When I divorced, I swore off men forever and for all eternity, whichever came last. Then, I came to my senses and realized that I am not the Lone Wolf type and decided that, while I wouldn't necessarily pursue dating, if the opportunity came along, I wouldn't necessarily say no. I was not hopeful, given that at the time of my divorce I was FORTY and the mother of three small children, and who in their right mind would take that on when there are gaggles of childless nymphs in their 20s for the taking?
I met D (as he will be known, since I haven't gotten his permission to use his name for entertainment purposes), my now-husband, in high school lo these many years ago. I didn't know him well, but he did have the most transcendent strawberry-blonde mullet I'd ever seen. I remembered his name when he friended me on Facebook, and then I ran into him at a Prince Purple Rain party shortly before my infamous return to my childhood state of Indiana. We became friends, and started walking together, a lot, for the eight or nine months after my return. His company helped me deal with the loneliness of being a middle-aged mom in a new town during times when my children were with their father. He listened as I babbled on about money worries, juggling a job and kids alone, and about how thrilled I was to be rid of the ex.
Just after Christmas five years ago, we went on our first real date. At the time, I wasn't aware it was a date. He sort of tricked me into it, being a smooth kind of guy. We went to a Reds caravan down in Bloomington, and my first hint it was a date was his insistence on paying the bill. Uh oh. Classic date maneuver. A few days later, he came over to my place and we watched movies until 4 am. He held my hand, and I felt like a 16-year-old.
Yada, yada, yada, we married three and a half years later in a beach wedding in my beloved Massachusetts. It was a perfect day with friends and my three kiddos.
I didn't think I'd find love in middle age, and I can say it's wonderful. D is patient, kind, and lovely. I'm a terrible slob and klutz and scatterbrain, but he accepts me just as I am. He has never once put me down or yelled at me, even though I do myriad stupid things on a daily basis. He has embraced my crazy children and is incredibly supportive of them. He brings a calm and a peace to my home that wasn't here before.
As we head into the new year, I can honestly say that I am so glad I softened my man-hating heart so I can spend this fifth New Year's Eve with my Cute Husband, who doesn't mind that I love entertaining and the mess/expense that comes with my annual Wine Chugging NYE Party and Jamboree. I look forward to a lifetime (or, at this point probably a half a lifetime) of new years with this guy, and hope all of you have the same.
On this New Year's Eve Eve, I thought about writing the obligatory year-in-review nostalgia that inevitably pops up on small blogs across the interwebs, then realized that no one needs more schlock in their lives. To be honest, I'm relieved this year is coming to a close, and after living through it, I can honestly say heading into the new year that I don't have a damn thing to complain about. That doesn't mean it wasn't a difficult year.
In the past year, I was threatened and dragged into court by my mother's vile husband regarding her will (he lost, as all charges were deemed ridiculous), was verbally abused more than once by my brother (whose anger and temper I will never understand), and was subjected to the whims of crazy Indiana divorce laws (which allowed my ex-husband to successfully hide assets and get out of properly supporting his children).
All that is behind me now, though, thank heavens, and I had an epiphany just last week that I can allow these events to define me or I can take steps to relieve myself of toxic people and focus on the super awesome things in my life.
In the past year, I published my first novel, my children thrived in school and in life, I set in motion the purchase of our dream house, I hugged and laughed with my husband more times than I can count, I learned to cook some really fantastic new dishes, I traveled to and fell in love with Southern CA, I was in a play that brought new friendships into my life, I got closer to my mom's precious sisters and my cousins, and I loved my teaching job. And those facts are just the tip of the iceberg.
So why do the negative things, which comprise a much shorter and less meaningful list, tend to push out the positive? I don't think it's just me. In informal, anecdotal polls I've done with friends, we all do this. Sometimes, it feels better to complain and like veiled (or outright) bragging to admit that overall, life is pretty good. Why do I feel like I have to share something bad to balance out the good? Why can't I just say (as I did above) that I really don't have a damn thing to complain about? These are the questions I ponder this New Year's Eve Eve, as I prepare for some dear friends to attend my Wine Chugging NYE Party and Jamboree tomorrow by hollering at my kids to pick up their stuff for when the cleaning ladies come (another indulgence for which I am joyful).
