Parenting is hard

It’s St. Patrick’s day. In 1984, my oldest child was born. I remember checking into the hospital and the nurse saying I would be having a  St. Patrick’s day baby and in honor of that, they would be tattooing a shamrock on the baby’s butt. Whether my serious expression was primarily fear of this whole birthing process or I was so tired I looked as if I were taking her seriously, she quickly assured me she was only joking.

B was probably 6 before she realized that the St. Patrick’s day parade we took her to each year was not actually held in honor of her birthday.

It’s 21 years this month since she left us, and I miss her still.

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3/17/2017 – B, Jan-1985; about 10 months.

And her final school picture, taken not long before she passed away.

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B – Jan-1996; not quite 12 yet.

March is a challenge every year. Not a day in the last 21 years passes that I do not think about her, and I would not have it any other way. Mostly I smile. Occasionally, I tear up and feel the weight of loss. Mostly, though, I really do smile. So much life and memories packed into 12 years and 5 days. In my heart I cherish all she was to those who knew her and turn away any and all thoughts of what might have been. Our time together was limited. I am glad to be someone who was present with my children, so my regrets about that time are so tiny and insignificant relatively to the balance of my life.

But parenting young adults is still hard.

C called early this morning after a major fight with her husband. Unfortunately this is not the heartbreak drama of teenage angst, but the seriousness of a grown-up married people. Trying to be fair and balanced – out the window. My kid is crying, having a panic attack over the telephone. Forget fair and balanced. A said cruel things and there is blood in my eyes.

Okay, not quite that bad.

Being her mother’s daughter, I cringe at some of C’s decisions and mannerisms that come directly from me. I know that when this kind of dust-up happens, it’s not just because A came home and decided to be a prick that day. Having been in Florida only a few months, there are a billion details that one takes for granted growing and becoming an adult in your own hometown. Finding doctors and dentists and making new friends – it is a process. And when shit hits, the gap between what you had before you moved crossed the country becomes the grand canyon.

I talked her down off the ledge, called and checked in on her more than I have in 20 years, since that first summer that she and her brother stayed home alone while M and I were both working. By the end of the day, she’d calmed down and made significant progress finding healthcare providers and making appropriate appointments … in a few weeks. But she found stop-gap help with a local clinic – a referral from an assistant manager at their apartment complex. And with a little guidance from me, began the outline of The Plan for what she would do if this type of thing should come up again.

As for me, it was a busy day at work with a lot of gratuitous meetings that did little other than frustrate me with stranger’s ability to demonstrate their cluelessness. I am a master at compartmentalizing, though, and chugged along and got through it. By the end of the day, though, I was unrepentantly swigging sugary soda.

Parenting is hard sometimes, something no one really stresses before you take on that role, and I am honest enough, selfish enough, to say I do not really love the responsibility and the job itself. But I love the kids involved, all of them, and my hopes for them hinge on their overall happiness. Even when things are not going so well and they do stupid shit that frustrates and/or irritates me, I have to believe they will learn from the experiences.

Another St. Patrick’s day, another of B’s birthdays in the history books.

I miss her.

 

 

The Princess bone

It has been a long day at the office, and for the second night this week, I found myself hanging out with the bosses while they enjoyed a beer (or 3). We started out in an actual meeting discussing our upcoming recruiting efforts and how the rest of the staff are holding up under yesterday’s events. In truth, I got very little actual work accomplished today, outside of attending a couple of meetings with clients. The rest of my time was spent reassuring staff and helping with reorganizing workloads and office spaces.None of this was unexpected.

My bosses are very good guys. They are extremely disciplined professionals with high standards and expectations for themselves as well as the staff they employ. However, they are also good guys, close friends as well as business partners, and I have falling into the fold nicely. So in many ways, I am conversationally one of the guys.

Since all 4 are in some stage of single and dating, the topic comes up fairly routinely. While I am not quite old enough to be their mothers (and I have met all their parents – lovely people), I am pretty far removed from the women they tend to gravitate toward in social circumstances. The joke is if there is a second or third date, I start wondering if I need to invite them to a office lunch so I can size them up for myself. Hopefully they continue to be secure, confident men who are highly unlikely to ask me what I think about their squeezes;  my honesty could go to war with my sense of employment self-preservation.

