As much as we want our lives to fit into neat thematic blocks or narrative arcs, our days are mostly messy, our lives mostly zig-zag. We are not Sandra Bullock in a rom-com and this is not the end of the second act, with a soaring resolution just around the corner.
But every once in awhile, a theme does emerge from the chaos. And that's how I know it's time to pay attention. Not to get all woo woo on you, but for the universe to get through to me- a woman whose husband could cut the grass, shave off his entire beard, and rearrange the house without me noticing - that means it's really important.
So the theme that is emerging this week is connection. It started over the weekend when I was doing my biannual ironing session (you think I'm kidding, and that's cute) and listening to my favorite podcast, The Next Right Thing. On the podcast, Emily P. Freeman repeated this quote from author Shauna Niequist: "With people, you can connect or you can compare, but you can't do both."
I nearly dropped the iron on my foot when I heard that. GET OUTTA MY HEAD, LADY. Hello, lightbulb moment the size of Citifield. Thank you, laser beam of wisdom right between the eyes.
So I've spent the last couple of days rolling that thought around in my head, trying to replace all my comparison moments (how many zeroes are in a bazillion?) with opportunities to connect.
Here's the thing I realized: comparison is easy and takes absolutely no courage. Connection is hard (for me) and takes a lot of courage (for me). But...comparison feels supremely crappy, and connection feels super awesome. I know connecting comes naturally to some people, and guess what? When I compare myself to those people, I feel like a turd. On the flip side, there are things that come naturally to me (sarcasm comes to mind) that may take more effort for other people.
I figure if I can train myself to run a 5K, I can train myself to connect instead of comparing. Running and connecting both take effort and intention and are unpleasant at certain points but so worth it in the end.
So on day two of Connection Week, Hurricane Hysteria started setting in, and I got real cranky. Nothing stresses me out more than Hurricane Hysteria. But today I realized that, in spite of their awfulness, natural disasters bring authentic connection. We are all in this together, even when this is a real bummer.
I was sixteen and living in Chapel Hill when Hurricane Fran hit North Carolina. My family slept in the living room, and by "slept" I mean "listened to noises we didn't know wind could make" and "prayed our house wouldn't get smashed to smithereens by falling trees." The next morning my dad loaded his chainsaw into the car and we drove around town looking at all the damage. If a tree was blocking the street, my dad used his chainsaw to clear it. We reached out to our friends and assessed the damage. We connected.
So instead of being cranky and mentally checked out this week, I am going to try to see this hurricane as a chance to connect. Maybe we'll tell ghost stories and read by flashlight if the lights go out. Maybe we'll have a block party and clean out our freezers by grilling together. Maybe we'll get out the chainsaw (although Nervous Nellie over here has to draw the line somewhere, I mean jeez).
Today is September 11. It's a Tuesday, just like it was in 2001. I have the worst memory in general, but my recollections from that day are as clear as the sky was blue that morning. I didn't have much prior experience to base it on, because I'd only been living in New York for 12 days, but I remember people making eye contact that day and in the weeks after that day.
We didn't walk around pretending we were small islands on the bigger island of Manhattan. We looked at each other from across the train like, "W the actual F is going on?" We were all in it together.
The next day, there was nothing to do but gather. Everything was cancelled, everything was broken. I met up with a couple of other students in my teaching program, even though the semester had just started and we barely knew each other. We didn't even have anything to say, but it was comforting being with other people who were equally shell-shocked and raw. Being alone in my apartment and watching the news felt awful. Being outside with other people felt almost bearable.
We can compare or connect, but we can't do both. I hope I can continue to connect to people even after Connection Week is over, even when I feel shy and vulnerability feels scary, and even when it seems easier to wander through the comparison hellscape of Instagram. I don't want to have to go through another Hurricane Fran or 9/11 to wake up and remember that, when you really think about it, connection is all we have.
