Tis the season for all the Christmas events. There are the family gatherings, the company parties, the well-meaning friend get-togethers, school Christmas programs, Pray For Snow events, the lighting of the Christmas tree, various Christmas bazaars and fairs, and many many more. Which for me, as a long-standing single person who loves the holidays, means I end up attending a lot of these events alone. This is mostly no problem for me. It even has its perks. I can show up when I want, leave when I am ready, and I do not have to spend the entirety of an event worrying about whether my second person is having an ok time.
The only bothersome thing is that it often feels to me like I am the only one attending these events without a partner. And even though I am content with my singleness, sometimes being the solo person flying solo makes me wonder what on earth I am doing wrong.
A few days ago, I was a guest at a networking group I was unfamiliar with. Usually when I go to these events, I go in knowing most of the networkers are married or attached. Late into the meeting, a very handsome and well-dressed young man zoomed in and sat right next to me. I did the thing many of us single people do, and quickly glanced at his left hand. No ring. I spent the rest of the meeting mostly listening but a little bit trying to play it cool. We got to chatting after the meeting, and I learned he was from out of state. I asked what brought him to Idaho and he said, “Oh my wife is from here!” Ok yeah, I was a little embarrassed, thinking maybe he sat by me for some other reason than I was closest to the door… and that I was sitting next to the only empty seat in the room. But I brushed it off. I don’t come to these things in hopes of meeting a partner… right?
I attended a holiday party recently, in which I knew I would be the only unattached person there. I arrived in a bustle, casserole in arms, wearing my most confident outfit. Which was made only greater by my super cool, super confident knee-high black boots. After making introductions, the very lovely hostess kindly asked me if I would take my shoes off. This was a completely reasonable request. But I forget a lot of people have a no shoes in the house policy. It’s a good policy. I should have that policy. I don’t. I wear shoes almost all the time. And because I wear shoes almost all the time, I pay very little attention to my socks.
Matching and folding socks is something I gave up on years ago. As a result, we have a communal family sock basket. It is every man for himself in the mornings. Most of the time my socks don’t match. Sometimes they are inside-out. USUALLY they are clean, but in a pinch… The night of this party, I was NOT wearing my party socks. In fact, until I took off my power boots, I wasn’t sure what socks I was wearing. I was pretty sure they were clean. That was the best I could hope for. Turns out they were boy’s athletic socks. one calf height. One just above the ankle. And one was inside-out. They definitely did not go with my super confident skirt. I briefly considered removing the socks as well. But while I may be a shoe-wearing person, I am definitely not a pedicure person. I don’t have much extra time or money, and since my feet are usually covered, they become an out of sight, out of mind sort of thing. Add on years of running and other abuse, and I can safely say my feet are not my most attractive feature.
I started the party off feeling a little less confident than I did when I left the house. But once I got my groove and joined in a couple of conversations, it was fine. Better than fine. I was with a group of people I genuinely liked, who seemed to like me in return. And while I may have been the only single person there, I certainly was not the only person who came alone. I doubt anyone noticed my socks, and if they did, I doubt they used them as pillow talk after the party was over. We ate, we chatted, and we got to know each other better. I strengthened the bonds I already had, and created some new ones. Which after all, is the point of all these gatherings.
I imagine I will be single for some time to come. I am busy raising kids and running a business. And that’s about all I have brain space for at the moment. But I find the amount of quality people I am connected to gratifying. And sometimes overwhelming. They live in every corner of my life. Family, extended family, co-workers and close friends. I have an abundance of people I love, and who love me in return. I may attend all the parties alone, but in nearly all aspects of my life, I truly never feel lonely.
I always put my Christmas decorations up on November 1st. I realize this makes some of you like me less but I am ok with it. I have a whole bunch of redeeming qualities as a human, so allow me this one flaw. I love it. I love the lights, I love the music, I love the nostalgia.
October 31st might be my favorite day of the year. To me, it ushers in the holiday season in a most dramatic and terrifying way. It is the gateway to a joyous time of year.
This year I spent Halloween in depressive tears. There are several reasons the Halloween of 2022 did not bring me the joy Halloween usually does. I am divorced. Which I don’t mind at all. But what I do mind (and the very worst part of being divorced… fight me on this) is sharing holidays. I didn’t think I would be bothered one way or another about not having my kids for Halloween this year. Most of them are over the trick-or-treating phase anyway. I assumed it would just be a typical Monday, with a few extra knocks on the door. I was going to clean my house, make myself dinner, listen to my audiobook, and have an early night. I got home from work and instantly felt lonely. Then of course, a Facebook memory popped up of my kids in their younger years. My teenagers are marvelous humans. But nothing beats a toddler in a CaraBear costume. On seeing the Facebook memory I instantly burst into tears. The icing on the cake was the trick-or-treaters… I had FOUR. One was my son and his friends dropping by to say hello. Another was a teenage girl in the neighborhood, just checking to make sure I was ok. I live in a big neighborhood, with a lot of small children. I BOUGHT GOOD CANDY. And nobody came. I went to bed defeated.