Just last week one of them told me my “Build a Better Butt” project (as I refer to my ongoing training with J and exercise pursuits) was working out well for me. I jokingly reminded him that he should be careful what he says to a female subordinate, that sort of trash talk could find him on the wrong end of a harassment complaint. He gives me the puzzled face – am I insulted? Should he not compliment me? Is the workplace hostile because he thinks I am looking fitter? Because I know he’s teasing in his defense, and genuine in his compliments, and not a slap-and-tickle disrespecting mysogenist, I do not take it seriously and have to laugh with him. Plus I take it as a huge compliment that he and the other bosses feel comfortable enough with me to know that I am not going to take their kindness in a wrong, litigious sort of way.

So today we somehow got on the topic of breast implants. One of their sisters is in her mid-30s, getting married later this year, shopping for a wedding gown, and considering breast enhancement surgery. The boss is very upset about this, feels his sister is absolutely beautiful just the way she is and immediately suspected this was coming from the fiance. Since we were just shooting the breeze anyway, he brought it up and asked me what I thought about it and what else he might say to try and get her to embrace her unaltered shape.

The whole conversation made me vaguely uncomfortable. Not because I was talking boobs with men I work with, because that part was perfectly fine. No, I was vaguely uncomfortable because I find the topic of plastic surgery of any sort makes me uncomfortable. And I am not precisely sure why, although I did try to articulate my general thought that while it seems like a bad idea she may come to regret, I was sort of stumped as to why it is I feel that way. But thinking about it driving home, chatting with M about it, I think I have a better and more complete reasoning on the subject.

Essentially, I lack the princess bone. Or gene. Or whatever it is that makes people have more vanity than I seem to possess.

When it comes to bugs, vermin, snakes, and frogs, I got a big giant body of skin in the princess game. I want someone to take care of the bug, vermin, snake, and frog post haste, while I cower on a high surface where the evil creepy things cannot get me.

But when it comes to issues like plastic surgery, it all seems rather pointless to me. And for someone who has felt like being invisible is preferable to being recognized for my basic average (at best) appearance, my logical mind says my insecurity about my appearance would make me a prime candidate for anything that would make me appear more mainstream pretty. Except my mind does not work that way. If it did, I would probably have a drawer full of cosmetics that I paint on daily. Instead, I have an new tube of chapstick waiting to be deployed when I lose the one in my purse right now, a rarely used tube of mascara, and I think maybe a lipstick that might have escaped my most recent decluttering mania. I could write whole blogs on my anxiety about cosmetics and fears of being viewed as a clown school candidate reject for my efforts in using them effectively.

With any type of elective surgery, my mind says it is dangerous, painful, not covered by insurance and therefore ridiculously expenses. And for me personally, really kind of pointless at this waypoint in my life. Many of my friends have had some work done, or are desiring to have some work done, and frankly my understanding does not seem expansive enough to be able to successfully empathize with them on the subject. Everyone ages. Everyone has some piece or part of their body they wish to change, and I am not sure doing so that way is ever going to be a good idea. Then again, I am not the one who has to be convinced or encouraged to embrace their new look. If you are my friend, you with less wrinkles and perkier butt or boobs or flatter stomach is not going to do much anything to alter that.

I think my discomfort comes from someone else’s level of dissatisfaction with their own body. Believe me, I have plenty of body issues myself and if elective surgery did not have risks and was not painful I might be tempted to consider that route to altering body as well. But it does have risks and surgery is painful, so I shall continue my build a better butt project within the confines of the gym, thank you very much.

I also think know there are reasons well beyond vanity that people undertake such drastic measures, and somehow it’s easier for me to understand breast reduction than breast augmentation. Removing patches of skin cancer and maybe having some nipping and tucking done at the same time seems reasonable. Having noses reshaped while having some sort of sinus problem repaired seems perfectly understandable. Essentially, if there is some medically necessary reason to go under the knife and you a couple of upgrades, it does not seem like such an extravagant decision.

Obviously, at my core, I am a practical person.

