My kitchen calendar is flipped to the last page. Which means it’s December, and the holiday season is upon us.
How do you celebrate? Do you make cookies? (I don’t.) Do you hang a Santa-wreath on your front door? (I do.)
What about gifts? Do you, my dear readers, have a favorite gift? Maybe a gift you received years ago, but one that is no less vivid in your memory? Or, a gift you regularly receive, but still eagerly anticipate each year?
And, if you turn to page 140, you will read “A Timeless Gift” — written by me! It’s my story of our family calendar and its place in our holiday traditions.
Here’s the first paragraph:
“My sister and I each received a new calendar every Christmas. And even though we shared a bedroom and could have shared a calendar, too,we always got our own.”
I’m so proud to say I have a piece published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. And I hope this charming book will help you get into the holiday spirit and maybe even inspire you with “new plans for family fun, gift ideas, and recipes.”
Each Wednesday, I publish a blog post on one of three subjects: books, boys, or bodies (specifically living with an invisible disability).
Beyond the post you read, though, there are the behind-the-scenes people that make this blog and this website possible.
Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I give thanks to:
My son.My eleven-year-old son is my greatest inspiration. The questions he asks and the ideas he shares have served as the inspiration for many of my blog posts and personal essays.
My husband.It was my husband who first encouraged me to start my own blog. It was right after we had seen the film Julie and Julia. It was the nudge I needed to start to prioritize my writing and my writing time. And, he often serves as my photographer for my blog posts.
My mom.My mom has always been my proofreader. Since I can first remember writing school reports back in fourth grade, it’s been my mom who checks my spelling, my punctuation, my grammar, my lucidness. Though I may be in my forties, and not a fourth-grader any more, I still look to my mom to proofread each blog post before it’s published.
My dad.Over the years, it’s been my dad who has shared his extra office supplies with me, which I gratefully accept. Every writer needs a stash of highlighters, binders, and printer paper.
My readers.I am proud to say I have readers around the world. People I know and people I don’t know. Some of you comment on the site, some of you send me personal emails commenting on something you read. A few of my former students have found me via this website and sent me emails recounting their memories in my classroom. Those emails make my heart swell.
My first blog started all those years ago, as a way to take my writing seriously. A self-imposed deadline. Since then, it’s become so much more than that.
Mainly, all the “extras.” The out-of-the-box, beyond-the-textbook things we used to do.
Like the way we celebrated Thanksgiving.
When I taught kindergarten, our class always hosted a multicultural feast. Hot dogs, turkey, spaghetti, sushi, mashed potatoes, empanadas – they all made their way to our feast. We made placemats and table centerpieces, and lined up our desks in long rows.
When I taught fourth and fifth grade, we still celebrated with a feast. But, for a few years, I did something extra.
I wrote each of my students a short letter about why I was thankful for each of them.
As a teacher, it’s so easy to get caught up in what went wrong, and easy to overlook when things are going smoothly.
But, it’s just as important to pay attention to those moments.
I don’t know if my students remember those letters, but I do.
Here are a few passages from the notes I wrote over the years. And maybe they will serve as inspiration to you. Make sure the people in your life know why you are thankful for them.
I am thankful for your participation. You are always eager to read aloud, answer questions, and share from your journal each morning.
I am thankful for your attentive listening. During lessons and discussions, I notice how closely you listen. I don’t have to worry that you’re not paying attention.
I am thankful for your positive attitude. You come to school each morning with a smile and a good mood. I really appreciate that.
I am thankful for your sense of humor. Your comments often make me smile, and sometimes laugh out loud. And there are days when we all really need to laugh. So thank you for that.
I am thankful for you taking responsibility for your actions. Even when you have chatted or done something you weren’t supposed to, you are quick to apologize and get right back to work. I appreciate that.
I am thankful for your positive attitude. You never give up. You are always trying to do better and learn more. I noticed that fractions were a bit tricky for you at first, but you kept practicing, and they got easier. You did it! I hope you know I’m proud of you for sticking with it.
I am thankful for your smile. You greet me each morning with a smile, you smile at me throughout the day during our lessons, and end the day with a smile. Your smile means a lot to me. Thank you!
