Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Approach to Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays: Part Two

Now, it’s 2011. We are approaching the last quarter of the 2nd year of our new life. This is the second set of holidays without daddy. This year’s approach was a bit different for us. Shortly after Thomas’ death my father came back into my life. I had not seen him in eight years and neither I nor my siblings knew where he was. Thomas faithfully prayed for a reunification every day even after the rejection I felt left me with only a hope that he was safe. It was one of many things I wished he’d survived to see. My father is of course older, a little slower, but he is remarried and happy. In 2010, he, my stepmother and brother all went to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving. When I was invited I had already booked the Disney World trip. The children and I saw them a few months later when one of my nieces graduated from a university nearby. Fast forward to this year, I got a text from my sister again inviting us there for Thanksgiving. We were getting another chance to be a part of this get together and this time I took it.

There is rest for the weary after all.

I’m sure most of us have heard the saying, “There’s no rest for the weary.” I’d become very familiar with it during my married life and my time as a widow. Being a caregiver, running a household alone as a wife, being a single parent, running a household alone as a widow all while holding down a full time job, I could have had this saying tattooed somewhere if I was into tattoos that is. It would have to be a fake one that washes off after a couple of days.

But when I put the children in the van and started down the highway to my sister’s house last week, I wasn’t thinking about getting much rest. All I was thinking about was getting away from the house again and seeing my family. I had no desire to stay home, or make a big meal, or do the constant clean-up that is an inevitable part of my son being at home all day with his toys. Ariana was excited, mainly about seeing “paw paw”. That is what my father’s grandchildren call him. Elijah as usual just went with what was happening, even though I could tell he was very confused when the little box in front of him showed one of his favorite cartoons. I had picked up a Phillips two screen portable DVD player for the van after work. I ordered it online from Best Buy for store pick-up and installed it before leaving the store’s parking lot. It turned out to be the cure for the “Are we almost there-itis” my daughter seems to come down with 30 minutes into any long drive.

Something happened after we got there. My children settled in to the unfamiliar surroundings pretty quickly and found playmates as soon as we arrived. My sister was caring for two of her grandchildren while her daughter worked. Thank God for cousins. My niece is 7 and my nephew is 3. Ariana is 8 and Elijah is almost 2. You would have thought they’d known each other all of their lives, but it was only their second time seeing each other. Once their mother picked them up around 9:00, Ariana was so tired she passed out in bed. My father and stepmother arrived at around 10:00. Elijah stayed up long enough to see them, but once I got him to stay still for five minutes he was out too. I stayed up another 30 minutes to get caught up, but knew if I wanted to get enough sleep, I had to retire as well. My brother left his home later that night to avoid traffic, but arrived before dawn.

I got something out of the trip I wasn’t expecting. I was able to relax. One aunt, two uncles, a set of grandparents and several cousins meant for just a few days I wasn’t the entire world to my children. When my son wanted to be picked up, he had his choice of several people and he took to the "new" adults in his life better than I could have hoped. They all knew how to deal with him. He and “paw paw” became fast friends and it quickly became clear to Elijah that this guy was impressed with everything he did and said. He pointed to an apple and within a few minutes there was an apple in his hand. He pointed and said “cracker” and POOF, several came to him. He said "milk" and someone gave him a cup. My sister made them breakfast and once Thanksgiving dinner was prepared, we ate it for days. My brother-in-law fried a turkey outside, my sister made potato salad and several sweet potato pies. Other members of my sister’s and my brother-in-law’s families brought other side dishes.

The cousins did not stay the night but they returned each day we were there and two more came to the house on Thanksgiving Day. My sister in addition to having two daughters has two stepdaughters who each have a daughter. There were children everywhere and my sister and brother-in-law have a big yard. When they weren’t outside, the Wii video game system in the back room kept them busy for a while. I’m surprised Ariana’s arms aren’t sore from playing the boxing game. Only thing is I might end up having to buy one of those things.

On Friday I didn’t even bother getting dressed. We all except my brother who had to go to another city for the day, stayed in our pajamas. I really hope this gathering becomes an annual event. I could use the rest.

With a bit of sadness, I drove us home on Saturday afternoon. Everyone else was staying over to Sunday, but I needed Saturday evening and Sunday to get us settled back in to our life. On Monday it was back to work and school. I had rather ease back into reality than be tossed back into it. I had a simple plan in mind. On Saturday evening, I wanted to unpack the suitcase, do two loads of laundry, put the Christmas tree up and decorate it. We had a leadership meeting and church service on Sunday.

The tree is up and I love it even more than last year. We added a new ornament this year. I found it at a holiday store in our local mall. It is a picture frame with angel wings. On the top it reads “Forever in Our Hearts”. In the blank space above the picture I had the store employee write “Daddy” with the year 2010. I put Thomas’ picture inside. Sunday evening I baked cookies and began to decorate the outside of the house. The presents for the children have been on lay-away at Wal-Mart since October. I still have to make that photo session appointment. My approach to Christmas will still be to dive in head first and pull out what is good. We’ll have a chance to have fun and to further explore the true meaning of the season.

So the only question that remained was what to do with Thomas’ Christmas money. This year’s charity will be "Love Haiti’s Children". I give to American charities throughout the year, but this one is dear to me. The pastors I had before I joined Word of God Fellowship opened an orphanage there after the earthquake. It’s true, my children have no father. They are however, blessed with a lot of people who love them intensely. The children in Haiti this orphanage was built for have no one until the missionaries get there. I think of all of the times my daughter tells me she misses her father every day, but is so glad that at least I am still here. It doesn’t comfort me to think of others who are less fortunate, but it does move me in ways I can’t really express.

We still hurt. We still miss Thomas. We still have plenty of challenges to face. We still have days where we seem lost. We still have so much growing to do. We’re still here though and we’re still a family. We still have hope. We still have love. We still have laughter. We still have our faith. We still have the ability to give. Every day of our lives I am aware of all of those things. The approach of Christmas and the New Year though allows me to become aware of them on a higher level. I can slow down and see things more clearly, plan for that growth, appreciate our progress, and remember how fortunate we are. As 2011 ticks away, I’ll aim to do the same thing I did last year, but more so. I’ll take some deep breaths, thank God for His mercy and His patience with me, tighten my grip on my children and do my best to move the three of us forward.

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