Posts Tagged ‘holiday stress’

The Art of Imperfection

Friday, November 12th, 2010

No matter how hard I try, the perfection I strive for seems to be just out of reach. As soon as the floors are mopped, a little tuft of dog hair inevitably appears in the corner. No matter how many hours of tender care I give my roses, the critters that forage in the yard at night leave nibbled petals and an occasional broken branch for me to find in the morning. Then, there are those personal life ‘experiences’ that burst the perfection bubble. Let me explain.

It was a picture perfect (nature can be perfect!), sunny afternoon, and my husband, our two sons, and I were at a high school graduation party for one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to meet. He and his beautiful mom (also one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet) live in a gorgeous home on a hill with an absolutely stunning view. I felt pretty confident that I looked nearly perfect: my hair was up, my dress was cute, and everything about my outfit said ‘this woman has got it together.’ Little groups of people were scattered about, chatting and munching on the yummy food, enjoying the whole setting. As I was chatting and munching, a soft breeze came up and blew a couple of pieces of lettuce off of my plate. Being the conscientious guest that I am, I stepped back so that I could pick up the lettuce. Did I mention we were outside? So, I stepped back — and directly into the Jacuzzi. Way in, to the middle, completely submerged. When the need to breathe overpowered my feelings of utter humiliation, I surfaced and slowly opened my eyes to see a row of surprised faces and my oldest son sitting on the steps and holding his head in his hands in total mortification. As I retrieved the piece of pizza bobbing on the churning surface of the water, all I could do was laugh. My stunned husband helped me out of the water, the really nice kid brought me a big towel, and his even nicer mom asked what, if anything, she could do for me.

Well, there wasn’t anything she could do; it was up to me to own the moment. So, I wrapped the towel around my dripping dress, apologized to my embarrassed 18-year-old son, removed the clip from my hair and fluffed it a little so it could dry, accepted the new plate of food my darling husband brought me, and enjoyed the rest of the party. Did I still look nearly perfect? Not a chance. My hair was frizzy, my dress was a little wrinkled, although it was completely dry by the time we left, and my mascara had settled into dark smudges beneath my eyes.

So, as you are frantically cleaning, decorating, baking, and wrapping this holiday season, remember that the little mishaps in life make it interesting. Your friends and family are not coming to your home to check whether your cloth napkins are expertly pressed, or whether or not all the candles in the centerpiece are perfectly straight. They are coming to see you, to share your warmth and laughter, because they love you and want to be with you just as you want to share yourself with them. Relax and own the moment, imperfections and all. Who knows, you may just end up with a great story to share.

Less Cleaning, More Meaning

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Once again, I am rushing around trying to spruce things up before guests come over. Don’t get me wrong, things are picked up and relatively organized, but why does it always seem that stuff just appears right before visitors are due to arrive? I know for a fact those dust bunnies I can see under the chair as I walk up the stairs were NOT there last night. Neither were the fingerprints on all the light switches, nor the smear across the front of the refrigerator. Where does it all come from? Maybe from the two teenage boys, the dog, the cat, and the perpetual remodeling projects in progress both inside and outside the house?

So, I take a deep breath, rip a drooping, yellow leaf off a plant as I pass by to answer the door, and have a sudden flashback of a weekend my family spent camping out in a friend’s backyard. There was nothing fancy about it; in fact, the yard was filled with 19 old cars, all in various states of disrepair, a few stacks of tires, some rusted yard implements, and several little buildings (shacks?) in need of a fresh coat of paint, among other things. There were three different enclosures filled with chickens, doves, parakeets, cockatiels, and finches. Not to mention three or four domestic turkeys, as well as two wild turkeys that hopped the fence one day, hoping to make new friends, and decided to stay. That yard was a little boy’s dream, bursting with endless possibilities of exploration and discovery. Resort-like, it was not.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most, though, is how much fun we had. Those turkeys were a riot. Every time someone laughed, those silly birds would gobble. Laugh, gobble, snicker, gobble, giggle, gobble, gobble. We spent time with precious old friends, cemented friendships with couples we don’t get to see too often, and started new relationships with folks we had never met before. That ramshackle yard, with the mismatched stools set around some old doors for tables, the tub from an old washing machine commandeered as a fire-pit, and the goofy gobbles of the turkeys, became a haven. It wasn’t the place (although it did provide a lot of atmosphere!), but the people that made the weekend so special—the laughter, love, and open hearts of good people just spending time together. I can’t wait to go back.

