O’ Christmas Tree

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‘Twas the season. The season for counting our blessings, for giving to others, for merrymaking and gratitude… the season for family. All of those things that people with white picket fences do. We did those things.

Meeting Santa.

Singing carols at the town tree lighting.

Cutting down a Christmas fir at the local tree farm.

Listening to holiday music while decorating said tree, a roaring fire in the wood stove.

Sheesh. We were Pinterest pins.

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But that white picket fence was something I grew up wishing for…for something that felt safe and intact. Containing, even. I’m not talking about a dude on a white horse, I’m talking about a clan, about people. The notion that someone or someTHING had my back. I wanted that. My parents had split when I was young and my brother ended up living with our dad, I with our mom. Despite two loving parents, my strongest desire was for a family. For a place where I belonged, that felt whole. And when I got it, it actually was pretty damn close to what I thought it would be.

Until it wasn’t.

Cue to present day. It’s Christmas time. Tree time. And lo and behold, Beyonce’s Single Ladies is my theme song. {Don’t read too deeply into the lyrics. I mainly like to do the dance.}

This isn’t going to be a Debby downer post, so you can breathe easy. Nobody wants to click on that little X in the corner  —  to close that negativity down — more than I do. Absorbing other people’s struggles, it’s heavy. Boo hiss. No thanks.

Which is maybe why I set out to do the following. Look at me. Look how freaking tough I am.

So, the tree. I was tempted to buy it at our town hall, where my girls and I picked it out last year. Dozens of them lined up in the parking lot, just waiting to be adopted for the season. The man who sold it to us even tied it to the top of my car, trimming a couple of inches off the trunk so that it would be freshly cut for water.

This year, I set my sights on the tree farm. I would simply saw one down and hoist it to the top of my SUV. I’m an active woman. I work out. Taking down a little tree would probably be the simplest thing I’d done this year. And despite the bitter temperatures, for this is winter in Maine after all, the timing was right. My girls and I would do this directly after school, rewarding ourselves with hot chocolate + extra marshmallows when we got home.

Easy peasy.

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We get to the farm at 3:30 and grab a saw, merrily making our way deep into the balsams on a mission to find our pillar of Christmas hope.

We close at 4!” calls out a woman behind me, taking payment from the families lined up on their way out.

Eldest daughter decides, against my wishes, to leave her mittens in the car. Youngest daughter is wearing tights and a skirt but has mittens. I’m one for two in the hypothermic fingers department but am not much better off, wearing thin yoga leggings with a pair of slippery boots and a puffer coat. In Maine, that can almost pass for streetwise fashion though today it simply means I came straight from a class and now that I’ve cooled down, I already have a chill. I look up and see the high fuzzy crest of the moon. It’s 3:42.

A sheet of ice is there to greet us as we shuffle and skate our way further in. We don’t spot any winners, so we keep walking. And sliding. It’s a glacial afternoon and as one eye is measuring daylight, the other the path in front of me, my blood pressure begins to rise as I realize how far it feels we are from the car. Luckily the girls aren’t picky this year and we quickly settle on a very tall and slim tree sitting on the outskirts of a sea of firs. I begin to saw away at its trunk, feeling badly for plucking this beautiful thing of nature, only to bedazzle it at home and dry it out with baseboard heating.

Sorry, Tree, I whisper.

Sawsawsaw. It’s going swimmingly for the first thirty or so passes when the sharp teeth begin to stick. Hmm. Must.saw.harder. I’m using my bicep in a way it’s never been used before while also developing acute carpal tunnel syndrome due to the awkward angle. But there’s movement.

Saw…………………saw………………….saw.

And then, suddenly, it stops. Won’t move an inch. No, I’m serious, not a centimeter. Surely I’m more than halfway, I think, as I peer down at the trunk. Barely a third.

BUGGER.

I look up and the moon is there, smiling at me. It’s 3:52.

Okay,” I say to my kids. “Might be harder than I thought.”

Littlest child says, “You can do it, Momma. You’re strong.”

This fuels me. I AM strong. I am mother f’ing strong.

I’m sawing. My bicep is having a tantrum while perspiration beads up on my lip. And then, once again. Saw. Won’t. Move.

Eldest pipes up, “Why don’t I go get the woman by the parking lot? The lady you pay at the end?” 

I look behind me, at the distance we walked across ice and snow, how very, very far away we are from the parking lot.

THAT LADY IS 75 YEARS OLD,” I say.

Exasperated.

Eldest shrugs. “Well. She might be good with a saw.”

It’s 3:56.