But for a young woman to consider breast implants before getting married just seems extreme and wrong. I would rather see her invest the money she would spend with a good therapist talking about why she wants to do such a thing and seeing if improving self-esteem without surgical body modification.

Sometimes it seems many of my male friends do not know any regular, down-to-earth women they can have candid conversations with, or I am just naive enough to be perfectly honest about what I think and how I feel. I was telling M about this exchange tonight and he says it’s probably because of their current relationship status. Maybe. Divorce does skew your perspective for awhile, as does ending of long-term relationships.

At the end of our conversation, I simply told my boss to continue to remind his sister that she’s a beautiful young woman and perfect just as she is right now. Because maybe that’s what she needs most of all: encouragement to be comfortable in her own skin and to be both supportive and specific about why she is beautiful, inside and out. With family and family dynamics, I am kind of fuzzy about whether or not such statements make a difference. In my own family of origin, it was not normal or natural for my sibling or my parents to compliment me ever. With M and my children, though, I am unwavering in my support and encouragement of the development and good people qualities, including physical appearance when appropriate. My theory is that sincerity of affection is more meaningful than being told not to do something because big brother does not like or is terrified of the consequences of such action.

 

 

 

 

 

Death and taxes

Things have been humming along in my little world. Work, gym, more work, more gym. There is a lot of other stuff in between, but the bigger events seem to revolved around work, exercise and the better health quest.

M and I have been trying to declutter, although it is slow going. Where I am a slash-and-burn sort of toss first, contemplate later type decluttered, M is more a contemplate, ponder, let sit, contemplate more … and then decide to keep anyway sort of person. Not a lot of progress being made where it’s “our” stuff or “his” stuff. Our stuff, slightly more than his stuff, but still not enough stuff leaving the homestead to satisfy me.

I have become an expert at counting to 10 and reminding myself that I love this man and that compromise is part of life and happy marriages. I still wonder why it must be that way. Why can’t he’s just nod, smile, agree with me and pitch crap into the donation boxes and bags?

After nearly 4 years, I am finally dealing with the last of the stuff I kept from my mom’s house. Considered how much she had crammed into that little house, I actually retained very little. Most of it is sentimental, but really, what do I do with photo albums of people I don’t know and cannot identify? What do I do with 6 photo albums full of photographs from my sister’s wedding showers and wedding? The 26 total pictures from my first wedding and showers are tucked away somewhere in these boxes, but it is a painful reminder of the inequality of child rearing. Then again, it could be an oldest/youngest thing as well. There are definitely more pictures of my oldest as a baby than the younger 2, but I have never been much of a photographer and their dad and his family have far more photos than I do. I can live with that.

But the pics of my sister – I thought one of her boys might want them, but I cannot reach either of them at the moment. There are some other personal papers to be shredded, but I will keep their birth and death certificates for awhile to come. There are also a couple of pictures of my very young parents that I may have framed to hang in the house.

Funny, but I never saw my parents wedding album until after my mom died, and now I don’t know what to do with it. I might feel more inclined to keep it if I had memories of looking at it with my folks, or even my mom. Now, it’s an album of strangers.

It’s funny to me the things she kept, and the ways she kept them. Since I am not very sentimental, I cannot imagine keeping keepsakes boxed and neatly labeled and never opened after being packed up and put away. Yet there was all sorts of stuff like that in her home. I found lovely clothes still with tags attached that she’d bought 40 years ago that were “too nice” to wear everyday. There were so many things like that in the house – too nice to use for special occasions, and holidays were not quite special enough. I am absolutely sure that attitude fuels my feelings that nice things for special occasions are completely wasted on me. My kids, my closes friends – we have fond memories of special occasions with paper plates and Round Table Pizza. It’s the company that is memorable and important, not the place setting and fancy flatware. I appreciate those things, especially for people who enjoy and pride themselves on setting a fine table. For me, its not a priority.

I feel some sorrow tossing or giving away things she saved and that were somehow important to her yet are completely meaningless to me. Even my daughter’s dolls, when she died 21 years ago next month, hold little sentiment. I did ask C about it, if she’d like me to save for her, but even she said to let them go, because there are no memories of her sister playing with them.

