Breathe Easier

I’ve always loved this time of year: the lights, the music, the food, the gifts and the cheer. But there have been tough holidays, too–the first Christmas without my brother was incredibly horrible. My grief was so overwhelming that I had to smoke a joint before I could leave my room. Last Christmas, the first without either of my parents, I cried every day of December and silently sobbed numerous times on Christmas Day. And I know, for many of you, this Christmas will be lonely or filled with grief. Many of my friends lost a parent this year, a friend lost her adult son, and I lost two friends just in the past month. Or maybe you can’t be with your loved ones because of COVID-19 and you’ll miss the gingerbread cookies or that spiked eggnog your stepfather makes or you’ll just miss the comradery, the hugging, the love.

So…what do you do? How can you get through this holiday with some kind of good cheer?

There’s always Zoom or FaceTime or phone calls. It’s not the same but it can ease the loneliness a bit. Or how about driving a few hours just to drop off a little gift and give a few friends a great big smile at how silly you look?

Penelope Twinkle Toes

Since I know this year has been tough on so many, I wanted to do a little something for a few of my friends. These women are colleagues who have become friends and they’ve done a bit of extra hand-holding with me this past year and although I hope I had reciprocated their kindness, I needed to do more. Hence my adorable outfit. ūüėČ

Since I was little, I loved unicorns. Remember those Lisa Frank stickers and notebooks with the pastel colored unicorns and rainbows and all that jazz? I loved that shit. Still do. And now that I’m closing in on 50 years old, I can embrace my weirdness. I can fly my freak flag high—and wear a purple unicorn onesie wherever and whenever I want. So I traveled over two hours to briefly visit with a few of my friends with a goodie bag of treats in the hopes of making their day. And mine. This was seriously the best gift I may have ever given myself. I absolutely LOVED seeing their surprised faces. It brought me so much joy! It made me a bit envious of Santa–except the landing on roofs or going down chimneys–that part doesn’t look like fun.

I’ve done a few other gift drop offs since my Santa Unicorn day–sans the unicorn outfit–and hope to do a few more. A visit, even if it’s a masked 6 feet away visit, is the best gift anyone can give or receive right now. And if you can’t do that, just send a note. Seriously. Please let people know you’re thinking of them and care for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived–that is to have succeeded.” My friend, Tracy, died of cancer last month. She was 47. One of the very last things she ever wrote me was that I was one of the sweetest people she’s ever known. Her words made ME breathe easier. I didn’t know what to do for her and said as much, but then she gave me the ultimate kindness of telling me I’ve done ok. That I’m a decent person.

I don’t know if I made my friends breathe any easier when I showed up at their homes and work places in a unicorn costume, but I made them smile and laugh and tear up a smidge. For now, that will do.

Let’s strive to have more lives breathe easier.

May you all experience joy and good cheer during this holiday season. Hugging you all from afar.

Hail and Farewell

Today on CBS Sunday Morning, there was a long segment entitled “Hail and Farewell” featuring many famous people that died this past year. My husband and I watched in awe and sadness as many performers we knew as kids and teens were gone–the voice of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, Caroll Spinney; the voice of Minnie Mouse, Russi Taylor; musicians Eddie Money and Ric Ocasek (of The Cars); actors Peter Fonda and Diahann Carroll and for us, the absolutely incredible and lovable Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca in the Star Wars films.

But as the photos passed by on the screen and the narrator talked about these people and their amazing accomplishments, I could only think of the two people that passed away this year that had the most influence on my life.

A rare photo of my parents together and smiling.

My parents may have not influenced a world with their charm or musical ability, but they influenced a generation–their children. My father’s sense of humor and ability to laugh at nearly everything (“You can either laugh or cry, but laughing feels better”) was passed down to the three of us kids, but with my brother embracing that philosophy more than my sister and I. My mother’s work ethic was drilled into each of us, although her obsession with a clean and/or picked up house was certainly a trait I inherited (but I’m not nearly as good at it as she was).

My parents also passed down their love of Christmas and family. Christmas was an event in our home growing up. We were not church going folk and the three of us kids actually became giant skeptics, yet Christmas was “celebrated” by being together. It was our time to be a family and exchange gifts and eat good food and enjoy each other. Truly. Even after my parents were divorced and my stepfather moved in, we all still had Christmas together. It was so strange to other people, but not to us. It was our normal. And I’m absolutely grateful my parents were able to set some issues aside and be together at least once a year.

The tradition continued as we children grew up and found partners and had children. We still all met sometime during the Christmas season to be together. When we had our family Christmas a few weeks ago, my sister and I tried to make our parents proud and have a big extravaganza for our family. We did the usual exchange of gifts and ate great food but we added some games to the mix and made it a little more fun and loud. It was good. But we also felt a great absence. I felt uneasy at times, knowing that something….or someone was missing. At the end of the day, my sister, my husband, my brother-in-law and I all toasted our family–Phil, Dad & Mom–they were sorely missed and will never be forgotten.