I think the first of my 216 new things in 2016 will be to make "I don't have a damn thing to complain about" my personal mantra. I'm putting this out there so all of you can help me if I resort to my old pattern of dredging up past hurts. Yes, they are there. Yes, they affected me at the time. No, they do not need to affect me any more. Yes, I will probably fail from time to time. No, I will not turn into Pollyanna - my snark, sarcasm, and ability to laugh at inappropriate things run deep and are entrenched in my very being.
So with that, I raise my virtual glass for a bad champagne toast (things may be good, but not Dom Perignon good) to 2016 and all the adventures that lie ahead.
This is my second Christmas without my mom. Last year, still being in shock and denial that she was gone, I mostly felt numb. This year, my heart is heavy as I go through the motions of the holiday, both because I miss her and because of the guilt I feel since I kind of avoided my whole family the year before because of certain toxic people I didn't have the strength to handle (including my now-incarcerated brother and a difficult, cruel stepsister). Had I known it was her last Christmas, I would've choked back the bile and endured the passive-aggression, fighting, screaming, and door-slamming that I heard about after the fact just to spend that last holiday with her.
Over the last few weeks, I've listened to friends and coworkers alike agonize over what gifts to buy their parents. About how they're dividing their time between parents and in-laws. About how far they have to drive. I feel their pain, but have nothing to add to the table. These conversations remind me that I have no parents to share the holidays with, for better or for worse. I think to myself, is it possible to be a 45-year-old orphan? The holidays lose their luster a bit when there are no parents to visit in my case; no grandparents to visit in my children's.
My mom loved Christmas. Her house was beautifully festooned with trees, knick-knacks, garlands, and several Nativity scenes. She gave thoughtful gifts, and loved entertaining. On Christmas morning, she made a fancy breakfast and read the Luke 2 story to us from the huge family Bible. We all outwardly groaned, but inwardly delighted, during this reading. I drove past her house yesterday, which is now inhabited by strangers. There are no lights, no topiaries on the porch, no decorations evident anywhere. I stopped for a moment and cried. Why did she have to die? She was only 64. My flaw was not knowing how much I needed her until she was gone. Now, there is a mom-shaped hole in my heart.
I suppose every year will get a little easier - at least, that's what I am told. I do have wonderful aunts, cousins, and the best extended family a girl could hope for (my immediate family is a little, well, dysfunctional, but everyone else is a delight). They're supportive, kind, hilarious. But there is just something devastating about a Momless Christmas. It's also weird that I am the mom now for my own kids. I must carry the mantle of creating a beautiful holiday for them, and tell them the stories of their Nannie so they don't forget.
Today, I'm baking cookies and watching A Christmas Story in her honor. I look around at the Christmas village she gave me because I loved it, with houses in it that were my Nana's before her. I think of the wonderful women who have touched my life and then passed on. I'll probably be a little quiet and teary today, and for the next few days. But as Longfellow writes, "the tide rises, and the tide falls." The years will go by, the sadness will lessen, but I will always mourn the Momless Christmas.
The world we live in is insane. So busy, so materialistic, so exhausting, so expensive - especially as Christmas approaches. Each year, I swear that I'll scale back. Fewer gifts, less crazy. I thought it would be a little easier this year, since one brother and I decided not to exchange gifts and my other brother is incarcerated again (a story for another day). But there's a crack in the door of my office, and if I dare peek I can see boxes stacked as high as my head. It's good I'm only 5'3". There are things for my most darling and perfect husband, my sons, and my daughter. The girl gets a ukulele. The boys get expensive hoodies and tall, garish socks. I can't put what the Cute Husband gets because there's a decent chance he'll read this, and he hates spoilers. I've stayed up late at night baking cookies that didn't turn out so well, rushed around to parties, and spent more than I want to think about. And why? Part of it is the joy that will surely be on everyone's faces come Christmas morning. But then it's over, and the inevitable post-holiday doldrums set in.