Such a surreal thing that I’m the last one standing in my family of origin.

I have been trying to put our vast quantities of stuff into a fiscal form so that M can better understand my frustration with the stockpile of stuff he might want or need sometime in the future. There is a cost to storing and keep all this miscellaneous crap. Our 2 car garage has shelving on either side completely stuffed to the gills, we have a small storage building out back (fun fact: prior owners were pot growers) that has tools and equipment and stuff that is rarely used, but when he needs it, he needs it. My point: when he needs it we could rent it.

After dealing with my mom’s house and all her stuff, I know I don’t want to leave such a legacy for my own children. M and I are both in good health and do not anticipate expiring soon, but in addition to getting our end-of-life directives, wills, and trust documents prepared and now to be updated for the kids’ marriages last year, decluttering our crap seems in order.

The job is getting done, but not quite at the peppy pacing I would prefer.

Maybe nothing is certain but death and taxes, but ours are done for another year. I did taxes last week, and each year seems to be getting better, inching me closer and closer to breaking even at tax time and knowing I am doing an accurate job with estimated tax payments through the year. This year, we owe the state $287 and will receive $17 back from the IRS, for a net taxes due of $280. I can live with that.

Hopefully it’s a good long life. We have a lot of crap to go through.

 

The weight of expectations

Christmas 2016 is now past, and the beginning of a brand year begins in less than a week. While it is an exciting time to me, so many I know struggle up to and through until the middle of January. The holidays are difficult.

My theory is that the heavy marketing of Christmas and the holidays to drive sales leaves people with this impression of what the holiday season “should” be like. Like so many, I grew up in a dysfunctional family and had no particular holiday traditions. There were presents, lots of presents, and stockings overflowing with candy and such, but we did not have anything even close to traditional family rituals. As an adult and with my own family, I really, Really, REALLY wanted to establish family traditions that of our own. And when I did, I found myself getting more and more stressed trying to get everything done just so and then depressed when Christmas day passed. The decorations, the traditions, the symbols of the holiday did not make me happy or feel more connected to my family. If anything, it made things so much worse.

Letting go of the expectations of a “perfect” holiday or having some traditional ritual we performed every season was among the smarter, wiser choices in my life. As a divorced mom I had to share my young children with their father. At first I wanted them Christmas morning; their dad could have them Christmas eve if he wished, then bring them home, then we’d do Christmas at my house and with my parents and then drop them with him and his parents on Christmas day. When they were young, we had presents, stockings, all the traditional stuff of a commercial Christmas holiday. As they got older, if the kids were with us we might go to the snow and then to a buffet in Tahoe or in Reno. Sometimes I’d put up a tree and decorations, but just as often I would not.

And guess what? It works for us. Being together to celebrate is the most important thing for us, either before, during, or after the actual Christmas holiday. And I still sometimes put up the tree and decorate the house, or not.

This year M and I celebrated quietly home alone. We grilled steaks, made salads, baked potatoes, and had a nice dinner together. We dropped a card and gift off at a friends home, drove until we found some snow, got out and stomped around a bit, then got back in the car and drove home. We talked with friends by phone or email or text. My daughter and son-in-law in Florida both worked, my son and daughter-in-law chose to spend the day at home alone and then have dinner with G’s paternal grandparents. Not seeing them on Christmas because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean much to us; we will have dinner on New Year’s day and celebrate new beginnings.

I’m not unhappy with the way things went this year. The past few years we have had guests for the holiday and a lot of fun and special times. This year it didn’t happen as we had all hoped, but we will be together again soon and celebrate then. For our family celebrations and occasions, what the calendar says doesn’t matter.

And so it goes for us. Perhaps it comes from being unsentimental, but growing up in a pretty cold home makes me feel like every day I spend with those who love and accept me is an unexpected gift. I strive not to take it for granted, yet have the hope that the good feelings, the warmth, the love continue for a long time to come.

Because we have no set traditions, there is no sense of boredom or obligation associated with doing the same things, year after year. I love that M and I are happy just being together, chatting with our family and friends, making and consuming a simple dinner.

I like to believe the spirit of Christmas is with us all through the year. I always hope to have a heart open to giving and receiving from the nearest and dearest as well as others that may cross my pathway.

