Almost 1:00 on a Saturday

… and I am still in my pajamas. And I am not sick. My stomach is rumbling because I am just that lazy–can’t even bring myself to get up and have a Snicker’s bar with my cold coffee. The one daughter who still lives at home just rolled out of bed her own self on the penultimate day of her Spring break. We have a date planned since I’ve seen very little of her these last two weeks, but it appears mostly what we have planned is a sloth-fest.

Had you told me this day would come 14 years ago, I would not have believed you. I am here to testify to the moms coming up behind me that there will be a day when this is possible–or, better yet, a day when you actually do get dressed and get out and do something wonderful with either a good friend or a daughter (who might be both).

It will happen. You will have time to think a full thought (though you may not remember how to do so). And apparently, your coffee may still grow cold sitting next to you as you catch up on email and social media. I think that is what I did this morning, though I think I was also doing some self-care brain dumping that looked more like a catatonic state.

But now, a shower, and a date with my favorite youngest daughter that may include some pampering and some more sloth-like activity. And a big, fat burger because … yeah, my stomach just growled again and I am slowly moving up the Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs.

I hope you enjoy your day, however it plays out. I know I will.

Accordion Home

Fall has finally fallen; I know this because I sleep with a blanket of cats these days.  The last several days I have awoken not just with a cat at my feet, but with one on my abdomen or my arm (depending on if I’m lying on my back or my side). This is the cat who never slept with me because she had a human of her own. Alas, we have been betrayed, this calico harpee and I. That human has left us and left us both wandering the house, at times, yowling.

Then another cat’s human left us, and now I have two that follow me around with eyes and mouths wide. And this cat weighs about the same as a small car, so when she walks up my body to stare into my eyes, whiskers tickling my eyebrows and nose, I feel it as one would feel, I imagine, those giant walking robots in one of those Star-titled movies–with all the weight distributed on one pointy paw and then another.

I’m counting the days until those humans return to us, if only for a few precious hours. I’m counting the hours, too, trying to determine how best to spend them. They want to be home, with their kittens, on a couch they know intimately, eating food that has been prepared for them.

It is the hard irony that I who love to cook no longer find the impetus to do so.  I’m drinking coffee right now, dreaming of a brunch I won’t fix not only because I have a bedroom to finish painting but because we no longer keep food in this house. Or so it seems.

The one child left in the house is hardly ever here, thanks to her involvement in extra-curricular things. And all she ever asks for is money with which to purchase food. There are apples rotting in a bowl that I meant to make into sauce–and they appear to be doing it themselves, but not in a good way.

I’m complaining, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be. I mean just to be noting, because I find for myself that if I can name something it then makes sense to me and I’m on the way to making it right–or adjusting.

I’m naming the experience we are having right now of being a family in transition. Of being a home that billows and withers as required. We are an accordion home now. That’s it.

While three of us live her all the time, two come and go. The year before it was only one and I realize that we have reached the tipping point with the second one gone. Before we still planned meals depending on who would be home when. Last year, we bought a calendar because schedules were so crazy so we could circle the nights when everyone would be home and meals could be savored, together, at the table.

Now it seems we eat things that can easily be consumed wherever we all wish to be. Of course, there are still nights when forks and knives are required, and so we sit together, the three of us, at a table meant for more. Early in the year I took the leaves out of that table, so it wouldn’t seem so empty. But then we had company. And those cats’ humans came home, and now the table is filled with my husband’s office, so when we do huddle around it, it is at the end reserved for eating.

But that’s why I’m painting a bedroom. So we can move the remaining child into another bedroom and move his office into the small room. And build a sleeping chamber for the ones who come home to visit.

I was thinking, yesterday, as I put yet another coat of paint on this particular bedroom, about this accordion home. How I never thought I’d stay in the Midwest as long as I have, let alone this particular home. We purchased this home when one child was 2 and another was not yet 1.

The room we are painting this weekend has belonged, in turns, to: the eldest, alone; the eldest and middle (after the third one was born), shared; the middle and youngest, shared; and the middle one, alone. And now the youngest moves into it, alone. It has been many different colors, I think, though I’ve lost count of how many.  The colors I know it was are the two that I just painted over (because the last time I painted I didn’t do a very good job and strips of electric aqua scream out from between the white baseboards and the very dark purple walls.

