Let’s Acknowledge Our Holiday Tensions

The trees are nearly bare, and leaves cover the ground.

It’s taking a long time for Autumn to visibly come to an end here in Georgia, and we still have a few weeks left.

We wait and wait for the next season to come, and when it does, we forget how magical it is. We forget that the leaves changing and falling are teaching us something every day about the way things work, perhaps about magic, perhaps about love. We are still learning to love and honor the earth’s ways, and we are still learning to love and know ourselves.

I continue to be amazed at my AHA! moments, how they come from nowhere and tell me something new that I never realized, or something I had forgotten over the years. As an adult (and still not sure what that means half the time) I come to these moments when I’m face to face with child-Kaitlin, and all the ways she was kept from knowing and loving herself.

Knowing myself as an adult is knowing and loving my child-self, especially during the holidays. It means I have to invest in self-care, acknowledging what is hard, what is beautiful, and what is good. It means I lean into myself, into the truth, as I watch those last leaves fall.

 

We cancelled Thanksgiving.

November is always a hard month. Despite it being Native American Heritage Month, we watched people carry on toxic stereotypes of Indigenous peoples around the Thanksgiving narrative, especially in public schools.

Despite the difficulty, I romanticize the idea of a meal around a table, because I want these moments of hospitality and community to be perfect, meaningful, and good. I was ready to hold a special Friendsgiving meal with my family and a few friends, in the safety of my questions. I was going to cook Indigenous dishes and speak truth and acknowledgment. Then I got a stomach virus. Everything was cancelled.

And when, as life happens, things don’t turn out so good or meaningful, I’m left disappointed. I struggle with the tension of holding things loosely and being okay with things not working out when I hoped so much for them.

I struggle with the tension of things left unresolved.

 

 

Christmas is coming, with all its tension.

We celebrate Christmas. Maybe you don’t, or you celebrate it differently than we do, or you struggle with the consumerism baked into this time of year. It’s a struggle to know how to celebrate.

On Friday, my oldest son helped me bring things down from upstairs– containers of ornaments, a small light-up village, the cookie jar shaped like a Christmas tree. Just like every other year, we took down the Autumn decorations and replaced them with a wooden Santa who burns German incense and small bottle brush trees, but my mind was elsewhere.

I was examining a situation I could do nothing to control, but one that brought me stress nonetheless. The non-confrontational, people-pleaser in me can’t deal with those lack of resolves, but here was one, sitting in my gut for days. This time, I let it stay there, acknowledging its presence, speaking truth to my own psyche.

The holidays can be bring up our most unhealthy habits, like codependence, or the reality of toxic relationships coming to the forefront.

The holidays are an opportunity to ask who we were and who we are, to be honest, but to be gentle. We lean into ourselves, breathe, and take care.

We rest in the tension and ask what it might teach us.

 

We bought the tree on Saturday.

Right after Thanksgiving, I began to see Instagram and Facebook posts of happy couples, cutting down their very own Christmas trees in the woods, perfect moments of togetherness captured in real time.

What we didn’t see was the couple bickering about which tree would fit in their home, or the person struggling to get their tree down, or a single person with no children cutting down a tree just for themselves to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t see that those places aren’t accessible for disabled folks who may also want Christmas trees. Things are not always as they seem.

We curate perfect pictures of what we think the holidays should be, down to the trees we pick and the ways we choose them. But sometimes, the holidays are far from perfect, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

On Saturday, I stayed home, resting, while Travis and the kids picked out a tree from Home Depot. I played Nat King Cole and sat in the chair by the window, taking videos of everyone pulling out their favorite ornaments, feeling angry that my body hadn’t gotten over the flu yet.

Still, everything was right and good–my kids’ joy, the homemade ornaments, the shape of the tree, the pre-lit garland decorating the mantle.

The tension dissipated and we were together, despite what imperfections remained in those spaces.

 

Sometimes, I want to believe in Santa.

It is magical to be a child, to believe in things that we cannot always comprehend. Whether we grew up being told about Santa or not, we grew up seeing a world full of possibility before we were taught to see the reality of pain as well. Some of us came to the reality of pain far too young, and it cost us something, taking away our ability to be carefree.