I feel no sense of disappointment. M and I have not exchanged gifts in years, and even in our earliest days of romance, we both tended to pursue practical needs rather than wants or uniquely personal things. Of course, there was not a lot of spare cash lying around, but we were happy then, are still happy now.

And now that the silly season has mostly passed, we breath a sigh of relief that we made it through another year without the Christmas crazy touching us enough to bring forth angst and disappointment. Perhaps this is the best gift we could provide for one another.

 

 

Christmas Eve 2016

Pretty quiet on the homestead this Christmas eve, and I am so happy about that. I slept later than anticipated – this no alarm policy could be a problem if allowed to continue unchecked – but I enjoyed the most restful sleep I have had in days, maybe even weeks.

I woke up with the tiniest tinge of guilt about the confrontation last night, but there were literally a dozen supportive, encouraging, “don’t you dare feel guilty!” texts from friends overnight. That made me feel better. The difference between this year and last year says a lot for how much I have grown and matured (for lack of a better word) as a person in a year. Certainly I did not go out seeking to pick a fight with her, but she’s a bully and rarely gets called out on it. I stood my ground and calmly made my point. No blood was shed, no voices raised, and I acted appropriately. My biggest concerns were for the elderly host and hostess, but when we were saying goodbye they were all smiles, warm hugs, pleas to come visit them in their new home. The son, the snarky bitch’s husband and one of my old friends, was not upset about the encounter, said she tends to bring such things upon herself and want to play victim. He knows me too well and for too long to take offense.

The gym today was the most crowded I have seen it the last time I went in the middle of the night. And for me and the gym and my schedule of attendance, anything after about 5 p.m. is the middle of the night. The combination of it being a Saturday, Christmas eve, and my arriving 2+ hours later than usual all made a perfect storm for seeing a lot of other members.

But I did run into one of my favorite tribe members today and had opportunity catch up. I arrived with the vague idea of fluffy-cuffies and lower body, and there she was, on the Freemotion machine I might have chosen if she had not already been set up for her upper body List. She offered me the extra side, but I had squat machine and hyperextensions first. I was fine with the other cable machine on the other side of the gym, as it is closer proximity to other machines on my List of the day. Still, so fun to see a kindred spirit. Texted trainer J a selfie of the 2 of us, all sweaty and gross. Such a great Christmas eve gift, because my tribe sister is on opposite ends of the practice and training session schedule.

For today M and I have mostly lazed around. He went off to his bestie’s open house tonight, I’m staying home and catching up on reading and writing. Tomorrow we are having breakfast with some other friends passing through town enroute to family further up the freeway, and then we plan to just simply relax and enjoy the day, maybe take a drive or something equally leisurely.

I feel sort of impatient for the year to be over, because I have several projects starting the first week in January that are very exciting to me.

Gym and yoga studio are both closed tomorrow, and I am on the fence about doing a workout here at home or simply bagging a rest day. I’ve been going light on workouts this week – between holiday/work stress and the allergy flare from the lawn removal, it’s not been my best week. I am seriously wondering if I have an allergy-related condition affected by the smell of dirt. I guess I will decide tomorrow morning. Maybe I am obsessed.

More importantly, though, I have been eating a lot of crap and junky foods. It’s Christmas and this is what happens. I am not especially alarmed by it. If anything, I am philosophical about it. For the last year I have exercised, I have eaten better, I have enjoyed a lot of success and grown my confidence. A few weeks of less desirable choices and a few days of lighter-than-typical exercise is not the end of the world. Come Monday the holiday is over for another year and I can continue to prepare for the new year ahead.

The real holiday happens next week, when the calendar changes to a new year. We see a lot of people we love in December, but for me the new beginnings and reasons to celebrate start in January.

Tonight I’m huddled up alone, after chatting with my daughter in Florida and my son and daughter-in-law across town. Things are good, quiet, peaceful, and quite honestly, just what I need. I have lists of things to write about and work-work yet to be done. But just for tonight, I am doing what I want to do, which is finish this post and another email to a brotherly friend too far from home this Christmas.