My husband asked me why I did such a bad job on this last. The purple dripped down the walls and onto the baseboards (which I will tackle this morning) and I sighed and tried to come up with a reason. Maybe it was because the kids were old enough this time that I thought they could help and when they did, bad things happened? Probably, I told him, because I was tired and stretched and needed to paint because I said I would. And so I did, but not well.

But this time he is here to help and the taping and cutting in has been done properly–or at least we will find out when I pull up the tape in a few minutes.

I read a really nice piece in the Huffington Post this morning about parenting little, little children and unsolicited advice, and it reminded me of where we all have been, this accordion band of misfit toys (and pets). And through most of it, this house has stood and kept us bound to each other with its four small, yet brightly-colored walls. And it has billowed and withered as needed.

It has been the place of blanket forts and lava-floor; of sleepovers that sometimes only consisted of the three who sleep here anyway; of shared spaces, of singular spaces, of good food and crap food and sometimes even “nothing to eat” food. It has been open to friends and to relatives and to Halloween Candy and Christmas Eve fudge. We have patched holes in walls and cracks in hearts in this house that magically expands and contracts.

I remember my first glimpse of the house from the street when we were looking for a home 17 years ago. “Oh, it’ll never do,” I said. “Too small!”  And when we came in through the back door (which we consider the front door), and I saw the large open (though weirdly configured) space and thought, “it might do.” I see now that it was a magical house, an accordion house, that looks small from the outside, but holds –and has held–so very much within.

Now, though, it is time to tackle that wood trim in a room made smaller by coats of paint for each set of inhabitants, while cats curl up in blankets on beds throughout the house, oblivious now, it seems, to those who are missing but soon will appear.

Silver Linings and Soft Landings

Winding down … or is it winding up … after two weeks away from work and am wondering what I have to show for it. I’ve almost finished reading a book, but not fiction. I’ve watched some West Wing episodes with one daughter and was introduced to Sherlock and Dr. Who by two other daughters. I have watched a lot of HGTV and was even inspired to try to change my house, but gave up when the three girls and I could not wrangle a sofa up the stairs–or even onto them. Le sigh.

The point of this vacation was to be away from work and I was mostly successful at that, but the other point was to get ready to launch daughter number 2 into the world.

Perhaps it is the knowing that is getting to me. I have always told the eldest one that she, as if she were a true-to-life Scooby Doo, left a silhoutte -shaped hole in all the walls she met, making it much easier for her sisters to slip through. It is her way–to crash through without a thought for finesse. Her sisters seemed to have learned to dance through a hole that is not shaped like them, in order to remain whole on the other side.

But I’m pretty sure it IS the knowing that is getting to me. When eldest daughter left, I had an inkling that all would change between us once she left. I just didn’t know how. And I am not complaining. I think her leaving was the best thing for our relationship–and I think she would agree (though probably not now that I have stated so–such is the dance she and I do). I know that she most likely won’t be back in our house again after this summer–not as a household member, anyway, but as an intimate guest.

Last year, for her, we allowed her to leave her room as her own (as she demanded). This year so many things have changed that we require a rearrangement of all rooms and have asked both daughters to clear out as if they were not coming back to live, but to visit. This does not sit well with me and seems very unfair to middle daughter, and, yet, it must be.

Never at the brink of tears with eldest daughter as we prepared her to be elsewhere, I have beaten them back privately and repeatedly as I move on with daughter 2. Again, because I am anticipating what I have actually experienced–a change in dynamic, a loss, and a gain.

Yes, this is what we do: we prepare our young ones to move on and move through and hope that they keep us in their rotation. But the promise of an emptier house doesn’t loom as lovely as it did when said children were toddlers and tweens. Ten-years-ago me would have fought bitterly about that statement, but alas, all the things the older mamas told me have come to pass–and I am grateful for the promise of a soft landing those predictions have given me … and yet …..

I look forward to more one-on-one time with daughter 3, who is also going through some ups and downs with the household changes and the prospect of being an only child–with no driver at the ready.

I had hoped to be hopeful here, but feel as though I’ve let my pessimistically optimistic self down. There are silver linings here, in abundance, but for today I’m lingering on the gray clouds that live within me as I realize my day-to-day life with daughter 2 is almost over. And while she is ready … I am not. I’m lingering on missed opportunities, on chances to tell her all that she needs to hear from me.

