Notes to Self About Family Gatherings

I have the dearest of family. Really I do. I never get tired of the ones who live close and I count down days to see the ones far away. I love them and enjoy their presence.

Still, there is something about gathering us all together in one room that can make some strange trigger sparks fly. It’s just that we’ve known each other so very long and so very closely, we could light a campfire from all the psychological friction.

Complicated parent-child relationship, rub, rub, spark. Messy divorce. clink, clink, ka-POW. Sibling assumptions, crackle, pop, ROAR. Thanks for humoring me with the sound effects. Can you tell I live with a three year old?

With family, it’s easy to assume we already know everything and we don’t have to listen. Also it’s easy to think that people never change and we can just slip into the same old roles we’ve always played that while comfortable, often lead to feeling misunderstood by the people we want to be closest to. Everybody deserves the space to grow and change and to be valued for who they really are.

So here are my notes to myself as I enter the holiday season. This is what I will TRY to do.

1) Listen when people are talking. To the words actually coming out of their mouth. With awareness and an open heart. Without calculating my response.

2) Notice when I’m telling myself a story: “oh she always does that,” etc. Special note to myself: any story that assigns a motive to someone else’s actions is definitely a story. A tall, tall tale.

3) Notice my triggers. When old bottled feelings crop up, they will probably tell me a story about myself or someone else (see #2). I will just notice that it’s happening.

4) Choose love. I want to open my heart and feel the love that I have for my family and that they have for me.

After all, the saddest thing is for everyone to be holding hands around a turkey, but secretly feeling alone in the parts of their life that matter the most.

To all of my family, I love you and can’t wait to eat lots of cookies and catch up.

To myself. Good luck.

Myself and Pearl last Thanksgiving:

prego

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This is Me Saying Thank You

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
-Mary Oliver-

Thanksgiving has always been a mixed bag for me. In the past I approached it as a time when I “should” be thankful. It reminded me that no matter how hard I tried, and how many lists I made, I didn’t really feel grateful.

I knew that my circumstances weren’t to blame since my external world had always been full of abundance. I wondered what this meant about me.

I wasn’t sure, but this was my hypothesis: many people in the world were worse off than myself. I had no right to complain.

Not surprisingly, this attitude did NOT make me more grateful.

Lately I’ve realized that some of those “complaints” were masking unmet needs. The more I tried to deny them, the sneakier they got at cropping up in my everyday life. I didn’t recognize them and I didn’t know how to own them. Instead of making me grateful, it felt like my long list of blessings invalidated this inner reality: that I often felt very empty and powerless.

Now that I’ve started listening to myself (when I can), I’ve noticed I have a greater capacity to listen to others. Their experience doesn’t always have to be about me, or mine about them.

I’m finding open spaces in my heart that I didn’t know I had. It surprises me that the spaces aren’t empty, but full and overflowing. And what they’ve been filled with is gratitude in the midst of a messy life.

So sometimes, on a good day, I notice myself and what I need. I notice the experience of others around me. I notice the gifts, big and small that are all around me.

Today I notice that I’m concerned about Welly’s injured arm and have a need to make sure I can care for him well. Also my body needs some sleep.

When I sink into that noticing, I receive a lot of other messages too, like the warmth of the sun and the food we prepared, the knowledge of our doctor, and the support that is palpable around our family. If I break down the dam of unmet needs, then the fullness of life comes rushing in.

Recently I’ve been coming across the idea over and over again that our work can be an act of Thanksgiving. I love this because it brings gratitude deep into my bones, not as an abstract concept, but as a way of moving.

I change a diaper, and I’m saying thank you :

Thank you for the beautiful, stink-making child, and thank you to her for being in my life. I don’t have to like wiping someone else’s poop, but the act of showing up and caring is gratitude.

I wipe sticky coatings off the dining room table that are unidentifiable and startlingly resilient. I may or may not get it cleaned, but as I show up with my raggedy washcloth, I’m saying thank you:

Thank you for this table, passed down from friends who gathered around it with their own family and banged it up with forks full of food. Thank you for the food that Bryan and I put on this table, even though I’m weary of chopping it and the kids sometimes don’t like it. It’s available and abundant. My pantry is overflowing with healthy food. Thank Goodness.

More and more, as I listen, I have space to notice the gifts that have always been around me. And I notice some crappy stuff too that may or may not turn out to be a gift also.

So this is me, upstairs among the dust bunnies, rocking a teething baby, creaking the boards and really occupying my place in the world.

This is me saying thank you in whatever way I can today. Join me if you want. I know our thanks will be noticed.

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iphone Photo by my husband. Actually, go ahead and steal this one if you want to :).