All is calm, all is bright in our little world. And it is just as it should be Christmas eve.

The fear box

Everyone has fears – big ones, little ones, epic phobic ones. It is my conclusion that my ability to cope and manage my fears determines the quality of my day-to-day life. And if it were only so simple as to decide to set them aside and not allow them to influence, direct, or drive my behaviors.

The hierarchy of fears range from real, nail-biting anxieties that could keep me up nights to the comical WTF things I cannot exactly place why they exist and persist. For example, I am absolutely, positively phobic about frogs, toads, hoppy and slimy reptile-like garden residents. I hate them. The mere sight of them on television documentaries makes all the hairs on my arms stand up in alarm and my visceral response – RUN! – has to be restrained or the channel MUST be changed. When we moved into our home there were all these privet trees and a not-well-maintained swimming pool with literally hundreds of frogs living in the trees, the rocks surrounding the pool, and in the pool itself. I was afraid to step outside after dark when I could hear them croaking everywhere around me.

Hence our stark landscaping. Hence M systematically removing those privet trees within our first few months in the house, followed by the shrubbery and nearly all the other living plants surrounding our home. When it came time to resurface our pool, those rocks where the frogs were hiding were removed. And my frog-slaying champion, among the first skills in homeownership he acquired – in addition to supervising the remodeling and repairs going both inside and outside of our house – M learned how to maintain our swimming pool to eliminate the greenish tinge and balance the chemicals, then raise the chlorine content to drive the frogs from the inviting pond.

These days, occasionally we have a stray frog in the last remaining leafy green plant. M will pluck him out and toss him into the greenbelt to find his way down to the creek. We still see the occasional lizard on the concrete, but those do not bother me at all and with the cats around, they are not living long much less happy lives.

As far as epic phobias go, that one is manageable. I simply avoid going where frogs and toads and hoppy things might be dwelling and make my own yard and outdoor environment a lot less inviting for their ilk.

Other fears are not so easily contained or managed.

I have written endless posts about and referencing what I refer to as my “gym crazy,” my term for the anxiety, fear, and intimidation of being in the gym and trying to pursue exercise and fitness objectives. It took a lot of time and patience to mostly overcome. Even now, while I go forth and walk around as if I belong and am unfazed by all that is happening around me, it only takes a less optimal or positive experience or interaction with J (unlikely, but I suppose anything is possible) or staff or member to make that anxiety come rushing back. I know all too well it is a fear that requires constant monitoring and some level of energy put forth to maintain my equilibrium. I have become skilled at it, so much so that I am barely aware of my surroundings or what anyone else is doing. My habit of putting the blinders on to everything except what is in front of me or on the List has become an ingrained habit.

M asked me once if I perceived myself as being snobby or stuck up to maintain this aloofness. Of course not. I am friendly and chat regularly with other members and staff I know who happen to be in the gym at the same time. Socially awkward, yes. Stuck up? Hardly. If anything, I think everyone is very busy and very serious about their work and I should not interrupt, even to say hi or do more than a very spare wave. Definitely I am not stuck up, kind of I am socially awkward, but mostly I am completely clueless by design.

Recently M and I had a more challenging conversation about our own communication. Truth is, sometimes I feel distrustful of him. Not because of the normal reasons – I am so far from normal in my relationships it would be abnormal for me to feel normal about stuff – but because he is somewhat unpredictable to me in his reactions and it makes me anxious. Even after all the years we have known each other and been together as a couple, even as happy and secure as I am in our marriage, there is still some deep-seated fear of strong, intense, emotion-charged negative reactions. I know it. He knows it. Yet we both feel a little hurt that I cannot overcome it completely, probably me more than M. Better than my own understanding of myself, M gets that some wounds are so deep they never completely heal and you “feel” with something akin to a limp. I, on the other hand, feel that I should always be better, and that my inability to overcome this trait is a personal character failing. That harsh judgment has lessened through the years, yet I know I still have the tendency to be ruthlessly negative toward myself and my own limitations. Work in progress.

