I’ve been thinking about my New Year’s Resolutions the last few weeks. I normally don’t make any – instead, I probably make ‘resolutions’ weekly or monthly, depending on what bad habits I need to break.
I decided I wanted 2014 to be the best year I have had in a while so I thought of what I wanted to change. And there’s plenty – I am the first to admit that I am fraught with neuroses, have the ability to nurse a grudge for decades and am just a mess all around.
The things I needed to change, to improve went beyond the usual “lose 15 pounds” and “get organized” resolutions.
But a girl has to take baby steps.
To start with, even though I am terribly superstitious, I think I am going to forego the collard greens. I have been eating those putrid things for 40 years and have yet to see an increase in my bank account.
“Just think how bad it may be if you don’t eat them,” is Mama’s dire warning. Maybe so. But the smell reminds me of desperation and the taste isn’t much better.
That was baby step No. 1. I went deeper with my thoughts, but that’s pretty big for a girl to ditch a Southern tradition.
My friend Renee has been urging me for years to find an intention word for the year, a word to focus on that defines my year. Some years, I think my word, even though not intentional, is a cuss word that is muttered under my breath. Pick any of your favorite here – in fact, probably the worse it is, the more likely that is what I said. But I thought I really needed to find me a focus word.
“Allow,” “acceptance” and “forgiveness” all came to mind. I thought of the things I wanted to cultivate in myself the coming year. The things that needed some work.
“I think I need to quit imposing my expectations on others,” I commented to Lamar.
He didn’t respond so I continued.
“I think one of my problems, the reason I get so irritated with people, is they don’t do what I would do or what I think they should do. It makes me angry and I get all upset and disappointed. I need to stop doing that.”
I thought he should have at least said something to acknowledge that I wanted to make this change but he didn’t; and it irritated me, but I decided to let this one slide. I counted this as baby step No. 2. It would be good practice for New Year’s.
Another resolution was harder to define – how did I put into words that I wanted to learn how to react better to things. “To not freak out” sounded like a good resolution. So did “not over-react about things and have existential breakdowns.”
I would love to react from a place of centered calmness instead of the usual place of panic. Could I resolve to do that? Again, baby steps.
Did winning the lottery count as a resolution?
“I quit making them a long time ago,” a friend said when I asked her what she had listed. “They never stuck so why waste the time?”
Surely we didn’t go into our resolutions thinking we’d fail. Or did we? Maybe that was why we saw dozens of dozens of treadmills for sale on Craigslist by February.
We tend to think of the new year as a clean slate, a brand new start when really, we get that chance every day. I don’t know why we think we have to wait until Jan. 1 to make these changes, to take these baby steps, but we do.
Maybe it gives us that fresh calendar and marks a new beginning so we can feel confident.
Maybe it’s because we still have two months to hide under sweaters if we don’t hit the treadmill like we promise.
Maybe it’s so we have 12 whole months to make those changes.
But we have to start somewhere, sometime and Jan. 1 seems like the best day. And it has to start with me.
Baby steps, all the way.
I don’t remember when Santa quit bringing me presents.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe – or was it? Had I let my tween angst and cynicism take over and without uttering a word, the internal shift had caused Santa to not show up one year.
I still had my presents. They were still under the tree, all shiny and new, adorned with ribbons and bows.
But something was missing.
I wanted Cole to keep believing in Santa each year, even though his questions made me wonder. What was his friends telling him? Did they still believe?
“Is Santa real?” he would ask out of the blue and usually at odd times, like in the middle of July.
“Do you believe he’s real?” I would ask back.
“Yes,” he would reply matter of factly. “Do you?”
I do, or thought I did. Maybe my faith, even in the spirit of Christmas, was not as strong as it once was. I had to admit, I had grown weary with the commercialism, the feeling that no matter what I did, it was not enough and I was not putting on SuperChristmas.
“Did you ever see Santa?” Cole asked. This time, it was last year, a few days before Christmas.
“Yes, I did,” I told him. And I did see Santa once. Not the department store Santa either, but I remembered just as clearly as if it was yesterday.
I was probably around Cole’s age at the time and had heard those rumors. Some kid at school had an older sibling and they came to school telling us that Santa was not real. He was a phony and a fake and some lie our parents made up to make us behave all year. I had started asking my own questions of Mama.
“All I know is, if you believe, he shows up. Once you stop…well,” she let her voice trail off as she went about her crossword puzzle.
I was too scared to question much more; I had put a lot of good stuff on the list that year and didn’t want to risk it.
Maybe I could set a Santa trap? I thought. No, Mama worked nights and may fall in it instead.
But she usually got home after Santa had already left.