We used to joke about the dysfunction in our family being my aforementioned brother (the prison one, not the decent one). But sometimes I wonder if stressing out around holidays, not to mention the rest of the year, is the real dysfunction. Is this what people were intended to do? Work a lot, buy stuff, sleep only 5 or 6 hours a night, then do it all again the next day? To have to squeeze in exercise? I really don't think so. Burnout hovers right at the edge of my aura (or whatever the fine line around my body is - maybe a halo?), and sometimes dips its horrible fingers in. Total dysfunction.
My resolution this year is to put more fun to this dysfunctional life. The question is how to do that when I live in a flyover state and I have to work full time to pay for stuff. I created a writer's club (Courtney's Wicked Good Writers Salon and Wine Chugging Club) in the hopes of laughing all the time with fellow creatives. I'm writing the second Cate book, and also the beginnings of a YA novel. I signed up for a half marathon. I also plan to steal my dear friend Julie's idea of doing 216 new things in 2016, and sharing them all with you. That's an average of .59 new things every day. I'd like to encourage all of you to try this exercise as well - be mindful to find the fun in dysfunctional until the fun is the norm. First on my list? At least 3 consecutive days of 8+ hours of sleep at night. This will clear my head to move forward with gusto into the new year. Can't wait for the Fun Project to kick off. Anyone want to join me?
Congratulations to Kelly Fredette and Kristi McDavitt for winning the Christmas Copies of Cate! Please e-mail your addresses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll have the books shipped to you directly from Amazon. Thanks for sharing your awesome stories with me! I hope you both enjoy the book. Check back for hilarious holiday tales over the next week. I'm sure I'll have a story to tell after I hobble through a Donut 5K this morning...
I want to GIVE AWAY a couple of copies of Cate in Flux to worthy readers! Comment below telling me your favorite holiday memory and why you think it was so important to you by Friday, December 18. I'll choose two winners and send you CIF to enjoy over the holidays! Soon, Cate will sweep the nation!
In my everyday travels, I hear a lot about how today's kids are entitled, how education is dumbed down, and how we all must brace ourselves for a frightening future. I hear a lot about kids addicted to their phones and games; who can't carry on a conversation.
As a teacher in the trenches, I can say that for the most part this is not true - thank heavens! Students in the high school where I teach pride themselves on taking as many honors, AP, and college-level courses as possible. They are respectful. They are kind. They are accepting of people who are nothing like them. It's nothing like my own high school experiences, which consisted mainly of slogging through the day being tormented by my classmates. A good day was when I wasn't called ugly or pushed into a locker. The class offerings were slim and not very interesting.
Contrast that to now. In the last three weeks, my junior English students have analyzed speeches by famous Americans, including Steve Jobs, Patrick Henry, and Abraham Lincoln, finding examples of ethos, pathos, and logos and explaining how rhetorical devices bolster the arguments in said speeches. They created Declarations of Independence following the format of the original document. During an in-depth study of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American voices in American literature, they were able to take a poem by Langston Hughes and show how it was used as an extended metaphor in the play "Raisin in the Sun." They are thoughtful, insightful, engaged, focused, and smart.
Yes, they love to text and post on social media and take selfies. But they can also write research papers in MLA format like rockstars, talk intelligently on a host of topics, and articulate their opinions in a way that I know my generation couldn't in the eleventh grade. The technology skills amaze me as well. The creative and interesting things these kids create boggle the mind!
The expectations of student achievement, if anything, have grown exponentially. Colleges are more difficult to get into, and students face much higher pressures in the form of standardized testing than ever before. But through it all, they remain motivated to do well.
Compassion abounds among the students I have the privilege of teaching. I've witnessed students helping each other without being asked. They give of their time and resources to those less fortunate. I've lost count of the number of passionate essays about mission trips to poverty-stricken areas of the world I've graded. These kids want to make a difference - as shown through their actions, not just their words. Different perspectives are respected, discourse is valued, and unconventionality is celebrated. They are innovative, creative, fascinating.
Do not fret about the future. There are bright, shining stars coming up. I, for one, can't wait to see where we go next.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.