Photo by Raleigh News and Observer
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
One of the greatest hits of my life so far happened almost exactly 15 years ago, at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. It was my graduation from Teachers College and the speakers included Pete Seeger (what now?) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (what the WHAT now?).
Not only was the line up out of this world, but for some reason (not at all related to academic performance), I had a second-row seat for the ceremony. It was a program that included a life-affirming speech by Archbishop Tutu and a sing-along with Pete Seeger. Even though it would take years for me to learn that Pete Seeger was a more highly evolved human than the rest of us, I could tell from the second row that I was in the presence of greatness.
By the end of his short performance, Pete Seeger had an entire church full of people singing along to “Turn! turn! turn!” Pete, who I think would love being on a first-name basis with all of us, fed us each line before we sang it, and our voices filled the cathedral, accompanied by Pete’s lone acoustic guitar.
“To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season,” we sang together, as New York City in May blossomed outside the church doors and our futures as graduates hovered all around us.
That was the first day of a new season of our lives, and we have been cycling through seasons ever since. Through every season, the lyrics of Pete’s song (a.k.a. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) have been a balm, shepherding me through the darker seasons and putting seemingly permanent situations in perspective.
Seasons are hopeful, promising, and always changing. The cold ones lead to warmer ones, and the stiflingly hot ones lead to refreshingly crisp ones. I tend to forget about the seasonality of life, inclined instead to project my current situation infinitely into the future.
But if you’ve ever looked out a window or watched a child grow, you know that’s not how it works. Nature and humanity are constantly whispering change into our lives. The leaves will turn red in October. My children will lose their baby teeth. I may eventually learn how to properly roast a chicken. But for now, the pollen is swirling, there’s no hint of a wiggle in my daughter’s teeth, and I stick with the grill when it comes to chicken.
I am a person who wants to do all the things, right now. Remembering that “there is a time for every purpose under heaven” helps me take a deep breath, accept my current season, and have faith that the next season will offer new possibilities.
My current season is the one where I go through life doing three things at once, getting interrupted most of the time, and crashing on the couch at 9:15pm. This season is also filled to the brim with hugs, giggles and happy stuffed animals.
This is not the season where I will work on sewing projects for hours while listening to podcasts for intellectual and cultural edification. This is also not the season where I will cook meals with more than five ingredients, practice guitar every day, or leisurely work my way through all the fiction I want to read. But in this season, I get to take breaks from the constant activity to revel in kindergarten plays and dance recitals and beach days.
This is the season where the needs of the people I love will simultaneously overwhelm, exhaust, and fulfill me, making every day whiz by until I stop, take a look around, and wonder where the time went, why my house is so quiet, and how I got so much older.
One of my favorite memories of living in New Jersey was walking my son to kindergarten every day. Some days we got to school dripping with sweat. Other days we maneuvered through a tiny passageway on the sidewalk, surrounded by two feet of snow. The swoosh-crunch of the leaves in September was one of my favorite sounds. Walking through the seasons as my son got nine months older was a gift – a calming memory to give me perspective when I feel stuck, or when I feel blurry from too much activity.
But it’s all a gift, isn’t it? To everything there is a season. So we don’t have to do all the things today. And if today is a dumpster fire, then life, and Pete Seeger, and Ecclesiastes, promise us that change is on the horizon. If today is beautiful, life advises us to enjoy it and stockpile that joy to keep us warm on a darker day.
I’m looking forward to the season where I do get to learn guitar, so I can teach myself that song we sang with Pete 15 years ago. For now, I’m occupied by trying to keep track of bathing suits, goggles and flip flops. And that's really good for now.
Last week I ordered HBO for the sole purpose of watching the movie Get Out. I was not disappointed. I’m not a horror movie person but I took the risk because I knew I needed to see this movie.
Because, here’s how it looks on paper:
Comedy Central guy decides to write and direct a horror movie that's also an examination of contemporary race relations in America. Movie breaks records, grosses more than $250 million on a $4.5 million budget, wins all kinds of awards. Minds are blown.
