Last year, I bought a tiny fake Christmas tree late on Christmas Eve.
Toddler hands tore away two of its baubles last year, but I kept the tree anyway. Because of how it amused my boys, it took up a bigger space in my heart than it did on my table.
I pulled it down last week. Setting aside the paper flowers my friend Ra gave me for my birthday, I placed the tree in the middle of my family’s dining room table.
I replaced the missing baubles with a pair of my earrings. With them, the tree looked complete.
It’s not majestic. It’s not especially well made. All the same, I smiled today as I placed it up in a cupboard–with its new earring ornaments–for safekeeping until next year.
It may not be much to look at it, but it’s my family’s: our tiny, tinny Christmas tree.
If you’re like me, you’re super uncomfortable talking about race and racism as a white person in the U.S.
If you’re like me, you’ll keep on talking–and, more importantly, listening!–anyway.
For more on this, please read “On Building Racial Stamina: the Journey Out of White Fragility.”
My older son spent his first three years in an apartment a few blocks from the ocean. We’d often walk to a nearby park just across the street from the ocean.
My husband, Anthony, and I took both our boys and their new digging toys to this park the day after Christmas.
Seven-year-old Li’l D had barely begun using his remote-controlled excavator when a slightly younger girl came up and asked him to use it. My shoulders stiffened a little and I held my breath, hoping no intervention would be required.
(I’m not usually an intervener. Kids learn these ropes by navigating them. Still, sugar coursed through both my boys’ veins and the toy was very new.)
“Sure!” he replied. “This is how you use it.” He gave her a 30-second crash course before scampering off to make friends.
Li’l D and his two-year-old brother, Littler J, spent an hour and a half roaming the playground and laughing with new friends.
Li’l D never did return to his excavator. His dad fetched it after the last kid using it walked away to join Littler with his tiny excavators and trucks.
As our trip wound down, I looked at Li’l D holding his own with a bunch of kids across the park at the see-saw.
“Wow,” I told Anthony. “We don’t need to watch him so close anymore, huh? Always hovering just a few steps away …”
“We don’t,” he agreed. “This is why I take him and let him run.”
I looked just past my feet to Littler, who was busy burying his tiny excavator beneath a mound of sand.
Someday soon, Littler will be big enough to roam further away from Anthony and me.
He’ll do this in preparation for The Big Roam many years ahead.
But for now? For now, with a few asides to chase after his big brother, he is happiest playing just a few feet from Mommy and Daddy.
I’ll savor his nearness now, but when it’s his time to run? I’ll savor that, too, as another part of this whole gorgeous, messy journey of loving little kids hard enough that they’ll someday feel me nearby even when we’re in very different somewheres, far beyond the sandbox.
My seven-year-old asked me to see pictures of “Grandma Christine,” my mom. “I can’t remember what she looks like.”
It’s not surprising he doesn’t remember. He was only five months old when she died.
I told him I didn’t have many pictures of her. I explained that this was because she destroyed all our pictures while suffering from a kind of mental illness. I added that the loss of all those photos makes every picture I have of her all the more precious.
I promised to show him those pictures I still have, but a day passed. Another day passed. Yet anther day was apt to pass when he exclaimed an hour or so ago, “Your mom! I still want to see pictures!”
I sat down on the stool in front of my computer. Li’l D joined me there, snuggling up next to me as I loaded my tiny folder of photos labeled “Mom.”
The warmth of Mom flowed from those photos until I got to one longtime readers will recognize: the moment my mom met her first grandchild, and smiled a genuine smile for the first time I’d seen in years.
Li’l D scampered off to play with his new toys as I stared at the photo.
In my blog’s most popular post, “Dear Mom,” I expressed some of the abundant joys and sorrows of being my mom’s daughter. In the two years since I wrote that post, I understand the joys so much more clearly.
