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

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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!

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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