This story is kind of amazing. And the most amazing part, for me, is the moment where Jordan Peele won the Academy Award (making history in the process). Here is the part of his speech that got me:
I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn’t going to work. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it.
I don’t know what it’s like to be one thousandth as talented as Jordan Peele. I don’t know what it’s like to write a movie. But I do know what it’s like to have something that you want to put into the world. Something that you keep giving up on and coming back to. Something that gives you faith in your purpose but also scares the crap out of you.
I hid from my something for years, until I finally learned that time is not infinite and hiding is a luxury not currently in my life budget. So I vowed to work on it every day for 30 minutes, even though I was busy starting a business and running a household.
I vowed to show up, because that’s really all it takes.
Can I tell you something? I have to talk myself into showing up every single time I sit down to work on it. Every. Single. Time. There is not a morning where I am looking forward to working on it. There is no excuse I have not tried on myself.
I didn’t sleep well last night.
I’m too busy.
I have too many emails to look at.
I’m not feeling creative today.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
But tomorrow is a lie. Tomorrow is a cop out. Tomorrow is a bill of goods. If I always count on tomorrow, my something will give up on me and go find someone else to inspire.
So I show up, and miracles happen. And when I say miracles, I am not talking about the quality of what I’m producing, AT ALL. I know damn well that I ain’t no Nabokov.
I’m talking about the miracle of an idea turning into something real. The miracle of having just enough faith to try something that scares me. The miracle of making something instead of just talking about making something.
For some people, making things is as natural as breathing – it’s just what they do. I have always lived in secret awe of those people. Me? I’m not one of those people. It took me 38 years to get the courage to show up for the one project that, as the kids say, “gives me life.”
So what took me so long?
I was waiting for permission - something I didn’t even realize I was doing until Elizabeth Gilbert told me. Yeah, I’m basically BFFs with the author of Eat, Pray, Love.
Okay, I may be exaggerating. I’ve actually never met her, but I did read her book Big Magic, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with a beating heart.
Here’s the deal: I’m a good girl, a rule follower, a black or white, wrong or right person. So, like a good girl, I was sitting around waiting for someone to give me permission to do this thing that was in my heart.
Elizabeth Gilbert gave me permission in Big Magic, and, while I am not exactly a best-selling author, or an author at all (yet?!) I give you permission.
I, Grace Kennedy, give you, person with a beating heart, permission to turn your idea into something real.
You are surrounded by people who are rooting for you. We got you. We are rallying around you, and we would really love to see this idea of yours. Because we know that your beating heart is the only beating heart that can do this one thing. So we’re not just giving you permission - we’re counting on you to put your idea into the world.
And we can’t wait to hear your acceptance speech.
I wrote this little ditty for my friend Joanna, who is a talented business owner and proof that you can do what you love.
“I turned a compulsion into a career.” That’s how Joanna Clausen of NEST Organizing describes her path to small business ownership. NEST (short for Neaten, Energize, Simplify, Transform) came about when Joanna was transitioning from working full-time for the Charlotte Public Library to being a stay-at-home mom with her second son. “I realized I love being a mommy, but I also had a drive to work outside the home,” says Joanna.
She thought about how she could turn something she loved into a business, and it hit her: she was a natural when it came to organizing and de-cluttering her home, and she enjoyed helping her friends do the same.
The organizing service that started four years ago with a few client/friends has quickly grown into a thriving business that has allowed Joanna to find that elusive work-life balance.
Finding that balance is not easy. As NEST Organizing has grown, so has Joanna’s family. She welcomed her third son, Henry, in 2016.
“Being a mom, wife, daughter, and business owner is tough,” says Joanna. “By the time I get to a client’s house each day, I’ve been up for three hours and dropped off three children at three different places. But having my own business means I can set my schedule and I get to be home with my kids in the afternoon.”
