All my Christmases have a different story

Merry Christmas Across the MilesAll my Christmases have a different story, generally reflecting the state of my life at the time. My childhood Christmases – when I still believed Santa brought the gifts – were full of excitement and anticipation. Those were also the times when I still enjoyed going to church services and even sang in the choir when I was 13 and 14. I’m an only child but my mother had 6 siblings so I grew up with plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins and we all went to my grandparent’s house for dinner on Christmas. I have happy memories of those years. In my early adult years we all started moving away and then I got married and entered a new phase.

Our relationship was a rocky one with lots of ups and downs during our almost 9 years of marriage but, I have good memories of some of the Christmases we spent together. He had a great sense of humor and was very quick-witted so he could usually make me laugh, even when I was mad at him. Some stories only became funny in later telling; like the year he came home drunk from a work Christmas party and fell onto our little 4′ tree that I had just finished lovingly decorating! He was almost 6’5″ and about 230 lbs so you can imagine what happened to the tree. Then there was the year our dog got into a whole tray of gingerbread men and spent the next few hours puking and pooping (this is a companion story to the year my son’s cat got into his Easter basket and came walking across the floor the next day with a long strand of green cellophane trailing from her butt!) In the fifth year of our marriage our son was born and we had some nice Christmases together as a family – until we didn’t.

Then there were all the single parent Christmases. Except for the first Christmas in the first house I owned, all those years blur together in my mind. The stress, financial anxieties, and pressure (mostly self-inflicted) of doing everything possible to give my son happy Christmas memories. The sadness and feelings of failure despite all the effort. The difficult relationships. The loneliness of not having a partner when it seemed that everyone around me was part of a couple. The awkward social gatherings with my ex-husband’s family – he there with his girlfriend and me, of course, alone. Forced joviality for the sake of my son, when inside I was seething over another year of late child support payments and neglectful behavior.

After I moved to Florida, my feelings about Christmas gradually changed. I let go of unrealistic expectations and began to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of thinking like a victim. A few years later my parents retired and joined me and I had a lot of really nice Christmases with my parents and my son, who arrived from wherever he was living to spend Christmas with us. Gradually, and privately, I began to find my way back to God and reconnect with the meaning of Christmas.

This year marks another big change in Christmas. My 40-year-old son finally got married and had a baby so his life is completely different from when he came here last Christmas. Naturally, they wanted to celebrate Christmas in their own home and with her family so they came for a visit a couple of weeks before Christmas. We had a wonderful visit and my mother was thrilled to meet her great-grandson but, Christmas this year has been very different.

Matthew with his Nanna Catton 12-8-17

The new great-grandmother!

On Christmas Day Mom and I had a nice dinner and then we opened Liberty’s gifts – 2 new toys and lots of treats and chewies!  We exchanged our gifts and then watched “A Christmas Carol”, as we always do. My son called from his home a thousand miles away to wish us a Merry Christmas and thank us for the gifts we sent. It was so nice to hear his voice but, his presence was certainly missed. I had some sad moments this Christmas but, I’m thankful that my feelings have mostly been of happiness and gratitude. That is a gift in itself.

If you’re struggling with feelings of unhappiness during this time of the year I have two suggestions – find a way to be of service to others, and read “Happiness is a Serious Problem” by Dennis Prager. (I’m not talking about clinical depression or any serious mental health issue – if you fall into this category please seek professional help). I’ve mentioned this book before because it was such an eye opener for me – I’ve read it all the way through three times and I periodically re-read sections. He also has a YouTube video in which he lectures about happiness – one of his favorite topics!

Liberty - Christmas portrait #1

Liberty’s Christmas 2017 portrait

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

Advertisements

Sentimental Journey

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Recently I took a long, long journey – a sentimental journey of a thousand miles and many years. I drove from Florida to New Jersey with my dog, Liberty, to meet my new grandson and daughter-in-law.

My grandson was 6 weeks old that weekend and, when I held him in my arms and looked down at his sweet little face, I had the physical sensation of time pulling me backwards. Could it really be 40 years since I first held his father? Time was playing that old trick on me, the one where it feels like you’re remembering some other lifetime but it could also have been just yesterday.

