ERIN EDITionS · Guest-Blog · Holiday · Struggle

Buck Tradition: An Erin Edition


Thanksgiving has come and gone. 

I did not eat turkey. 

 The ‘Elf on the Shelf‘ did not arrive. 

 But by the grace of God, 

I survived it.

This holiday season will be my third to experience as a single mother. I really thought I would “have it together” by now and that the awkward, lost years of transition after divorce would be behind me.

Nope. Not yet. 

Still holiday table-hopping (or in this case avoiding), and still trying to figure out how to be okay in the suburban South without a traditional family unit (you know, the kind that includes a husband and a home).

Tradition. The way things have always been done. It evokes a sense of belonging and security. It is about family, generations, and ceremonial protocol.

But no matter how much I long to be part of something with that kind of permanence, I have always bucked tradition. Maybe it is the (reluctant) trail blazer in me, but traditional things have never been my cup of tea. This makes things confusing sometimes, and scary. As it is the opposite of security, especially around the holidays.

As I think a little more about it, it is not the idea of tradition that bothers me as much as the misplaced intention. When something is tried and true, when it has developed over time and proven effective, when it is beloved and thus carried-on, it becomes tradition. It shouldn’t just be about going through the motions.

Honoring tradition is showing intentional respect and, in my opinion, is very personal. 

So to participate heavily in traditions that have little to do with my reality, values, or personality always seems forced and empty. I have felt that way too often in my life, as I am sure many others have.

For whatever reason, I tend to be a catalyst (lighting rod!) for change. And it is only now, as I swiftly approach “the big 4-0,” that I am embracing that about myself. 

I certainly do respect what works, but I also remain open to new ideas and am usually very eager to try them. New ideas are to me as new make-up products are to Claire. I will try anything that looks promising!

Of course, there are many time-honored holiday traditions that make perfect sense for my life.

Football on Thanksgiving? Bring it.

Decorate a Christmas tree the first weekend in December? Of course!

Open one gift on Christmas Eve? Please!

Buy a $40 vintage-looking toy elf to spy on my kids between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Ummmm . . . maybe, cute idea, okay.

Fast forward ten years into the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ experiment, the last few of which I put in more effort coming up with excuses than creative hiding spots (let alone elaborately staged scenes of overnight elf mischief), and I am ready to lose my ever-loving mind. 

This beloved tradition (which was invented in 2005, btw) may work for some, but I am beyond over it. From its creepy (and unoriginal) little face, to its completely misguided spy mission to judge whether my kids are worthy of Christmas, I just don’t like it. 

Plus, who needs another item on the endless to-do list every.single.night? Or yet another “tall tale” to sell (lie about) to our highly intelligent children? Or another reason to equate good behavior with gifts? Or even Christmas with gifts?

Not me. 

“Mom, why is our Micky in a box at every single store we go to around Christmas time? I thought he came from the North Pole . . .” Duh.

So mad respect for the human psychology genius that suckered all of us mass-consuming, overachieving yuppies for millions of dollars.

But I’m waving the white flag . . . tapping out . . . DONE with this tradition that never made sense to me anyway.

Stick a fork in me (and the damn elf while you’re at it–if you can find him). 

Although neither one of my boys (ages 12 and 8) have asked me where Micky is yet, I am narrowing down his final exit strategy just in case (but secretly hoping it just never comes up). 

Some of these options will have to be eliminated if I still cannot find that creepy little sucker. Last year it took me days to find him in the pocket of a coat I wore on the previous Christmas Eve that had been packed in a box since we moved. Oops!

POTENTIAL ELF EXIT STRATEGIES

1. Smear a little peanut butter on him and give him to our dog, Carlie. “Boys, the little guy must have just scared her. You know how protective Carlie is?!”

2. Have the elf write a letter of resignation. Maybe he got a promotion, or they need him to train the new elves, or he is retiring to Bora Bora. (In which case, we might need to reconnect. . . LOL!)