And yet … she has Daughter 1, who seems to have shared every intimate detail I have passed on to her. And they will be together, sort of, living not down the hall but in the same school, taking a shared class. They will have each other. And I will have to learn to Face Time and become a more intentional communicator and not just fall into a chair at night, knowing they are in the house and all is good. Or not.

Abundant, those silver linings are and I will find them as I need them. Because the truth is: this is a good thing. But no one said good things are necessarily easy.

Painted by Pictures of You

My life is painted by pictures of you.
ImageThere you are, holding me
A bundle of cloth protected in your bare arms
as you wear that Jackie Kennedy dress-up dress.
There is Dad, too. In his cap and gown. In the background
which I find hard to believe, as he usually was
front and center.

That photo often reminds me of a fast-forward photo
of you on the beach in your parka
(it was January on Lake Michigan, afterall)
nose-to-nose with my baby
matching smiles caught in profile.

But let’s back up
to the other photos
next to cars and by big trees on
re-run vacations
to the Lake
to stay with grandparents who really weren’t
fond of us.
Years later, I come to realize
we weren’t all that special, that there were years
when they weren’t all that fond of you
or your siblings
And these thoughts fill me with such agony
for little-girl you
who so deserved the mother
you would become

Despite (because of?) them.

This sorrow lightens my heart for you
makes me understand so much
I would not have when
Juanita and I wore those matching culottes
you made on your summer vacations
each year until we asked you not to.

I don’t know who took this one
Of me, laughing and pulling you into a hug.
I’m sure I was making fun of you
which is, as we know, our way.
Was I in college? Was my future still unplotted?
This probably taken during a nephew’s birthday
party where we all gathered
all of us still living somewhere in California
And even though all were grown
we still had Sunday dinner
often enough to make dad think
we had never moved out.

We each came back, too. Each of the four of us
at one time or another
Finding the ground again under your
patient guidance
and Dad’s rattling keys and coins
nervous that we would never find our way,
wondering if our lives would ever amount to …
and you never let him finish the thought
and made sure we all understood that home
was home
regardless of the messes we made elsewhere.

Many years later
a crowd assembles believing themselves there
to celebrate Dad’s birthday, a big one
we realize now
but not for the reasons we envisioned
then
when you planned your own funeral and called it a party
while you were alive to enjoy it
gathering everyone you loved
making Dad the centerpiece
as usual.

And, lo, you lived.

And then, he didn’t.

And I continue to marvel at how you knew
without knowing

and how your less-than-fatal illness
at that time gave dad the gift
he later gave you:
the art of taking care
of loving when it matters
Witnessing.

The other day the five of us (my now family) gathered
for dinner

It had been some time since
we five had been
one

And it brought back the picture that lives
only in my mind
and probably yours
but not digitally
not even in raggedy-edged black and white.
Perhaps I’ll render it in stick figures.

You know the one
the picture of you, and me, and Molly,
and Kris, and Juanita
and Dad
in the hospital bed in the corner

eating eggs.

Kris had arrived 30 minutes before

I would leave in 30 more

Six of us; as one

It had not happened in  years
and would never happen again

I hold that photo in my head often
in my daily cataloging of the important
the real
the meaningful

This photo that doesn’t exist anywhere but my mind
takes me to other photos of
four in Christmas pajamas
that led to three in Christmas hats

And I am struck by the amount of you
that I am–
and that my daughters are–
mostly good
but also some bad
and how grateful I am
that you became
that you survived that childhood
as well as ours.

The random pixels
form in my head
painting my life
in photos of you

and in photos of all that good you
have brought us all

The matriarch
who led from behind
more likely from the center
of all that noise
and mess
and you made order.

I won’t speak for the others
but for myself
when I say you are

the Center

the very center of every
piece
of me.

And I give thanks.

We Are More than We Think

I want to ask you (and me) this question today and every day: Do you know–I mean deeply at the root of your being know–that you are not only enough but that you are essential?

I spent the morning with Sweet Honey in the Rock on my iPod and found myself weeping with the realization that I have sold myself–and you–short. I keep thinking I am not enough and that the work I do is only ancillary, unimportant. And then I started hearing the words. And I started thinking about my kids. And I started thinking about my church and this faith tradition.

