Monthly Archives: December 2014

One Single Mom’s Guide to Christmas Day…

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I should first probably say that I have now been a single mom for more years than I was married.  I have been doing this for a while.  In fact, I’ve been doing this single mom thing for so long that my kid is almost not nearly a kid anymore (except in terms of we are all kids at heart).

Let me also say this.  We haven’t always done Christmas Day very well.  Here at our house most holidays, including birthdays, spring breaks, Christmas and New Years have not always gone so well.  Madison has aspergers disorder, and when she was younger…”special days” were really hard around here. 

So one year I figured out that instead of trying to squish all of the wonderful holiday cheer into the Christmas season, we should maybe try more of the “underachievers” holiday festivities.  I kind of made a universal decision that we perhaps needed a bit less of everything.  Less noise, less stuff, less pressure.

We changed things up.  Stopped spending our holiday traveling and began staying in Charlotte.  The first year we stayed in town, a very good friend began inviting us for her Christmas Eve festivities.  Hers and two other families had a yearly dinner.  Shrimp Fettuccini, grilled asparagus, bread (my contribution), and wonderful desserts.  It’s hours of talking and fun and food.  It’s a little bit perfect.  When we’re done, there’s a candlelight service at our church, and then we go home, fat and happy.

Then morning comes…

Christmas Day was always a bit tricky once we started staying in Charlotte.  We were never quite sure what to do with the whole, long day.  Everyone has family to visit (we don’t since my brother moved away years back) and the city practically closes for the day–a fact that has produced some altogether odd Christmas Days.  Let me sum up.  There was the year I found myself looking for an onion on Christmas day to make tomato bisque from a recipe a friend had shared as part of our Christmas gift.  That Christmas day we ended up at the only Harris Teeter in town that Google said was open.  Unfortunately for us, Google lied.  We found ourselves in the middle of uptown staring up into the darkened windows of the HT, very upset and quite unable to make the delicious soup we were both looking forward to for dinner.  On the way back from the Harris Teeter that Christmas Day, we stopped at the gas station for a redbox movie to soften the blow.  I went inside, set my keys down and looked at the newspaper headlines.  Then I forgot where my keys were.  40 trips to the car and back later I found them in the newspaper pile.  By then Madison had given up and walked the 3 blocks home.  She’d had enough by then.

Two years ago we decided to have Korean food on Christmas Day.  Called and found Huwon Garden on Independence was open.  We headed out for supper around 5.  We had a nice meal–bibimbap is my favorite, and came home satisfied.  I was excited because everything went off without a hitch.  But then that’s where I run into problems.  I’m gullible enough to believe that if things go off without a hitch once, that will just be happening from now on.  I have obviously won the life lottery, and everything from now on is cake.

This brings me to the second year of going to have a delicious Korean dinner.  Our next year of going out to Huwon Garden, we were so excited.  We had a “tradition” that we were following on Christmas Day, when everyone we knew was with their large, extended families and we were left to face the post-Christmapoclyptic city on our own.  We put on nice clothes, got ready, began to anticipate, drove out to independence.  Apparently though, in the year since we’d visited Huwon Garden, the owners had either converted from Buddhism to Christianity, or more likely, decided not enough Charlotteans actually wanted Korean food on Christmas Day to justify staying open.  In any case, for the second time in three years we found ourselves staring into darkened windows, without much hope for the future of our Christmas Day celebration.We drove past one closed restaurant after another that night until finally seeing an open sign at Solstice in NODA.  It was open, but serving only a limited appetizer menu.  By this time we’d begun to get the picture.  We were terrible at Christmas Day.  We didn’t have very good luck–except that one blessed Christmas Day Miracle of the Huwon Gardens Korean food which will never again repeat itself.  That night, as we were leaving, I happened to notice a guy on a bench in front of the Fire Department in NODA.  It was so cold outside and I knew that despite the small size of our family, we were going home to a warm house.  So when that guy asked me the time, I told him…then I turned around, walked back to his bench, and handed him the ten dollars I had in my pocket.  That was just one year ago tomorrow.

