The gift I gave myself for Christmas 2016. One week.
- The week between Christmas and New Year’s I left the LED lights on. On trees. Outdoors. On garlands.
- I allowed the mess to accumulate downstairs…foam and plastic packaging inside boxes, discarded ribbon.
- I did not fret as I lost sight of my tile floor or that crumbs littered my tablecloth at the dining table filled with trays of cookies.
- I chose not to cook meals and instead; tried to re-purpose the various items in our very full fridge. Leftovers were my friends.
- I lit my 3-wick candle and let it burn into the late hours of the night; the aroma filling my home with a book, always, in-hand. I read three of them.
- I didn’t live by the clock; all alarms off. I awoke when I wanted to and allowed my routine to be flexible.
- I ate anything my heart desired (in moderation). The cultural foods that only come out this time of year were my faves.
- I spent as much time in my pajamas as possible; changing only to do things I wanted to do.
- The paper piles were untouched; the laundry hampers overflowed and the dishwasher filled. They would all get cleaned and sorted through in good time.
When I stopped placing expectations on myself, or others, an amazing thing happened. I was content.
This is a 180 degree change in mindset from Christmases past. I had been a slave to my expectations; the Rockwell portrait Christmas where everything fell into place in perfect harmony. Time and time again I’ve felt the sting of disappointment of things unfulfilled. I’ve felt the bile lodge in my throat as I clenched my teeth in frustration when events didn’t go my way.
This one week allowed me some needed respite and serenity among the messiness of my life and home. It is rare for my family of five to have nothing on our schedules. We took the week off from work. The boys were on winter break. We were free.
I took a mental retreat from the things that normally filled my days: work, social dynamics and parenting. I focused on my five strengths discovered from the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book borrowed from a dear friend. I reflected and sought closure on things that happened in 2016; sorting and filtering. Usually at this time of year I am cataloging the things I need improvement on; including cleaning and organizing my messy home. But as 2016 drew to a close, I considered my talents and strengths and how to build upon them. How can I be the best me that I can be? What does that even mean?
You would think that during my “mini week retreat” that I had focused on myself. But instead, I decided to consider what I have to give. I spend a lot of time considering what people do for me, and what I receive in return? Who’s getting the better end of the deal?
But that’s not really what I want my life to be about. What do I have to offer… to my kids, to my spouse, to my friends, to the world?
I’m going deep.
Every day it’s the little mundane choices we make, that occupy our time. Should I have coffee or tea? Where do I need to be? What shall we have for dinner? Are these daily details of any consequence in the greater scheme of life? I think not. This is when the if only statements start to circle in my brain. If only I had this, if only I did that, if only I had chosen… It’s an endless spiral with no end, circling, circling…
I’ve decided to alter my mindset in 2017. When my world starts narrowing and spiraling inward I need to expand it outwards; to give of myself to assist others.
I am usually like most people, withdrawing when everything doesn’t go well. But in 2017 I will focus my attentions on a cause, person, project that I can give of myself without any expectation in return. I won’t dwell on the things I cannot change and will pray for wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer). I will choose to use my strengths to change outcomes in other ways; ways that I don’t need to laud over people, or to receive recognition.
I gain greater joy in doing things for others without them knowing I did them. There is a quiet satisfaction in being humble and in trying to do good for someone else.
Each day has its trials and January 3rd was no different. I found myself yelling to my motley crew of four males to awaken on this first day back to school and work. When the eldest sarcastically responded that yelling wasn’t working, I quieted and simply said the words. I. Am. Done.
In the silence I had quietly made lunches, gathered my bills and files for work and prepared to leave. My sons and husband made their way downstairs and were surprised to not be greeted with snarky remarks about being organized, being punctual and attitude. Each son thanked me for their lunches, the hubs quietly asked to grab some silverware and I took deep breaths, silently focusing on the things I could change by making different choices. I could rage at 6:53 AM at my family, or I could move the responsibility onto their shoulders knowing that I had tried my best to wake them and let it go.
Today I sat in the cushioned pew, in the hills that bear my name, at a family funeral service. Of all places…this setting was where the random thought settled in my mind. I have finally grown up.
Silly as it may seem, over the holidays my thoughts circled this and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. As I sat with various family members and friends sharing conversations and memories, the trivial things that would set me off did not. No longer do I feel the need to prove myself. I am not compelled to out do anyone in any of my pursuits. I have settled into my own skin and take responsibility for the choices I make. I do not blame outside circumstances to justify my current life predicament.
- I stared at the feasts and ate only what I could consume. I chose not to overeat and would mentally remind myself that I can choose to bake these things for myself. These aren’t things I have to eat only once a year to justify a binge.
- For the past two years I have told myself how much I hate to run and it was only, over winter break when I awoke of my own accord, that I discovered I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to. I actually wake up on my own, because I want to.
- I’ve surrounded myself with the things and people whose values align with my own. They aren’t there to prove their agendas to make me see their way, or for them to see mine. We walk alongside to celebrate our imperfect lives together.
- I acknowledged family dynamics and drama but chose to let things go. Most times I try to pacify and have all parties reconcile but I do not have control over others; only how I react to them. I must enjoy these people based on my own relationships with them.
- The only games I chose to participate in were in kids games… giant jumble tower Jenga, card games or cheering for my alma mater in college football. I quietly observed the mental games, in other areas of my life, get played out and trusted my instincts on how to handle situations and people. Normally I get sucked right in; trying to hash through things and making all things transparent. To show others my point of view (which may or may not be right). I no longer question myself.
These thoughts of clarity came once I owned the statement that I had finally grown up. The past few years I’ve been underwater, things swimmingly unclear and murky. But once I broke through the surface, I could take a deep breath and saw things clearly, for the first time. The words to articulate what I’ve been feeling finally came.
Over winter break I had sat in the back of a college information session at my alma mater, as the puzzle pieces snapped into place. It is only through the eyes, as a parent, that I could truly appreciate the sacrifice my parents and others have done for me. For years I felt cheated thinking if only I had different opportunities things would’ve been different. Sorting through my own issues helps me become a better parent to my boys. It has taken me almost three decades to figure this all out.
I am deep in the 3rd quarter of my life and I’ve finally gotten my head in the game. Everything’s coming up roses.
The best conversations happen in my SUV and as I vocalized these thoughts to my hubs and sons, this afternoon, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders. No longer do I dread this coming year of worrying about my eldest son’s educational future. Instead, I shared my new motto with my family for 2017 and I hope they will take it to heart. It is simple. I’m putting myself out there; to offer my strengths and talents in service, outside of my comfort zone.
Own what you do (or say) and follow it through.
Get your head mentally in the game and play. Go deep. Live. Don’t stand on the sidelines of life waiting for the perfect pass or opportunity. Own it and follow it through.