“NO. I am actually good with a saw,” I say, while giving it a firm kick with my boot. It moves. Back in business for another minute before it sticks again. “Good grief,” I utter under my breath (or that’s what I’d like to remember me saying) as I stand up and look at the tree. “You.are.not.my.friend anyMORE,” I mutter-shout through clenched teeth as I assault the tree with a good shove. Like a flexible driveway stake that bounces back after the snowplow speeds over it, the fir sways back and forth, as if waving to me, Hello there! I have roots!

“Come. ONNNNNNN!” I say (yell) to the tree as I push on the saw with a force that is only displayed with crazy pissed off adrenaline. Swear words course through my veins and I finally give the saw another kick and then the tree gets another much bigger shove and then, finally — CRRRAAAAAACCCKKKKKKKKKK.

The bitch is down.

“Yay, Mommy!” my girls chirp. “You did it!”

Oh, I did it alright. The base of the tree sticks out of the ground with jagged pieces. If someone were to fall, they’d be impaled. I glance at the tree lying now on its side and its trunk, too, has craggy spears shooting out of it like nails.

Eldest looks at me. “Probably shouldn’t have pushed it, Mom.”

“Yep,” I say in a clipped tone. “I see that now. Thanks for the tip.” 

Because my 10-year old didn’t comply with the mitten order, my youngest and I carry the tree (did I mention she’s 8?) toward the parking lot. It’s so icy, she slips and I drop my end and the tree begins to slide down a small embankment. Big girl finally pitches in, despite the fact that she can no longer feel her fingers, and the three of us limp over what feels like the finish line: the parking lot. Tree lady is there waiting. The farm has closed.

“Hi,” I say. “Um. I had a little trouble with the saw.”

She looks down at the base of our tree and says, “Trunks have been kind of damp today. But God almighty, you sure did!” She inspects it and, shaking her head, begins to chuckle and calls behind her to the Mister. He comes out, saws some of the trunk off so it’s ever so slightly a cleaner cut.

All I can think is WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU ten minutes ago?

My fingers are red and raw and basically out of service, so the idea of tying the tree to the roof of my car is totally out of the question. In what can only be described as the opposite of “in a jif,” I have the seats down and the tree, rolled in the tarp, riding in the back of my SUV. With my children. I start the car and my girls warm their hands by the vents.

Tree lady looks at me and says, “Don’t got far to go, I hope?”

I shake my head, knowing that we if were actually setting out for a 400-mile road trip right now, this tree would be riding in the same position. Also knowing that if she attempts to get me to put the tree somewhere more appropriate, I’m going to detonate into a pile of tears.

I go to pay and see a sign that reads, CASH OR CHECKS ONLY. ONLY is underlined. A lot. I realize I’ve brought the wrong checkbook. The one attached to the joint checking account that is about to be closed. Because we are no longer joined. And because there’s no money in it.

That lump in my throat that had been suppressed, I feel it starting to rise. And then the tears come, so hypersonic I can’t hold them back.

The woman looks at me, her eyes softening. “I’m just gonna take a guess here. You haven’t done this before. Alone?” I barely nod and she puts a mittened hand on my arm and says, “It’ll be okay. I promise, I’ve been there. You’ll be better than your best.”

Better than my best. I like that.

We arrange for alternate payment and I drive us home. Hurdle accomplished, lesson learned. When we get home, my eldest gets out of the car and, without a word, pulls the tree out of the back, drags it by its trunk to the door and then — together — the three of us, my girls and me, we stand that tree in its base. One of them fills the stand up with water while the other puts away our coats and mittens.

I whip up the hot cocoa and as we sit down at the table, steaming mugs warming our hands and our hearts, I look over at my girls — a very giant part of my tribe — and remind myself that Pinterest isn’t real. That this moment here right now is what’s absolute and that it — so much, in every way — is a life worth celebrating.

Our stories can be messy and bleak and sometimes ugly and broken but they can also be graceful and kind, full of fellowship and love. New traditions can be made (perhaps with improved planning) and they can be as meaningful as the old. We aren’t Pins. We aren’t without flaws. But honestly, who wants to be? Because it’s only through this hilarious debris and this life and these stories, that I found my people, that I found myself.

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Finding love in the Whole Foods parking lot

On a recent Saturday in July, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. We all do it. Maybe we slept poorly, or ate or drank something the night before that didn’t agree with us. Maybe we were awakened at midnight by a feverish child or we had a weird dream. Or, maybe there was no good reason at all. Just a funk.

Or, a midlife crisis. Whichever.

