Monday, December 31, 2007


The aroma circles my head settling in my breath as I push deeper into my pillow; truly the perfect beginning to the day marking the year’s end. It will be the second to last day that I do not have to push myself out of bed in darkness to start the family rising. In two more days, I will resume the position of First Up, nudging the cold, dark house to life. First Up is the person who bumps up the heat, makes the coffee, lets the dogs out, uncovers the cooing birds and breaks open a new day. Today, I hear that the day is broken already.

I lay, eyes closed but awake, body still in deep relax, anticipating rising after the sun to a warm house and cup of coffee waiting. I breathe deeply the coffee aroma and am happy that my husband is First Up. Brad has always been close to nocturnal, a late night man whose morning skills are sketchy. This morning, however, the coffee is on and all is right with the world.

“Damn it!” I hear him burst from downstairs, a string of mutterings following. I imagine Tyler has finished the last of the OJ, left the freezer door open or some other typical teenage move that has him grumbling. I keep my eyes closed tight, determined to be unfettered by the disturbance. I hear clanking and rustling in the kitchen, more mutterings and I pull the covers up a little higher.

Heavy feet on the stairs and Brad enters our room for a few last items. “Honey, I made a big mess and I’m late and I don’t have time to clean it, I’m really sorry. I laid paper towels down… I love you, Bye.” And he is gone. My body is cooperating under the covers but my mind is ticking; ‘Big mess.’ I wonder exactly how big and will it grow bigger if I leave it for a while?

My old dog begins to pace, click, click, click across the floor. I know this pace. It is the I really need to pee but would never ever disturb you Mom so I’ll be right here when you are ready pace. The little dog pushes out from under his blanket on his bed, shaking his body awake with that ear slapping sound that says, I f I’m up, we’re all up. He begins to scratch rapidly on the side of my bed and I notice the loud cooing downstairs has evolved to squawking.

The chill of the air hits me as I make my way down the stairs and I realize that the heat was not bumped up. Out with the dogs, up with the heat and I lift the cover off the birds. At least the coffee is made. In the kitchen, the island is pushed to one side of the room and a long row of paper towels runs down the center; a brown river following the tile grout line. The coffee aroma fills the room and it is clear the Mr. Morning forgot to put the pot under the coffee maker. A basket of pens and pencils sits on a stack of paper towels and some bills are lying beside the sink. I pick up the wet brown paper towels. Detecting the coffee is still warm, I wonder if the floor is clean enough for a sip. I start a new pot and realize that some people are just meant to be First Up and I am one of them.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


It’s that time of year.

It seems a natural thing for me to do as I am a proficient and diligent list maker. I make lists to shop, lists to do, list of what to read, lists of what to write; I even make lists for my children and husband, which, someday I know they will actually appreciate.

This list, however, I always make grudgingly. In fact, I swear year after year that I will not get sucked into the process and then, when I think I’m not thinking about it, the list starts writing itself in my head. It’s that time of the year when I look deeply and critically at myself and start of laundry list of self-improvement projects; my New Year’s Resolutions!

I look at myself inside and out and methodically calculate every part of me that could be better and there are very few parts that don’t make the list.

As always, the number one top of the charts---I’ll lose weight. No matter the year, no matter my size, Old Faithful is in permanent #1 position. Of course number two is an exercise program beyond my usual walking; one that will shape and mold me into person that exists somewhere underneath the one I see in the mirror.

With those out of the way, I turn inward to examine the things I want to accomplish but haven’t, creating myself a ‘to do list’ that could take several lifetimes.
I’ll organize all of the closets and drawers.
I’ll file all of the papers.
I’ll print and catalogue the bazillion photos stored in my computer.
I’ll make each kid a scrapbook of their childhood.
I'll finish making that Oriental rug.
I’ll paint the trim on the house.
I’ll teach the bird to talk.
I’ll learn to sew…

From there it is a short sidestep over to eradicating bad habits:
I won’t swear.
I won’t lose my patience.
I won’t put things off.
I won’t stuff things in the ‘junk drawer’.
I’ll give up wine.
I’ll cut back on coffee….scratch that…
I’ll stop complaining….

By the time I am finished, I realize that once again I have written the description of June Cleaver!

“Who’s June Cleaver?” Cadence asks peering over my shoulder.

“She’s a mom from the 1950s who is perfect; her hair is always perfect and she is always perfectly dressed and her house is always spotless and her children are well behaved and she is always calm and patient and proper…”

Cadence scrunches her nose as if tasting something sour. “I would never want her for a mom,” she says, “I want a mom who is fun and who isn’t afraid to have flaws.”

A perfect match I think.

“I love you,” I answer, “and I’m rewriting my list”.

And so, this year’s list is about being flawed and being OK with that.


I will be fun. I will laugh at life’s funny moments, even if inappropriate.

I will write, even when the laundry piles up and the dishes need doing.

I will listen, even when I don’t want to hear what is being said.

I will forgive, even when I am right to be angry.

I will appreciate me, even when I do not accomplish the endless 'to do' list or say an off color word.

