The Constants of Christmastime

ChristmasHi everyone.  It’s been a long time.  Too long.  Thought I’d share the piece below, which I wrote for a small local paper a few weeks back.  Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving, and a blessed holiday season…

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They did it.  That radio station, which shall remain nameless, flipped the switch and flooded my minivan with Christmas music.  My son’s ninja costume is still sprawled across his bed.  There’s nary a turkey in sight, and yet everywhere I go I hear jingle bells.

The hustle-and-bustle ramps up, and the premature jolly runs the risk of wearing out its fur-trimmed welcome long before Christmas morning.  That’s the way of things now, isn’t it?  The stores are open on Thanksgiving this year so we can duke it out for the “it” toy.  Because nothing says gratefulness like an elbow-check to the kidney. 

Still, each of us is eventually and inevitably enchanted by the only holiday that still holds magic.  That got me thinking.  What is it about Christmas that continues to cast its reindeer-dust spell?  For all the commercialism we’re plagued with, for the must-have toys and the ever-changing technology that demands to be updated, how is it that that undeniable, unspecified merriness…that je ne sais quoi (pardon my French) never fails to take hold?

I think it’s because, no matter what excess we tack onto the holidays, it’s the Christmastime constants that hold us fast.

It’s the memories.  It’s the sharp pine scent or the rich taste of eggnog that whisks us back and, in that moment, it’s as if we’re reliving every Christmas all at once.  The flash of tinsel or the sound of sleigh bells brings on a heart-swell, and for a breath we’re certain Santa is still creeping down the chimney.

It’s the children.  For us grown-folk, it’s a time of stress and checklists and gift receipts.  But when we watch little ones’ wide-eyed wonder as we recite T’was the Nite Before Christmas, or retell that age-old story of the Star and the Wise Men and the manger, the birth of a single, fate-changing child…we can’t help but feel it, too. 

It’s the spirit of outward focus.  We give.  We pause for a visit with the neighbor and we realize it’s been far too long.  For a time, we forget ourselves, and it feels heavenly.  Why?  Here’s what I think.  When some big-time skeptics tried to trick Jesus into choosing the most important of the ten commandments, He had this to say:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  I’ve often wondered, even if you’re a non-Christian, how can you argue with that second part?  If we all got just this one thing right, if we all shunned our respective selfishness gene, imagine how different the world would be. 

It’s the silence.  If you haven’t noticed it before, pay attention this season.  There’s always a silence.  The first snowfall.  The hush that follows the last bow on the last wrapped present.  The moments of shimmering twilight on Christmas Eve, or the quiet of Christmas morning.  It’s a soul-soothing silence of quiet reflection, when you feel all the good in the world, both real and potential.

These things are Christmastime constants.  Never changing, they will always be integral to a life well-lived.  No matter what the media or the government or the Joneses cast our way, we strengthen ourselves with these timeless truths, and our hearts are anchored through the years by the things that matter most.

Merry Christmas


Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at



What I learned from a dancer’s heart

ImageMy four-year-old daughter had her little dance recital in late June.  This was new territory for me, so the ferocity with which her dance studio approached the rules of show participation surprised me.  They held no less than five rehearsals, plus two performances.  Miss one, and you’re outta there.

So I spent a week immersed in all levels of dance (though I declined the invite to be a backstage helper-mom – good Lord, one step at a time).  As I sat in the audience watching the dancers give their respective all, I got to thinking about my own creative outlet: writing.

For so many years I believed my writing had to be perfect before other eyes beheld it, that I had to have something Big and Important to say, and I’d better say it in exactly the right way.  I still struggle with this but, as I watched so many sequin-clad dancers move about the stage, two in particular showed me a thing or two about “the right way.”

The first girl performed a ballet solo.  Toe-shoes and all.  She also held the prestigious title of Jr. Miss Dance Michigan.  She glided onstage in a luminous lavender gown and danced to a dreamy version of John Lennon’s Imagine.  Her limbs stretched impossibly and she leaped and flipped and pirouetted until I felt dizzy.  On my lap, my enchanted daughter sat still for the first time in six months.  Mommy, I want to do that.  Indeed, the girl’s hard-earned technique, to my untrained eye, was perfect.  At fourteen, she possessed the poise of Grace Kelly, with her litheness and her proud ribcage and her princess smile.  Her name will be in lights.  I want to write like that, babygirl. 

The theater went dark to awed murmurs and polite applause.

The spotlight flared, and a new girl in black materialized.