Thanksgiving was a little better. I got to spend it with my folks and most of my siblings. Along with the best nieces and nephews on God’s green earth. But alas, none of my kids were there. I came to the Thanksgiving table with an attitude of “what’s the point”.. And again, went home feeling slightly defeated.
Which brings us to Christmas. It’s still early days, but it is worth talking about. I own a candy store that specializes in hand-made old fashioned chocolate. We do approximately one quarter of our yearly sales from December 1st-December 24th. Think about that. We can sell in one day in December what we sell in the entire month of June. It is pure chaos. This is year two as owner for me, which is shaping up to be a lot better than year one. Last year I barely survived. Case in point. Emmy had spirit week leading up to Christmas vacation. Every day they were supposed to wear some crazy Christmas something. We participated in none of it. Until Emmy insisted. It was Christmas Hat Day. Which she did not tell me about until the morning of. But it was important to her. And I was full of guilt. We live 5 minutes from Walmart, so 15 minutes before the bus came I literally ran to Walmart, grabbed the first Christmas hat I found, paid for it, ran home and threw it at Emmy just before the bus arrived. 30 seconds later, she came in and asked me why I would buy her a hat like this. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the hat I unknowingly bought my 10-year-old.
She assured me that it was fine. She would just cover it up (what??). I am still amazed I did not get a phone call from the principal.
This brings us to Christmas 2022. I am overwhelmed. I am sad. I am tired. And I am determined to make it great. I cannot change the fact that I have to share my kids during the holidays. And I cannot change the fact that I will be spending every waking hour at the candy store I love, just to ensure the holiday season is a great one. But I can control the way I feel about it. This is a wonderful season, full of joy, family, and magic. And despite the stress, I want to feel all of that. I am choosing joy.
Halloween 2023 will be here before you know it. Regardless of whether my kids are around or not, I am going to watch all the movies. I am going to dress up in the most ridiculous costume. I am going to deck the house out. I am going to sit in the driveway with a bowl of candy, and I am going to MAKE the trick-or-treaters come to me. And the next day, I am going to put up my Christmas decorations, and listen to Christmas music. And I am going to have the best holiday season ever.
I have always been drawn to the idea of doing big things. In the 5th grade, a classmate told me that her dad had just run a marathon and was so sore he couldn’t get out of his easy chair. I remember thinking “I don’t know what a marathon is, but I want that!”
I must have been 6 or 7 when I had the grand idea to build a rocket ship. I was going to use an old dairy carton for the cockpit, and hot chocolate as fuel. I was utterly serious. And I was seriously bugging my mom, who at the time was plenty busy with 5 small children. I think it is important that I do an aside here and say, my mom was an encouraging and loving mother. But she was also up to her elbows in very small children during the rocket ship incident. The second my dad walked in the door from work, she pawned me off on him. I have a vague recollection of hearing phrases like “talk some sense into her” and “do something about this”. So my dad pulled me aside, and asked me to tell him about my project. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember what he did next. He pulled out the old family encyclopedia, and we read all about rocket ships. Then he asked me in all seriousness if I would be willing to fly the rocket ship to California on the next trip to visit his family. He requested I take an extra kid with me. He said that way the old station wagon wouldn’t be quite so crowded. I nodded a silent assent, and we had a brief cuddle. Now I know I don’t need to tell you that my dad never really believed I could create a rocket ship. But he made me believe I could. And that was a gift. Like so many of my other big dreams, I forgot about the rocket ship and moved on pretty much instantly.
My propensity for dreaming big did not happen by accident. I observed, in my childhood, a mother who was always looking for the next great hill to conquer. And conquer she did. I grew up with siblings of a similar mindset. My brothers and sisters are impressive in their accomplishments. And don’t even get me started on my extended family. My aunts are a force to be reckoned with. Every last one of them. But nobody is a bigger dreamer than my dad. And I don’t mean the kind of dreamer who talks big and accomplishes little. My dad is the kind of dreamer who understand that every big accomplishment starts with a big dream. Bring that man your big idea, and he will dream along with you.
He knows, as well as I do, that sometimes the dreams don’t work out. But dreaming big is ok. It is fun. It is in fact, vital to quality of life. For every 10 dreams you have, if even one of them comes to fruition, it’s worth it. I have taken this prospective with me throughout my life. And I have done some pretty great things as a result. I have also had to let a lot of dreams go. Such is life. And I have no regrets.
I never did build my rocket ship. But I did run a marathon. And guess who ran it with me?
On Sunday morning, my youngest (age 11) asked if she could have a cookie while she waited for her pancakes to be ready. I didn’t say no. While she was eating her pancakes, she said “this doesn’t have enough flavor.” So she sprinkled her syrup soaked pancake with brown sugar. I didn’t protest. She ate about a half a pancake. And 30 minutes later she asked me if she could have lunch. I just shrugged a “why not?”
The young mom I used to be would have been appalled. But I am not a young mom anymore. I am an old mom. And a tired mom. And before you give me props for at least making breakfast for my kids, you should know that Emmy made the pancakes herself.