As I gazed down at my grandson, I was overcome with waves of emotion – certainly great joy, but also sadness because I already felt an ache for all the times in his life that I won’t be there. Matthew and Nanna 9-8-17I don’t want to live where my son and his wife live and they don’t want to live where I live so this gaping distance will always exist between us and I will have to accept that. My daughter-in-law’s parents, who live in the same town, will be the ones who babysit and who will be a regular presence in my grandson’s life. They will be frequent visitors to his house and he to theirs. He will celebrate Christmas and all the other holidays and special occasions with his mother’s family and I will be the disembodied, slightly unreal Nanna he talks to through the computer, the one he only sees a few times a year. It will take him a long time to understand that I’m a real person and not a character on TV! I know there are many people who have grown up far away from their grandparents. My parents immigrated to this country from England when I was five so I only knew my father’s mother through letters and photographs. I have friends who live far from their grandchildren. At least these days we have computers and smart phones and, yes, I’ll utilize them to stay in touch but, I haven’t quite adjusted yet to the fact that I won’t be able to be a “hands on” grandmother. I guess I’ll get used to it but, right now, it’s still hard to accept.

For now, I’m just trying to focus on how happy I am for my son that he has finally settled down and has a family and home of his own. It is obvious that he is happy – happier than I’ve seen him in a long time – and I enjoyed seeing him in his new roles of husband and father. I was pleased to see how loving and protective he is of his wife and child. He fully participates in all aspects of caring for his son but, more than that, I can see that he genuinely takes great pleasure in him. I always knew those qualities were deep inside him but it’s so gratifying to see them come to fruition. I felt so proud of my son; I even allowed myself a moment to take some credit for the man he has become. It was a long, rough road for both of us!

I can’t write about this journey without mentioning my wonderful little travel companion, Liberty. She not only spent many hours in the car without complaint but, she also adapted beautifully to all the changes involved in staying at a hotel and two rentals – not to mention visiting my son’s house and his in-laws. She was very interested in the baby – the little noises and movements he makes all attracted her attention and, of course, he smells like milk! I could see that she was distressed when he cried and I think, given a bit more time, she could become quite protective of him. When my son, the germaphobe, was out of the room I let her lick the baby’s toes – no harm done!

Liberty & Matthew 9-10-17

Liberty guarding HER baby!

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions  

Mothers Day

Thank you, Mom_edited-2On May 20, 1977 my only child, a son, was born. This event changed me and my life forever in ways I had no way of knowing when I first held him in my arms and looked down into his little face. After that day I always thought of time as “before Zac was born” and “after Zac was born”.

My son was a challenge from the beginning – I was in labor for 22 hours and he weighed a very healthy 10lbs. 2oz. at birth! He was a happy baby and toddler, with a bright and curious mind but as he grew older he exhibited a single minded will that often bordered on stubbornness. Once he set his mind on something it was near impossible to deter him! When he was four his father and I divorced so he didn’t have the childhood I had envisioned for him. I know the divorce and his relationship with his long distance and neglectful father had a long lasting effect on him. His feelings of anger and disappointment were eventually all directed at me and, by the time he reached his teen years, we were constantly at odds with each other. His attitude and behavior worsened to the point where I had no control over him. Unfortunately, when I think of those years all I can remember is me yelling and him being totally disrespectful in every way possible. I hope he can remember at least some good times with me!

 

Meanwhile, I plodded on. When my marriage ended I was a 31 year old college drop out with no real marketable skills. I was scared and had no idea how I was going to support myself and my son. I got the only job available to me – retail sales.  Between the failed marriage and the crappy, low paying job I felt like the biggest loser on the planet! My self-esteem was at an all time low. I was starved for approval and affection, which naturally led me into an unhealthy relationship. Fortunately, I had enough inner strength to work my way up into a management position, get a loan to build a small house, change to a career in social services and finish my college degree. Every time I accomplished a milestone I felt a little better about myself.