Word of mouth has been the biggest factor in NEST’s growth, but Joanna does appreciate the value of having an online presence. “People want to check you out and get a feel for your business through your website and social media,” says Joanna. “But nothing beats friends and happy clients spreading the word!”
Four years of professional organizing have yielded some memorable experiences, including the time she found a pretzel in a box of Christmas ornaments. What seemed like garbage accidentally put in a bin turned out to be a memento from her client’s first Christmas as a newlywed, when they couldn’t afford ornaments and decorated their tree with pretzels.
“I will never forget the lesson that taught me,” recalls Joanna. “Never assume you know more about a person’s belongings than they do.”
By turning her organizing “compulsion” into a satisfying career, Joanna Clausen has found a way to gracefully juggle the moving parts of working motherhood. Her advice to any woman seeking small business ownership: “Find something you are passionate about and go for it! The fulfillment you get from doing what you love makes you better in all the other areas of your life.”
Visit nestorganizing.com to learn more about Joanna and her services. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Her before and after pics are kind of addictive!
Here is a list of actual, word-for-word questions my children have asked me. Read at your own risk...
Who invented life?
Is Cupid real? Do people be mysteriously waking up and getting in love?
How did God get so popular?
Does space ever end?
Can you repeat time?
What controls the sun?
How did God become God?
How old was I when I met my childhood?
Is the future real?
Can the future happen to you?
What's the opposite of New York City?
Is Mother Nature God's wife?
Do bad guys have to learn how to swim?
Do girls have armpits?
Is there such a thing as hedgehogs?
Special section for questions whose innocence broke my heart:
What's a bullet?
What's a spanking?
And, my all-time favorite question, and one that I honestly will never have an answer for:
What is the point of golf?
Words fail me. If you followed Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing, I bet you’re right here with me.
I know how I feel about aspects of the hearing, but there is no word for the overall feeling this situation elicits. I feel awe for the unimaginable strength of the 156 women who read Victim Impact Statements just feet away from the man who tried to ruin their lives. Disgust for the monster in the prison uniform. Disbelief that he was able to get away with so much for so long. Grief as I watch a rage-filled father lunge at Nassar. Hope that this hideous situation will serve as a moment of reckoning for all of us.
So here’s what I’m reckoning with at the moment: Niceness.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“Is that a nice thing to say?”
As a lifelong people pleaser, I’ve said all of these things to my children, many times. Being nice is important to me. I can’t stand it when people are mean or dismissive for no reason. I love those adorable shirts that little girls wear, decorated with messages like “Choose Kindness” in shimmery, curlicue script. I’ll be damned if my own children are going to act like entitled jerkwads who treat waitresses and customer service people like disposable doormats.
What do we do with niceness in a world where a human garbage bag like Larry Nassar gets to prey on girls who were taught to be nice to adults? What do we do with manners in a world where a whole assortment of coaches, friends, and colleagues turned a blind eye to Nassar’s crimes because they were taught to never rock the boat, never be the squeaky wheel, never burn bridges?
As a mother, how do I balance #choosekindness with #reality?
It’s important for my son and daughter to know that they are no more special than anyone else. It’s important for their actions to reflect this belief. Before they step on anyone to get ahead, they had better reach down and help their teammates stand beside them.
It’s equally important for them to know that they deserve as much love, respect, safety, and kindness as everyone else. It’s just as important for them to ask for what they need and feel confident that they deserve it when they get it.
It’s my job to teach them how to speak up when someone crosses a line. It’s crucial that they know these lines exist, that they keep these lines strong and clear.
How do we raise children with suits of armor and open hearts? What kind of life do you end up with if you surround yourself with impenetrable walls? But what do you invite into your life if you have no walls at all?
How do I raise my children to be respectful, but also to know that respect goes out the window as soon as their gut says something is off?
I don’t have answers for any of these questions. Just like I don’t have a word for how I feel as I follow the Nassar situation.
