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Fragile by J.G. McGlothern December 26, 2009

Filed under: From The Heart — heartwriter @ 4:58 am
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I was mad at God Christmas morning. Of all days, I had to pick Christmas to hold a grudge.  The morning started out great.  I was awake before anyone else, had time to myself, my thoughts and a blank page.  Excited for the house to wake, I posted my new blog on Face Book.  Eager to get upstairs and watch everyone wake to the morning.

On Face Book I read about a woman I had recently been back in contact with since her families move to San Diego.  Her husband posted on her page…she died on Christmas Eve in a car accident.  Becky was gone.  On Christmas Eve?  That’s when the anger with God started.  Her two little boys would never have a normal Christmas again.  Her husband was left to pick up the pieces after her tragic death.

You don’t even have to know someone really well to be affected by their death.  What I knew about Becky was enough to make me feel fragile all day.  I can’t even begin to imagine how her husband, young boys, friends, parents, family feel.

Becky’s oldest son went to pre-school with my son two years ago.  She watched my son one day while I was on vacation out of the country.  Our boys played together a couple of times outside of school.  Her son gave my son a moon lamp for his birthday.  She showed up with a smile and honest words in the brief time I knew her.  And she said something to me standing in the bright sunshine on her porch that I have fantasized about including in the book I am writing.  Her words were poignant, stinging with beauty and honesty.  It was in those words that I knew I liked Becky.

She asked about my writing and I told her I was writing about the crappy side of being a mom and what the working title was – she immediately retorted – You should call it, Don’t Do It.

We stood there laughing in the sunshine.  Only knowing each other briefly and she didn’t hold back being real.  I got the honor of seeing the true Becky.  Beautiful, funny, loving…damn honest.  We continued to talk about the real side of being a mom, no airs, false selves put aside.

She moved away with her family and we only recently got back in touch via email.

Learning of her death Christmas morning left me in a puddle.  Stunned.  My heart goes out to her sons Ethan and Reid, to her husband, Jeff, whom I have never met but who was on my mind all day today.  I moved with a fragileness that left me aware and utterly raw.  Our lives are so precious and we have no idea. No idea at all.

My day didn’t end with anger at God, just a numbness that is slowly thawing.  An exhaustion that leaves me full of love and hope because that’s all we have.  And even when it doesn’t feel like it, it’s all we need.

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Singing Love —Tradition Part III by J.G. McGlothern December 25, 2009

Filed under: From The Heart — heartwriter @ 2:44 pm
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Did two new things with our kids this year that I intend to carry on as Christmas traditions.

The Saturday before Christmas we bundled up and joined three other families on an evening adventure.  With thermoses filled with hot buttered run, Baileys and coffee and hot cocoa we hit the wet streets of our neighborhood with song sheets in hand and Santa hats on our heads.  We caroled our way, pausing at homes to “Deck the halls”, “Wish you a Merry Christmas”, remind neighbors “To not cry or pout” and to remember “That all is calm and all is bright.”  We were off key, sometimes singing together, sometimes not, having a ball.  If folks didn’t hear us from inside their homes, our kids would ring their doorbell or knock on their front door.  It was Halloween all over again this time we were giving the treat.

We are already discussing a name for our group and have plans to laminate our song sheets to protect them from the rain.  We want to start practicing after Thanksgiving next year.  I felt like Will Ferrell’s, Elf, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud, for all to hear.”

On Christmas Eve my kids decorated six lunch sacks and we filled each one with a homemade turkey sandwich, Satsuma, apple, two cookies and a napkin.  Then I instructed my husband to drive us down First Avenue.  We kept our eyes open for someone who could use a free lunch.  The first man had a dog and we wished we had packed dog treats.  He happily accepted the lunch, thanking us as he continued to hold up his sign.  The next man loved the kids “artwork” on his bag and had to tell us he was a heathen.  We didn’t want to preach only hand out a meal.

The next woman had no idea what I was handing her as she continued to hold up her empty plastic green cup asking passer-bys for donations.

The next man, broke my heart, then healed it right there on the sidewalk.  Selling Real Change newspapers I asked him if he would like a lunch?  He immediately said, Yes, oh yes, thank you. Merry Christmas, he went on to say over and over.  Then back in the passenger side of our car, waving good bye, he hollered at me…I love you. And right there from the passenger side of our car, I hollered back to him…I love you.

