Within days of my last post, I had to contend with a few harsh realities that I can sum up like this: my ex-husband is not okay. He struggles in ways that affect his life, our children's lives, and therefore, my life. The road all of us are walking is the long and winding variety, and it's becoming more complicated rather than less. One of the lawyers in my life (my stepmother) told me to stop the posts about our relationship. Reluctantly, I decided to heed her advice. I'll have a hell of a memoir to publish in 12ish years when my youngest turns 18. Until then, my public work will have to focus on other things.
I will say this, though: it did me a world of good to spend time with my 16-year-old self. Looking at her in photos, listening to her music, moving through her routine of high school and cheerleading and after-school jobs all helped me remember--really remember--what it felt like to be me at that point in time. I want to pull my younger self into my arms and tell her, "You're doing so much better than you think you are. You are worthy of attention and affection and time. You are so loved, and you have so much to give. Hang in there, sweet girl. You're going to be okay."
Instead, I tell my almost-40-year-old self. She needs to hear it, too.
I can't think of another season of the year with more potent, poignant hope than Advent and Christmas. It can be a bit much when you're doing everything you can just to keep your head above water, but this year, I found I could do more than go through the motions. I sent out holiday cards and bought and decorated a Christmas tree. I made gingerbread (or at least, I made the dough; my sisters did the rolling out and cookie cutters part with the kids) and watched It's a Wonderful Life while wrapping presents. I went to parties and braved stores full of last-minute shoppers and sang Silent Night by candlelight at midnight on Christmas Eve. Every time I started to think, "I can't do this," I took a deep breath and said, "You already are--keep going."
Earlier this year, a counselor put me through an exercise designed to help identify areas in my life where I could work on healing and growth. I have been through many of those kinds of self-assessments, so I thought I had outsmarted the game. I thought for sure I knew what she was about to tell me about myself when we sat down to go through the results. Instead, she went straight for what I expected to be a throw-away comment I had written in one of the columns; a stray thought contained the crux of what she wanted me to confront.
The word I had written was "necessity," and by it, I meant there was very little room in my life for anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. If something didn't have to get done, if there weren't an external authority (or internal critic) demanding some measurable outcome, I didn't have the energy to deal with it. No wonder I felt drained most of the time.
My "necessity" attitude formed the basis of the triage system that helped me function during the worst years of my marriage and throughout the separation, divorce, and move across the country. It helped me manage priorities and focus at moments when my head was absolutely spinning, and it probably saved the kids and me a lot of grief. But the counselor pointed out more than a few areas where it had outlived its usefulness for me. "Necessity" could hold me back if I became too entrenched in it. So she had me list a few ways I could start to move beyond "necessity" and into something more like "enjoyment."
Celebrating the holidays was one of the things on that list. So was reading fiction again, and I finally finished a novel (Lila by Marilynne Robinson) last week. Having more fun adventures with the kids was on there, too, and our yurt camping experience over Thanksgiving weekend with my mom and brother definitely checked that box. I think the essence of the Pivot Project has been about the shift from "necessity" to "enjoyment," and while I still have a long way to go, I feel pretty good about how far I've come.
And as I told myself about the holidays, once in motion, it doesn't seem too hard to keep going. I started reading Gilead a couple of days after finishing Lila; my son and I made plans to transform an older tradition into something fresh for the four of us on New Year's Day.
I will not mourn the end of 2016, for many, many reasons. But I will mark it as the year something significant shifted. Settled. Solidified. And for that, I am grateful.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.