I am thankful for your kindness. You are a good friend to your classmates. You offer to help them when they are having difficulties with a certain lesson, like the fractions and decimals we were doing. It was very generous of you to give up a recess to stay inside and help a friend with math.
I am thankful for all your computer help. You are our class computer expert. You help your classmates when they are having trouble with the computer. And you’ve helped me with the blue computer when it wasn’t printing. You are my computer hero!
I am thankful for the way you help your classmates. You are a fast and accurate mathematician. I really appreciate the way you walk around our classroom to offer assistance to your classmates who are still working on their math assignment.
I am thankful for your hugs. I love hugs, and it’s such a nice treat to receive one of your hugs. Sometimes you surprise me and all of a sudden I just have two arms wrapped around me! I hope you know how much your hugs mean to me!
From fourth grade until about my junior year of high school, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly answered “Astronaut.”
My goal changed. During high school, I took a class called World of Education. We spent four days a week, about two hours a day, assisting in a local elementary school classroom. That’s when I fell in love with teaching. And that’s when I changed my career goal.
That’s not how it worked for Leland Melvin.
Leland Melvin isn’t like most astronauts.
He didn’t grow up wanting to be an astronaut.
In fact, he’s the only astronaut who was also drafted by the NFL.
From a writer’s perspective, I didn’t particularly enjoy the book. Certain parts felt like they were missing something – a lack of introspection, personal reaction, and depth.
From a reader’s perspective, the part of the story that stands out most to me is the circuitous path Mr. Melvin took to becoming an astronaut. In fact, he had never really thought of “astronaut” as a career possibility.
It’s an important reminder, for me, and an important lesson to share with my son.
We don’t always know what path our lives will take.
You don’t have to travel straight from point A to point B. It’s okay to take detours, to go in circles, to lose your place and start again.
“How long has it been like this? When did it start?”
My physical therapist asked me that at last week’s session as she was massaging my left leg.
“Nine years ago,” I said.
She made a “tsk, tsk” sort-of-sound.
“It feels like you’ve got 10 years’ worth of tightness in here,” she said.
She rubbed some more. “How do you walk around like that?”
“What other choice do I have?” I replied.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been going to physical therapy. Many years ago, a doctor had referred me to physical therapy. And the physical therapist discharged me after just a few visits, telling me that PT wouldn’t help me.
This time, my rheumatologist referred me because of “new” pain I described to him. After an exam, he believed I had injured my IT band, and now, because we had a specific injury to treat, physical therapy might help.
My physical therapist seems to wholeheartedly believe she can help me, but I’m skeptical.
At my first appointment, my physical therapist told me I have a lack of flexibility and mobility in my left leg.
I knew that already.
At the same time, going to PT has also given me a certain sense of validation. Someone else recognized and acknowledged my pain; someone else was able to “see” what is largely unseen.
I came home from my first appointment with my knees taped up. Later that afternoon, my eleven-year-old son told me it looked cooler on basketball players than it did on me.
I left my third appointment with more pain than I had when I began the appointment.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep with it. I’ll continue going, partly because my insurance covers most of it, but also because I don’t want to entirely give up. At least not this soon.
Though at this point in my life, I wonder if anything can really help me.
Plus, physical therapy is just more work. With the therapist, I’m working my muscles in different, and sometimes uncomfortable, ways.
At home, I have my “homework” to do – a series of exercises and stretches I do daily.
And there are days, when I’m just tired of it all. Tired of the work involved – of staying on top of prescription refills, appointments, and medical insurance.
For the first several years of his life, my son didn’t want to go trick-or-treating.
Actually, for the first couple years of his life, we just didn’t take him. He was a baby. He didn’t eat candy.
But then Ryan got older, understood the idea of dressing up in a costume, and he still didn’t go trick-or-treating. Because he didn’t want to.
One year we asked if he simply wanted to show our next-door neighbors his costume. He said no.
Now, though, we visit the homes of our closest neighbors each Halloween. Ryan always greets them with an enthusiastic “trick-or-treat” and says goodbye with a heartfelt “thank you.”