Upon waking up to this mood — because it was right there to greet me when I opened my eyes — I felt my breath catch and my heartbeat quicken. Pretty sure I’m having a heart attack, I thought. My breath began to stop and start, big pauses in between. Anxiety crept in.

Well, shit. This is going to be a bad day.

So I started breathing. If there’s one thing that yoga has taught me… it’s been this: BREATHE.LIKE.YOU.MEAN.IT.

Hearing your breath, you can’t help but start listening to it, listening to YOU. The flow of oxygen wakes everything up, and for me it hits the ignition on that force of my life, connecting me back to myself, connecting my body to my mind.

The day dragged on. I breathed through it, accepting that it was an “off” day. I drove to Whole Foods, where I figured I’d pick up a few items and head home to watch a movie, alone. Had a bit of trouble parking. Nothing new there.

But I finally managed to slip into a sliver of a space. As I was getting out of my car, I received a text from my friend, Kate.

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This involved driving northward 15 miles to get home, where I’d have to rifle through my closet and find suitable attire. Maybe apply some makeup. Be wedding-ready. Only to turn around again and head south 20 miles for the oceanside ceremony and reception. Hmm. Well, let me think abou-

OKAY!

Last minute invitation to a wedding to celebrate two excellent people? With a band and a whole lotta dancing?  You noticed she said ten minutes, right?

Total no brainer. I so love a party. I so love to have fun. But, mostly I love to celebrate people.

Nineteen minutes later, I was dressed and Kate and I were cruising to the wedding. I had met the bride and groom once before, and I liked their energy and big hearts. They seemed like two people who unabashedly loved to love. As we arrived, I tried to blend in with the crowd…of whom I did not know a single soul. Going to a wedding as a last minute date felt a little like eating at a restaurant, alone. Little out of my comfort zone. But did I mention there was a band? And oceanside views?

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The ceremony was gorgeous, and I’m actually not talking about the seascape. Seeing the bride come down over the grassy hill, her Mom and Dad on each arm, I began to cry. Such a sweet, sweet sight. Such LOVE. The way Dad looked at his daughter’s radiant smile, the way Mom’s fingers were so tightly sheathed around her youngest daughter’s hand. And the dimples on the bride’s face so visible, her face beaming like the bright sun.

For a moment, my less than splendid day got a whole lot worse as old movie reels began to play in my head surrounding my own parents’ divorce. And as I thought about parenting my own children without a partner by my side. But lest I get swept away by my own sentimental seas, the ceremony continued with beautiful music and words, each reading recited with heartfelt affection. In what felt like a minute, with the ocean so mesmerizing and glimmering behind their heads, the bride and her groom were married, sealed airtight with a kiss, and the lively reception began.

I mingled. And mangled. A couple conversations. Still a little unable to turn around my day, I pushed myself to socialize and meet new people. Everywhere I went, there was tremendous girl power. It seemed every woman there owned her own butt-kicking business or had penned a book that I added to my mental bookshelf, or was a wellness educator or a love coach or who was simply and wildly, compellingly awesome.

As a group, we collectively danced to the band as if we’d all won the golden ticket to the best concert of our lives. The vibration in the room, if you can call a tent next to the ocean a room, was sky-scraping. The energy was buzzing – so much that I felt if I reached out and touched an arm, the arm of a stranger –  there would be an electrical stream of some kind, permeating my soul.

When I finally came face to face with the beautiful bride, she pulled me in for a titanic hug. So glad you could be here, she said in my ear. It’s so… perfect. And then. That current. That SPARK.

KAPOW. 

These people are all so HAPPY, is what I’d thought just a few hours before. These people have found Utopia and apparently it exists right here in Southern Maine.

Yet I’ve studied enough about yoga and Buddhism to know that these people actually hadn’t found Utopia at all. They’d created it themselves. Each of them, in their own way, had made a choice. Carve out a space of contentment and live there. Or retreat into a place where you’re always searching. Searching and fact finding for a supreme sense of well-being that GUESS WHAT?

Already resides inside of you.

I know this to be true, this was not a newsflash. But this concentrated version? This extensive group of specialized awesomeness all in one latitude?

They were sending me a message.

You woke to a not so special day. You’re feeling a little dispirited.

So lift yourself up again. And this time, try living there.

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It doesn’t mean there won’t be another lousy day. Or that those we love won’t pass on. Or that illness won’t become a part of our own immediate landscape.

This life cycle, it happens. I wholeheartedly understand that.

But it does mean — and this is a choice — that contentment is available to you. It’s simply a matter of opening your heart up enough to reach out and capture it.