a family relocating, but don’t know where they want to buy yet.  Our house would be perfect for them.  We have our retirement savings, but if we rent the house it will help cover the loss of my paycheck which goes to the home’s mortgage and utilities anyway."
     “Jenny, you’ve obviously thought this through, but can you really afford to take a year off from work?  Would they hold your job for you?”
     “This has been my obsession for months.  Public Ed teachers sign an annual contract so there’s no guaranteeing my job.  If I don’t sign next year’s contract, they won’t hold my position.  But you know what? I’m okay with that.  I desperately want to change careers. Sitting in the faculty meeting last week, I looked around at the dead stares on most of the faces.  They looked like prison inmates- all serving out their thirty years.”
“I know,” said Bridget.  “I’m one of the inmates. Only eight years to go.”
“I’m only at the halfway point! I have fifteen more years till retirement,” I said.  “I don’t want to spend that time constantly doing the math: ten years and twenty-six days till I can retire- if I use sick leave days- only nine years and forty-eight days to go... I love the kids, but I am sick of the government mandates and being treated like a sheep in a herd rather than a responsible professional.” 
“I am sick of teaching to the almighty test,” said Bridget.
“Me, too,” I said.  “The prospect of another fifteen years of this motivated me to write up my Interest Projects curriculum and try to get it published. I never imagined I’d actually get an offer. It felt so good to finally follow through with something. Since I signed the contract for my resource book last month,” I held my glass high in the air for a toast. “I believe in dreams again.”
We all gave a little “Whoop!” 
I continued, “I’ve always fantasized about writing for a living. If we take a family sabbatical, I could use the time off to finish writing and editing the book, and then, hopefully, write more.”
     “But you said you wouldn’t see a penny of royalty money for two years.  Can you still afford to quit?” Ever practical, Jane always grounded me.
     I shrugged. “I could sell my car to help with travel expenses.  We’d only need one car anyway, if we were all traveling together.  Our two rental houses are leased so we’ll have some income.  We’ve always wanted to spend more time at the Fripp Island rental home; it really needs fixing up, so we could stay there when it’s not rented and work on the house in-between trips. The kids can help with the renovations and are the perfect ages for home school and travel- old enough to remember everywhere we go, but young enough to not need to be surgically separated from their friends.  Plus, I’ve always wondered what home schooling would be like.”
     “School at the beach would be a dream!” said Bridget.  “You’ve got a plan; I say go for it.”
     “Greg’s mother died when she was only forty-five years old.  I turn forty-four next month. The older I get the younger she gets.  Emily worked hard all her life, but never lived to enjoy one day of retirement.  If this is going to be the last year of my life, I want it to mean something.  Even if it’s not my last year- which I sincerely hope- I am running out of time to change my life.”   
“Grandma Moses started painting in her eighties,” said Jane. 
I smiled. “True. But let’s be real… I’m no Grandma Moses.” I paused to take a breath and another sip.  “I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t shake this feeling of: it’s now or never.
    “I would toast to that, but I’m out of drink.” Bridget waggled her empty glass at me.  We enjoyed another round or three- honestly, I was so drunk on their approval, I stopped counting.  With a green light from my friends, I was ready to unveil the final plan to my husband.
Greatest Husband Ever!
     I expected a long list of arguments against the possibility of our taking a family sabbatical and it taking months to win him over, but Greg loved the idea. Since our discussion, he had been thinking of chucking it all, too.  After hours of talking, Greg summed up our stream of rationalizations with, “We take one year of our retirement now while we are young and healthy enough to enjoy it and spend it traveling with our kids while they are still young enough to want to be with us.” (I ask you, how is that crazier than divorce and drugs?)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Life Break Coach- Midlife Crisis- Extreme Option

     Racking my already afflicted brain for solutions to my midlife crisis, I remembered reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love; of course, it took me six weeks to finish it because it’s hard to lose yourself in the decadence of Italian food when interrupted by a child coming down with a stomach virus just as you settle in for a good read at night- Nothing like cleaning up half-digested spaghetti to ruin a detailed, Italian foodie description.  Driving to work the next day, halfway between sick children and school kids, I began to get bitter.
     “Why can’t I take a year off to explore the world and my spirituality?  I would kick ass at meditation!  I mastered the art of yoga during the one class I tried last fall when we joined the YMCA.  Too bad, I only had time to drop the kids for swim lessons now. After one yoga class, I’m sure I’m ready to work with a Guru.” My mind continued down this daydream.  “If I found a good Guru, would they allow kids in an Ashram?  I know we could get pizza in Italy so they’d eat there, but do they serve chicken fingers in India?  By the time we get to Indonesia, the kids will be seasoned travelers begging for Balinese rice crackers and fish, I just know it.  Greg would love Italy and Bali, but India I’m not so sure…  I bet I could get him to scrub floors for our Guru in India if I promised him a romp on the beach in Bali.”  And so I was off…
     After a couple of days, my mind really started to pick up steam.  I was typing my resignation and looking at flights when I made the mistake of mentioning my fantasy to Greg.
     “Are you nuts?  Spend a year finding “ourselves”?  We aren’t lost, Jenny, just burned out.”  He also answered my questions concerning the kids.  “We can’t get them to sit still with crayons and a coloring book in our church for forty-five minutes; how are we gonna get them to meditate for eight hours in an Ashram in India?”  After nixing my rope and duct tape proposal, he continued.  “Is this a family trip you’re planning or a defection?  Sounds like you’ve got a nice year outlined for yourself.  Let me know where you are so I can send you the kids’ addresses… I suppose my cousin would take one.  Your parents aren't fit so no one’s going there, but your sister likes the little one...”
     “Why can’t you raise them?  They’re your kids, too!”
     “I’ll be too busy touring the country with the band.  If you get to leave the kids to live out a fantasy, then so do I!”  And so our adult discussion of separate fantasy lives went.  