I will take care of me, even if it means a little exercise or making those doctor appointments...what the heck, throw in a pedicure!

I will appreciate the day to day; the moments that are ordinary.

I will love.


Bring it 2008; I am ready!

Friday, December 14, 2007


This came to me as a forwarded email from a friend today. I do not know who the author is, but I was very moved by it and thought it worthy of sharing.

I'm Invisible

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack
of response, the way one of the kids walks into the room
while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.
Inside, I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone,
or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing onmy head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.
I'm invisible. The Invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more:
"Can you fix this?" "Can you tie this?"
"Can you open this?"

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a
human being.

I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?"
I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?"
I'm a carto order, "Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held
books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that
graduated summa cum laude -
but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter,
never to be seen again. "She'sgoing, she's going, she's gone!"

One night, a group of us were having dinner,
celebrating the return of a friend from England.
Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip and she was
going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.
I was sitting there,looking around at the others all put
together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel
sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress;
it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed
hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually
smell peanut butter in it.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to
me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.
I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:
"To Charlotte,with admiration for the greatness of what you are
building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book.
I would discover what would become for me four life-changing truths, after which
I could pattern my work:

No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no
record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work
they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God will see."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction.

But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book wentso far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be
built in our lifetime because thereare so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. Then, if there is anything to say to his friend, it could be, "You're gonna love it here!"

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


We are a family of traditions. Some have been carried over from our own childhoods, while others created during the evolution of our family unit. In seventeen years, we have never missed marching to one beat of the tradition drum. If anything, our traditions have expanded and have been embellished by the growing and changing of our family.

This year has required some letting go; some easing of the structure that we built around ourselves. The teenagers have splintered off with friends leaving us to trick or treat with only our youngest. Sports and work consumed many of our weekends this fall so we did not make the annual trip to the pumpkin patch, where I take about 100 photos to acquire that perfect one for the Christmas cards. We are seldom all in the same place at the same time and yes, I am feeling tired.

Returning relaxed and refreshed from a family vacation, we are suddenly thrust over the threshold of the Christmas season and again, I find myself looking to trim away a little of the routine. Do I really need to haul out all of that Christmas stuff? Do we have to put all of the ornaments on the tree? Must I put wreaths on the doors? Do we really feel the need to host a gathering, or couldn’t we just go to someone else’s house? Do we have to trudge to the green with hundreds of others for the official tree lighting, singing carols over the sound of our kids fighting and then searching for the oldest who wandered off with friends?

I wonder if my family would be upset if we just did things a little bit easier this year; sort of a less is more approach. Leave a little of the routine out to keep things simple.

I think about my boys who insist upon a minimum of one hour in the Christmas tree lot, hiking miles to the farthest corner to prolong the experience. I think about Brad who, in spite his eagerness to spend Thanksgiving with foreign food in a foreign place, has set aside this coming weekend for a traditional, albeit belated, Thanksgiving feast. And I think about Cadence, who carries the glow of magic and wonder like a torch. I’m immediately hurled back thirty years to scene that plays my heartstrings like a harp.

It was 1977 and my parents had trimmed tradition for the third year in a row as they hauled out the box containing what was called a “Christmas tree.” “Branches” were extracted from the box and piled according to the color dabbed on the end of their metal stems. A wooden pole riveted with colored holes stood in the living room like a naked Barbie Doll waiting to be dressed. I sulked and my thirteen year old brother complained that it wasn’t the same as a real tree. My parents methodically assembled the odorless giant, claiming that it was easier and far less messy…no need to water, no dry tree, no needles in the carpet.

The tree, finally adorned with the usual lights, tinsel and ornaments, stood perfectly trimmed while my mother sprayed pine scent from a can; in spite of its ease, it didn’t feel like Christmas. Christmas Eve arrived that year with a breathtaking transformation. It was the first “white” Christmas we had seen in a while and pangs for everything traditional welled up in my brother and me. Bundling up and sneaking the car keys, we drove to a place that we had seen from the school bus where trees were sold for one dollar per foot. With rope, a saw and a ten dollar bill, I navigated with great care; a new driver who’s everything would be on the line if this went badly. The tree lot was un-kept and brambled and the sky beginning to grow dark. We searched for the largest tree we could get to. It seemed like it was twelve feet tall, but the old woman who lived there had Christmas in her heart and charged us only six dollars.

With much effort, we stuffed the bottom into the trunk and tied the trunk with the rope, certain it would fall out part way home. We didn’t speak as we hauled our green beauty up to the porch, sticky sap on our hands and the cold aroma of pine in the air. We undecorated the plastic monster in the living room and put it back where it belonged…in a box. We struggled to position the tree to hide the unsightly empty spots, sprinkling snow and needles all over the carpet. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. My parents lit the fireplace, a practice reserved mainly for holidays and I knew with all of my heart that tradition was worth fighting for.