This girl was not a ballerina.  Her powerful limbs ended right where human limbs should…and then she began to move.  She pushed into a folksy song about love and broken trust and solace-seeking. At seventeen, she managed to channel emotions she hadn’t lived long enough to feel.  She managed to become the song.  As the music built to a crescendo, she grasped and fell and pounded the floor with the desperation of the danger of loss.  My heart ached for her and yet, all the while, she exuded joy.  The joy of freedom, of a fearlessly displayed heart, of body and soul and music.  She commanded my heart to reach for hers and, gauging from the audience’s response, she commanded theirs, too.

No, I want to write like that.

In the span of ten minutes, two lovely and diverse young ladies reminded me that, when it comes to art, as long as it’s heart-filled, there is no right way.  There is only the way of the artist, and there’s room for us all.

Image courtesy of sattva at

An informal poll re: school fundraisers

Part of my new PTA role involves running the school fundraiser, which means I get to hear lots of pitches.  A parent approached me yesterday to tell me that she’d had it up to here with the cookie-dough sales and peanut-chocolate turtles (and was I aware of the peanut-allergy epidemic?) and other tchotchkes that families were expected to buy in order to support the kids and their school.  Why couldn’t she just write a check and be done with it?

I thanked her for her candor and told her I’d keep her suggestion in mind.

For me, working on the PTO board is like living on another planet.  I’m the new kid and have little knowledge of what’s viewed as acceptable with regard to fundraising.  In order to raise funds, do schools have to sell things that nobody wants?  On one hand, I know there are folks who enjoy the traditional fundraisers, and some view it as a way to teach their own kids. On the other hand, the woman who approached me yesterday wasn’t the first to express that particular view.

So I thought, since most of live nowhere near Small Town, Michigan, many of you can offer a non-biased perspective.  So, whether you’re a parent or a student or someone who likes to contribute to these things -or just someone with an opinion…what’s your take?

On lilacs and time travel

lilacThere’s something about scents; the way they fuse to moments.

The lilacs are finally in bloom.  When my husband and I built our house, my beloved grandmother gave me a little lilac bush, its lavender blossoms trimmed in white.  She’s gone now, and I see that her gift was two-fold.  I have a perennial reminder of my Mema, but I also have that scent.

Oh, that scent.

One enchanted breath, and I’m whisked to my childhood yard with its maple and pine and black-walnut canopy.  I feel the sweet spring breeze on my face as I race to that giant lilac bush with its ancient blooms that envelop the old quonset hut, which I’d claimed as my own.  I hear the rain soft on its roof as I settle in with a book and a blanket.  I hear my mother’s voice calling me in for an afternoon snack.  I see my father on the front porch, where he waits to share his iced tea with me and teach me opposites.

They say we can never go back, and that may be true.  But if, even for the length of a breath, all my thoughts and senses exist in 1980…then I say I’ve achieved time travel.

I cherish my childhood memories, but as I approach middle-age I realize that even the dearest ones begin to fade to shades of gold.  I find solace in the knowledge that, if (God willing) I make it to ninety like Mema and my mind grows tired, all I’ll need is a lilac.

That mysterious time before bed

My seven-year-old son plays it pretty close to the vest.  He’s king of the monosyllabic response:

Me:  Hey buddy, how was your day?

Alex:  Good.

Me:  What did you do at recess?

Alex:  Tag.

Me:  Sounds fun.  Tell me a little about your day?

Alex:  Later?

He was feeling particularly chatty that day, as I recall.  Now, I know better.  I know it’s highly unlikely that they’ll talk when you want them to, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Last night, I was looking forward to a bath and an early bedtime.  I ducked into Alex’s room, tucked in his covers, strategically molding around the Garfield book in which he’d buried his nose.  I kissed his forehead, whispered good-night and headed for the door.

“Mom?  Can I ask you something?”

I whispered good-bye to Me Time.  “Anything.”

“There’s this kid at school.  He used to be nice, you know, nice to everyone, but now he’s kind of mean.“

“Hmm.  Do you think maybe he had a bad day?”

“No,” he said.  “It’s like he’s a different person.  He’s just mean now.  He calls people names all the time.  Do people really change like that?”

I know the boy, he’s big for his age and typically friendly and he has a learning disability.  Alex confided that the other kids have been teasing him lately.  I called in Dad and we all talked it through.

I’m so grateful I didn’t miss that moment.

There are times when I do.  Sometimes I’m rushed and distracted, and I can get my priorities out of whack with the best of them.  But last night I got it right, and I want to remember…if we are willing to meet them where they are, the floodgates will eventually open.