I will probably never find the balance between nice and fierce, but I will never stop looking for it, either.
Maybe we can start small. Maybe, on the back of those adorable “Choose Kindness” shirts our daughters wear, we can add a message to balance it out: “Don’t EVER mistake my kindness for weakness.”
Shazam is an app that identifies the title and artist of any song it hears. While apps like “Selfie Editor” and “Order Unlimited Quantities of Chipotle Without Feeling Like You’re Spending Real Money” have not added to my life in a positive way, I can say that Shazam has legitimately made my life better.
It’s helped me discover new artists I love, and it’s brought me back from the brink of a nervous breakdown when I couldn’t remember who sings this damn song. Shazam always gets the last word in marital disagreements about classic rock songs, before said disagreements escalate into yelling matches (YES IT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE JOE COCKER BUT IT’S GREGG ALLMAN WHO’S NO ANGEL!!! WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE ME???)
For all these reasons, Shazam is one of my favorite apps. Apple’s recent purchase of Shazam is the perfect opportunity to increase its reach and help it solve even more of our first-world problems.
Apple Bigwigs, I humbly submit my list of Shazam Spinoff Ideas:
Treezam: I’ve always wanted to be the smart person who could identify trees during nature walks. The problem is, you could tell me the name of the tree and it would go in one ear and out the other. I think it’s brain damage from being a mother of two children who never stop asking questions. I have no current capacity for retaining things like tree names. With Treezam, you can point your phone at any tree and it will tell you not only the regular name, but the Latin name as well. You know, so you can feel smart and stuff.
Let’s say you’re at a party and you have to introduce Bob to Betty. Problem is, you can’t remember Bob’s flippin’ name. (Refer to brain damage mentioned above.) Just discreetly point your phone at Bob (pretend you’re checking the weather) and it will display his name, along with any information you may want to tell Betty (Bob just got a new job) along with any information you may want to withhold from Betty (Bob gets butt hurt when you talk smack about his hockey team).
I love me some Dateline, but I’ve noticed it’s about 75% longer than it needs to be. Ain’t nobody got time for the umpteenth photo montage of the same dead lady with her shady-looking husband who may or may not have dunnit. Just give us the good stuff so we can go put the laundry away! Shazdunnit allows you to point your phone at Lester Holt’s face and get an immediate run down of whodunnit, why they dunnit, and the length of their prison sentence.
On Monday I am Miss Meal Prep Pinterest Lady 2017. By Thursday I am melting Cheez Whiz on leftover Chick-fil-a waffle fries and calling it poutine. With Shaznomnom, all you have to do is point your device at your open fridge, and it will give you a list of recipe options based on what you have. If your fridge fails the dinner test, it will give you the phone numbers of five local restaurants that deliver.
Have you ever wanted to get to the bottom of your Forever Roommate’s current ‘tude without having to actually talk about it? With Shaz-amor, just point your phone at the resentful/irritated/concerned look on his or her face and you will get a rundown of what you did, why you are a bonehead, and what you can do to make it better. No more guessing! Just unpack the GD suitcase from that trip you took two months ago, for the love of Samsonite, and peace will be restored to your household.
It happens to the best of us: you walk into the room and completely forget why you’re there. Instead of feeling like you’re one step away from needing full-time Adult Day Care, just point your phone at your own confused face, and Shazroom will tell you that you came into the kitchen for the labelmaker. Now if you could just remember which cabinet you put the DANG LABELMAKER in. Do any of you know a good Adult Day Care center? Asking for a friend…
Two weeks ago I called a carpet cleaning company to deal with some rooms that needed professional help. The owner of the company launched into a list of things I would have to do to get the carpets ready to for the cleaning.
“Make sure there’s no little toys or things on the carpets, move smaller pieces of furniture out of the way, and vacuum the entire room. Vacuum those carpets like you mean it,” he said.
