This year there was no snow to make the truck slide but there was mud so the star was walked up the hill, instead of driven, to the end of the field and edge of the woods, by the father and son while the grandfather prepared to make the Star bright. This year there were new light strands on the same wood, the same star he built many years before, replacing the old lights that had burned out.
They carried it up the steep hill and then the pulley was looped around the trunk of the tree and the ladder was climbed. Down below I took on the role of Grandma (Mom), since she can’t walk the hill, by saying things like:
“Someone hold the ladder.”
“Don’t lean out too far.”
“Don’t go up there on your own. Someone should be here to hold the ladder.”
“The ladder is tied to the tree,” Dad said, looking down at me with the expression parents give children when they know more than them.
“Oh. Well… still…”
So they pulled the star up to a place on the tree where drivers from the main road can see it, where people who need a sign of hope can find it.
I thought of the post I wrote about this annual tradition last year and thought I’d share it again:
They carried the star up the steep, snow-covered hill because the truck’s tires spun and sent the hunk of metal skittering sideways toward the old dirt road. In the end they left the truck in the field and slid the star, made of wood and strands of Christmas lights off the roof. Their breath steamed patterns out in front of them as they walked and the sun, a misleading sign of the outside temperature, cast long shadows onto the untouched surface of the snow that fell the day before.
Ropes were looped and tied and hooked on a pulley, the ladder was climbed and the star was hoisted with a couple reminders from father-in-law to son-in-law to “be careful of the lights! You’re hitting the lights on the tree!” But finally it was high enough and nails were hammered in to hold it in place.
Dad built the star several years ago and put it at the edge of the woods, at the top of the field and where people driving by on Route 220, across the Valley could see it. It has become a beacon, you could say. A beacon of good will, or peace, or joy or whatever it represents for each person who sees it.
It can mean a lot of things for a lot of people but for Dad it is a sign of hope and the real reason behind Christmas. After all – isn’t that what the birth of Jesus was all about? Bringing hope to a hurting, fallen world?
So on this little hill, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania my dad hangs his homemade, 50-some pound star, and with it hangs a little bit of hope – hope for health, for peace, for love for all, hope for the broken, the weary, the shattered souls.
This week I logged on to Facebook, briefly breaking my 30-day detox.
I’m a total fraud.
Let me explain.
Here is how it all started: without logging onto Facebook, I looked at the Today Show Parenting Team’s Facebook page this week, out of curiosity, and discovered one of my posts I had submitted on the community, had been shared. It had 38 comments and 240 shares.
The post, entitled “A Pregnancy Loss is A Loss No Matter How Small” was about my early pregnancy loss, which was caused by a blighted ovum. The post focused on the feeling by some women that they don’t feel they have a right to mourn an early pregnancy loss. In reality they do, because that pregnancy, no matter how brief, represented their idea of what was to be. And because that pregnancy was the start of a life that ended too soon.
Some of the comments on the post were so heartbreaking that I wanted to show the grieving mothers support so I hesitantly broke my Facebook detox simply to try to offer them some words of comfort. A couple days later I checked on the post to see if any other women had commented and discovered my post had also been shared on the Today Show’s main Facebook page and there were now 408 comments, 2,652 shares and over 11,000 reactions. I was flabbergasted and knew I couldn’t comment to all those women so I just read most of the comments and cried at how many of them had been told they had no right to mourn such early losses.
I just couldn’t imagine not offering some words of comments to these hurting moms, especially one who had lost a baby only a couple of days before she commented. She had been 32-weeks along. My daughter, my rainbow baby, was born at 37 weeks. I can’t imagine being so close to full term and losing a child. I have at least two friends who have lost children later in the pregnancy and it breaks my heart to think of the pain they suffered during that time. It breaks my heart even further to imagine they may be afraid to talk about those losses because we live in a society where miscarriages can be so easily dismissed, especially if the loss is early in the pregnancy.
I want those women to be able to share their feelings. I know I blogged about my feelings here and under the Today Show’s Parenting Team challenge to share about a pregnancy loss, but the whole situation is still difficult to talk about.
There was a lot going on in our family during that time in addition to the loss. It was a whirlwind of emotions and confusion and rejection and part of me shut down after the miscarriage. There was some shame mixed in because the pregnancy came during a marriage trial.I worried some might think the pregnancy came to try to save the marriage when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Even now I feel myself cringing inside as my fingers hit the keyboard. Despite having a personal blog, I’m not a person who thrives on sharing intimate thoughts or feelings, even if I think the sharing might help bring comfort to someone else.