Sometimes, especially during the holidays, I want to crawl into a cocoon of childlikeness. So badly, I want to believe in this man that roams the earth, giving gifts to kids, making dreams come true. I want to believe in magic.

I don’t want to believe that we must be so good that some guy will put us on a good list and punish our mistakes with coal–I grew up believing that of both Santa and of God, and I don’t want to go back. But I want to believe in the generous spirit of giving that never runs dry, in people who choose to be good to one another.

The work of being human is more akin to becoming less like Scrooge before the ghosts visited and more like Scrooge after the ghosts visited.

Our call and our magic is simply this: we must care for each other.

 

The holidays are riddled with grief, and that’s okay.

Don’t let anyone rush your grief. 

Maybe we don’t hear this enough during the holidays, because we are being convinced that just buying another gift at Target will solve our problems. But we all know we can’t escape grief, because it belongs to us, teaches us, often haunts us. The holidays are certainly no exception.

We hear holiday songs about snow on the ground and lights and shoppers merrily spending their hard-earned money on gifts for their loved ones. And while we hope for such picture-perfect moments, the reality is, we know our own grief and the grief of others.

Maybe we’re acknowledging that we don’t have enough money to make it through the holidays. Maybe we are coming to terms with broken relationships that cannot be mended.

We remember friends who’ve lost family members this year and in years past. We remember that things are never the same when loss happens.

This year, a friend reached out during November to ask if there’s anything she could do to care for me in this season because she recognizes it’s difficult for me. She cared for a need, and because of her kindness, I’m trying to care for others. Grief is a process, and so is meeting each other’s needs, as small or big as they may be. Wherever we are, whatever way grief is working in us, it’s okay to not always feel okay.

 

In the New Year, we will learn to breathe.

We will get through Christmas or whatever holiday comes our way, with all the family tension and grief and relational stress it might bring. Maybe it will be the best Christmas yet, or maybe we will struggle with what to ask for because we have no idea what we could possibly need besides a new pair of socks. Maybe we need too much and we will never really get it.

But maybe the small moments will bless us, staring at that one ornament or Christmas card knowing it was made with love and care. Maybe we can believe in ourselves and community.

Maybe we can make an entire list of new years resolutions because we want to be our best selves yet, or maybe we can tattoo the call to

B R E A T H E

on our hearts and on the hearts of our loved ones so that when 2020 comes, we know that the power of stopping and resting will give us the room to lean into our hopes and dreams, to do the good work that waits for us.

We can’t change everything about our toxic systems with one resolution, and we can’t change everything about ourselves with one resolution. But we can begin with breathing, with the quiet, with a good cup of coffee and a conversation with ourselves and with the Divine in and around us.

A new year means a new breath.

 

Onward, together.

I still believe in Us.

Whatever the holiday season holds for you and for me, we will get through it together.

In whatever capacity we are working to decolonize, we do it for the sake of all of us, for a better community, for a better Us.

In whatever capacity we name our grief, we do it because others grieve, too.

We watch that last leaf fall or that first snowflake appear, and we recognize the tension. We see Christmas ads that display toxic consumerism and we hope for another way.

We believe in the magic of loving one another.

We believe in the sacred art of breathing deep.

We trust and learn and acknowledge the tension of what it means to be human.

Onward, together, friends.

Happy Holidays.

 


 

 

In case you missed it, I wrote a Holiday Blessing recently.

Feel free to use it for any holiday gatherings that seem fitting.

 

Remembering Our Single Parents This Christmas

during this holiday season, let’s remember our single parents.-2.png

I’ve been doing what a lot of Americans do during the Christmas season: watching cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. Recently I watched one called My Santa, a movie about a single mother who falls in love with Santa’s son. While I wouldn’t recommend you spend an hour and a half watching it like I did, it reminded me of the difficult time so many single parents have at this time of year.

I was a child of a single parent at one time, and right now I’m solo parenting for a few weeks. Every time my partner goes on a trip, I’m reminded of that time when my mother had to care for three kids and work full time. I remember that she was tired, and while the holidays are still really sweet memories, simple memories—I don’t think as a child I picked up on the stress that she carried constantly. What I remember is that we listened to Nat King Cole and Harry Connick, Jr. while we decorated the tree. What I remember is gratitude that I was loved.