And now a new year is about to begin. A new decade without 3/4 of my family. A new year of my son growing to be a little giant and acting and looking so much like my brother. The beginning of my life as an orphan, without the two people I turned to for advice and comfort and love. Another year of living with grief and learning how to keep taking those steps forward without turning to alcohol or food or complete inertia.

I’m beginning 2020 with trying to run again. I’m slow and it’s difficult but I don’t push myself too hard yet. I just move and see what happens. I’ve started taking an antidepressant, hoping that will help move me along, too. I’ve also booked a vacation for my family and I in April so we have something to look forward to.

I need this coming year to be different. I know I can’t have my family back, but I can write about them and you can read about them and their lives will live on in a way. It’s not exactly the way I want it, but I have no choice in the matter. I know I still have guilt and anger and frustration that’s mixed in with my grief that I must deal with, but that is for another day and probably another year.

I don’t know if I’ll make any resolutions for 2020. A friend recently asked people to post on FB what they were most proud of accomplishing this past year, and one of our good friends said, “Surviving.” Maybe that should have been mine, too. I do hope I accomplish a little more than that next year, but it’s always good to have low expectations, right? Maybe instead of surviving, I can make a resolution to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward.

Friends, I wish you all a safe new year and may you be as happy as you can possibly be.

Here I Come A-Wallowing

I was feeling really happy this week. Really hopeful. I had many good conversations with library patrons, friends and family over the past few days. I reached my goal weight on Thursday. Someone asked about my mom’s house and is interested in buying it. I applied for a new job at my library and felt good about it. And I’ve been looking forward to a few holiday activities I planned with my family–our annual gathering with my extended family, an upcoming viewing of Elf the Musical with my boy, and ushering for Santaland Diaries with my dear friend, Tiffany.¬† So many cool things coming up. Life was good.

And then Friday evening happened. Once I got home from work, I made clam dip for my family’s get-together the next day. I went to the bedroom to get comfy and my husband came in and closed the door. He said to me, “Remember what it says in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” He then handed me a towel. “You always need a towel…and don’t panic.” Then he told me he got laid off from his job that afternoon. A permanent layoff. I stood there for a minute until he made me sit down before I fell down.

You need to understand something. We’ve been through this…many times. When we were first married, my husband found it difficult to find work and then he was laid off quite a few times in the first 12 years of our marriage. But we’ve been lucky for the past 8 years and felt somewhat job secure. But the last time my husband was laid off, he didn’t find work for 18 months. That’s a year and a half, people. I nearly divorced him by the end. He was withdrawn and depressed and I couldn’t take it anymore.¬† The only reason we didn’t lose our house was because my mom helped us. But there is no one to help us anymore. We are it.

After I sat on the bed, my husband sat beside me and we stayed in the bedroom for a few minutes, trying to wrap our heads around the mess, hashing things out. Husband told me about another guy laid off the same day who had a little baby at home. There were a few layoffs the week before and a few more to go next week apparently.¬† It’s crappy no matter how you look at it.

Then we came out of the bedroom to tell our son. I kept my shit together until then. But once we told him, he wanted a hug and then we all cried. I explained that there would still be a few Christmas presents because I had already purchased some and he immediately said he didn’t care about that.¬† I told him that his allowance he received that day would have to be the last one until Papa got a job, but his chores would need to continue. And that we’d need to cancel a few subscription services immediately.¬† He was ok with all of that, but was worried about food and our home. So was I, but tried not to show it.

The next day, I went to Mom’s to visit her for a bit, but I never mentioned the layoff. I knew Mom would probably forget it anyway, but there’s no reason to worry her even for a moment. When I returned home, the three of us went to our family gathering. (I just couldn’t take Mom to this one. It’s very difficult to get inside my dad’s house and I think the amount of people would have been too much.) Some people already knew about the layoff, and we told the others that didn’t. We tried to just enjoy ourselves and perhaps eat our feelings for the afternoon. Which we did.

Then last night, as we got ready for bed, I asked the boy if he’d like to have his new light on, a Christmas gift he just received from his cousins.

darthlightHe said yes but then, “Well, how¬† much energy does this use?” He asked about other lights in the house, too, and what could we shut off while we were home. ¬†You know, I’ve been trying to get the kid to turn off lights for a few years now, but I really didn’t want him to finally learn this way!

He was definitely concerned with how much everything costs. Everything. Apparently I wasn’t hiding my panic about the bills very well. (I was calculating all of our expenses in my head over and over until I finally just threw my hands up. If only I had a money tree!) Both my husband and I are trying to reassure our son that we’ll be ok, but we’re also not lying about what could happen if Papa doesn’t find a job soon.

There is no doubt that my husband is grieving over this job. He really thought he would be there until he retired in another 15 or 16 years. He liked his work and the people he worked with. This is a real blow to him, to his confidence. He’s really trying to be positive and already has a few places he plans on applying to, but I also know how sad he is.