What I hope the post the Today Show shared will do is help grieving moms have the courage to speak about how their pregnancy loss made them feel and ultimately understand they are not alone.
I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.
How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?
Of course, I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.
Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.
My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day – supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school, I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burdens but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.
Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son, overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn’t know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and – and – the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.
But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.
And today both he and his sister are worth it all.
What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.
I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.
My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.
One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.
I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.
Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don’t know, but what I do know is we don’t have to listen to all those voices.
Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we’ve stretched ourselves thin enough and it’s OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even – gasp! – a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.
A month ago I died from a stress-induced heart attack during a bank robbery and it made me think a lot about the changes I’ve been saying I would make to improve my health but hadn’t.
Let me clarify: my son is currently being homeschooled and our local homeschool group offered a Criminal Justice course that involved a mock crime and trial. During the commission of the mock crime I was tagged to tragically die of a stress-induced heart attack, since the robber was holding a note that said her cell phone was a bomb. I actually volunteered to be the one to die. Why? I have no idea but I almost immediately regretted it because first, I am not an actor and second, because ironically one of my biggest fears is dying of a heart attack.
My son called my acting the worst he has ever seen, which really isn’t fair since he’s too young to remember Beverly Hills 90210.
“I was so embarrassed,” he told me on the way home that day. “You were just laying there on the floor. And everyone was staring at you. It was weird.”
In my defense, I had no idea the instructor was going to record the whole thing and the students were going to watch it several times in class.
And he was right. It was weird. To say the moment was an internally sobering moment for me is an understatement. At the end of December it will be a year since my aunt died in the floor of my parent’s dining room, from what we all suspect was her third, maybe fourth, heart attack. Laying there I tried not to think about how my mom said she had tumbled forward out of the chair and then just laid motionless on the floor. Mom said she knew she was gone even before she fell from the chair.
Outwardly everyone, including me, joked that day as I laid on the floor with children ages 10 to 17 looking at me and giggling, some commenting if I moved or breathed: “The body is moving!”
I had to get up in the middle of it all to use the bathroom because I had no idea I would be laying there for an hour and a half and had guzzled quite a bit of water before the class.
“It’s a miracle!” one of the students said and I quoted the Bible “Lazarus, come forth.”
We all laughed some more.
My own child nudged me with his foot to see if I was “really dead”. Luckily the instructor corrected him and showed him that the proper procedure is to check for a pulse by placing two fingers on the neck. A number was placed by my body to mark me as evidence and photos were taken of my body.
For the next couple of classes, I listened to myself being referred to as deceased and while I was not offended and knew the reference was for the sake of the class, it did make me think about where I am healthwise and where I want to be. I’m not a horrible eater, which I know is something all overweight people say, but it’s true. I don’t eat donuts, cakes, cookies, fast food, or even bread. I stopped eating bread and sugar almost six years ago and that first time I lost 30 pounds on a semi-low carb “diet” (though it was more of a lifestyle change).
Over time, though, I added in small amounts of bread or wheat products, almost always having reactions afterward – aching joints, heartburn, brain fog. Then I added more and more sugar, always saying it was only a little and it couldn’t hurt me much.
Then there was a piece of candy here, some ice cream there. I have a corn allergy, which is good in some ways because it requires me to cut out almost all processed food but as long as something didn’t have corn it, I felt like it was safe to have it, ignoring the fact that the sugar was hurting me as much in the long run as the corn allergy would.
“You’re alive!” one of the other mom’s said when she saw me in a store a week or so after my “untimely death.”
And it was true, I was still technically alive but there are so many days I’ve felt as if I am slowly dying. The day the class was held my muscles ached like I had been running a marathon. I laid on the floor for an hour and a half and I didn’t even want to move to get up because I hurt so bad. My legs and arms have often felt heavy, like there are lead weights on them and my brain feels stuffed with cotton almost every day.
I’ve worried about an autoimmune disease, or two, being the cause of my issues, or maybe it is perimenopause, because I’m in that age range now, but then, when I stopped and really looked at what I was eating, I realized I was sneaking more wheat and sugar than I realized. Additionally, an over-consumption of dairy wasn’t helping either, so even if I do have an autoimmune issue, I’m not helping it with my “not-as-bad-as-it-could-be-diet”.