Confidence, security certainly help with fear and anxiety management. However, it does not overcome it. How many people do I know who have good jobs, loving families, and are financially stable enough to pay their bills and live their lives, yet are deathly afraid to the point of their anxiety and fear impacting them on a daily basis. Having lived on the financial edge and had no security blanket to fall back upon, it is a very scary place indeed. But I look back now and wonder what my fear did for me? It certainly did not make the situation better. And on the occasions where the next big thing occurred and I was stuck between rock and hard place, I was still unprepared and incapable of doing anything constructive about the situation. And I was tired, so tired, already from pre-worrying and being afraid of this very thing happening.

I learned from those experiences, and it greatly influences my desire to be more in control of my life and circumstances and to have some measure of plans A-Z – just in case. What I know, though, is there is truly very little I have any (much less absolute) control over in this life. Perhaps this expanded understanding of how my universe works is what has made my exercise endeavors stick this time, because it truly is something I directly influence and have some degree of anticipating outcomes, even if body and mind do not always play well together and one, the other, or both give me grief.

I look back at the darker times in my life and wonder what about me, my attitude, my ability has changed. For the most part, financial security has a direct and immediate impact on my overall happiness and quality of life. Other things, other unfortunate circumstances and behaviors, choices from stemming from were beyond my ability to comprehend or control. Therapy helped enormously. I got better jobs and took on side work to bring in more income to pay down debt, build some savings, ensure my kids had a balanced, safe, mostly happy childhood. We created a budget and stuck to it. When we were in debt we paid minimums until there was a least some money in the bank for emergencies that would not require us to go deeper into debt. I read a lot then and still do to this day. Entertainment was not shopping to feel the great gaping spending addiction, but at my kids’ sporting events or the library or free events around town. I used to write a lot in personal journals, and truly, it’s only been the last few years of blogging and commenting that I have been more public about writing on any topic.

Seems to me that success is its own reward. I gained a little more confidence with every small win that I applied myself toward, and gradually most of my fears and anxieties have faded into manageable things I could talk myself through. It is still possible to trigger me, to turn me into an absolute stress puppy with events and things well beyond the scope of my control, but those are rarer situations and any concerns I have about them appearing on my radar are firmly pushed back into their boxes. For the trauma and drama that has become my baggage in life, I find that I have repackaged into a tidier, more compact little packages and placed them deeper into my suitcase at various waypoints in my life. Some I suspect I have even shed completely, but I lack the absolute backbone of confidence to commit to such a scenario. And that’s okay. Out of sight, out of mind works for me.

My fears – they are a box of emotions I cannot ever completely abandon. And I would be lying to say they are supremely well managed or maintained even most of the time. Most of the time, they are bobbing and weaving somewhere in my head, enough that I know they exist but not enough to impact me on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps in this I have found my healthy balance.

I do find that I keep learning about things that trigger me, that cause pointless anxiety and stress to flare and make me flounder about expending energy that I could be enjoying or using more productively. Knowing that and actively pushing away the negative, life-draining forces is very difficult once caught within its grip.

The holidays are a big giant bear trap of triggers waiting to be snapped on the unsuspecting. This year, with C and A clear across the country and closest friends completely out of the country, it’s weirdly lonely around our house. Yet … I feel no need angst or grief or the need to try and artificially fill it up with stuff or with other people. G and K are both working Christmas eve and have the loosest of plans for Christmas day. M has been energized by the front landscaping work, so much so that some other outdoor projects are now being upgraded on the priority list. We anticipate friends cruising by for visits or inviting us to drop by to see them, but nothing formal has been planned. I find I like the informality. There’s always, Always, ALWAYS food available at our house, and we could likely rustle up something simple for dinner if we have guests.

I like the low-key holiday weekend we have not planned. I have work-work to do at home, as well as a stack of books in my kindle to be read. Being on the couch absorbed in a good book sounds like the perfect way to pass a quiet holiday.

For others, our holidays may sound kind of lonely and dreary. But for us, Christmas is sort of just another day. Our little family, our tribe of friends – we love seeing or interacting with them any day of the year. The weight of expectations and marketing tend to make me feel really badly about not having more, more family to celebrate, more gifts to buy, more ways to spend money. Thankfully I am not listening to that awful noise and instead enjoying the fact that the holiday feels and generosity of spirit are something I strive to enjoy all year round.

