Let love win and the rest will take care of itself

I was raised as a Catholic, but my religious beliefs have always been a little…squishy. A pastor at one of the non-Catholic churches I attended said technically, I was still a Catholic and a heretical one at that. He said it kindly and with humor, at least that’s how I remember it. These days, most would consider me to be an agnostic. I can’t put God in one tidy box. I prefer to call my particular brand of faith Episcobudditarianism.

My very Catholic mother rocked Christmas. We had two trees; the fancy tree, color-coordinated with our green and gold living room, and the kids tree, which had everything we could load on it. My siblings and I would sing along to classic Goodyear/Firestone holiday albums while we made ornaments for the Carols and Candles service using the eggs from L’eggs pantyhose (drilling the hole in those suckers was hard. They were also quite resistant to glue.)

Over the years, while I wandered through literal and spiritual homes, my Christmas spirit remained firmly in place. When the Dude was little, we used to cover the house with lights, inside and out. The more garish the better. My husband maintained some sense of reason, otherwise we would have had a blow up snow globe in the front yard that projected a Mannheim Steamroller laser show.

With the dude getting older, he’s not really interested in much beyond eating butter cookies, so it was up to me to bring on the Christmas. I was more than up to the task. And when my mother-in-law, in the grip of advanced Parkinson’s, began to fail, I promised my husband I would keep bringing the Christmas. I baked more, decorated more, sang “Sleigh Ride” until he begged me to stop.

Early in my marriage, my mother-in-law and I didn’t connect the way either of us wanted to. We both held on to our resentment and let it get in the way. As her memory faded in more recent years, our relationship shifted into something more loving and open. Her illness was awful, but it gave us a do-over. I wish we’d done it sooner. As she entered hospice care, I thought about my own parents, who I didn’t get to see this Thanksgiving due to the weather, and my siblings, with whom I share so many of those happy holiday memories, the ones I can still page through on demand, and wanted to have them all with me–even my brother who always woke us all up at the crack of dawn.

The hospice nurse said my mother-in-law could hear everything around her, so I played the Pandora holiday channel on my IPhone while I sat with her. A week before Christmas, she passed away.

On Christmas Eve, my husband, my father-in-law, the Dude, and I, went to service at the National Cathedral. Since one has to buy a ticket, it’s the only place I don’t feel like we’re taking someone else’s pew.  It’s an impressive space, built for contemplation and anonymity. So there I was, in the nation’s church on one of the most important days in Christian faith, and I’d been “bringing it on” by playing with cookie dough and glitter. I needed to do something to honor the woman who raised my wonderful husband since it took us far longer than it should have to reach a level of mutual respect and affection.

I looked at the cross and wondered what the heck I actually believed in. I wasn’t looking for a religious awakening, just something absolute that wasn’t bound into any one -ism. They gave us all candles to hold as we sang Silent Night. I lit my taper from my father-in-law’s candle and thought. “Let love win, and the rest will take care of itself.”

I may never be able to categorize my religion, any more than I can describe my career plans or my actual hair color. I do, however, know what I believe in.  And there’s nothing wrong with a  little glitter and cookie dough, too. Just saying.

Happy New Years to you are yours.

Holiday Haiku from the cats

Human–thank me nowIMG_0292

I’ve killed the evil red ball

One less ornament

Holiday ribbon

Makes for a festive hairball

On your yoga mat

Humans don’t get it

You can keep the **** inside

Just leave me the box

The lights on the tree

Aren’t blinking in unison

I will remove them

Go on–laugh it up

While my food bowl goes empty

Kiss dessert goodbye

The coats on the bed

Are the perfect place to sleep

Screw their allergies

Sorry mantel crecheIMG_0666

But I have dibs on this space

Kick it to the curb

I don’t care, grandpa

The dog stays at home capiche?

Or I shred your pants

Dearest Santa Claus

The human lies–I’ve been good

Just send some catnip

Like the humans say

Climb high, and I’ll reach the stars

Up the tree I go

Cocktail party – yay!

I will sit amongst them all

And lick my privates

Opening presents!

How should I know if they’re mine?

Cat’s can’t read, Einstein

I will shed my fur

On your new cashmere sweater

Until you pet me

If that’s what it takes

I’ll wish you Merry Christmas

Now go fill my bowl.

