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Which Way is Up?

SkyCan you tell from the picture above if the sun is setting or rising? If I hadn’t taken the picture myself, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question. I’m certain that some of you can because my readers are a smart bunch.

Often times I look at life this way. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Life can get a little confusing, leaving us not knowing which way is up. Like someone dropped us right into a foreign country without a map or a language translation book.

If you look at my recent posts, you might think that I’m lost. Or maybe that I’m chest deep in depression because some of my posts, ok most of my posts, have been a little dark lately.

But I am here to tell you that I am completely a-ok. Things might be a little confusing right now and I might not know which way is up, but I’m not feeling lost, scared, intimidated or lonely. I feel none of those things.

While there is a lot of confusion and change happening in my life right now, there’s also so much beauty and joy.

Matter of fact, I have so much happy to share with you I don’t even know where to start.

So while I sort out my brain, please bear with me as I clean and organize the shelves of my mind. I am taking things off the shelves and trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. And as I do that, I may share some stuff with you that you might find unsettling.

And in case you are wondering why I’m doing this on a mom blog, I need you to know that I share this stuff with you because I want you to see that you can still have a good satisfying happy life even if you have gone through tragedy.

That even if you had a crap childhood, lost a child, got run over by a car and went through a divorce that you can still be JOYFUL!

If you get nothing else ever from my blog, I will be satisfied if you get that one thing.

For those of you who’ve left so many wonderful comments, know that I will be responding to them this weekend. I’ve been rather busy this week and I’ve not had the time to respond properly. Please know that I will and that I appreciate each and every one of you.

Have a wildly wonderful weekend full of love and happiness. That’s my game plan.

The Ugliest Christmas Sweater

It was a Friday and for the first time I was thankful I was a latchkey child. I let myself into the house and went directly to my room to grab my overnight bag which I plopped in front of our kitchen pantry.

What could I take that would not be missed? Tea bags. Every morning she drinks a cup of tea. No one would miss it if I grabbed a handful. I wonder if anyone would notice if I took the package of cookies?

Cookies go with tea and she loves a sweet in the morning. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a name brand in her cabinet. Oreos are her favorite. What’s Christmas without a treat? Into the bag they went, with a little more guilt this time as I tucked the Oreos into my duffel bag. It’s one thing to take a few tea bags. It’s another thing to take an entire package of cookies. I’ve officially crossed the line into theft.

I continued searching through the pantry, looking for anything we had in abundance. Unfortunately my stepmother was not much of a stockpiler. She bought what she needed and only that. Prepackaged goods weren’t her thing. She was more of a farmer’s market kind of woman and avoided shelf stable goods like the plague.

And while my mother also loved fresh fruits and vegetables, those would be much harder to smuggle to her.

This was my first Christmas visiting my mother. Up until that year it had always been the flip. I had lived with my mom and every other Christmas I spent the holiday with my father.

But this was the year that my mother gave me away to my dad. The year that my mom packaged all of my belongings into trash bags and delivered me to my father’s house.

I helped drag those bags of clothing and personal possessions into the house. Bags full of worn out ill-fitting clothing and threadbare stuffed animals I couldn’t bear to part with. And as I lugged those bags into the house with the help of my dad and stepmom, I couldn’t help but feel just like one of those trash bags. Not worth much and a tedious chore to deal with.

I was ten years old.

Now it had been three months of this new living situation and it was the day that my mom would pick me up to celebrate Christmas. And as I stuffed my duffel bag into the trunk of her car, heavy with the guilt of stealing from my father, I felt like a ten year old Robinhood. Taking from the rich to help the poor, but not feeling so good about it.

When we arrived at my mom’s small two bedroom apartment I quietly went into the kitchen and put the food into her cabinets. My ten year old brain didn’t think about how obvious that would be as I placed a can of tuna fish on an empty shelf.

As I placed the food in her cabinet, I couldn’t help but think about our last Christmas together. While I wouldn’t call living in my stepfather’s home a happy memory, it was a stable one. We lived in a four bedroom house in a nice neighborhood. Our cabinets were always full of good stuff to eat. And when it came to the holidays, no expense was spared. My mom made sure that it was memorable and magical.

But then she divorced my stepfather and her life changed drastically as did my own.

Now in my father’s custody, a year later I placed my presents for my mother under a tiny tree in her already cramped living room. Gifts that I bought with my father’s money. Money that I did not steal, I might add.

My mother did her best to make that Christmas feel like more than what it really was. We spent Christmas Eve at a diner where she worked, celebrating with co-workers at their holiday party.

While everyone was full of holiday cheer, laughing and celebrating together, I couldn’t help but sit there with a fury in my heart. Hating that my mother had to turn tables to feed herself. Embarrassed that I was spending Christmas Eve in a diner with strangers. And wishing that I could turn back the clock and go back to that less than perfect life in suburbia and reclaim my mother, my innocence and my childhood.

And when I woke up Christmas morning, I was surprised to see packages under the tree. How she was able to buy gifts with her limited income is a mystery, but there they were.

On that Christmas morning she and I sat by the tree. Just she and I for the first and last time of our lives. Looking back, I’m glad for the not knowing. Because if I had known that she and I would never have that kind of mother and daughter moment again, I might have been grief struck.

Her tradition had always been to save the best gift for last. And as I opened that last package, her eyes looked brighter than they had in months. And as I lifted the sweater out of the layers of tissue paper, I could feel her anticipation.

It was a brown and cream sweater. Sewn to the front were eight small furry rabbits’ feet. Easily it was the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen. A sweater that would make me even less popular at school  than I already was. I could already hear the kids taunting me. This sweater would be more of a gift to them, giving them more ammunition to shoot me with.

But my mother looked desperate for me to like it. And I was desperate for her to take me back. So I told her how much I loved it. Lying through my teeth and proving it to her by promptly pulling it over my head and forcing a toothy smile.

After the gifts were exchanged, she and I shared a cup of tea and the bag of Oreos which she drew no attention to other than eating them with me. A moment that was a happy memory, one of the few from that year of my life. Just the two of us. Something that had never been and never will be again.

As I packed to return to my father’s home, I shoved that ugly sweater deep to the bottom of the bag. And as I hoisted the bag over my shoulder, it was just as heavy with guilt as upon arrival.

And when I got back to my dad’s, I hid that sweater in the back of my closet. Never to be worn again. And I’d like to say that I refused to wear it because it was hideous. Certainly the kids would’ve been merciless. But the truth of the matter is that the sweater was too heavy to wear.  Growing up in Michigan, a heavy sweater is a good thing. But this sweater’s weight had nothing to do with the yarn.

This sweater was weighted with too much guilt, expectation and devastation than my already weary ten year old shoulders could bear.

So why the guilt over never wearing the sweater? Because I knew that my mother had to turn countless tables in order to buy that gift. Her tips came in change, not dollars while working at the diner. It was back breaking work, a kind of work that was foreign to my mother but necessary for her survival.

I knew that the reason her cabinet shelves were bare was because she went without so that she could buy gifts.

And while she made choices that year that would ultimately send me to therapy for a good long time, she earnestly tried that Christmas to make up for it. Enough guilt to last a lifetime. For the both of us.

Memories that don’t easily get tucked away into a closet never to be seen again. If only it were that easy.