Embarrassment consumes me as I open the crawl space behind our bed where Christmas lay neatly boxed. I know it is only November 29th, but I might as well get a little bit started. I pull out the nutcrackers, the manger and the bows. It occurs to me suddenly that my youngest is likely to be in her last ‘believing’ year and I am washed over with sadness. As each of the three boys graduated from believer to Elf, I watched the wonder be replaced by the thrill of making the magic happen; the same drama but a different role to be played. I am so saddened by the idea that this magic will leave us soon and the tradition will be changed forever.

Bing Crosby sings loudly on the stereo as I place bows on the banister and candle lights in the windows. I cannot stop now as space by space throughout the house says ‘Welcome Christmas!’ Cadence bounds in the door, does a spin around and lights up like a candle, “It’s starting to look like Christmas in here!” She squeals.

Indeed, I think, and its feeling good.

The end of the week rushes toward us and we are faced with the official town-wide kick off to the season. Hundreds will flock to the town green for the annual tree lighting ceremony. Holiday events and concerts fill the various church buildings that frame the green and the town joins together like one big family.

“Hurry or we’ll be late!” I warn Cadence as she rushes back to her room to plug in her window candle lights and gather last minute things for the evening. This is her third year dancing in a Christmas ballet and cast call for opening night is within the hour.

“What is that on your window sill?” I ask, squinting my eyes for a better look.

“Oh my G…..” she spins facing me with shock and awe on her face. “Elf Dust!” She pronounces with excitement and horror.

“Already?” I ask, “It’s only November 30th.”

Cadence sticks her finger into the sweet green crystals and dabs it on her tongue. “Yep, its Elf dust alright!” She confirms, reaching for another dab.

“Don’t Cadence! Gross! How many times have I told you not to eat Elf dust? You have no idea where that Elf has been! Do you think he’s still in here?” I ask as I look behind the dresser.

“Mom, the dust forms when they vanish like in the movie, remember?” Cadence grins and then her face falls flat. “Oh my God, Mom! Did you see what I was doing when the Elf was in here? I was in my mirror like this…” she says as she holds a fake microphone, face squeezed like a rock star while she lip syncs and gyrates to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’ which is floating up from the speakers downstairs.

“This is Soooo embarrassing!” She says, rolling her eyes, hands on her hips. I marvel at how she can seem fifteen and five years old at the same time.

Adrenaline surges through her as we arrive to the set location and she bounds into the costume room to prepare for the evening. “Break a leg!” I kiss her little face, rosy with stage make-up and then wander out of the building. A line of cars stretches for miles on the road heading into town and groups of people move briskly along sidewalk.

“Santa will be mad if you miss the tree lighting.” I hear one father say as he hurries his boys along.

“Oh my God he is so cute! Did he say anything to you?” A teenage girl giggles, huddled with her friends.

I call Brad who says he is fighting traffic and will get there before the show, but not in time for the tree lighting. Tyler calls from work to say he found a ride home with a friend. Trevor calls to say he’s been invited to sleep at his friend’s house after the tree lighting and perhaps he’d see me on the green.

I’m off the hook. Problem solved, tradition trimmed. No need to walk down in the freezing cold alone. It’s the same tree, the same experience; nothing I need to see.

I find myself moving and midway across the green, I button my coat and sink my hands deep into my pockets. The crowd is thick and the green is dark. It is impossible to distinguish faces unless they are within two feet. I walk slowly toward the edge and work my way into the crowd. I feel like I am watching the scene from elsewhere; television perhaps. Announcements and speeches full of recognition and gratitude are followed by Christmas music and warmth rushes through me in spite of the cold.

‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ rises in the air as I look upon a young couple snuggled close. I remember Brad and I coming here, on the threshold of marriage, longing for this infusion of family. A young mother nearby adjusts the blanket around her newborn, snuggled deeply into her neck. I close my eyes and I am back in that moment; content in that all important union. A man in front of me hoists his toddler upon his shoulders while his older bother bounces at mom’s side, anticipating that Santa will arrive just in time for the countdown.

Parents with tweens and teens struggle to keep the peace and to keep track of their brood among the chaos that surrounds them. The setting is all familiar; the drama has played out the same year after year, each year offering a different role. I have played almost all of these parts before. As I look around, I feel strangely undefined. I feel strangely peaceful. I am not the couple, yearning for the coziness of family or the mother of little ones; I am not the referee of chaos or the elderly pair strolling in time to the music. I am simply me and tradition calls me to be here. I understand now that it does not have to be scripted or perfect or the same as before, in order to be honored.

The ballet concludes, a successful opening night. Cadence is still dancing as she dresses for bed. My oldest arrives after we do, arms wrapped around rolls of wrapping paper and gifts. It is his first year with a job and tradition calls to him as well. He slips in the door beaming, having experienced his first independent Christmas shopping experience. I realize that in him, the drum of tradition beats and like his father and I, he will carry some of this with him. He will undoubtedly create new traditions as well as he grows into a family of his own.

As I reflect on that Christmas Eve in 1977 and my solitary tree lighting on Friday night, I realize that improvising is perhaps the best way to enjoy traditions; unplanned, non choreographed and expectation free. This year, the cadence of the tradition drum will be uncertain; we may skip, we may dance, we may even march and out of step is just fine with me.