24 years ago I moved to Florida and forced my then 16 year old son, who had insisted on dropping out of high school, to go with me. I desperately wanted to get him away from some very negative influences and I thought a big change was needed in both our lives. He only stayed for 6 months but, they were productive months for him and our relationship also improved – before I moved I had thrown him out of the house and we were barely speaking so, almost anything was an improvement! He got a full time job, finished his GED, got a drivers license and a car. He shared an apartment with a friend who had moved to Florida with him. He was only 17 when he moved back to New Jersey but he had experienced so much more of life than his former high school classmates. I didn’t want him to leave but, as usual, he already had his mind set.

The following years had many ups and downs for each of us and for our relationship with each other but, thankfully, we both came out okay. I was able to build another house, in which I still live. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and has been my sanctuary. I was hired as a social services director in local government, from which I retired after 16 years. When my father retired, my parents moved from NJ to a house right down the street so I’ve been blessed to have them close by for many years. I still haven’t been blessed with a good man to share my life but, I’m happier with myself and with my life than ever before and that in itself is a great blessing.

My son earned a degree in audio/video management and worked for 10 years in that field but, throughout his 20’s he drove me crazy with worry over all his impulsive decisions. I bailed him out of so many financial crises that I still feel the effects to this day! He lived in several places over the years and finally decided three years ago that northeast NJ is where he “feels at home”. While living in Boston he completed a second BS, in Web Design and Internet Technology – Dean’s List every semester and National Honor Society! – and has been employed as a web developer for the past 2-1/2 years. He recently got married and his first child, a boy, is due on August 1. He & his new wife are in the process of buying a house. It was a long and difficult road but, it does my heart good to know that he has finally grown up and put all the pieces of his life together.

When I look back on my experiences as a mother I see all the mistakes I made and all the things I could have done differently but, I no longer have the heavy burden of guilt that I carried for so many years. I also don’t compare him anymore to the “good” sons of people I know and wonder where I went “wrong”. I just accept him for the unique person he is and appreciate his good qualities – after all, some of them come from me! I know I did the best I could for my son and, no matter what, I always loved him. I think he knows that. So, on this Mothers Day, forgive your mother for whatever wrong you think she did and, even more importantly, forgive yourself.

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

Cherokee Lake Park Thomasville GA 4-16

Love is everything

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

Long distance

How are things on your endI know that most people have some long distance relationships but I feel like they have been a central theme in my life. Some of them were caused by moves I made and some were caused by moves other people made but, it all began when my parents immigrated from England when I was 5. For the rest of my life I was 3,000 miles away from my father’s side of the family. Many times I’ve been restless and felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere and I’ve wondered if that is where those feelings started.

When I got married we moved 600 miles away from our family and friends. My marriage itself was a long distance relationship because my husband was a truck driver – he was away for 4 months of our second year of marriage and, for many years, was only home on weekends. We were married for 9 years and, in hindsight, I think the marriage would probably have ended sooner if not for all the time apart! Sometimes distance is a good thing!

After my marriage ended I moved back to my home state of NJ but, to a different area about 90 miles from where my parents lived. Believe me, that’s a long way when you have to drive on the Garden State Parkway to visit – especially on summer weekends! One of my reasons for moving back was because my ex-husband had moved back and I wanted my son to be closer to him and the rest of our family. Unfortunately, my ex-husband decided to move again just a couple of months later, which created a permanent long distance relationship between him and his son.

My next serious relationship was with a man who lived about 100 miles away so, we only saw each other on weekends. I’m sure this didn’t help to strengthen what was already a troubled relationship. After being back in my home state for 12 years I moved to FL, which, of course, placed me 1,000+ miles away from family and friends. My son was 16 and heading down a very bad path in his life. The move pulled him away from bad influences and forced him to make some changes for the better. At the time, I was in a relationship with a man who spent part of every month in FL and part in NJ – another relationship negatively affected by distance!

Thankfully, my parents decided to move to FL about 4 years after me – they built a house right down the street – so we’ve been able to make up for the years we lived far apart. My father enjoyed 9 years of living here before he passed away and I’m grateful that we were able to share so many good times together.