As you rush around this holiday season, trying to fit in all the activities and functions that are a natural part of this time of year, I hope you find yourself not worrying about the dust and fingerprints, the stray sock on the floor, or the wad of dog hair in the corner. I hope you laugh with the turkeys and delight in the people you are with. I plan to. And my friend waiting at the door? I just kick the cat toys out of the way and greet her with open arms and a smile that comes straight from my heart.

Letting Go During the Holidays

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Sometimes my unbound enthusiasm can make me go a little bit overboard during the holidays. My mind, buzzing with creative ideas, keeps coming up with just one more thing to cook, to make and to experience, until I am simply exhausted, thus losing the fun of the holidays by trying to do too much. I have bestowed on myself the huge responsibility of making the holidays magical for my family. This responsibility used to be a joy back when our family was smaller and the children were younger. But our increasingly complex lives now make this joy feel more like a chore.

The paradox is that the very things I like the most about Christmas-the magic, the surprises, the joy-were being destroyed by my best efforts to make sure they happened! It has taken years, but I have finally learned that the less I do and the more I can just be present in the moment, the more likely it is for my mythical, magical Christmas feeling to appear.

So if you find the holidays somewhat lacking or even forced (as if you have been trying too hard for too long), try simplifying what they mean to you. Identify the essence of the holiday and make sure to choose activities that celebrate the true meaning of the day (or days). Once I simplified my expectations, my true desires seemed much more manageable and made much more sense to me because they were now undeniably heartfelt.

And you know the funniest thing is, once we started really focusing on what Christmas truly meant to us, our material wants diminished and all the magic I was seeking flourished in our hearts quite by accident.

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Seuss

Monday, December 8th, 2008

… It started in low, then it started to grow

But this, this sound wasn’t sad. What, this sound sounded glad

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing without any presents at all

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other, it came just the same…

… He paused, and the Grinch put a hand to his ear

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Well, what happened then, well in Who-ville they say,

that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day…

- From How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Containers of Connection & Love

Friday, November 7th, 2008

One could say that everything we do for the holidays is an effort to create ‘containers of connection’ — ways to ensure Light and Love are present in the cold and wintry darkness of the year.

My family’s special ‘container of connection’ is a cluster of old log cabins in the backwoods of Alabama — our homestead for over thirty years. Our entire wild and wooly clan descends on Papa every December — children, spouses, grandchildren, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and a cockatiel named Tuck. Mama found the land long ago and convinced her high-powered attorney husband to live intimately with the natural world. She died awhile back, and nowadays Papa is gardener, farmer, and beekeeper. Mostly he spends his time figuring out how to co-inhabit with the wild creatures who really own the place.

As the longest night approaches, our land grows still and expectant, serenely waiting for the return of Light. But inside the cabins, chaos reigns. Inflatable mattresses have new holes to patch; children find the candy stash and fly around in sugared frenzies; tempers flare over non-stop eating and mounds of dirty dishes. Unresolved issues from childhood pour out over dinner; doors slam; people pout and yell, and we are left wondering why in the world, once again, we agreed to participate in such madness. (more…)

The Power of a Smile

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

On a recent business trip to New York, it was very cold, the wind was blowing, my feet hurt from the previous 8 hours spent walking the trade show floor, and I was starving. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods and wanted nothing more than to go back to my hotel room and crawl under the covers. Unfortunately, I still had a business dinner to get through that evening.

So there I was, walking in the snow and wind, feeling very sorry for myself, and knowing my misery wasn’t going to end anytime soon. I came to a corner where I had to stop to wait for the light. A little boy of about six was standing there, holding his mother’s hand. Suddenly, for no reason, this child looked up and gave me the biggest, brightest, sweetest smile ever. His whole face just glowed in my direction. My rotten mood evaporated — poof! — just like that! With one brilliant smile, that little boy turned my day around.

I have thought about that incident many times since that trip — how the actions of a complete stranger had such a profound effect on me. When I look back on it, I can’t help but think about what effect I may have on the people I come into contact with on any given day.

The holidays are stressful times for so many — people who don’t have any family close by, people who have suffered the recent loss of a loved one, people who have lost a job at the worst possible time, or people who are just piling too much on their plates (as I was that cold New York day). This holiday season, remember this story of the difference a little boy made as you go about your day. Make your smiles brighter, say a kind word, offer to help if you can sense it is needed, and leave a positive impression wherever you can. One small gesture could end up being the best gift you have ever given.