After my partner had been away for a few days, I shared a thought on Twitter about how hard it is to be parent, and at the end I said, “Please tell me I’m not alone in this?”

A flood of responses came in, parents of all ages telling me that I am not alone, that parenthood is hard and beautiful, that our children are a handful and that’s absolutely okay.  I was given permission to breathe a little instead of telling myself over and over that everything was fine and I shouldn’t be stressed because I have a good life. I was forcing gratitude on myself so that I couldn’t admit that it’s just hard sometimes.

And because we don’t like to admit it when things are hard, we don’t let others admit it, either. We often make it more difficult for our single parents, especially in a society that prides itself on consumerism and the idea that kids can ask for whatever they want from Santa and will get it.

It puts single parents, who are often struggling to make ends meet, in a difficult, exhausted position, not to mention the fact that they are missing out on the partnership that gives them the opportunity to receive their own gifts on Christmas morning.

It snowed here in Georgia recently, and that morning, I noticed a lot of birds flocking to our empty bird feeders that hang from hooks out front. So I refilled all of our birdfeeders out in the yard, and watched as birds flocked to the newly filled feeders, stocking up on food before the snow began to fall and the temperatures dropped. I watched, with great honor, the creatures I had the chance to care for. I was in awe that I had the energy to care for creatures other than my two boys and our puppy, because while I’ve loved our time together, it’s been exhausting.

I remember single parents who do not always have the ability to step back and rest and care for others because they are exhausted and this season requires so much from them. I remembered that the years when I had a single mother, we struggled but found grace in the kindness of others who took the time to care for us, whether it was our  landlord or family friends.

So during this holiday season, let’s remember our single parents. Let’s remember that those of us who have partners shouldn’t take it for granted. Let’s practice sensitivity over judgment, and follow a few simple rules in honor of the single parents around us:

Don’t Assume.

This isn’t a time to wonder if a parent is single because they are divorced, or because they had a child out of wedlock, or because their partner died. It’s not a time to wonder how much they’re putting in the offering plate or why they seem so exhausted around their kids. This is a time to hold space and to give as much grace as possible. It’s a time to listen instead of talk. It’s a time to embrace the idea that our souls are connected to one another because of our humanity, and that is enough.

Let go of consumer culture.

One of the best things we can do for our children, for our culture and those who are less fortunate in it, is to pull ourselves away from the constant consumer culture that involves Black Friday sales and expensive shopping malls. For those of us who love gift-giving, consider shopping at antique malls or thrift stores, making homemade gifts or sharing an experience with a loved one. If we can change our culture, maybe we can make space for the single parents in our midst to do what they can for their own families with our full support.

Offer Holiday Help.

If you know people in your life who are single parents, reach out to them. Let them know that you see them, that you’re aware of the difficulties they face during this time. Offer your time so that they can wrap some presents or have an afternoon to themselves, or invite them over for a holiday meal. Drive around and look at Christmas lights together. Bring them into your spaces, put yourself in their spaces, and learn what it means to be community to one another.

 Be Kind to Strangers.

As a general rule, right now everyone needs to be kind to everyone else. This goes beyond social, political and religious circles. We cannot afford to continue living in such a toxic, dual mindset that seeks to divide anywhere we can divide. Actions and attitudes like this begin in the heart and trickle out to everyone around us, creating waves of chaos and hurt.

Often, our children get caught in our fights, and this holiday season, we need to make space for our children to simply be children, and for our single parents to have peace to care for them without worrying about being judged by their neighbors or a stranger on the internet. So we practice kindness in the grocery store, in the airport where a single parent is traveling with their children. We buy someone a cup of coffee. We practice it at the park, standing in line at the post office to mail packages.

Maybe if we put on Christ-likeness this Advent season, we’ll take on the work of being blessing to those who are tired and in need of that kindness, and we will remember that God chose one single woman to bring the Savior into the world in the most beautifully humble way.

May we remember that as we care for the single parents in our midst this holiday season, as we thank them for the hard and beautiful work they do every single day.