My son decided that he wanted to go back to NJ after 6 months in FL, which created a long distance relationship between us that has lasted, with the exception of a couple of brief periods, for many years. Over the years he has lived in Denver, then NJ again, then Boston and, for the past 3 years he’s been back in NJ where he’ll probably stay. He has an erratic work schedule and sometimes works long hours to meet project deadlines so I usually leave it up to him to call me. Unfortunately, he is not good at keeping in touch so the phone calls are infrequent and the visits even more so.

Seven years ago my best friend moved 1,000 miles away to be closer to her family. This left a big void in my life, but we both put effort into keeping in touch and she manages to visit two or three times a year, which helps a lot. The good news is that she wants to move back to FL and is hoping to do that sometime this year! I’ve been blessed with good friends who live nearby but, sadly, some of the people who are closest to my heart are the ones who are furthest away.

Now I’m about to begin the most difficult long distance relationship of my life. My son’s girlfriend is pregnant and they are getting married. Although it wasn’t planned, they’ve been together more than a year and seem to have a good relationship so, in many ways this is good news – he’s almost 40 and I was beginning to think it might never happen! I always hoped I’d be a grandmother someday but, the reality is that distance will prevent me from having the type of relationship I’d like to have with my grandchild and that makes me sad. Between the physical distance and my son’s poor communication skills this is going to be a real challenge but, I know people who are in the same situation so I’m going to learn from them and do my best to be a good Nanna. I don’t like Skype, talking on the phone or flying but I’m willing to do all those things just to be part of my grandson’s life!

Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great. ~Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

August 2014

Liberty’s always ready to hit the road!

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

 

Perspective

Ocean dreaming 001More about my “retirement” journey. After I retired in 2011 I bought a 6 month subscription to Ancestry.com with the intention of researching my maternal grandmother’s family. One of my cousins in England has researched my father’s family so I wanted to go in a different direction. I was born in England and, as far back as I know, both sides of my family are English so I was pleased by the vast number of UK records that are available on Ancestry.com. I plunged into my research with great enthusiasm and quickly became immersed in it – it was like solving a puzzle or investigating a mystery. Unfortunately, I reached a wall that I couldn’t break through and I gave up on the research.

I like to read mysteries and, during the past year, I discovered a relatively new sub-genre – genealogical mysteries – and I’ve read quite a few different authors. The feature character in these stories is always either a professional or amateur genealogist who, while doing family history research, becomes embroiled in an unsolved mystery that is still affecting people in the present time. While reading one of these mysteries recently I remembered how much I had enjoyed researching my family history. As I read about all the tools and methods the character used in his/her research, it occurred to me that there is a lot more to genealogical research than I had realized and I decided I should give it another try.

This time I want to study the tools and methods of genealogical research. I bought another 6 month subscription to Ancestry.com and joined the National Genealogical Society so I would have access to the educational resources they offer to their members. Ancestry.com also offers excellent information and tutorials. I’m studying an online “basics” course that NGS offers in order to become familiar with the terminology and validation requirements of this type of research. NGS recommended joining a local genealogical society so I was pleased to discover that there is one here that meets monthly. Who knows, maybe I’ll  do family research for other people at some point. Maybe I’ll write a genealogical mystery! I’m not thinking too far ahead; I’m just following my interest.

I’ve received an unexpected benefit from my research. I call it perspective. A strange feeling comes over me when I’m looking at old documents – birth, death and marriage certificates, military records, obituaries – a simultaneous awareness of both my importance and my complete insignificance. I’m important because I’m doing my part in carrying on a genetic chain and I’m insignificant because, in 50 years, no one will remember me. At my age, most of the things I’ve done in my life are already fading into the mists of history. I can imagine someone in the future looking at one of my drawings or reading something I wrote and wondering what kind of person I was. I like to think it will be a great-grandchild researching our family history – maybe even reading all the information I am gathering now.

Genealogical research gives me a much broader perspective on life than I usually have and reminds me that 99% of the things I worry about are not important. The only thing that really matters is how I experience my daily life – with gratitude, kindness, laughter, love, friendship, and prayer.

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.  ~Omar Khayyam

matanzas-3-29-16

Life is good

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions