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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Year Is Almost Gone

I am amazed that 2011 is coming to a close.  I believe I will remember this year fondly...there have been a lot of firsts and and lots of fun. Christmas was a sweet time, things went fairly smoothly with the ex and the kiddos seemed to have an easy time with the switcheroo.  It's never fun to send them off, especially on a holiday.  Still my own evening was relaxing and fun.  Now we're visiting distant family and I'm just exhausted from trying to cram too much into too little time.

I haven't had much time to think about 2012 - I know there are some things I hope to leave in the past, I know there are some things I hope to add.  I know there are lots more that I haven't had time to think about yet.  I feel like it's time to get serious about what I want for me.  No more excuses, 2012 needs to be a year of action.

My "one word" for 2011 was Wisdom.  I can't say I've gained much, yet the awareness helps me be more intentional.  I'm thinking over some words for 2012.  It will probably be mid-January before I've settled on one.

I'm okay with that.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Liebster Award - What are we talking about?

Shelby of the Working Moms Blog has encouraged me in my posting for some time and recently honored me with The Liebster Award.  I admit, I had to figure out exactly what that meant ... and it pleased me so much to be nominated by another blogger!

Here is the explanation according to her site:

The Liebster award originated in Germany. (The word “Liebster” is a term of endearment; “beloved person.”) The aim of the award is to bring attention to blogs with fewer than 200 followers.
These are the rules for accepting the award:
1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2.. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the internet – other writers.
5. And best of all – have fun and spread the Karma!
6. Right click on the award image to save it to your computer and then upload to your blog!

 In accepting, I get to pass along the recognition:

It's All About Balance - April is fantastic and I consider her among my bloggy BFF's
Lemongrass - Vanessa is a gem, and an early encourager
Postcards From a Peaceful Divorce - oh to have this kind of grace
Giving Up on Perfect - Mary is my hero because she tells it like it is
Creative Little House - Julie is a childhood friend-turned-blogger: way to go Jules!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Better This Year

I wish my presents were this pretty - image via Pinterest
Naturally, this year feels better for me because the children are here for this entire week leading up to the climax of Christmas morning. Last year was a sweet time, but I learned to take more opportunities to celebrate the experience on more than just Christmas Day. My children arrived home at 6 pm already overstimulated, tired and annoyed at having to leave their gifts at Daddy's house. We enjoyed gift-opening with my parents to help celebrate and then promptly crashed.
This year we'll wake and the children can freely pillage their stockings. We'll eat breakfast, letting the anticipation build. Then I'll don the Santa hat and hand out gifts. There are just four each to open and I have a feeling it won't take long! They can play while I get ready for the day, and they'll need to get ready, also, so we can head out to church. Hopefully I'll have time to prep some of the lunch before heading out the door. 

I realized that I wanted to make the transition a bit easier for the children this year. So, I've invited M (my former husband and their Daddy) to join us for a Christmas feast in the early afternoon. He's accepted and we plan to have a traditional family meal, a bit of playtime and perhaps a nap for the baby boy as we gather their things. Then they will head over to Daddy's house to continue the celebration with him. My therapist once told me that one of the greatest regrets that adult children of divorce have is the lack of memories or photos that contain their complete family unit. Yes, I plan to take a picture. It's interesting to me that I intended to do this last year, but was not emotionally in a place where I could.

After everyone is gone, I hope to have a few moments to clean up and savor the memories. Then I get to have a new experience - meeting the parents of the man in my life.

Merry Christmas to each who happens to read here.  I continue to believe that my own experience is best served by sharing with others.  My prayer is that my pain and learning is not wasted and so I share my journey with you.  It's the only gift I have and I'm blessed when you respond. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home Alone at Christmas - or Not

Several of my close friends are dealing with their first holiday season post separaton or divorce.  It is hard.  There is no way to avoid the changes and broken pieces of a family divided.  It's time to let go of the expectations for a perfect Christmas.  We can’t detour around this brokenness. The only way out is to walk right through. During the holidays the shroud of change can feel especially dark. It will take years before there is a new normal: years with new memories and people to share with. A long time from now, the way things used to be will feel like a lifetime ago. Pain will no longer tinge the sweetness of the memories. But the only way to get to that place is to trudge forward, create another way and new traditions now.

As a single parent, I feel a lot of pressure to "put on" the perfect holiday.  We don't want our children to miss anything because of our own relationship shortcomings.  It's easy to overindulge, overspend and overschedule.  For me, it is important to acknowledge that it just isn't going to be the way it was, but will still be a meaningful and memorable time.  Most importantly, have a plan!  Be flexible, but know what the day will be like. 

Take time to consider:
  • Will you be without your children Christmas morning?  It's natural to feel blue and lonely, but make a plan so it's not completely miserable.  Join another family, meet up with your relatives, volunteer somewhere.  Sleep in!
  • Will the children be leaving midway through the day?  Again, this can be a lonely point so make a plan!  Lots of theatres are open Christmas evening, go see a new release, gather with another friend or travel to visit someone you haven't seen in a while. 
  • Are you prepared? Be sure to have on hand all you need for stockings, meals and incidentals that may come up.  When you're the only adult, you have to think and plan ahead.  Get those gifts wrapped and don't stay up till 2 am Christmas morning doing last minute things.  You want to be rested and ready for the fun!
  • Do you need reinforcements?  This is a good time to call on grandparents, aunts uncles or other close family and friends to join you for the fun.  I always feel like more people make for more festive holidays.
  • Make the best of it! Whether your children are coming or going on Christmas Day, prioritize what is important to you.  Read the books, bake the cookies, eat the feast, hang the stockings.  Pass along the traditions you want your children to cherish. You can do this! 
Remember what you love about the season and focus on the joys.  It's alright if you have a meltdown as you adjust to this new way of doing things.  Perhaps you have been single for years and you've already reached the place of "New Normal" - lucky you!  Last year I struggled greatly with the disconnect between what was supposed to be and what actually happened in my life.  Acknowledging that was part of my healing journey, so let yourself grieve when necessary. 

Share with us if you have any fun tips, special traditions or exciting plans that will help make this Christmas a great one.  I'd love to know what you're dreading, too!  I'll admit that I just inadvertantly invited M's current girlfriend to join us for our Christmas lunch ... I don't know if I'm that much of a modern family!  She'll say no, right?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Moody Monday

I can't complain too much this week because things feel generally great.  We've had a last minute change of plans, but I've got enough room in our schedule to work around it.  School is on break for the holiday and it was delightful to not have the morning rush-around getting three children dressed, fed, teeth brushed and out the door with all the appropriate gear for the day.  Seriously, wonderful!  I'm *almost* done with my Santa shopping and have had fun with some surprise gifts received and given. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Decisions of Divorce: Update on the Marital Home

My home is officially for sale.  I have a realator contracted, an MLS # and three showings to date.  I'm not happy about it, but I'm fulfilling my obligation and trusting that God will provide us a place when this one sells.

The children are concerned, especially my sweet firstborn.  He is questioning whether he will have his own room and feels that it will not be our home if and when we move.  His concerns are valid.  I worry about those things, too.

It has taken me a long time to come to the place where I could take this step.  I made every attempt to refinance, but those efforts did not go through and I am unwilling to spend more money going down an uncertain road.  I'm trusting that for reasons unknown to me, God has blocked the path for me to purchase this house on my own.  I can think of several worst-case scenarios where I will be glad to not be burdened by
the debt.

Intellectually, I know this is the right, required action.  Our home is the final joint legal tie that I have with ex-H and it will be good to clear that connection.  Additionally, home in our region are on the market for an average of 26 months, so it is unlikely that anything would happen quickly.  Emotionally, I'm sad to have a "For Sale" sign in the yard.  It feels a bit defeating that I wasn't able to refinance and I do not have a plan for when the home sells. 

The unknown is the most unsettling.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Christmas Magic is Christ

Creating Meaning

Along with the memories that you sculpt for your family, you are also transmitting meaning to your children and framing their worldview.  Make the most of this time to communicate the truth that God came to earth so we could know Him.  Work out ways to counter the consumerism that innundates our celebrations.  Provide ways to for your children to give.  Here are some of the ways I'm working to communicate the true meaning of the season.

  • Ask Another Question: What do you want to give?  I have been tryng to reframe the "What I want" statements with thoughts of giving.  Even dreaming of giving.  "If you had $100 to spend on someone else, what would you give them?"  This question has brought lots of fun and important responses. 
  • Give to Strangers: Each year we send shoe boxes for children the same ages as mine along with time spent learning about the needs.  There are wonderful 'catalogs' where you can choose chicks, water filtering systems, a goat and other larger items that would make a difference to a family.  This year we went in with others to purchase a goat!  We chose a name from our local angel tree and had fun shopping for a little boy and we rarely pass a Salvation Army bucket without contributing.  I keep cash on hand when we go out just for this purpose.
  • Hands-on Nativity: Along with our Christmas stories, I have the Fisher Price Little People Nativity.  I don't know how many years they will continue to enjoy it, but for now it's still fun to act out events.
  • Provide gifts for Daddy: I want my children to enjoy giving and to be generous, so I provide gifts for each to give their Daddy.  Ideas that are budget friendly include letting their inner artist decorate a blank canvas, baking a favorite dessert, decorating a t-shirt or a certificate/card for an activity they can do together like going to the movies, etc.  You are teaching them to give and giving your children the gift of loving both parents
  • Participate in your faith community: Being consistent and faithful at your church demonstrates the importance and priority of community.  The added layer of adult role models who are like-minded deepens the impact of the truth we hold to at Christmastime.  Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and I'm just thrilled for the chance to put down our gifts and join with others as we focus on the greatest gift of all time, Christ coming so we could know God.  I'm excited to sit together with my children.  I liked this post about "Why I Will Go to Church on Christmas."
I've seen and heard so many other great ideas that mark the meaning of the season.  Thiese are just some of what works for us.  I'd love to hear what works for you!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Christmas Magic is YOU!

Every parent wants their children to enjoy a magical holiday season and Christmas day.  As mothers, we are often the keepers of tradition, we are the ones who establish the atmosphere in our homes and our children look to us as the measure of joy in their lives.  It's an enormous responsibility.
I know firsthand that you may not feel like bringing out decorations that inevitably bring back memories of a different kind of holiday.  End of the workday exhaustion may seem to trump a baking session or Christmas craft.  Like me, you may feel physically, emotionally or mentally drained.  Perhaps all three.  It's very likely that money is tight, maybe tighter than ever because of the additional expenses that arrive with December.  So, you and I must be intentional about providing a memorable and meaningful holiday season for our children. 
Mom, you have the ability to shape your child's experience through the memories they will carry forward.  You will frame the way they think of Christmas for the rest of their lives.  I'm not perfect at doing this, but my own mother pretty much was the queen of holidays.  From her, I learned the importance of creating memories and meaning.  I hope you'll think about ways you can do the same and share what you're loving this year.

Creating Memories
Your preschooler won't remember if your tree was real or artificial, but they will remember the glow of twinkling lights as you settle them down in the evenings.  At ages 3, 5, and 7 years, I was so surprised at the glee in which my children 'discovered' all the ornaments to decorate our tree.  The excitement was palpable!  Stories read year after year will become traditions they can pass onto their own families someday.  Christmas baking and seasonal songs, simple crafts, silly games and an advent calendar provide points of connection that will last long after the decor is packed away.  It does take extra effort, thought and energy, sometimes extra money, but these moments are investments into the fabric of our children's memories.  It is worth the added burden.  Here are some simple ways we create memories at our Little House:
I try to let the kiddos be very 'hands-on' when decorating our tree.
  • Lots of Lights: That's right, I get a little crazy with white lights on the mantle, in the kitchen, over the tv and all outside the house.  To me, nothing says "Christmas" like lights!  We add some color ones to our tree because for my children - they like the circus colors, so while it's not my preference, I happily comply.  I'm not decorating for a show, I'm decorating for them and so I try to be loose-handed about where the ornaments are hung and the obnoxious dancing snowman music player. 
  • December Advent Calendar: In the past we just opened a window each day leading up to Christmas, but last year we began with opening a window each day.  Sometimes there is a treasure with candy or a little Christmas toy.  I also try to include several activities like a Candy Cane Hunt or Building a Gingerbread House.  We rotate which child gets to open the window and do it before dinner each day.  We simply skip the days when the children are visiting at Daddy's (although they test those windows to see if anything was missed).
  • Christmas Books: Reading together is a regular part of our life and so we have a basket of holiday books that come out only during this time of year.  It's fun to revisit them and probably time to add a few more.
  • Caroling Together: I hear those tunes and instantly it's Christmas.  So connected are the songs with the season that it brings memories from my own home and childhood that I want to share.  My children love "Away in A Manager, " "Frosty the Snowman," and "Heark the Herald Angels Sing" best.  I play music as we prepare meals and we sing together before bedtime.
  • Celebrate Togetherness: It's a special treat for my children when we sit in front of our fireplace, all in jammies and enjoy fresh popcorn and hot cocoa.  It doesn't matter what you're doing, do it together and enjoy the company.
  • Cultural Experience: To young minds, seeing the Christmas story played out makes a big impact.  They will remember the events more if they can 'witness' Mary and Joseph in the stable, angels announcing Christ's birth and live animals in on the action.  In our area we have a spectacular Living Christmas Tree pageant, a Live Nativity and many churches have similar fanfare.  If you don't have access to these, The Nativity movie is also wonderful.  There are often community theatre productions of "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker."
Could there be a cuter duet of "Away in A Manger?"
How do you create memories during the holiday season?  Is it a struggle to be motivated for fun?  Is there anything we can do, as moms, to make this a greater priority in our days?  Have you tried something that was a complete flop?  If this season is a difficult one for you, remember why He came.
Friday I'll share the important ways we creat meaning in our celebration.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Perfectionists Demand Control

When I am in a more perfect mode, I notice how easily I am irritated when others don't behave the way I *think* they should.   Recently I received the following in my inbox which helped to remind me that there is no freedom when living with a control-freak.  I've been on the other end of things and I do not want my children to feel manipulated by me for any reason.  Maybe these tips will help you, too! 

From Kirk Martin - Celebrate Calm:
Why do you need your child to be happy or in a good mood?
Just so you don't think I'm being a jerk, I used to do this all the time with my wife. If she didn't respond "the right way" or the way I needed in the morning, I'd ask her, "What's wrong? Can I do something to help you?" Was I really interested in helping her? Not really. I wanted to CHANGE her that I could be in a good mood. I was dependent on her acting a certain way.

If you try to control other people's behavior, it always leads to power struggles and frustration. Instead, we need to have this attitude:
  1. You are allowed to be moody and unhappy.
  2. Your mood does not determine my mood.
  3. I am not responsible for your happiness or your mood. You are.
  4. I am responsible for my own mood. The most effective way to change my child's behavior is to control my own.
  5. If you need help because something is bothering you, I'd be thrilled to help you (but I'm not going to change you).
Can you control your own anxiety, lecturing, perfectionism? If not, this will rob you of peace, joy and healthy relationships.
Expectations run rampant during this holiday season, so guard any preconceived ideas about how you want others to behave and accept them just for whom they are - especially our own precious children.  May they always feel free to be themselves!