Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017

fall fam

As we approach the end of another year, I'm feeling many things: Relief that the busyness of Christmas is complete. Sadness that our time with our out-of-town family is fleeting. Hopeful about being home again and the feeling of a fresh start that a New Year brings. Anxiety about many things, close to home and in our larger community.

Of course, I'm grateful, too. I'm thankful to have marked another year. Matt and the kids are my world, and they are mostly happy and very healthy. That is huge. But the flip slide of gratitude is the always-present knowledge of the fragility of it all. I try to mindful of what is good and right in front of us in this moment.

Yesterday, I was in the bathroom with Lauren at Matt's aunt and uncle's house. There was a sign that said, "In all things, give thanks." Lauren, as she is apt to do--even while sitting on the toilet--read the sign and proceeded to scrutinize it. She said, "Mom, what does that even mean?" I said, "Well, I think it means, no matter what happens we should be thankful. Like say, even if you were sick, you should be thankful." Lala scrunched up her nose, narrowed her eyes, and asked indignantly, "Why would I EVER be thankful to be sick?!?"

I realized she was right. I hadn't quite captured the sentiment correctly. So I tried again: "I think it means that, you don't need to be grateful for being sick, but when you're sick, you can find something to be grateful for." Lauren then wondered, "Like how it's nice how you take care of me when I'm sick?" And I said, "I think that's it, exactly."

I close this year, thankful for each of you who has taken the time to read another year of our reflections on gratitude. Life is beautiful and difficult; some days it feels more one than the other. I hope that we can continue to find some love, some light even in the darkest times--or at least resolve to look for them again tomorrow.

christmas smiths

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Trippin'

Lately, I've been caught up dwelling a little on how short our Christmas break feels. The last two years have had school calendars that make our family winter tour feel accelerated, meaning that travel feels more stressful than usual. I have family and friends who don't have near the time that we usually have as a family, though. I'm thankful to be hitting the road for the holidays again, and thankful that we have the time and means to do so.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Rest

While life always has a certain amount of busyness for us, all things considered, this is a restful time for us. The shorter daylight hours force us inside and, lately, dinner has been followed by board games. We take a break from sports in the winter, so afternoons and evenings are more open and relaxed than when we are in season.

We do still run around quite a bit--like tonight. We had a school dinner to which we took separate cars, because Matt had a meeting to go to at 7:00. On the way home, with just the kids and me, I took some extra time to drive around our neighborhood and let the kids see the holiday lights. It was a nice, leisurely excursion that allowed us to take a moment and appreciate some of the wonder of the season.

When we got home, Lauren was a bit distraught, because she has a "very, very wiggly" tooth. She let me try to wiggle it (not my fav thing) and tried to eat an apple (that's how she lost her first tooth). Alas, the loose tooth remained attached. I suggested that she could go to bed and try again in the morning. She managed a tearful "OK" and headed off to bed. I'm thankful that she understands in her own way that sleep is restorative, and things will be better in the morning.

As usual, I am a bit overwhelmed by the holiday season. I've got many to-do lists running through my head--only half of which I manage to write down. Though there's plenty of stuff pending, I've slowly but surely checked a few big items off some of the lists this week. And now I've reached the time of the day when I will choose to wind down and rest. I might address a few Christmas cards, or go to bed early. I'm grateful for both the opportunity to rest and my own understanding, in this moment, it is what I need most.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Holidays

I've been especially aware of the bittersweet nature of the holiday season this year. I'm thankful for traditions and memories and comfort foods and time with family, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about my dad and my grandparents and the way that time slips by. My own kids are old enough to have their own memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. And I'm old enough (and young enough?) to remember this season at their ages. Many of the memories I have are of people no longer with us, though. I know that's the nature of life, but it's a steady pang that underlies November and December for me.

I have years of happy, loud, fun memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I also have weighty ones of funerals and numbness and a vague awareness that I was supposed to compartmentalize my feelings to preserve my cheer or gratitude. Holidays are complicated. Life is complicated. Sometimes life seems as mean as it seems wonderful. On my optimistic days, that juxtaposition enhances the joy of being with loved ones and the joy of tradition. On my less optimistic days, it makes me feel like life is a slow, inescapable march of loss.

A friend whose parent had recently passed asked me once "How long does it take to get over it?" I wanted to give a pat, satisfactory answer, but I don't have one. Is "getting over it" anything more than an appeasement of other people's expectations of the shelf life of grief and grappling with the ephemeral? I struggle with gratitude at Thanksgiving because I'm still mad at the unfairness of my mom losing my dad on Thanksgiving week. I struggle with Christmas music because so much of it is intertwined with memories of my dad. I can be picking out a Christmas tune on the piano with the kids and suddenly have to excuse myself to a different room. I can be hit by a chord from the pipe organ and want to be anywhere in the world but in a church. Not "over it," clearly.

"Grapple" is the verb I use most often to describe what I've been doing with my feelings for the last few weeks (years?). As many things do, "grappling with difficulty" makes me think of Epictetus, who said "When difficulty falls on you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough opponent. Why? So that you may become a conqueror. But it is not accomplished without sweat." I'm thankful to be here to struggle, and thankful for family and friends who struggle along with me. And I'm thankful to see this season through my children's eyes, as I find myself both hopeful and fearful for them as they get older.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Collaboration

I've gone to two meetings this week. Both were right in the middle of dinner time, and the one tonight lasted past bedtime. I'm thankful that Matt acts like it's no big thing to handle these on his own.

The meetings I attended this week were meaningful. One was a PTA Board meeting in which we discussed a proposal for a creative, innovative program. Discussion, disagreement, and, even, awkwardness ensued, but, ultimately, we voted unanimously about what the next best thing was.

The second was a focus group related to breast cancer services. I met with some thoughtful service providers and survivors, and we were able to have a candid discussion as well as make connections. The gathering had the potential to be uninteresting and formulaic, but it was anything but. It was really inspiring to meet with a group of people I don't know very well--unlike the PTA meeting, where I knew people really well--yet feel connected with them in a common purpose.

In both meetings, I felt grateful to be part of building something. Not all meetings feel this way, but these two did. This week has been full of reminders of the many connections my family has to our community. My hope is to be a constructive, collaborative participant in whatever group I'm a part of.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fun

Having fun at the season opener. #goheels

These kids. They're fun.

Last Friday, we went to the Tar Heels' home opener. It was the first time all five of us were in the Dean Dome together--and Lauren's first time ever. The kids delighted in every aspect of the experience: riding the shuttle from the Friday Center, climbing all the way up to our seats, drinking soda, cheering as the starting lineups were announced, rooting for the Heels (who won easily over Northern Iowa), and even hearing a favorite Bruno Mars song played by the band.

No one really even complained when we had to wait for nearly 30 minutes in 40-degree weather for our shuttle back to our parking lot. In fact, Lauren and Evan spent the time running around in a grassy area, playing tag. It was a treat to be out past 9:00 without feeling like the world would fall apart.

Once again, I find myself grateful for this season in our family life. Life moves quickly, and my babies aren't as easy to scoop up and snuggle. Their personalities are familiar and also emerging/ shifting as they learn more about themselves and the world. And, increasingly, it feels more like we're experiencing life together--rather than us leading and them, following. I know there will be growing pains, but I hope they know that Matt and I are here, ready to comfort them and celebrate with them, whatever their "growing up" brings.

I'm thankful for the fun we have together and the love we share. And I'm grateful that even our youngest is able to tag along on later nights--and for the nap she could be persuaded to take earlier that afternoon.