3. Come across the original package and book (that I used to pack away nicely in the early years) and proclaim that he has just disappeared! Leave his departure a mystery and let the boys use their imagination as to why and how.

4. Kill him off. Toss him in the fireplace (oops!) or stage a CSI crime scene. My oldest would be impressed; my youngest would cry. So probably not .

Regardless of his final exit, I have washed my hands of this high maintenance little spy. And I feel damn good about it. 

Squeaky clean. 

That being said, back to my non-traditional Thanksgiving. . .

The holidays can be a dark time for many. You may have lost a loved one. You may have lost a job. The added financial pressure may be too much. You may not have your children. You may not have children. Hell, you may not have a family at all. You may not feel like you fit anywhere. You may not have enough time off of work. The hustle and bustle may be too much for you. The dismal list of scenarios is endless and wherever your box is checked, I can pretty much guarantee that it is magnified during this time. Blurred. Dark. 

I can relate. At this stage in my life, most holiday traditions just don’t appeal to me. If anything, they stress me out and depress me further.

The last two holidays seasons were extremely stressful, as I had little to no time off of work. Having more financial stability at the time was little consolation for not being able to spend quality time with my kids or family. 

Although I have the opposite problem this year (more time, less money), I still entered the season with extreme anxiety and a deepening depression.

With most aspects of my life in flux, I am still a very grateful and hopeful person. I am blessed with amazing people in my life that save me every day. And I trust God’s plan. 

Since I was not able to spend Thanksgiving with my boys or other family members this year (although I did try), I decided I didn’t want to spend it with anyone else’s either. Just didn’t.

Sometimes I get tired of being the perpetual third-wheeling, fifth-wheeling, cling-on guest. Plus, I am currently in the “no zone,” where I actively try to say no to anything that doesn’t work for me right now, that gives me too much anxiety, or that I just can’t make a priority. My name is NO, my sign is NO, my number is . . . 

Try it! 

It is extremely hard and some people will hate you for it. But those who matter will (supposedly) get over it or they may eventually forget how overly accommodating you used to be and just accept it. Jury is still out on this, but fingers crossed.

Since forever, I have been obsessed with the beach. Not in a summer vacation/spring break/partying way, but with actually being near the sand and ocean. A true Pisces and a self-proclaimed mermaid, the beach is my church. Other than writing or creating, it is the only time I feel like the real me. I don’t know why, but I guess we all have our thing . . .our happy place (See post: Hello October).

I have yet to figure out how to live or work closer to my happy place, but I am resourceful as the day is long as far as finding ways to visit (good beach karma)! One day I will own a beach home, share it with my friends and family, and write in pure bliss.

Mark my words.

But until then, I have my little daydreams. One of them has always been to escape to the beach for the entire week of Thanksgiving. I picture a big, inviting beach house filled with friends and family. Lots of cooking, laughing, football, and fun beside a beautiful, vast ocean.
Every year I say I am going to make it happen, and every year it seems impossible.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I tend to operate “one day at a time” lately, so when my last minute attempt to get the boys a day early (on Thursday) proved futile, I decided to make myself some proverbial lemonade (See post: The World is Your Oyster).

I recruited my dear friend (and fellow single mermaid) Debbie, and we quickly found a perfect, affordable last-minute deal on a condo at our favorite beach that was (almost) too good to be true. She moved her turkey dinner with the parents to Wednesday, and by 4:00 on Thanksgiving eve, we were beach bound! As we drove the five-hour route my car knows so well, we listened to a 90s Country Hits Pandora station and sang every single word (that we never knew we still knew). Getting there really is half the fun!

The Universe continued to align bringing us two mild sunny days, crystal clear water, and gorgeous early sunsets. We rested, read, relaxed, and recharged. No turkey and no family, but I was a giant leap closer to my Thanksgiving dream. We bucked tradition (on a roll here) and enjoyed every minute in our happy place.