And I wept.

Do you know? Really know?

It is a minute-by-minute learning, isn’t it?

One size fits none

Sunday we made a mad dash to the Outlet Mall to purchase one new outfit (at least) for each of the girls before school starts on Wednesday. Church is 20 minutes west of our house; the outlet mall is 45 minutes east of our house. Church ended at noon and eldest daughter had to be at work back by our house before 4:00. Do the math: 3 daughters + 3 outfits + less than 3 hours + one less than patient dad.

Shopping with the dad was both helpful and problematic. Helpful in that he saw the sign to purchase gift cards and decided that would probably be the best way to manage the day. Since how we have learned to do back-to-school clothes shopping is to set a $ limit and let them figure out how to stretch it, he loaded up three gift cards usable as if it were an American Express card, and sent them on their way. There was also a coupon book that came with the gift cards, so the eldest two immediately saw the benefit of buying items together and splitting the savings (30% off purchases over $50; buy two get the second half-off… that kind of thing).

Youngest daughter was a little deer-in-the headlights, but managed a few things. We sat outside one store with a very long line while the eldest two waited to pay, and decided that husband and youngest would go to a jeans store while I waited for the others. Sitting in the sun, waiting, and I get a text from husband saying “she’s trying on 4 pairs.” “Great,” I respond. “I’m hopeful,” he says.

When I show up ten or so minutes later, she’s tried on 8 pairs and only found one that fits.  There’s a sale there–buy two pairs of denim, get any one other item for free. Husband can’t walk away from the word “free,” so we comb the store looking for another pair of jeans. When I go back to the fitting room, I discover that the reason she isn’t not finding anything she likes is because she is trying on the wrong size with the hope that the next pair the same size will look good. As soon as we move up a size (much to her disdain, but that is the stuff of being in 8th grade), she hits the motherlode. And my husband hits the roof.

Why does she have to try on so many pairs? He keeps hissing at me as I’m dashing from the front of the store (where the juniors jeans are) to the far back (where the fitting rooms are). Not being helpful, I tell him. We are pinned for time. Other two have been to another store, made purchases, and are back. Eldest is nervous about being late for work. Husband is pacing and starting to snarl. “Why can’t she just pick two and lets go.”

Once we are in the car (and believe me, I’m saving you some hairy details by skipping ahead here), my husband starts to gnash and fume again. I’m sitting there thinking how happy I am that my daughters can shop quickly, decisively, and without a lot of guidance from me and make decent choices while he’s wondering why our youngest cannot shop like a 52-year-old man. Finally, I said to him: when you are a 13 year old girl, or can say that you have been a 13 year old girl, you will get it. Until then, keep your mouth shut.

Why, indeed, can she not do everything as he does it? Why not order her jeans from Lands End and be done with it? Yes, why can’t she buy her jeans at the Dad Jeans Store? 

This is, of course, a fight we continue to have about just about everything–that the girls have minds of their owns and wish to use them, even when it flies in the face of his need for speed and efficiency, especially when it challenges his world view of logic and reason. My daughters don’t live in the world of one-jeans-fit-all. Neither does their father. Just as he used to get cranky when we would walk at the pace of a 5 year old and his legs longed to stretch to fit his 6’3″ frame, he gets cranky when the rest of us don’t match his pace in shopping or parenting or political world views.

My job, I realize, is to remind him that you don’t come out of the womb 6’3″, any more than you start out with savvy shopping skills.

Still and all, we got it done. The girls each came home happy and with a complete outfit or two and they even had $$ left on their cards to spend on other needs elsewhere. And yet, my assessment of success and my husband’s don’t quite match up. I wonder what we will have to talk about when these girls leave home?

Coping

So, here’s the other thing that happened at church on Sunday: We are still a church that does Joys and Sorrows–out loud.We are a smallish church, membership of about 100; general attendance is about 75 to 80. So, I’m leading the service and leading the Joys or Sorrow–prefacing it by asking people to state their names and briefly share their personal joy or sorrow. First woman up decides to share that her husband’s cousin recently passed. You know, had she stopped there, I don’t know that I’d say anything.