I also understand what a privilege it was to be raised by her. I know this might sound strange to someone who’s read about pieces of the poverty, abuse, predation, mental illness, and cancer that entailed, but those were mere fractions of an overall experience bound together by her love, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.
Had I experienced all that hardship without her insistence–and demonstration–there could be better, I would not be where I am today.
I like where I am today. I like how I am facing enormously complicated, harrowing truths while finding ways to effect change and retaining my optimism.
How do I know to do these things?
I learned them from my mom.
So today, as I remember the warmth of my son pressed against my side, asking questions about Grandma Christine, I also remember the warmth of being nestled against my mother.
The warmth itself fades, but the memory of that warmth is unquenchable.
Note: If you’d like to read more on the joys and hardships of being my mom’s daughter, please read the series I compiled–largely for my husband–last year:
This morning, my husband sent me off to spend a few quiet hours by myself.
After the reading part of my morning gave way to the errands part, I had time to think while driving alongside the ocean.
I thought about the most surprising aspect of my recent political journey: becoming, after decades mostly fluctuating between atheism and agnosticism, Christian again.
I can’t yet explain the connection between reading these horrifying things and being assured of some greater grace binding us all together. It seems counterintuitive, even to me.
Someday, I might try. For now, though, I have other things to learn and places to focus my time and efforts.
So for now, I’ll sit in the sunshine next to my Santa-hat-wearing seven-year-old and simply say, be yours secular or religious:
I got my family’s monthly electricity bill yesterday.
Electricity bills aren’t usually newsworthy around here, but this one reflected something worth celebrating.
A couple of weeks ago, my seven-year-old, Li’l D, expressed concern bordering on despair over the state of the environment.
“Hey, now,” I told him. “Instead of being afraid about what’s already happening, let’s look at all the things we’ve already done [to make a positive difference]!”
One of the items we discussed was unplugging electronics while we’re not using them. Li’l D suggested this, so that he felt proud of the suggestion even before he had proof of its impact.
When I saw the electricity bill, I was excited to see the difference. “Hey!” I called Li’l D. “Guess what?!”
I explained to him that we usually have higher electricity bills when his dad’s not working on a show, like now. This time last year, his dad was working on a single-cam show, which meant long hours away from home … and very few hours using electricity here.
On this bill, I explained, we had the exact same usage as we did last year. “If you hadn’t suggested we start unplugging more things and turning off more lights, it would have been much higher–maybe $10 or $15 higher! That’s $10 or $15 of dirty energy we didn’t use for one month, all because of your suggestion!”
Li’l D beamed when I told him this. He skipped off to tell his dad what I’d just told him.
Is there a lot of work ahead to ensure a habitable world for today’s children? Certainly! But much of it needn’t be done by politicians on high. In fact, the little things that we citizens–even seven-year-old citizens!–do day after day after day can make plenty of difference.
One more family being mindful of electricity usage won’t itself change the world, but dozens or hundreds more could make a real dent (even if some are renting and can’t yet go solar, ahem). That’s rad.
Today even more than last month, I’m heartened by the prospect of all we Earth citizens can achieve if we cast our pennies together.
My two-year-old, Littler J, stretched his arms all the way across my chest and nestled his head beneath my chin.
I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek against his fine, curly hair. “Oh, snugglemuffin,” I said.
Noting snuggling that excluded him, my seven-year-old appeared and wrapped his arms around me and his brother. “If he’s your snugglemuffin, then that means I’m your … snugglecake!”
I chuckled as Li’l D squeezed even tighter. “That you are, snugglecake.”
“Because cakes are bigger than muffins, and I’m bigger than him!” he explained.
“I gotcha, snugglecake.”
“But I’m your snugglemonster,” he mused aloud. “If I’m your snugglecake and your snugglemonster, that makes me your snugglemonstercake!”
I laughed as I soaked up my little boys’ love.
Snugglecake, snugglemonster, snugglemonstercake–whatever you call all this, it’s bliss to me.