“Most people vacuum like their house is on fire,” he explained. “I don’t know why they’re in such a hurry. You want to vacuum like you mean it. Start with an empty vacuum canister and vacuum nice and slow. Slower than you’ve ever vacuumed before.”
Being a rule follower, I obediently did everything the carpet man asked me to do, while my spouse wondered out loud why I was working so hard when they were the ones getting paid. I picked up all the diabolical toys that hide under the couch: the Shopkins, K’nex, and other tiny plastic shapes in primary colors with jacked-up names that have no meaning in the English language.
Then I vacuumed like I frigging meant it. It took forever. My brain and body were itching to vacuum like I’m used to doing it, like the house is on fire. About halfway through the living room, something unexpected happened. The white noise of the vacuum engine, combined with the repetitive back and forth movement, started to feel soothing. The monkey in my mind stopped clanging her giant cymbals. I was spending so long vacuuming that I was actually running out of stuff to ruminate on. My river of thoughts slowed from whitewater rapids to babbling brook.
In this mentally and physically relaxed state I realized that this was the first time I had vacuumed while I was vacuuming. As opposed to ordering my kids around, or writing a strongly worded letter in my head to the neighborhood HOA about people driving too fast, or berating myself for not writing my son’s preschool teacher a thank you note three years ago…all while vacuuming.
Then I began to wonder when I last did anything like I meant it, which is to say: am I ever simply doing the thing I am doing while I am doing it? The answer is, not really. And that’s a disservice to myself, my loved ones, and the world. How am I honoring the unimaginably improbable privilege of being alive today if I am wandering through my life blinded by distraction?
So then I decided to do all my mundane tasks that day like I meant it. I heard the sound of the water while I did the dishes. I noticed how the dish soap smelled like a fruit that hasn’t been invented yet. I looked at the trees arching over the road while I drove to CVS. I heard my children playing I Spy in the backseat. I stopped in the middle of an afternoon dog walk to watch a mother and father cardinal teach their baby to fly.
All of these things gave me joy. They were simple everyday things, and they made me happy. And all it took was some concentration and intention courtesy of the carpet cleaner man.
Of course the best intentions tend to get waylaid by life. I continue to live in my head most of the time, taking myself on silent journeys of distraction through old wounds, resentments, struggles, and questions I will never find the answers to.
Sometimes I remember the carpet cleaning guy telling me to vacuum like I mean it. Sometimes I try to do that. Sometimes I am able to let my mind rest for twenty minutes while I fold the clothes like I mean it. To let my children see that I am eating dinner with them like I mean it. To talk to my husband about his day at work like I mean it.
Learning how to live life like I mean it? It’s a work in progress. But it helps to know that if I ever feel like I’ve gone too far into the maze of my own endless stream of thoughts, all I have to do is vacuum the living room.
Last night my husband was trying to watch some television, and all hell nearly broke loose.
He had just gotten home from a long day back to work after traveling for the holidays. All he wanted was a little brain vacation, but what he got instead was a blank, ominously brackish television screen that was unresponsive to all four of our remote controls. (Um, yeah. we haven’t joined the world of the universal remote yet.)
So my loving husband did what anyone would do in his situation. He called his wife over for help.
I am the official IT person in my household, which is, honestly, pretty sad. But I have this one trick that works about 95% of the time. I learned it from the person who answers the phone at the cable company. I just turn off whatever is malfunctioning, and turn it back on. It works on Kindles, iPhones, Rokus, and many other devices with names that were invented by kindergarteners.
We all held our breath as I attempted my magic trick by unplugging and replugging the television, and…it worked! Crisis averted, my husband got to watch ESPN and my family continues to worship me for the technological genius that I am.
Which got me thinking…could my magic trick work on a human? What if I just CTRL+ALT+DELETE myself when I’m so stuck on something that I can’t move forward? What would a restart look like on a day that gets so sideways, I don’t know which way is up?