My daughter saw my tears and said, Mama this selling lunches is a good idea.

We gave the last lunches to a group of guys I am pretty sure were smokin’ some Mary Jane.  I figured they were hungry and called it good.

The act was done so quickly, I wanted to go home and make more turkey sandwiches.  Giving was so easy, why hadn’t I done this before?

 

Out With The Old, In With The New — Tradition Part II by J.G. McGlothern December 24, 2009

Filed under: mom writer — heartwriter @ 5:20 am
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Like many of you, one of our family Christmas traditions is to visit Santa at Nordstrom.  The kids get their photo taken, I put the 5 x 7 in a black frame and it goes on the downstairs fireplace mantel with all the previous years Santa photos.

This year my 8 year old daughter announced she wasn’t going to get her picture taken with Santa.  Without trying to sound pushy or to appear to beg…I asked, WHY? 

I don’t want to sit on a stranger’s lap who is pretending to be the real Santa.  Couldn’t really argue with that.  Sort of had to let that one go.

My five year old son takes after his mother and has no problem sitting on a stranger’s lap and smiling for the camera.

This year we did something different – we brought the dog to see Santa.  So now on the mantel I have a framed photo of my son and his puppy on a stranger’s lap.  Sometimes you have to let go of your old traditions to make room for new ones.

 

Faith in Santa—Tradition Part I by J.G. McGlothern December 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — heartwriter @ 7:23 pm
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One Christmas Eve when I was four years old my eleven year old sister told me in the dark of her room in one long breath that there was no Santa, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.  Lying in bed that night I still tried to hear Santa’s sleigh bells but when the sound never came, I stopped believing.  Then in grade school, friends’ parents would ask me to “pretend” that Santa came to my house because their children still believed.  I remember Tanya’s dad from the yellow house up the street pulling me aside and politely telling me, “Santa comes to our house, so please, for Tanya’s sake, pretend he comes to yours too.”

Christmas began to take on a sleigh load of negative feelings and with its imminent arrival every year I grew to fear Christmas. Raised Catholic my mother did a wonderful job to teach our family Christian beliefs about Christmas.  I learned about Jesus being born in a manger, the gift of peace, and the joy of giving love to others.  Sitting in church on Christmas Eve nights I would imagine that I was part of the manger scene.  Sometimes I was Mary, absorbed in the true beauty of it all.  And sometimes I was one of the Wise Men traveling from afar, following the star with great anticipation of meeting the Messiah.   This part of Christmas gave me peace and kept my faith alive.  Back in school after Christmas break, the anxiety started all over again, I had to invent gifts that Santa brought.

Years later, as a parent with the birth of our children, I struggled with how to celebrate Christmas without bringing Santa into the whole thing.  How does one raise children to focus on the beauty that Christmas offers, when the commercialism of it all is shoved in your face?

Four years ago, when my children were four and one and a half years old, I received a precious gift.  I met Santa. On the morning of December fourteenth as I collected the morning paper from the front porch I found a small poinsettia on our door-mat, wrapped in gold tissue and tied with a red ribbon. In meticulous printing our last name was written on a tag in unfamiliar handwriting. Opening the tag made of silken, creamy white paper, I searched for the giver’s name and only found the words, ‘On the first day of Christmas the McGlotherns received one poinsettia…’   Who could this be from?

The next morning, a bit earlier, as I opened the door to collect the newspaper sitting right next to The Seattle Times sat a beautiful gift bag bearing two delicately wrapped hand-dipped, off-white candles. I placed them in silver candlesticks next to the poinsettia in our front window.  The same precise manuscript indicated the gift was indeed for us with the message, ‘On the second day of Christmas the McGlotherns received two glittering candles…’   Were the three dots a sign? An indication of a promise?  Perhaps more to come? I ran to the calendar and counted.  Ten more days until Christmas. The twenty-fifth would be the “twelfth day.”   Not knowing any history about a “twelve days of Christmas” tradition, I was curious.  Is this a celebrated tradition I don’t know anything about, similar to the “Secret Santa” tradition some celebrate in the workplace?   On the third day of Christmas “three tinkling bells” waited on our doorstep.  Hanging them from the tree, in the front window, I wondered who could be doing this. I never heard a car, voices or footsteps. 