But she didn’t. She talked about what a valiant fight her husband’s cousin had put up and that she had died with her mother and siblings around her. Even if she had stopped there, I think I would have been fine.

But she didn’t. Then she said that her husband’s cousin died of Lupus. Lupus. The disease that both me and my eldest daughter have recently been diagnosed with. The disease that I consider a nuisance and not life-threatening. I suppose had she stopped there, it would have been a little weird and my daughter and I would have looked it each other for about .3 seconds (as we did) and check in with each other later (as we did) and that would have been the end of it until we could talk later.

But she didn’t. This woman then began to praise her husband’s cousin for the valiant fight and how she had held a good attitude when several of her fingers were amputated and then again when she lost a leg… and then I absolutely stopped listening. I looked at my daughter, saw the tears brimming, then closed my own eyes and my ears against it. And I thought of the other young woman in the congregation who recently shared during another Joy and Sorrows moment that she had been diagnosed with Lupus in the last month. I didn’t look at her.

I held the microphone as others shared their joys and sorrows and went on with the service. We came home; I took a nap; then my daughter and I went out to run errands and we talked through this experience and what she was going through these days. The ironic thing: she had just, on Friday, checked a book out from the library about Lupus and decided that she was going to start take it on rather than ignore it. We talked about the betrayal by our bodies and we talked about how this requires us to be more certain about other things: like how to make choices and how to understand when we need to ask for help. Talked about spiritual and physical disciplines we could be practicing. It was a good talk.

Then, on Monday, I saw her in passing as she headed to a Faith in Action meeting at church with her father–and I shared with her my other secret tactic for surviving. I told her that what was really going through my mind as this poor woman (and seriously, I do feel empathy for the woman who died and those who were affected by her death) was being eulogized unceremoniously. Don’t judge, but here’s what played through my head:

My daughter and I shared a good laugh; her father judged. And we put a new tool in our coping arsenal. Lupus Ladies, unite!

Jumbled brains–not a breakfast recipe for hungry Zombies, sorry :(

The vertigo seems to have subsided, but in its wake (or the wake of the medicines), I’ve been left with dreams that wake, shake and haunt me. Nothing terrifying, and many I can’t remember once I am awake more than 30 seconds. Last night, though, I made myself remember, and the dream was of trying to get my father to the hospital from my house in Indiana to Hyde Park in Chicago. My mother drove and I rode shotgun, but my dad was propped up on a low-lying bed on a plywood trailer–being pulled by about 9 guys in a Suburban who were headed to the Lake to jet ski. “There a tremendous group of guys, Linda recommended them,” my mom said. And it did not seem to bother her or my dad that he was driving down the highway on a trailer. In fact, in the dream, we passed him and he held two thumbs up at me.  The absurdity woke me. I shifted the cat on my feet and went back to sleep and we were at the hospital but we could not find him. The rest of the morning passed with me jumping in and out of sleep, bothered by the dream, wondering how to make the dreams stop so I could just sleep.

I don’t remember the dreams of the last few days, but I know they are dreams of lost people; lost things. One was a friend’s daughter in my charge and then missing. That is the most I can recall of the dreams that kept waking me, except this: they kept me frantic and searching.

So now I’m sitting in the living room where it is quiet and begging God for some stillness–some peace in my heart that might radiate to my brain and let it know that yes, my brain was shaken this week with the vertigo, but all is well, all will be well, but it really has to settle down and let me get some good sleep or nothing will be well again.

The brain is so dainty, and I didn’t think of vertigo as such an invasive creature but that, it is. I think of my daughter’s head trauma this summer and how I have watched for signs of personality change, but it is so hard when she is also going through puberty. Is she more angry or is she just hormonal?  Maybe these dreams are my brain’s response to the equivalent of having my head tossed around in the dryer for a few days. Maybe this is the price I pay, the recovery, if you will.  And if I am this anxious about this, I begin to wonder about all the troops with brain injuries coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. What are they left with? What interrupts their sleep and leaves them begging for peace?