So in the last few weeks since I “died” I’ve started shaving the things out of my diet that I know are issues for me – sugar (which is an issue for anyone), wheat and dairy. The wheat isn’t difficult because I’d already eliminated that and ate it very rarely in the past six years. The dairy is somewhat easy, though I had found myself reaching for it as a snack during the day when I didn’t have time to cook a real meal and as comfort food in the evening by adding a natural chocolate syrup or molasses to a glass of it and warming it up.
The sugar? Now, that will be a real problem because I’m always reaching for that when I feel down, tired, happy, sad, weak, strong – well, you get the idea. It’s a serious addiction, but one I overcame once before so know I can do it again.
When I told the instructor how his mock crime and trial had me thinking about how far my health has slipped, I thought he might just laugh and shake his head, but instead, he said: “Sometimes that’s a God thing.”
Since all of this came at the same time I felt God leading me to walk away from Facebook, comparing myself to others, and relying on social media for validation, I think he may be right.
I’m starting a separate “page” for my health journey. Technically it’s a separate blog, but I don’t consider it a blog since it’s still me and still my journey, just a different part of my journey. You can follow along on my successes (and I’m sure failures) at The Sort Of, Kind Of, Healthy Health Blog.
That’s right. I’ve been off Facebook for ten whole days and I’m still surviving. Indeed, I haven’t even missed the social media site that so many people rely on each day.
So who challenged me to do this?
It’s simply my own challenge to myself, which I decided on after first, I found myself more and more depressed and despondent after logging off the site and second, after I saw a video from some vloggers on YouTube (see video embedded at the bottom of the post) who did a full Internet break for 30 days. My brother and sister-in-law also take these 30-day breaks from time-to-time as well, but I won’t say he inspired me because then his head will be too big – again.
I chose Facebook over the full internet break because I knew it was my biggest time-suck, with Instagram right behind it. And I knew that by letting it suck me in I was distracting myself from a number of things I want to do with my life, including losing weight, studying the Bible more, learning more about photography, and writing more. While I’ve kept Instagram, because I enjoy interacting with other photographers, I’ve severely limited the time I’m on there as well.So here is the first of a series of posts about some of what being off Facebook has taught me, so far.
• That I used Facebook to distract me from the difficult aspects of my life and from the anxious, swirling thoughts I often have. In the past ten days I have been alone with my thoughts more times than I’d like and I’ve realized a few things: 1) I don’t like to think issues out because I find I sink keeper into depression when I can’t “fix” it all. 2) I would much rather be distracted by someone else’s drama than focus and address my own. 3) that I have been stuffing feelings of anger, rejection, disappointment and loss deep inside for years and hiding it under cute cat memes, political strife, and my own photography. 4) and maybe most importantly of all: my thoughts are really, really boring and many times make no sense, which is probably why I shouldn’t be sharing them on a blog. But, hey, if all those cable news channels can ramble their opinions at us all day long then I guess I can too. Ha.
• That all those people on my “friends list” aren’t necessarily “friends” because in the ten days I have been off Facebook I’ve only heard from three people on that list and two of those people are family members. So, in fact, what this has taught me is that I am pretty much friendless even though Facebook says I have close to 200 of them. That’s actually been the one aspect of all this that has been hardest – beyond having to be alone with my thoughts so often – realizing I actually don’t have more than one close friend in my life at the moment and that none of my “friends” actually live anywhere near me. Ouch.
• That if you aren’t on Facebook you pretty much don’t exist. This one goes hand-in-hand with the “fake friends” bit. If you aren’t on Facebook you aren’t “in the loop” and you aren’t invited to events. You’re also expected to already know what’s happening in the community, your church and the lives of your “friends” (who are really just people on your list) because they “updated on Facebook! Hello!”
This whole idea of anyone who isn’t on Facebook not existing is something I’ve actually known for awhile. I had backed way off personal updates on Facebook for a few months before I pulled the plug for this detox, or challenge, other than the auto shares of these blog posts to my business page. Since no one really reads my blog posts (not a complaint or a whine, just a fact, based on my stats), I really haven’t been sharing a ton of personal thoughts on Facebook.