For example, yesterday was our first full day back from our holiday travels. I mostly wandered around the house, overwhelmed by the magnitude of tasks before me and therefore unable to focus on finishing anything. I got three loads of laundry done and not much else. (And when I say “done” I mean “clean.” I certainly do not mean “folded and put away.” I’m not a laundry-based cyborg, jeez.)
About 756 things got started yesterday, but nothing really got done.
I should have used my magic trick on myself. I should have stopped everything, taken a power nap, and tried again. Someone once said when their days go haywire, or they have completely had it with their kids, they stop everything, make a batch of cookies, and try again. (If you are this person, please identify yourself in the comments, and also, you are brilliant.)
What would be your version of a restart button? Taking a walk? Meditating? Playing guitar? Watching Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS and then making the featured meal in your kitchen? (This one is very specific but I can think of at least one person in my life who would do this.)
In 2018 I resolve to try the restart trick whenever my day starts getting all janky. I think this is a friendly, doable resolution. Much more doable than, say, getting a universal remote. I mean, I may be a technological genius but I’m not Steve Jobs.
My friends are absolutely killing it with this Elf on the Shelf thing.
My social media feeds are full of elves doing creatively mischievous elf things. The Elf is riding in a Fisher-Price school bus with a Barbie on each arm. The Elf is pooping chocolate chips into a wine glass and reading a tiny newspaper. Elves are swinging from chandeliers, hiding in fridge drawers, wearing a Trump wig made out of yellow yarn and standing in front of a podium with a handmade "Make Christmas Great Again" sign. Next-level stuff.
Meanwhile, our elf spent the first half of Advent in a beat-up cardboard box in my son’s closet. When I finally remembered to get the elf out, I immediately delegated the nightly moving of the elf to my husband.
Our elf situation got pretty sad while my husband was out of town for work. My kids began to wonder if our elf (whose name I forgot two years ago) had gotten fired by Santa and was now just loafing around our house in the same spot all day and night.
The truth is, my kids have a mom who goes into survival mode on December 1st and stays there until January. Doing creative things with the Elf on the Shelf is not part of survival mode. End of elf story.
It’s taken me seven years of motherhood to accept my limitations when it comes to the holidays. When my son was a toddler I bedecked our mantle with a sparkly, homemade Advent calendar with a different holiday activity for each day. We made cookies, visited Santa, did Christmas crafts…basically turned into Pinterest People for the month of December.
I know it sounds lovely, but that everloving Advent calendar almost took me over the edge that year. I turned into an overwhelmed, cranky woman who was one Advent activity away from becoming Mrs. Scrooge.
Part of being an authentic person is giving yourself the grace of acceptance. That is never harder than during the holidays, when expectations take steroids and descend upon us in a hailstorm of Sign Up Geniuses, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santa gifts.
When I scroll through Facebook and that elf starts to push my guilt buttons, I consciously remind myself that I have limitations, and that’s okay. For me, the grace of acceptance means being okay with the fact that I suck at Elf on the Shelf, I totally forgot to buy my kids an Advent calendar this year, and my cookie exchange contributions were no-bake and no-frills.
As long as I have some realm of motherhood that I feel pretty good about, I’m okay with phoning in my holiday obligations. For me, that realm is going to the library, reading to my kids as much as possible, and having lots of books all over our house. Someone else's realm of confidence might be cooking wholesome organic meals for their families (this is not my realm, btw).
And I am so sincerely glad that some of my friends are rock stars when it comes to putting smiles on their kids' faces every morning through elvish creativity. They are all amazing moms who still find the energy at the end of the day to pose the elf in a Barbie bathtub full of cotton balls.
We each have our thing that we rock at. I think it's our job to stay in our lane, keep rocking, and appreciate the many ways other people rock. Especially during the holidays.
Elf Moms of the world, I tip my Santa hat to you...from over here on my Survival Mode couch, with my sauvignon blanc and my Netflix.
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."