I often say I am ruled more by my heart and emotions than by my head, but I think that is because I don’t notice how connected they all are. When I am inarticulate with emotion, it is not because I am not smart enough to form the rational sentence, it is because my head has to catch up with where my heart has already gone and back.  I don’t pay enough attention to how hard my brain works–or didn’t. I make jokes about being dizzy and ditzy in general, about not being smart enough (mostly because I’m surrounded by people who are way smarter than the average bear), about my circular thinking, but the truth is I recognize that my brain works hard in other ways–is smart in other really important ways. While some brains are memorizing data, or pondering deep thoughts, my brain is one of those that searches for connections and continuity. It searches and puzzles on how to make large and small things work–how to make pieces fit together. And sometimes it just doesn’t keep time with the rest of the brains around it.  And sometimes, my words can’t keep up with the thoughts that it generates–that REALLY frustrates people.

So, I’m giving my brain a break today, I think.  I’m going to give it a few other challenges to puzzle through today.  I’ll let it search for tangible lost things: like the Christmas decorations.  And all will be well.  And here’s hoping to a good night’s sleep.

All the Difference

So, I need to state something very clearly: To Claus or Not to Claus is not the parenting hill I want to die defending. 

Parents do different things for different reasons. Sometimes parents are inconsistent and irrational. Sometimes parents are just plain human. Sometimes they like to play along; sometimes they feel they need to bust myths.

And guess what? Sometimes parents act differently with one of their children than they do with any of the others–because that child is older or younger, or because that child interacts with the world kinesthetically rather than intellectually, or just because that kid prefers fact to fiction or vice versa.

This is a complex and interesting world we live in, and each of us creatures is complex and interesting in our own right. How I parent my children is different than how my husband does, even though we parent the same children in the same house. When I see my actions causing or potentially causing damage, I alter course. Similarly, as my children age and grow and read and experience, I alter my interaction with them.  

My way is my way as yours is yours. What works for you and your family is the best thing that you can do–because I believe that you know your child best and know how they respond to the world and to you best. What I’m asking is that what works for me and mine, well, should be afforded the same gentle understanding.

Here’s the hill I would like to die defending: not all of us experience the world the same–and that is more than okay. It’s why we have Myers Briggs tests; it’s why educators learn to teach to multiple intelligences; it’s why good ministers learn to preach to the head, the heart, and invoke the hands. It is why Santa is a lie to some, a story to others; harmful to some; magical to others. It is why some people need to define “spirituality” in order to speak of it and others regard the definition and discussion, itself, irrelevant–superfluous, even.

And I know that this last paragraph is mumbo jumbo to some and crystal clear to others. And I’m okay with that. 

Just as it makes some of you crazy for things not to be definable with delineated edges, it makes me crazy to think that things MUST be, in order for me to be able to communicate to the masses. 

I am not a scholar. I am not an expert on raising children. I’m just a mom who lives a decent life and loves her kids more than she loves her stories–but loves her stories very, very much.

Families are like perennial social science projects. When I was 13, my mother went back to school to get her Masters in Early Childhood Education. My sister and I (the last two still reachable at our home who were well beyond her target range), were constantly subjected to new theories of parenting and child-rearing, to the point of us saying to her one day “Can you show us which chapter in the book you’re in so we know what to expect next?” or some such.  And you know what? I trust my mother. I love her. And I think she was doing the best that she could whenever she learned something new. I think she still does.

If, at the end of this crazy life my children say the same thing about me, I’ll feel I’ve done well.  Perfect?  Not hardly. But well. And I can’t ask for much more than that.

If, on the other hand, it comes about that lying about Santa has stymied their growth and created social miscreants, I’ll take responsbility for that, as well.

But for now, the early evidence indicates a healthy sense of understanding of the difference between story, tradition, lies, and that different people will always, always, experience life differently. Even those who were raised by the same set of well-meaning parents with the same dysfunctional set of parameters. And, to me, that difference makes all the difference in the world.

So, please, please, please: enjoy your holidays in whatever way is authentic and wholesome to you and yours. And I, I shall do the same, while minding the difference.

Giving what we want

I’m really grateful for all the attention my last blog post, “The Big Lie? Not hardly” has generated and the comments left there and on Facebook are thoughtful and kind. I haven’t commented back, yet, and I haven’t done so on purpose. As I cleaned and cooked on Wedesday and Thursday, I kept checking back to see if there were comments and at one point started to comment back and decided to hold off. Because at some point in the midst of reading it, I remembered something a friend once said to me about a hundred years ago.