Today, he spent much of the daylight hours cleaning out his work van (essentially his office), washing his uniforms to give back to the company, working on his resume, packing away his phone and laptop to give back. All of the stuff you have to do when you have to leave a job. So at this point of the day, after watching my husband and helping him when I could, I think I am at the anger stage of our grief. I am royally pissed off.

Really, Universe? Really? *shaking my fist*

This was the first year in quite some time when I could purchase little gifts for my family members and send holiday cards out without feeling like we’re hemorrhaging money. We even adopted a local family through Christmas Is For Kids. I’m so grateful I had already purchased their gifts because I knew I couldn’t say, “Sorry unnamed family! There is no magic of Christmas. Just disappointments and despair!” And although I haven’t purchased stamps for my cards yet, I’m still going to. I won’t send as many as I used to and I still can’t write a holiday letter yet because the world isn’t as bright without my brother, but I will send a few cards. It gives me little heps of happiness. (Thanks for the term “hep”, Paula Poundstone!) As do the lights on my tree and my beautiful Christmas unicorn, Fred. (Tacky? I don’t give a shit.)

fredunicornSo this holiday season, I will first attend a pity party I’m having. It will feature me, lots of cookies and a glass or two of wine. Then I’m going to pull up these damn big girl panties, give the finger to the universe, and attempt to spread a pile of kindness and good karma out into the world once again.

But first, another cookie, a good rest and hopefully some kick-ass dreams.

Happy holidays, my friends. ‚̧

Calvin and Hobbes and Santa Claus

I always get a bit nervous when I see my son’s teacher has sent me an email. I’ve gotten a bunch over the past few years. Some good, letting me know about something spectacular he had done that day (especially with writing, since that’s something he constantly struggles with), and a few that were not so good. Mostly about his behavior or a scuffle on the playground.

And this week? This week I got the email¬†informing me that my child was telling everyone in his class that Santa didn’t exist and it was just their parents putting the gifts under the Christmas tree.

Oh shit.

A few months ago, I briefly mentioned in this blog, the evening¬†my boy found out the truth about Santa Claus from a Calvin and Hobbes comic. He¬†cried himself to sleep that night, and kept repeating, “I’ve lost a friend! I’ve lost a friend!”¬†The day after this happened, he went into complete denial mode and I just let it go. It was in the summer and I didn’t feel the need to discuss it anymore at that time, and he definitely didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

I started thinking about this again a few weeks ago but was really unsure how to bring it up. I really, really wanted him to face the truth. I hate lying to him and¬†I¬†wanted to stop the charade. I don’t think he ever noticed the different wrapping paper or hand writing or any of the other tricks we¬†implemented, so why even bother? I wanted him to figure this out himself, I guess. Although is it better to tell your child, “Hey, I’m sorry but I’ve been lying to you your entire life,” or is it better for them to figure it out (or read about it) and feel betrayed? It’s all just icky.


Instead of finding a way to bring this up, my son did it on his own. He mentioned Santa a few times last week, and I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. He knew the truth and I wasn’t going to flat out lie anymore, so I let him think about it. At that time, I had no idea he would say anything to his friends. NO IDEA! I thought he hadn’t completely admitted to what he really knew, so there was no sense saying anything about keeping it¬† a secret.

After getting the email from his teacher,¬†I told my boy that he needed to keep the information about Santa to himself and he asked why. I told him that it might upset some kids and they didn’t need to know this right now and they didn’t need to hear it from him.¬†He kept whispering,¬†“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, I didn’t know. I’m really sorry.”¬†I let him know that it wasn’t his fault. I was responsible for this. I never told him not to say anything. Apparently when¬†my kid learns something new, everyone needs to know about it.

I asked my son why he told people about what he learned. “Some kids were talking about Santa and I thought they should know the truth. They don’t know, Mom!” I told¬†my son¬†if any of his friends asked him about Santa and the presents, that he needed to tell them to ask their parents about¬†it and let those parents deal with it from there. (And if any of you are parents of children in my son’s class, I AM SO SORRY!)

In¬†a weird way, I feel proud of the kid. Even though he hated the truth, he felt others shouldn’t be left in the dark. And maybe he didn’t want to feel so miserable by himself, which is exactly what I would have done. Misery loves company, right?

I thought I’d feel really sad when this little piece of Christmas magic died out, but I’m not. If you know me, you know that I *love* Christmastime. I love the music, the lights, the gifts, the movies, the stories, the whole shebang. And I love Santa Claus. I love the entire idea of him and what he stands for. Giving because it feels good is a fantastic thing.¬†But I don’t like telling my child that this old man sneaks into our house once a year and leaves¬†boxes in our living room¬†while we’re sleeping, nor do I like telling my child that it’s ok to sit on that old guy’s lap. Seriously. All of that is really creepy.

Now my child will know that his parents stay up way too late on Christmas Eve and wrap and put things together and make everything appear picture perfect, all because we think he’s pretty darn great.

Star Wars figurines? $20

Video game?  $50

Knowing how awesome your parents are?