When we returned Saturday, however, I was welcomed home with a brutal punch in the gut from my ex who, to put it politely, doesn’t always (or ever) understand me or my choices. (This is an understatement of course, as I am just a guest blogger here and need to keep it on the up!)

Point being, there will very likely be a price to pay when you decide to start living your truth and putting yourself first sometimes (gasp!). I like to believe that, over time, this roller coast of emotions will even out. But I won’t let that inconvenience stop me anymore. No one has to understand why I do something but me. If I know in my heart that my intentions are good and that my goal is healthy, nothing else matters. Period.

So I am now officially a Thanksgiving rebel. 

And I will plan ahead to include my kids next year (and some turkey)! And hopefully, before we know it, we will be planning our Thanksgiving beach week annually, because it works for us. 

 As a proud survivor of Thanksgiving 2016, I now join my fellow “holiday-avoiders” as we face our next challenge: 

The four- week battle that is . . . Christmas.

Even before my divorce, I always loathed the weeks leading to Christmas. But, I love the week after! The “I made it though another one” victory week. The “it’s all over” chill week. The “let’s turn the page” hopeful week. And maybe one day, the “let’s get on a jet plane outta here” travel week.

And as I walk away from my Thanksgiving-dream-realized high, I feel empowered to tackle Christmas and those ‘holiday blues’ in a much more deliberate way this year. So I am sharing my list of negative feelings I want to avoid, and what I am committing to do in an attempt to combat each of them so that I don’t miss out on all the good stuff!

PLANNING IS THE NEW XANAX.

I am creating a holiday plan to lessen the anxiety that is actually already in overdrive! I am going to map out my time with my kids (and any other people or alone, really) so that I can mentally prepare for the logistics and flow.

DECORATE, DAMN IT.

Okay, I admit to being a ‘Scrooge‘ in the holiday décor department. Reluctant to invest the time and money for something so temporary. But my youngest son has been putting on the pressure. And through his eyes, I realize that surrounding yourself with the symbols (and smells) of Christmas can be quite uplifting. So we got our stuff up! And we are adding a few new items to our collection, including an inflatable snowman (gasp!) in the front yard that said son has been begging for. 

Perspective.

PARTY PANTS VS. YOGA PANTS

To combat loneliness and desire to crawl in a hole, I will carefully choose and attend only the holiday functions that mean the most to me, as well as carve out some alone time for me to just hide-out and relax in my jammies (without beating myself up for it).

SHOPPING FIX

To maximize a rather tight budget and still feed my shopaholic tendencies, I am going to make a list of what I would like to buy for each person on my list and shop online only. This way, I won’t be reminded of all the stuff I can’t afford this year, but I can identify and invest in something special for those I care about. This is a challenge I can throw myself into on a lonely night (or three) and really enjoy!

TO ME, FROM ME

I will find one significant way to treat myself (without eating or drinking anything). I have no idea what this will be yet, but it will be a gift I give to myself that I normally wouldn’t justify. Maybe a massage or spa treatment (lots of holiday specials and coupons out there). Maybe a few yoga classes. Maybe a day trip in nature. Maybe I can make some progress on my ‘mom cave’. The possibilities are endless . . . but I will pick ONE treat and enjoy it.

REMEMBER THE REASON FOR THE SEASON

Giving is what it’s all about (See post: Who Will You Hatch). This year, we will not only give to the less fortunate through our church’s Giving Tree program, but we will also find a new way to give our time in service of others. I want to create teachable moments for my kids (and me) that give some meaning to all the hustle and bustle. Currently researching the possibilities and excited!

EXPECT MIRACLES

As hokey as it sounds, I am not going to expect the worst this year. Christmas is about miracles, and I will choose to see them.  

You can do it, too. Because the rest is still unwritten.

“Feel the rain on your skin, 

No one else can feel it for you 

Only you can let it in

No one else, no one else 

Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken

Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

The rest is still unwritten.”

—-

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