What I have

I have been trying very hard these last days, as we draw ever closer to Christmas, to focus on what I have.  I can feel myself tempted to lean into what I do not have, what’s missing, what I think I need…It’s a feeling I fight every year. This tendency to feel like it’s not enough – that I haven’t done enough, that I haven’t done well enough, or cooked enough or bought enough… I always have to remember to not measure the holiday in random stuff.

atthepinao 2017-12-23

This year the feeling is one I can’t shake, probably because I haven’t done as much as I usually do, and definitely because I miss my mother – her absence is keen for me right now. Sometimes it’s a dull ache, like a broken bone slowly healing, and sometimes it’s like a sharp rending – like this afternoon, when I was wrapping a few gifts (finally)  and I pulled out a box from last year (as a knitter I tend to be a rather weird box hoarder) and a tag tumbled out “For Mum, much love, Steph.”  In that moment, my feeling was not just that I didn’t have enough, but that I had nothing. That nothing was right, that nothing ever would be.

samelliot 2017-12-23

This is not even remotely accurate. Not even close. I have so much, and yesterday and today as we celebrated the solstice, I tried hard to remember the light is coming back, and every day there will be a little more, and things will be a little better, and other than the rather gutting and horrific death of my mother, things are actually pretty firmly good. (It does not help, by the way, that one of the things I have is a really bad cold, but I’m trying to look past it.)  I have a lot.  I have most of the gifts bought or made (one big knitting sprint underway but trying to believe it can work.)

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I have a loving family-in-law that has taken the time to think of my mother, and include her memory in their celebrations, though it makes us all cry, it’s a comfort to know they all miss her.

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I have so many friends, who all turned up to decorate gingerbread and fill my house to the brim in a way that left no room for anything but happiness and love and some gingerbread seahorses that are pretty fabulous.

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I have the cookies baked. Not as many as in past years, but that doesn’t matter. I have just enough of the few favourites that matter to us.

cookies baked 2017-12-23

I have a husband who was smart enough to know that I would struggle with all of this, and planned a little ski trip away with Katie, Carlos, Lou and Frankie, and we skied and ate and made tire sur la neige and (I totally got this cold from Frank) and Joe was right.  It got me though the worst of it. New traditions taking the place of old ones.

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I have beautiful children and a wonderful grandson and I know for a fact that none of them are going to be cold or hungry or lonely or cast out on this holiday, as the snow flies and it gets colder and colder.  It’s why this is always the time of year that I give what I can to charities – This year I gave a little extra to the Bike Rally, because many of their clients won’t have what I do this winter, and because I have to be my mum, and it’s what she would have done.

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I have a big hole where my mum should be, sure –  and I’m taking from the emails and notes I have from all of you, that I won’t even have that forever, and I can see how it’s true. This is a hard spot, but I have so very, very much to try and fill it with.

Happy Solstice.  I know I’m late, but it’s what I have.

A new pen wouldn’t hurt either

For years and years, I’ve run a very tight Christmas ship.  Very tight. Spreadsheet kinda tight, and it’s really worked for me. It’s prevented a hysterical sort of feeling in my tummy and made it possible for me to get a lot done during the run up to the holiday.  This year – well this year there was a problem with the spreadsheet.  The appointed day came to open it and start worrying about Christmas, and I opened it, saw my mothers name on it and closed it again.  I’d made notes about what her gift would be, what I had to take to her house for Christmas dinner, what sort of cookies I had to bake in time for her annual Christmas party, and it just stung too much too see how many things we always do that we won’t this year.  I’m not sure what happened after that, but the general sense of dread I’d had about the holiday turned into a more specific one, and I entered a prolonged period of denial.  I just didn’t worry about it.

I didn’t pre-shop, I didn’t worry about presents, I didn’t knit Christmas specific stuff (much) … I didn’t do any of the things I usually do, and for a while that seemed like it was working.  I didn’t have to feel bad that my mum won’t be at Christmas… I think on some level I’d just decided that we wouldn’t have one. It seemed so simple.  There was just one little problem with that.

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It’s Elliot’s first Christmas, and this family is so, so good at Christmas – in no small part because my mum was such a wonderful grandmother, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I owe him the same… and not just a token Christmas, a really lovely one. To somehow figure out new traditions – new ways of doing things.

I don’t know what’s going to be possible – I’m not even sure how to handle things. I mean, do I bake meringues if what I did with them was take them to my mother’s party? When do I see the relatives I saw at mum’s? Do they come to my house? What do we do in the afternoon on Christmas day, when usually we would bathe and dress to go to my Mum’s? It seems really complicated to figure out, and I can tell that it’s going to take a lot of energy. I remembered to buy Meg some blank ornaments so she could make them with Elliot’s foot and handprints, and I managed somehow (a little late for me) to put the tree up, and cried sentimentally the whole time I did it, but it’s up there, and it is lovely to have it, and I do love seeing it. It hurt to make it happen, but I see now that it would have hurt more to not put it up. I’m going to keep that in mind as I try to get the rest of this thing going.

elliotsfirstchristmasornamentbetter 2017-12-11

This Christmas is going to be about the basics. People. Time. Being together.  There isn’t going to be a mad knitting dash to the end (that’s a lie I have one sort of wild plan) I’m not going to make a million cookies – just the favourites we really love. (I don’t know if that’s meringues.) I’ve come to this a little late to the party – just about two weeks to get it all together, but I’m going to be gentle with myself and my family – we still weather regular storms. Making a Christmas grocery list is a chore that should have taken me ten minutes today, but it came grinding to a halt as I encountered a recipe card in my mum’s handwriting.  I love her handwriting. Reflecting on that and looking for other cards she wrote turned it into a lost half hour.