We weren't exactly on the road to a solution... yet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Life Break Coach- Midlife Crisis Options 3 - 8

Trying to overcome my boredom with life, I first considered the easiest choices for radical lifestyle change- 1- SEX and 2- DRUGS- but swiftly ruled them out.  No pills or quick thrills for this lady!  Marrying a rock and roll musician was enough for me.

There has to be other options to help me through my fear of death (Isn't that what a midlife crisis is, after all?)...

Brainstorming other stereotypical ways people have reacted to the reality of their own mortality, this is what I came up with:

3.  Buy an expensive sports car.
4.  Dress too young for my age, i.e. wear a thong.
5.  Have plastic surgery.
6.  Get a tattoo or pierce something: bellybutton, nose, nipple, etc.
7.  Make your adolescent or tween child your friend.
8.  Have an extreme experience - skydiving, free falling, bungee jumping, etc.

Let's look at these one by one...

Option 3- Sports Car
Greg and I could buy a tricked-out, fifty to hundred thousand dollar sports car and cruise the roads together.  Not a bad idea.  I love riding through the mountains or over the water in the low country and I'm sure a really nice car that the kids haven't trashed would make the experience even better.  With the top down and the wind flowing through our hair, Greg and I could reconnect and relax as we see new places together.  Most sports cars are only two seaters, which enables plenty of alone time for our marriage.  We could plan romantic weekend getaways.   I am liking this idea more and more.  What could possibly be wrong with this solution?  After spending years trying to have children, we appreciate the miracle that each of our three babies is and feel the time with them is fleeting.  We had ten years as that childless couple; there will be plenty of time together after the kids head to college.  We want family time now so no sports car for us.

Option 4- Dress too young
No one wants to see me in a thong.  Next, option.

Option 5- Plastic Surgery
While I am guilty of staring in the mirror at every wrinkle and flaw on my face and body, I am proud of each laugh line and crease.  Also, I endured years of in vitro procedures and surgeries so I am through with needles and knives for this lifetime.  (If they come up with a surgically-free way of sucking fat off my thighs, I will reconsider this option.)

Option 6- Tattoos and Piercings
See Option 5.  (Full Disclosure- Greg got a tattoo when he turned thirty and would love to embellish it if given the chance.  I think he's nuts.)

Option 7- Kids as Friends
I have so many problems with this course of action.  While I adore my children and love spending time with them, I know that my kids need a mom not a friend.  They need guidance not a playmate.  Growing up, I had a friend whose mother dumped all her financial worries, career fears and romantic musings on her fourteen-year-old daughter.  Instead of her being a stable rock on which my friend could rely, her mother burdened her with grown up problems too young, greatly damaging their relationship.  I remember being shocked at how my friend argued with her mom, and then mortified when her mom wanted to go out with us when we turned sixteen.  I believe parents need their own friends to unwind with as do their children.  Parents and children's bonds grow stronger when each understands their defined role.

Option 8- Extreme Experiences
This option has me thinking.  How does one define extreme experience?  When I Googled it, I got skydiving, bungee jumping, and base jumping.  Do I really need to list the reasons why this is not a viable option for a mother of three?  However, I am totally up for an extreme experience in lifestyle changes.  (I think the only lasting lifestyle change from jumping out of a plane would be if the parachute didn't open.)

Now my question is: What extremes am I willing to go to find joy in my life?


Life Break Coach- Midlife Crisis Option 2

If an extra-marital affair is out, what is another option for dealing with my midlife crisis?

I could go on drugs.  The legal ones. You know- Prozac, Valium, Paxil, Zoloft, etc. – like my doctor suggested when I told her how stressed I felt- how I wanted to jump out of my skin occasionally.  

That is normal, right?  Everyone feels that way at midlife- that's what makes it a CRISIS.  We are the drug nation.  All my life I've heard,  "Feel bad? Take a pill."  I get that for an infection, a major illness, or even a bad headache, but should I force my brain to attend to the sometimes mind-numbing American way of working to live, and living through our kids, or worse, television? Am I really depressed or just bored? 

My parents went the anti-depressant route after the devastating death of my brother.  John had been the golden child, but was lost to painkillers years before his death.   When he died, a major part of my parents died with him.  I had hoped the anti-depressants would bring them back, but with no therapy at work with the medications, there was little positive change;  I have never heard of drugs mending a broken heart, anyway.  A few years later, my mother broke her back in a bus accident at work.  Her only solace after my brother's loss had been gardening and even that was taken from her.  It's no wonder that drugs became a crutch for my mom and dad.  My sister and I tried to help to no avail.  After multiple surgeries, all we could do was watch as our mother slowly retreated into an Oxycontin haze.  Our father dealt with the situation looking like Richard Nixon campaigning for president holding two V signs in the air- only Daddy’s Vs weren’t for Victory; they were for Vodka and Valium.  

Not my dad...but eerily similar.
While I have friends for whom medication and therapy have been very successful, I believe I am more bored with my life than depressed about it.  And losing, for all intents and purposes, three immediate family members to the pitfalls of medication, I calmly - I didn't want her to think I was nuts- said, "No, thank you," to my doctor.  (Besides, I think the drugs for boredom fall more in the recreational variety, which I don't think my doctor would recommend...)

Option three, please...