Motherhood is different at this older kid stage. I no longer have to take the four of them grocery shopping. I don’t have to use the method of “two in the cart, and two attached to the cart.. until the cart gets too full. And then one in the cart, and three attached to the cart… And nobody ask for anything. And we will stay in our budget. And nobody poop or pee their pants… and I WILL NOT CRY.”
My older sister Sarah has kids similar in age to mine. Back in the day she would occasionally call and asked if I wanted to go shopping with her. At Costco. Just her and I. And our collective EIGHT SMALL CHILDREN. Words cannot describe the chaos. It’s a wonder we were never kicked out. Those years were impossibly difficult in so many ways.
When I had my first two kids, I balked when I heard my young mom friends say “I didn’t even have time for a shower today.” The judgy and naive younger me would internally put hands on hips and squint one eye, and silently ask, “Did you not have time? Or did you choose other things?” Then my fourth child was born. And I was surviving in a house of four children under the age of 6. I had two kids in diapers, and my oldest was only in kindergarten. Which back then was like half-school.
Shortly after I brought my youngest home from the hospital, I got a new phone. I had not switched from my old phone yet. My husband came home from work, and as I was leaning over our 2-year-old son, changing what I can only imagine was the 37th diaper of the day, my husband asked “Mike from Sprint wants to know when you will be switching your phone over?” I lost it. I think I screamed something like “Well, you tell Mike from Sprint that I haven’t even had a chance to clean myself today. So if he wants me to switch my phone over maybe he should come over here and do it himself!” I believe at that point, my husband wisely said nothing, and backed out of the room.
My kids are older now. I am older, too. And “wiser” and “more settled” and all the other tropey things we seasoned mothers like to say. I am more “patient”. More “chill”. Being a mother is all around quite a bit physically easier.
I miss the younger years, though. Yes, they felt impossible at the time. But it was simple. All I had to do was provide for their basic needs. Sleep, food, love, repeat. There were a lot of easily enforced rules. Bedtimes rules (7:30, because mom needs a break), food rules (fine, don’t eat this delicious home-cooked meal, but you get nothing else), and sooo much time-out. Not to mention the cuddles. All the cuddles.
Now it’s all subjective. There is no one right way to raise teenagers. They are a mass of incomprehensible hormones, full of opinions derived from the information vortex that is TikTok. Every word that comes out of my mouth is checked and double checked, just to be sure I am not about to give my children anxiety, issues with authority, or god forbid, an eating disorder. But kids like boundaries, right? Or so I have been told. So I try and create rules. You know, because deep down teens like them? So here you go. A list of rules the have been implemented in our house. And eventually forgotten..
Fine, but no swearing at the table
Alright, no swearing at each other
No farting in public
Ok, no farting when we are all watching movies together
No farting in the car?
Don’t feed the dog from the table
Don’t let the dog sit at the table
For the love of all that is holy, don’t let the dog sit ON the table
Here is my hope. We laid the groundwork when my kids were small. Their dad and I provided relative structure, and a safe place. And at this point, as blossoming almost-adults I am happy to say they make good decisions. Not “I am going to be an astrophysicist” good decisions. More like “I am a good, kind person, and I will at least graduate from high school” good decisions. They will continue on this vein. They will become more amazing and successful versions of what they already are. I can take a small amount of ownership over this. I am aware I have had to let most of my young mom-ness go. Year to date, our household rules are narrowed down to three:
Clean your room before you leave the house
Tell me where you are going
No going number 2 in my bathroom
And you know what? My kids don’t follow a single one. I am ok with it. I am lucky to have them. They are my life and my greatest source of happiness. And my greatest source of pain.
Rachel is 17. She has never been particularly affectionate. When she was younger, I could get an occasional cuddle out of her. But as she approached adolescence, affection became something she tolerated instead of something she craved. While her sister gives me a giant hug every morning on her way out the door, I have to be content with a gentle arm pat and an “I love you” as a farewell to my oldest child. I have done my very best to respect Rachel and to give her physical space. But here is the thing. I AM affectionate. Especially with my kids. I would let them crawl inside my bones if it were physically possible. This means in the case of Rachel, I spend a great deal of time sitting on my hands to keep from reaching out to touch her.
Earlier this week, a friend of Rachel’s passed away unexpectedly. I know my child, and I know this is breaking her heart. I know her heart will be broken for some time. And I know she will keep it inside. All I want to do is hug her sorrow away. Talk and hug, talk and hug. So what is a mother to do when her best form of comfort is not what her child needs? I DON’T KNOW… But here is what I did. I stayed quiet. I stayed close. And I listened. At first she didn’t say much. But eventually, I learned how she felt about her loss in the brief sentences she shared with me. I didn’t fix her sorrow, and I know she is still in pain. But here’s the hard pill to swallow… it is not my job to fix her feelings.
A wise man once told me (ok I will admit it, the wise man was my therapist) that it is unreasonable and unkind to think it your job to make people feel better. Especially when what they are feeling has nothing to do with your actions. I can’t fix Rachel’s pain. But I can stay close. I can sit on my hands and let her talk if she wants. Or stay silent. Because that’s ok too. But every so often, in the midst of the talking and the silence, I still ask her “Do you want a hug?” And every so often, I get a yes.