“What time does Santa usually get here?” I asked Granny.
“He comes after you go to sleep,” she answered.
“How soon after I go to sleep?”
“I don’t know, I don’t set my clock by him. The sooner you go to sleep the better.”
Then I could pretend to be asleep and wait til I heard him, I thought.
I got up in the bed, snuggled down under the covers, feigning sleep. I heard Granny come in to check on me, tucking the quilt around me tightly. She went back to the kitchen, getting her turkey started for the next day.
I waited until I heard her steadily at work before I slipped out of my cocoon, lifting the curtain to peer out of the frosty glass. I pressed my nose to the window, trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness outside. Not getting a good view, I wiped the condensation off and re-pressed my nose to the glass, only to find a pair of eyes, shielded by a hand, peering back at me.
There was no time to scream. No time to run. I couldn’t tell Granny; she thought I was asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.
But there, in all his glory, was Old Saint Nick peeking in on me.
I asked Granny the next day if anyone had been outside Christmas Eve. She said not that she knew of; she hadn’t even heard Santa when he arrived. Pop and Bobby had been asleep and Mama at work. And I had heard the old gal cooking until the wee hours.
I never told a soul until I told Cole last year. His eyes grew as big as saucers.
“I would love to see him!” he exclaimed.
“No, you wouldn’t,” I said. “It about scared the stuffings out of me.”
We made Santa some cookies and left the reindeer some carrots and a bowl of fresh water on the back deck.
Cole scurried off to bed extra early, determined he could re-create the mystery I had created so many years before. He just knew he could wake up and catch a peek at Santa. I promised to stay up and let him in so the dogs wouldn’t bite him.
Lamar and I put his toys out under the tree when we knew he was sound asleep. I wanted to stay up a little later, why, I don’t know, but drifted off in the recliner as I followed Santa’s sleigh on the news.
Roubaix woke me with a soft bark. Venus ventured off her corner of the couch to sniff at the door.
“What is it?” I asked them. They both gave me the shepherd head tilt but did not bark again.
They seemed almost in awe.
Then, I heard it. Bells. Tinkling, jingling bells. Almost like sleigh bells.
I ran to the bedroom where I dove under the covers and scared to believe what just happened, made myself go to sleep.
The next morning, the cookies were gone. Half-eaten carrots were found and the water bowl was empty.
Could it have been?
Surely not…but maybe?
Mama texted, “Merry Christmas! Did Cole like what Santa brought him?”
I texted her back he did; then added. “Mama, I may be going crazy…but last night…I think I heard sleigh bells.”
It seemed like forever before she replied. “I believe you” was all she wrote.
“Yes. I heard them once too. When you were about Cole’s age.”
“What do you think it was?” I texted back.
Surely Mama, with her wisdom would have a logical, reasonable response.
“I know what it was,” her message read. “It was the spirit of Christmas.”
And maybe at a time we both needed to believe, more than a child, that Christmas was still very much alive.
I turn 41 this week.
All I can say is, I hope this coming year brings better things than this last year – 40 was a total bust. Of course, I blame Jennifer Aniston for the great 40 let down. She made it look effortless and graceful and of course, looked better at 40 than she did at 20.
This past year had been one full of loss, heartache and great personal disappointment. I had lost three beloved dogs within a month, and half a dozen people I had considered friends.
Losing the dogs still hurts— the so-called friends, not so much.
“What do you want for your birthday?” Mama asked.
“For it and this year to be over,” was my reply.
I had thought life – my life, that is – would be so much different by the time I hit my 40s.
Of course, I thought that same thing when I turned 30 and thought I was having a mid-life crisis. I hadn’t accomplished the things I thought I should have by 30, so what did I do? I whacked my hair off and had a pity party.
What did I do this year? Whacked my hair off and had an even bigger pity party.
Those turn of the decade birthdays seem to really fry my tater.
“Too bad you can’t time travel, you could always go back and do stuff differently,” was Cole’s advice one day.
Hmm. There’s a thought.
If I could travel back in time, I thought what I would tell a younger me: Don’t buy cheap shoes. Ever. They may look cute but after about an hour, you will be cussing, crying and bleeding.
Don’t smoke. Yes, I smoked. It was my dirty little secret that only a few close to me knew about. I am now battling the wrinkles around my mouth as bad as Laura Bush’s. I don’t care who told me one day I looked glamorous sitting outside of the coffee shop, with my hair up and sunglasses on, it was gross and smelly and icky.
Don’t ever let some boy dictate what you do with your life and determine the choices you make. Unless it’s a boy you carried for nine months and gave birth to. Enough said.