Our four-year-old daughter, started coming into our room every morning with the question, “Have you checked the front porch yet, mama?”  I was trying really hard to curb my enthusiasm and wait until she could be the one to check the door. If I woke first I would avoid the front room and busy myself with undone dishes, cleaning fingerprints off the refrigerator, anything to keep myself from going to the front door and turning the knob.   Each morning continued to greet us with beautifully wrapped surprises; candy canes, homemade molasses cookies, walnuts the size of small apples, Satsumas as sweet as summer, and chocolates that were too irresistible to stop at just one.  On the fifth day of Christmas we opened a box with a photograph glued to the lid.  The picture made me stop and look closely.  It was a picture of a handprint in the snow, a child’s handprint, with the five digits perfectly imprinted into the white, glistening snow. Inside were five homemade snowflake ornaments hanging from delicate pink thread.  I knew the giver was creative, thoughtful and most of all believed in Christmas.

Soon my friends and family all knew about it and would brain storm with me to decipher who these thoughtful surprises were from.  My neighbor even volunteered to stalk my front porch every morning. Although I was mostly content not knowing the giver, I was still curious.

Through all of this excitement, I forgot I didn’t believe in Santa. I forgot I hated Christmas.  Each day was offering me a new joy besides a surprise gift at the front door.  I discovered the great delight of baking sugar cookies with our four-year-old daughter. In years past, the baking was a chore.    Christmas shopping wasn’t a burden, our list was short and family received homemade gifts.  Our friends received a Christmas card with a handwritten message.  Even the cold, grey weather was comforting.  I didn’t long for the colors of springtime; instead I found solace from the dark sky and consolation from the light of a simple white candle. I never once turned on the television, so I wasn’t aware of the Christmas sales, hot items of the season or the temptations of the last minute shopper.  Evenings were spent reading Christmas books, listening to the Nutcracker, playing games and coloring.  I taught our children about my childhood traditions of putting evergreen on the fireplace mantel, straw in the manger and hanging mistletoe in doorways.  My husband strung lights, hung wreaths, and helped our children hang their stockings. He helped our daughter write her letter to Santa. I saw how Santa could be brought into the season without being the main focus and without corrupting my mood or Christmas spirit.  We talked about Jesus’ birth, buying a goat through the Heifer Project, making gifts for family and what color of sprinkles our friends would like on their cookies.  All our daughter wanted for Christmas was a pants belt and for her brother to have his own doll.  Santa’s job would be simple. 

By the tenth day of Christmas, the day we received ten walnuts and a silver nutcracker, all of our friends and family knew about our morning doorstep surprises and wished they had done something like this. They all responded with passionate wonder.  I want to do that, they all echoed.  Without these exact words their responses were saying: I want to reach out, I want to give, I want to believe and share in the spirit of the season.

On Christmas Eve, I went to bed listening for sleigh bells believing that if I was supposed to find out who was behind the mystery I would.  At five in the morning our son, hollered out in his sleep.  His cries woke me and although he fell back to sleep easily, I lay in the dark, tossing and turning.  Like many children around the world that morning I hopped out of bed, unable to keep still.  I went into the living room and turned on the tree lights, lit the off-white candles in the window and sat down with a cup of hot tea and my journal.  The tea went cold before I had a sip and my journal remained unopened.  I went back and forth to the window, peering out into the dark morning, I kept opening the front door.  I even stood on a chair to peer out the window at the top of the door.  Nothing.  I wrote a note to the mystery elves, telling them that if I never found out who they were I wanted them to know they changed my Christmases forever.  At eight o’ clock, when my family was awake pulling a pants belt and baby doll out of their stockings I checked the door one more time.  Empty except for my note.  Did they forget?

Forty-five minutes later, with Christmas wrapping strewn around the room our coffee mugs empty, I heard singing outside.  “Honey”, my husband said gently,  “You are going to want to answer the door.”  The caroling was coming from our front porch.  Opening the door, I was surprised to see my new friend Erika, her husband and their three sleepy daughters. I collapsed into Erika’s arms, “I’m so glad it’s you.  I never even thought of you being the ones, “I wept softly.    We wiped each other’s tears of joy.  “You helped me to believe in Christmas again,” I whispered.