I was going to knit a ton last night – but a first attempt to make a family plan to deal with mum’s stuff degraded into trying on all her shoes. (They mostly fit Erin and I. It was sad and funny and… not knitting.) I have a feeling a lot of it is going to be like that, and I don’t know how to plan for it, maybe you can’t. Maybe this year just isn’t going to be compatible with a plan, really. Maybe this is the year I just do…. what?

So far, my entire Christmas plan consists of me saying “We are really going to have to do something about Christmas” and so far, that hasn’t worked at all. I’m going to go out now, into the snow and I’m going to try buying a new notebook, and writing  “Christmas” on the front, and seeing if tomorrow I have a realistic plan for getting this thing fixed. It will probably work. Office supplies are definitely a good first step.

Right?

Just stuff that laundry behind the piano

When I was a young mother, and the girls were all little, I was part of a mothers group. I was a La Leche League Leader back then and a Wednesday morning playgroup sprang out of that. We’d all get together and the kids would play and the mums would talk about parenting and (literally) how to make your own granola. (Yes.) To be completely honest the other kids would play, and the other mums would talk and I would spend the entire time following Amanda around with a baby on my hip, ready to pull her bodily from encounters the minute she started to open her mouth. The kid was a biter. In any case, we moved this little playgroup around, and when it was my turn to host it, I would start getting anxious days before – cleaning and scrubbing and stuffing dirty clothes in closets and hiding dirty dishes in the oven and generally freaking out, so that by the time the other mothers arrived, it looked like I was a pretty perfect mum who could not only juggle three kids (one of whom was a vicious land-shark) but also had a clean house, a freshly baked whole grain cake made with wheat germ (it was the 90s. Anti-oxidants hadn’t been invented yet. We just had to put bran and wheat germ in things) all while knitting the children their own sweaters, cloth diapering, growing my own vegetables, and helping run a charity without even breaking a sweat.

This, of course, was a lie. Like anyone who’s trying to do even a third of those things, the housework was absolutely on the bottom of my list.  In any toss up between littles and babies who need something and washing a floor, the kid won every time. There was always dishes in the sink – the bathroom was right on the edge of a health code violation all the time, and if I did get three minutes when I didn’t have to care for another person you can bet I was knitting, not dusting something that was only going to get dusty again. I mean, I like a tidy house, but let’s get real about what your priorities are like if your day has that much to do with other people’s bodily fluids.  Still, even though every parent on earth knows this, I felt compelled to disguise this reality when those other parents were on their way. It was just what I did. You clean up before company comes over, am I right?

So, one time I’m careening through the house, hiding the mess and trying to get the place ready, and my mum was over, and she was sitting there drinking coffee (I know I’ve told this story before) and she watches this for a while, and then tells me that she thinks I’m being mean. That everything I’m doing isn’t just cleaning up for company, it’s giving the other mothers the impression that I can have three little kids, a leadership role in a charity, bake all my own bread and have it all be no biggie. She wondered aloud if they felt inadequate when I pretended I could do it all, when in reality I’d put a bag of diapers that needed washing in the garbage can in the backyard because I was too far behind.  (I washed them later.)

I think about that often. About how my mum thought that pretending wasn’t kind, and I try to live in a way that’s… kinder. For example, I can tell you that something in my fridge smells funny right now and I don’t know what it is, that this morning I found underpants under a chair in the kitchen, and that I totally screwed up my knitting. I wasn’t going to tell you that last one, because once I saw what I’d done I though I could just fix it and nobody would ever know, but then I thought of my mum, and know that right now there’s one of you who’s sitting there realizing that you knit two left mittens and trying to reconcile that with your self esteem, and well.

This weekend I was away.  I spent the weekend with some friends I don’t see often enough, and we hunkered down and cooked together, and ate together and knit together. We call it Yarnclave, and because we were together so close to Christmas, we called it Yarnclavemas. We made a pie.

yarnclavemasbetter 2017-12-08

So, I’m knitting on Elliot’s sweater at some point, and I’ve finished the body, and cast off, and finished the first sleeve, and I’m picking up the held stitches for the second sleeve, and I’m thinking something positive about how it’s all going so quickly, and there it is.

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Way back when I divided for the sleeves and body, I was careless, and I put the sleeve stitches on one thread, and SOME of the other sleeve stitches on another, and then put some of the sleeve stitches on the needle for the body along with the body stitches, and then carried on. Coyotes in the wild have knit better.  The body was therefore too wide, and the one sleeve too small. Unfortunately, the fates had a good giggle about that, and I just so happened to pick the correct sleeve to knit after the body, so got that whole sleeve done before I realized what had happened.  Now, if I’d have happened to notice sooner, I could have just pulled back the body, given the sleeve stitches back to the sleeve and reknit the body, but because I didn’t notice I had to rip back the sleeve, and then the body, because the body won’t unzip all the way because I picked up stitches for the *&^%$E#$ing sleeve from it.

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The worst part isn’t just that I had to rip back everything but the yoke and start over, the worst part is that I even took a picture of the sweater while it was dead wrong, posted it on the blog, and didn’t notice – although may moths beset the first one of you who giggles, because it’s not like you noticed either.

right there. 2017-12-08

So, it’s days later, I’m still knitting the sweater, it’s just a few weeks before Christmas and even thought I am a reasonable, grown-up, middle-aged woman, I just got reminded that haste makes waste, pride goes before a fall, and my mother is always right.

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I think I’ll have a lie down, or something, before I get slapped around with any other clichés.