Get that Master’s degree, go to law school, medical school – whatever advanced degree you want to do while you are young. Especially when living at home with Mama and she’s paying the chunk of your bills. If Mama says she will help support you as long as you’re in school, take her up on it! You are never too old to learn or go back to school, but it makes it much easier if you do it when you’re younger and have more tolerance for the buckjiving.
Find the jobs with the benefits and the perks and don’t be so quick to quit. Or as a former boss said “no more job-hopping for you!” If I had stayed at some of my earlier jobs, I would have over 15 years vested and maybe have one of those mysterious 401(k) thingys.
Don’t ever get a credit card. I don’t care if you tell yourself you will only use it in emergencies. Clinique Bonus Time seems like an emergency as does 30 percent off of boots.
Love the people and pets in your life and be mindful of the things you say to them. One day, they won’t be here and you will be left with regret for what you did or didn’t say. All the times I fussed about the dogs being on my side of the bed, I regret. I would cry happy tears to find my pillow covered with fur or drool or any mixture thereof again.
I know she’s crazy, I know she drives you crazy and was one of the reasons you smoked, but listen to your Mama. She is one of the few people, if not the only person, who has your back and loves you and is looking out for you.
All those things I just wrote, they’re things she had told me, but I never listened because I thought she was silly or wrong or just trying to control me. Had I listened, those decade launching birthdays may not have been so difficult to face.
Mama was usually right, just don’t ever tell her that or you will never hear the end of it.
As I thought of the things I would tell a younger me, Cole’s question broke my reverie: “But wait…if you traveled back in time, I may not be here right? One little different thing could change the course of destiny forever.”
Which brought me back to what I knew – no matter the mistakes, even the super-foolish, the beyond ridiculous, the ones that made me even question my sanity, I didn’t regret one bit of it.
Sure, there’s things I coulda shoulda woulda done differently. But I wouldn’t change one second if it didn’t put me right where I was, at that moment, looking at that precious face.
“Very true, young grasshopper,” I said. “But I also believe that things eventually end up just the way they are supposed to.”
And I do. Somewhere beyond 40, things will end up the way they should.
“You see this piece of paper?” Cole asked, as he climbed in the backseat. “Do you see what it says?”
The paper read: Do not read.
“You know what that means?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I began, “that means whoever sees that will definitely want to read it.”
“No!” he exclaimed. “It means do not read it. It’s private.”
Then you should have wrote “please read me” on it, I thought.
“You aren’t gonna read it, are you?” he inquired, a seriousness in his voice.
“No, Cole, I respect your privacy. Just know if Nennie saw that, she would immediately tear that sucker open though.”
I didn’t mention the mysterious paper again. Cole did.
“Mama, you remember that paper?” he asked.
“You mean the one you showed me and told me to not read?”
He nodded. “Do you want to know what was in it?”
“No; you said you wanted it to be private. I respect that and don’t have to know.”
He frowned. There was a conflict going on – he wanted to tell me something but wanted to keep it secret at the same time.
“But, it’s important,” he said.
“I didn’t bother it,” I reassured him. “I don’t and won’t do that, I promise.”
He sighed, not sure how to proceed. “Mama, what do you want for Christmas?”
I wasn’t expecting that question.
“Baby, I don’t really want anything.”
I don’t. The things I want, I would never ask for. The things I need, no one would get me as a gift.
“But what if I was getting you a gift, what would you want?”
“I would want whatever you made me,” I answered honestly. I would take one of his paintings over a Monet any day.
He shook his head. “No, not made. If I bought you something.”
“I don’t want you spending your money,” I told him.
“I want to.” he said emphatically. “There’s a Christmas shop at school, I went in there and saw all this stuff I wanted to get you and Daddy. But the trouble is, I don’t know what to get you and the stuff I wrote down on my paper, that I wanted to get you, was $77. Daddy’s was about as much. I kept looking and looking. That’s way more than what I have,” he said.
“Oh Cole,” I began, hugging him tight. “I don’t want anything. So don’t worry.”
“But you and Daddy never open anything on Christmas morning, y’all just sit there, drinking coffee and watching me opening presents. It’s not fair.”
“Well, Cole, we don’t do gifts most of the time,” I said.
We didn’t. Come to think of it, we never had. I probably had been shorted about a dozen gifts or so over the years.
“But you should. Everyone should have something to open on Christmas. It’s not fair if they don’t.”
How did I tell my child – who is still young enough to believe that life is fair – that sometimes, fairness has nothing to do with it?
The following day, a friend and I were talking about what our children wanted for Christmas. Our conversation merged into how we normally didn’t do grown-up gifts.
“I am just thankful my kids are healthy, me and my husband are healthy, we have jobs. For me, those are the ‘gifts’ I want around my tree,” my friend said.