Then we come home and sort the loot into three piles. A pile for Ryan. A pile for my husband. And a pile to donate. Some years the donated candy goes with my husband to work to be shared with his co-workers. Some years, Ryan and I take the donated candy to our local fire station.
For Ryan, trick-or-treating has never been about the candy. Though chocolate is always available in our home, Ryan just isn’t a big candy-eater.
Likewise, Ryan didn’t learn that visiting Santa Claus meant asking for gifts until he was 5 years old.
We never told him.
We visited Santa at the mall. Exchanged pleasantries. Wished him a Merry Christmas, and were on our way.
It wasn’t until Ryan was in kindergarten, waiting in line for his turn to take a photo with Santa, when one of Santa’s “elves” asked Ryan what he was planning to ask Santa to bring him for Christmas.
Ryan looked at me in confusion. This was a brand new concept. Because up untilthen, we had always stressed the spirit of the season. The music. The decorations. The joy in finding the candle with the best fragrance for Grandma.
Ryan always received presents. Many presents. But they were always surprises. Nothing he had ever specifically asked for.
Until that year.
And even now, Ryan never asks for things he wouldn’t get. His requests are always reasonable.
It makes me proud that as parents, my husband and I are raising a son who isn’t focused, first and foremost, on what people will give him (whether it’s Halloween candy or Christmas gifts).
Sick as in 2 different visits to the pediatrician’s office for same-day appointments.
Sick as in 3 absences from school.
Thankfully, it wasn’t anything more than a bad viral infection.
I am very relieved to say that he is feeling better.
But in the midst of all that, of sitting on the bed together, of reading on the couch together, Ryan asked, “Why me?”
I tried to give him the scientific answer. He must have touched a doorknob, a chair, a stack of papers at school that had a germ on it, and the germ was passed on to him when he touched his face, scratched his nose, wiped his mouth.
He wanted me to ask the pediatrician, and he got the same answer.
But back at home, as I smoothed the hair away from his forehead, he asked me again, “Why me?”
Why Ryan, indeed.
There is no answer for that.
A boy who, just this week, earned a very high report card. A boy who, during parent conferences, a teacher told us, “You know, I wish I had 30 more just like him.”
A boy who has already been described as “having a good heart,” by a coordinator at his middle school. An adult who has only known Ryan since August, but has already observed his good, kind ways.
It’s a dangerous question. Because there is no answer.
In the beginning, I used to ask the same question about my autoimmune disease. “Why me?”
For a while, I thought I was being punished.
Then I thought I was being tested.
Now, I’m wiser (hopefully), and I know there is no point in asking “Why me?”
The famous comic strip “ran in newspapers 365 days a year from 1976 to 2010.” Now, the creator of Cathy has written a book. And it was her title, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, that first caught my attention.
I read through this collection of essays and while I didn’t enjoy them all, I did find several to be both amusing and relatable.
This week, I’d like to share just a few of the “stand-out bits” that resonated with me.
From the essay titled “The Build-A-Boob Workshop”:
“Yesterday, the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Today, the Build-A-Boob Workshop.”
(You’ll have to read the entire essay. It’s entertaining and rings oh-so-true!)
From the essay titled “Infidelity”:
“I woke up with the exhilarating urge to cheat on my Fitbit fitness tracker.”
(Which made me think about my own personal essay about “breaking up” with my Fitbit. You can click here to read it.)
And the one that just screamed “Wendy,” from the essay titled “I’m Flunking Retirement”:
“They call it the ‘sandwich generation,’ but it seems much more squashed than that. More like the ‘panini generation.’ I feel absolutely flattened some days by the pressure to be everything to everyone, including myself.”
Do you have a body part, that only now, a bit later in life, you have learned to genuinely appreciate? A body part you now realize wasn’t nearly as “bad/flabby/unattractive/you-fill-in-the-adjective” as you used to think?
“I have a complicated relationship with my legs, because sometimes they just seem like these “things” that are disconnected from the rest of me.These limbs that aren’t behaving the way I want them to.These appendages that are causing me nothing but trouble and pain.”
The paragraph above is taken from my recently published essay “Why My Rare Condition Puts Me in a Complicated Relationship With My Legs.” Click here to be redirected to The Mighty where you can read the essay in its entirety.