She was very near at the end of her marriage, I realize now, in hindsight, and had already laid the groundwork for leaving it. We were having a cup of coffe and she was ruminating on the work she had done to celebrate her then husband’s birthday each year and each year he had been fine with the party and celebration, but not exactly happy about it. And for her birthday, it would be dinner, wine, a gift and then sex. “We give the gift,” she said, wistfully, thoughtfully and fully sadly, “that we wish to be given. We throw the party that we wish to have thrown for ourselves.” In other words, had she shown up naked with a plate of tacos and a six pack of Dos Equis on his birthday, he would have been thrilled. She, on the other hand, needed/wanted/yearned for the party with a room full of people who love her.

I think I may be the first person to talk about Santa Claus by invoking a naked woman with a plate of tacos, but then again, maybe not. But I hope you get what I’m saying, here: Very often, we give to our children what we wanted for ourselves. In reading the responses to my last blog post, I felt it keenly.

I remember saying, more than once, that as the fourth child in the family, I never had the option TO believe in Santa Claus. I don’t know what my siblings were told. I know that we opened a present on Christmas Eve and it was always pajamas and there’s this one really adorable photo of all of us in them one year (this isn’t the one I thought I had–this looks like my siblings got bathrobes and I got feety-pajamas this year (yes, I’m the bald one in the middle).

It’s hard for me to think of what my parents must have told us way back then. I am flooded with who they were and what they did as I was older, and having those three older siblings who always wanted to be the first to know anything and then tell it, I can’t remember being told that Santa wasn’t real. Though, I do have one vague memory of an older sister and me in the back of a station wagon, rolling around in the flat part (yes, Santa Claus didn’t exist and neither did seatbelts!), and her whispering something to me that ended with something akin to –“so you’ll know and won’t look stupid like I did.” It was the same sister who years later whispered secrets to me about other things she had learned about as she grew up, all in the same spirit of generosity, so that I wouldn’t look stupid like she did.

I never felt lied to about Santa because I never really had the opportunity to believe it in the first place. I wish my dad had lied to me about other things.  I mean, when he told me Mike Brady was gay (when I hadn’t yet a clue as to what sex between a man and a woman was let alone between two men–because that older sister hadn’t yet whispered THAT bit of information to me), was probably my moment of great existential despair. Of course, my real despair came when we found that my father had NOT quit smoking as he had said he had for years. I would classify THAT as a big lie, way more so than the existence of Santa Claus. And one that ended up shaving years off his life and did, in fact, make me doubt much of everything else he told me after that.

If my parents had raised me to believe that homosexuality was wrong (they didn’t, my father just wanted people to be honest about who they were, strangely enough, in order that they COULD be who they were), or that God would save us without any work on our own, or that people of different races were inferior, well, then I would have felt lied to when I encountered the world and found out they had been telling me a load of hooey. But they didn’t. They raised me with a sense of understanding that there is wrong in the world and our job is to find ways to right it. Even if it is through storytelling. And I never felt lied to about anything of substance, until, of course, the smoking thing–and I was not alone in that.

So, maybe we give our kids the Christmas that we would have liked to have had–the childhoods that we would like to have had. And maybe we make mistakes in doing so. And maybe there are rational parents who don’t lie who end up having children who crave the story–and vice versa. Maybe we are just all a bunch of human beings who don’t have all the answers, and so make up the things we want to happen to us and for us. And maybe that is a fat man in a red and white fur (faux, of course) coat; or maybe its a naked lady with a plate of tacos.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know it all. Maybe, just maybe, whatever we give in love can be received in love and that, itself, is enough to override the not-so-literal-capital-T-truth of it all. That’s where I cast my lot in all this. But it is my lot, and I trust that there are many paths to trod on this one and we all get to choose which one or at least to cut the brush on a new path. And I wish you peace, love and magic on your journey.

P.S. to the DREs out there: No, don’t bring Santa into Sunday School–especially if you love the story, because my experience with UU kids is that they will do with Santa what they do with God. And it isn’t very pretty. I cannot erase the image of the condescending look on the face of one of my favorite kids when she said “some people believe that” to another kid.  And yet, even without Santa, she and her family have a lovely holiday each year, complete with decorations and gifts and company and food.