That morning and now, Santa for me is just another way to bring giving into the Christmas season.  Not getting, but giving.  We can teach our children the beauty of simplicity by example.  The following Christmas, we did the same for an un-expecting family a few blocks away.  And the smiles on their faces told me I was helping to carry on a tradition that was drenched in love and sprinkled with the true spirit of the season.

 

Best Mom by J.G. McGlothern December 17, 2009

Filed under: mom writer — heartwriter @ 8:50 pm
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I was curious about a ritual my friend started with her children.  Inspired, I just had to try it with my own kids.

Last week I gave each of my children an empty notebook.  I wrote their “name and mom” on the inside flap and instructed them to decorate as they wish.  My daughter got out stickers and fastened them on the cover, drawing a big smiley face in the center.  My son made a pattern on his cover with basketball and penguin stickers.  They asked if they could skip story time so they could write and draw in their journals.

My only instructions were that this journal is for communication between me and them.  They can keep it as long as they like then when they are finished they can put the journal on my pillow, indicating my turn.

After tucking them in – I read what they had written to me.  My daughter started off her letter with the words…Best Mom.  She went on in her letter asking me about my dreams in life, wishing me luck, encouraging me.  Reading the letter, I forgot she was 8. 

With a big fat black pen my son drew pictures of dogs and wrote names of everyone in our family, surrounded by hearts.

Delighted they were as excited as I was, I wrote back to them.  Drawing, sharing, loving them back with my whole heart, pen in hand.  Later, I placed their journals at the foot of their beds, giddy about them finding them in the morning.

The week has continued with finding the journals on my pillow.  One child returning theirs every day, the other, taking her time with her words.

 

Melon on the Table by J.G. McGlothern December 16, 2009

Filed under: mom writer — heartwriter @ 5:52 pm
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Redirection they tell us is a great way to move a child out of the nasty mood they are in at the moment.  Try bringing their attention to something else, they say.

So that’s what I did at dinner the other night.  There we were, the four of us, my son demanding too much attention with his emotions spilled out all over, spitting at us with his crappy mood. In between whining about what was on his plate my son asked, Do you have any watermelons, mama?

Possessed by the desire to have a peaceful meal with my family, I decided from somewhere at the core of my being to make a joke.  Quite aware of the possible outcome.  Honey I don’t have any watermelon but mama sure does have a couple melons. My husband rolled his eyes, knowing exactly how deep the water was that I was plunging into.  So there at the dinner table, my children learned the other meaning of melons.  Firmly instructing, What happens at the kitchen table, stays at the kitchen table.

So of course ever since my children have asked, Can I see your melons? Which I have promptly replied, You may NOT.

But that night at the dinner table we turned whining, tears, and chaos to laughter.

 

Out of the Womb by J.G. McGlothern

Filed under: Uncategorized — heartwriter @ 5:14 am
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A year or so ago the birth of a great joke began between me and my husband.  It was bed time.  Our son was tired, emotionally strung out as were we, dealing with his tantrum.  My husband, who rarely gets upset, was noticeably frustrated with our son’s drama.

I whispered to him, Just pretend he is coming out of my womb and you are seeing him for the first time.  You are filled with nothing but love for him.

Okay…I’ll try it.  He said unconvincingly.  Things eventually calmed down and the children were soon asleep.

Later in the kitchen over a cup of hot tea I told my husband how a friend told me about visualizing your child those first few moments upon entering the world, when they are driving you crazy, can help calm the storm.  Sending love to them dissipates your anger.

On many occasions when our son is challenging us beyond all limits, we turn to each other and say, He is coming out of the womb.  The words jolt us out of our frustration and if not bring us to feelings of blissful love, at least make us laugh.

The other morning my son woke up in a tantrum, nothing was going his way and he’d only been out of bed five minutes.  My husband pulled me in close for hug and whispered in my ear…He’s coming out of your womb.

Well shove him back in, I retorted.  I then went on, Do you remember what he did after they placed him on my belly dear husband? Silence.  He pooped all over me.

Oh, that’s right, he responded.  We didn’t need caffeine this morning, we were cracking ourselves up and smiling about it.

The pooping on me after the womb had seemed like a foreshadowing five and a half years later, you’d think he’d be done by now.

They poop on us, scream at us, ignore us, give us heartburn, but only for moments.  Then in a flash they kiss us, love us, make us laugh and capture our hearts all over again.