Happy Holidays from Hunter, Sasha, and the Mobyjoe Cafe

If you want Christmas, you gotta bring it

This Christmas was my son’s personal Rubicon. He’s not a kid anymore. As if learning to drive, the start of his college search and growing from nose-to-nose with me to nose-to-nose with his father didn’t clue him in already.

It didn’t come without warning. Over the last few years, his pile of presents has gotten smaller and smaller as he wants more expensive things. Electronics don’t come cheap. An IPad is in a totally different league from a Bionicle, and hopefully won’t end up in small pieces underfoot. Yet somehow, this year, it hit him like a ton of bricks. Being an adult often sucks.

He tried to hide his feelings, but he is a lousy poker player. He was totally joyful and grateful and did and said all of the right things, but some essential dude-ness was absent. That, he can’t fake. After the holiday was over, he and I talked about it.

He said that he got really cool gifts, and assured me that he really liked them. It just didn’t feel the same to him–it wasn’t like it used to be. The day lost some of its immediacy—that new truck, or Nerf gun, or computer game he’d spend a whole day immersed in wasn’t part of the deal anymore. His gifts were…useful.

And it occurred to me—I know exactly where my husband and I went wrong.

Children are Petrie dishes for the holiday spirit. You don’t even need to do very much. They watch endless Rudolph videos, make holiday art projects, and beg you to visit Santa while editing their wish lists over and over. You have the school assemblies to attend, and cookies to decorate, and they don’t roll their eyes at you when you suggest driving around to see the Christmas lights. Children drag you into the holidays kicking and screaming whether you like it or not.

This year, both my husband and I were preoccupied with worldly concerns—his proposal, my novel submission deadline. The tree stood bare for two weeks before we got around to decorating it. We took care of tasks, but we didn’t prepare. We expected our son to bring Christmas, but without the infrastructure of childhood surrounding him, he didn’t know how.

I explained to him that as you get older, Christmas changes. The anticipation, the preparation, is the event. Getting gifts is great, don’t get me wrong, but what I cherish is all of the warmth and joy that the season evokes. My son now needs to be a part of that process, not just the recipient of it.

We talked about how to create that feeling. We decided that next year, he can help me come up with the crazy stuff I get for his Dad’s stocking, ice the cookies, and maybe even dance to some holiday tunes when no one is looking (that’s one of my strategies. He’s not convinced). We can create new traditions to replace the ones that he’s outgrown. Christmas, however, won’t come to him like it used to, so he’ll need to send out the invitation and welcome it home.

It’s not too late, however, for me to capture some of the spirit, albeit belatedly. I’m baking some cookies. Sprinkles always bring out the kid in me, and if he refuses to help, I’m eating them all myself.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Richard Masoner © 2007 Creative Commons


Just like the ones I used to know

Christmas LightsIt doesn’t feel much like Christmas in my house. A good deal of it is due to the chaos in our lives–I’ve been buried in my novel since early November, my husband’s workplace is busy, and my son’s high school workload has him buried in paper. Most of all, it’s because there aren’t children in our house anymore.

Having a young child is holiday Viagra. The activities that seemed routine and automatic take on new meaning. My son and I used to merge Deck the Halls and Extreme Home Makeover. Our house looked like it had been pranked by elves on crack. There was not a surface left uncovered by bows, lights, glitter or Santa. We would camp out under the Christmas tree and watch holiday videos and cry when the snowman melted.

He used to start his list sometime around Halloween and edit on a daily basis. I used an Advent calendar to help him keep track of the days before he understood that time moves slowly when you’re excited about something. He would wear a Santa hat and reindeer antlers to school without a trace of irony or embarrassment.

As of now, the house isn’t decorated, the tree is lit but bare and the Advent calendar chocolate is another form of breakfast he has no time for. There is very little he wants, and I see that as a good thing. Maturity (or his version of it) has dimmed his need for acquisition. We’ve done something right.

I miss his excitement, however, his mounting anticipation. I loved how he’d remember where we got each ornament. I am alone in humming Sleigh Ride.

Since I no longer have a small child, I will have to become one myself. It’s possible. I’ve done it before. The first year my husband and I were married, we didn’t get a tree because we’d be traveling to both sets of parents for the holidays. It was a practical decision. A week before Christmas, however,  I was beset by melancholy, so I decorated our scraggly Ficus. It died happy.

So beginning today, I will see Christmas through a child’s eyes and hope that it is contagious. I’ll skip the chocolate for breakfast, but will get those elves good and hyped. We’ve got some decorating to do.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Dena Burnett © 2005 Creative Commons