Two things always made Granny happy: Cooking and being in the hospital.
Her cooking was part of the reason I was a weeble wobble as a child and the stuff of legends.
Her hospital visits were usually self-induced because she needed to rest her nerves, which were usually worn to the fray thanks to us. According to the old gal, we were a crazy bunch of fools and if it weren’t for her, we’d all starve, be dead or on the run.
Of course, her ailments were always far worse than anything anyone else has ever had in the history of medicine. God forbid her sister, Bonnie – who she had competed with her whole life – had been in the hospital. Granny would rush off to the doctor to get something put in traction just out of spite.
The hospital visits got Granny attention, alright, maybe not the kind she wanted but she was mentioned in the church bulletin and had folks visiting her. She gauged her importance in her little corner of the world based on how many people came to see her, how many called, how many flowers she received.
“Your grandmother’s on display,” Pop would say as he’d take me to the hospital. “God help us, you may have to put some poof on her so she’ll be presentable.”
“She’s sick; she’s not supposed to have poof on,” was my young logic.
Pop laughed, his deep belly laugh. “Lil’un, you’ve got a lot to learn about your Granny. This is her idea of a vacation – room service, cable and she gets a break from cooking for us. She’s gotta get all prettied up for her visitors. This is her time to shine.”
Even at my young age, I thought this was beyond warped. Who would ask to be admitted to the hospital for attention? Even if her nerves were rubbed raw from the family, it was still twisted.
After a week of being in the hospital, Granny would return home, all fresh-faced and rested where she greeted us with complaints at the state of the house. We evidently lived like a bunch of heathens while she had been recouping from whatever mysterious old lady ailment she told her doctor she had. She was disgusted with the bunch of us and would have to be re-admitted to get over being home.
But alas, there was baking to be done so a return visit would have to wait. Her hospital visit had incidentally been well-timed to get her good and rested in time for either the fall festival at my school or homecoming at church.
Now, Granny didn’t care for a lot of the stuff at the fall festival – the bobbing for apples, the vendors selling stuff; no, Granny went for the cake walk.
The cake walk was a pretty big deal, and Granny’s pride completely hinged on how many people lined up to win her coconut cake. The old gal would actually stand on the outskirts to make note – and to keep a watch on who got her cake plate. She once had to harass a doctor’s wife for months before she got that plate, which she had stolen from Mama’s sister-in-law, returned safe and sound.
If it was the church Homecoming, Granny measured her good Baptist standing on how quickly her cake or whatever dish she made was gone. One of the few things that could make that mean old lady smile was for someone to tell her that they couldn’t wait to eat whatever she had brought. We heard about it for days.
Especially when someone cooed over how she didn’t need to be in the kitchen since she just got out of the hospital. She really liked that part as she said how she had to do it, it was just the way she was – she knew they were counting on her.
“Mama, I asked Granny to make me a biscuit and she fussed; she just spent all night making that cake for someone else. Why does she do that?” I asked.
“‘Cause, Kitten, Mama likes to shine,” Mama explained.
“But she still fussed at me.”
I didn’t understand. I was a chubby kid who needed a biscuit.
I may not have oohed and ahhed over her baking prowess but I would have darn sure been grateful. But I didn’t give Granny that attention that the rest of the world did. I just selfishly wanted my biscuit and didn’t give the old gal any accolades. Probably didn’t even thank her for making her good food that made me chubby either.
It’s been years since Granny’s really cooked or baked. Arthritis has nearly crippled her, making it difficult for her to do a lot of her usual heavy duty kitchen work. However, last Thanksgiving, she did manage to have a knee replacement – she’s 93. There’s no way she’s gonna get her money’s worth off that knee.
“Mama, why in the world did that old woman decide, the week before Thanksgiving to go in the hospital and have her knee replaced?”
“She said she has to get it fixed because it’s killing her.”
“She’s 93 years old. What doctor in their right medical mind gives a 93 year old woman a new knee?” I was beyond flabbergasted – why on earth was she going into the hospital to have surgery?
When I went to see her in the hospital, there she sat, new knee propped up, emergency buzzer in her hand, “Wheel of Fortune” on the television overhead.
“How you feeling, old woman?” I asked.
“Great. I can’t wait to try out this knee. It’s gonna be a good ‘un. I just know it.”
The nurse brought her lunch in along with a new pitcher of ice, fluffed her pillow and doted on Granny, petting her head, and talking about what a sweet patient Granny was. I swear, the old gal smiled.
I called Mama on the way home.
“Mama, I think she likes the fact she had her knee operated on.”
Mama laughed. “Kitten,” she began.
“Mama likes to shine.”