A lot has changed in the months since then.  This Christmas, Madison went off and picked out gifts for me that she paid for with money from her job.  I can’t even explain how wonderful/heartbreaking/bittersweet this has been.  We had another disastrous cookie baking party the other day–our frosting never comes out the correct consistency and this year’s cookies looked like bad acid trip hallucinations.  She also made tomorrow’s plans which we hope are disaster proof (knock on wood).  We are getting a late start, finishing up the new bed she got for Christmas this year and heading out to see Into The Woods.  We will try and find some food along the way and we are definitely hoping to find some sun after this long week of rain and dreariness.

What I’ve come to appreciate about our small, sometimes not very successful, Christmas Days together is that once I was finally able to let go of what I thought Christmad Day “should” look like, it became something so weird and wonderful, and so unique to us.  We still talk about last year’s Korean Dinner that wasn’t, and I still remember that cold man on the bench outside the Solstice in NODA.  We will never forget the lesson that some years you will simply not receive the Miracle of the Christmas Onion (in case you are counting on that).  You may get something entirely unexpected instead.  That is what I can absolutely say about our little family’s Christmas Days.  The day itself is the gift.  Sometimes we get a gift we might like to return, instead we have to stick it up on the shelf and let it sit there a while.  Eventually it might grow on us.  Other times it’s quirky but perfect.  Always though, what I’ve come to be so thankful for is the gift of this funny, unflinching girl who is somehow nearly almost grown, and can help find the funny parts of life’s small disasters….on those Christmas Days when the universe doesn’t seem to want to give you the perfectly planned Christmas movie gift, but instead gives you something way more spectacular, which is called life.

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The Gift

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By: Bethanie Johnson

I’ll be honest, the last few Christmases have been difficult. Two December’s ago, the Connecticut school shooting happened and I was just broken over that, partly because I work in a school and kept looking at my kids in the days after, knowing how I treasure them, even the most challenging. Understanding in those days that life isn’t promised and knowing that all we can do in any moment we’re alive is keep loving and treasuring even the most difficult among us.

Then last year my Mom had a heart attack right after Thanksgiving. It was such a shock to our whole family. Again I was reminded that the people and community and family I secretly believe and hope will continue forever, doesn’t. Our lives aren’t promised to us and they aren’t unending and that is a difficult thing to have to grasp.

This season has been hard for new reasons. Madison is seventeen. This is her last year of high school. It is obvious and everywhere that while I was assuming this moment would continue forever in this way, it won’t. My Dad had his heart stopped and re started last week. My Dad is from Northern Illinois. He comes from that old breed of stoic farm stock. He’s been a work horse all his life. We depended on that, always. At Thanksgiving he told me he’s had a good life. I sighed audibly, impatient with those words. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to hear was a lie…the promise that doesn’t exist which is, “I will live forever. Nothing will ever happen to me.”

I came home after Thanksgiving and made a mistake in my checking account and began to feel that I was just on a sinking ship and my life would continue indefinitely to be what raft guides jokingly refer to as a “shit show.”A shit show is when one raft gets stuck somewhere inconvenient or worse, flips somewhere inconvenient. Then every raft that comes after that runs amok off of that first one.

But you know, eventually the mess gets cleaned up and things run smoothly again (both in life and on the water), at least for a little while. That is the place I came to this week, after the, “Series of Unfortunate Events” was over.

That was when I also realized how blessed I am–again I had to notice this. Last week I came to a place where I couldn’t manage on my own.Instead I had to look some of my friends in the eye and admit how very fragile I sometimes am…how hopelessly flawed. And then my friends, as I spoke to them about my life and the crazy…they all just said, “Well yeah. We’re all like that.” Then they held me up and got me here, to a better week.

That is life isn’t it? Sometimes you do the holding up and sometimes you are the held. That is the gift. It’s what we have in this temporary life…to love and be loved.