Today at work we’re locking the doors at noon and having our in-office holiday potluck party and gift exchange, which will be fun. M is coming by, as are many of my coworkers significant others or in-town family members. It will be a lot of fun.

So today, I am not anxious or fearful or sad or anything else. I am only mildly nervous about the lunch time food and all the sugar and chocolate still floating around this firm. Tonight we’re attending an open house at TM’s home, which will be fun, and tomorrow I’m lunching with RD, who is in town for the holidays with his family. Chipotle, his favorite place; I wonder if I could bring my own sandwich and just order a drink? We will figure something out.

This year, my fear box is wrapped up in shiny paper and topped with a big giant bow. It is a gift that keeps me honest, humble, and aware of who I am, yet it is also a big part of what kept all my warts and flaws squarely front and center and obscuring and distorting my self-image. This year, I see my fear box more clearly as just a powerful tool that must be managed and used judiciously whenever possible.

Another realization to celebrate this holiday season.

A case of the sads

Something happened at the office today that is a rare, rare occurrence: I cried. Not just a little eye leakage, the big, wracking, ugly sobs of grief and loss. The sads of December arrived early this year.

Sunday marks a year since my dear friend James died. While I have missed him this past year, the last few months I feel the empty chair at my mental and emotional table with other stresses from other things.

I am not especially sentimental, and while I feel the loss, it is not just the first anniversary that set me off on my remarkably embarrassing emotional breakdown. A very happy and grateful client came in today bearing gifts – a couple of bottles of James’ favorite single malt scotch and cigars for the gents, scotch and chocolates for me. Always through our long friendship, this is what James would give me every year. Every “girl” needs at least a couple of vices to be interesting, he would always say to me with a wink. When his wife was alive she would give him an eye roll and playful tap on the arm, to stop embarrassing me with his flirty, dirty-old-man schtick. They are both gone now, and I miss them both.

The whole emotional breakdown thing is supremely embarrassing for me. I work in an office with mostly men, and I am typically the calmest person in the whole firm. No matter what the crisis, I tend to maintain my composure. Not today, apparently.

I tried to fix my face, but crying takes a toll. One of the partners came in to see if I was okay, and the water works started again, only more neat and confined this time. I told him it was kind of a rough morning in the gym, that I was struggling with upper body exercises, and after my great triumph yesterday it was kind of a let down to not feel supremely confident about something else. It’s absolutely true, but not worth crying over, not anymore. He knows it. I know it. But the sads of December manifest in mysterious ways.

To this big ball of weeping, my daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and for the first time she lives almost 3000 miles from me. She and A went to DisneyWorld yesterday for an early celebration, and had it not suddenly hit me again with the bottles of single malt staring at me from across the room, I would have been fine today. I am not an overly involved parent, I miss them being just a few exits down the freeway, and we will go visit next year.

If I’m going to burst into tears, I am going to throw everything I have at it and get it over with, so ot all got wound up in the crying bubble today. Things are better now, though. Staff have been tip-toeing in and out of my office to reassure themselves that all is well. It reminds me that my role here is not just to ensure things run smoothly; I have become part of the fabric of this firm and my atypical behavior is unnerving.

While I really want to go immerse myself in the kitchen’s abundance of sugary goodness, I am restraining myself. Parents of one of our associates were in the office yesterday and brought these fabulous date pinwheel cookies, and I must restrain myself from seeking out more.

Instead I am contemplating a 2017 yoga challenge with my daughter-in-law. To the depths of my soul I know I have no business seriously considering it, yet here I am, looking at my schedule and thinking about it.

Yep, lost my mind. Maybe my common sense will return and I will not decide to add another commitment to my schedule. Then again, maybe time is really precious and memories we make now will be part of all that sustain us later. Maybe I am thinking through my heart rather than the head that compartmentalizes and schedules.

Long into the future, will I remember the work I was doing or the books I was reading or the dawdling that consumed chunks of my days? Unlikely. But K is persuasive that success or failure, trying this challenge together will be memorable, if only for attempting to fit one more thing into our schedules.

How timely that she texted about it today, reminding me of the importance of time and making memories with those we care for and about.