I had someone tell me, shortly before I abandoned the big social media giant, that they didn’t know anything that was going on in my life because they couldn’t see my status updates. It was true they had been somehow hidden from seeing my updates but I actually hadn’t placed anything on Facebook about all the trials I had been facing and was asking them to pray about. I found their response to my request for prayer a bit odd actually. It seemed that without being able to see my status updates this person had no other way to gauge how I might be doing in my life or if I really needed prayer because apparently, in this modern age, we can only “communicate” by reading a status update. Mind you, we don’t often comment on those status updates that involve someone being in a trial. I mean, we go to social media to unwind, not deal with the problems of others. Get with the program, right?
The person I had messaged had, I guess, lost the ability to actually ask me what was going on, or how I was, because I hadn’t been on Facebook much lately and was slowly fading from existence. The person didn’t know they could message me on messenger, or text or – gasp! – call (who even does that anymore?!) and actually ask me how I was.
If I was slowly fading from existence then, I can only imagine I have completely faded now and am but a speck of nothing floating in the digital ether somewhere.
A few other lessons I am learning from being off Facebook, that I’ll expound on in a future post:
That there are a lot of great books out there.
That I need to get involved in activities with actual human beings more.
That my children are on digital devices way more than they should be.
That I enjoy exercise and it actually makes me feel better if I do it.
That I enjoy cooking and it actually makes me feel better when I take the time to do it right.
That reading God’s word can actually be interesting if I slow down and actually read it!
That we have too much information flying into our brains on a daily basis and there is simply no way we can process it all and I don’t believe God made us to do so.
That when people say “I’ll pray for you” on Facebook they usually don’t mean it. They don’t mean it in “real life” either but they really don’t mean it on Facebook.
What will come of this Facebook break? I’m not totally sure, but I’m excited to find out. I believe some of the changes will be positive and I believe I’ll learn more about living life offline and that doing so will be much more enriching than living it online.
Here is the video from Wheezy Waiter that helped inspire me to take the break.
I think what I will remember most about Aunt Eleanor are her hands.
I remember those hands holding thread and a needle and pillows or quilts she just made. I remember those hands gluing buttons to frames, cutting out patterns, pinning needles in place for her next project. I remember those hands holding stacks of family history she had just typed up.
I remember those hands laying a flower on her mother’s, my grandmother’s casket.
I remember the first time I noticed the tremor in those hands and wished I could hold those hands and make that tremor go away.
I remember one of the last times I held those hands, how warm they were, how firm the grip despite all her body was fighting. We were in the nursing home where she had been living for several years. Parkinson’s was making her body and mind weaker.
I told her something I didn’t say much to her or my grandmother when I was younger, simply because they were a family who didn’t say it as much in words as they did in actions: “I love you, Aunt Eleanor.”
“Oh, sweetie I love you too,” she said and she held my hand even tighter and we sat there for several moments in silence, the TV on the wall blaring the news or the weather channel, I can remember which.
I don’t think she wanted to let go. I didn’t either.
I wasn’t sure she even remembered who I was that day but looking back it didn’t matter if she did or didn’t recognize me or even if she thought I was my mom, since some days she called me by her name. All she knew was love – that she felt loved, that she felt love for me and that at that moment the room was full of peace.
The day Mom called to tell me Aunt Eleanor was gone I thought about how much I hadn’t wanted to let go that day.
A week later when I drove by the nursing home I realized I still didn’t want to let go.
“You know, I really miss her,” My Aunt Doris, Eleanor’s sister, said to me last week when we visited her for her birthday. “”We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone, do we?”
I agreed and we sat there a couple moments in silence but then it was time to leave and head back to our home in Pennsylvania. I left Aunt Doris there, in her chair by the window, thinking about her sister. My kids, dad and I, got into the car. We drove down the road and we thought about Eleanor too.
We missed her and I wished that I could hold those hands one more time.
My aunt Doris and aunt Eleanor when they were children and it looks like they are in the driveway at their grandparents’ home, which is where I grew up.
A photographer asked a question in a Facebook group I’m in, sometime last year, about how to get better at varying her perspectives for her photos.
So I told her:
“Try it all. Go high. Go low. Shoot between. Climb on chairs… move back, move close. Think what will help capture the moment the best. Don’t be afraid to try it all because – why not? If it doesn’t work then you still learned from it and know what to try next time. Like my 11 year old says “YOLO – you only live once” so go for it.
Creativity in any form is a learning process and how will you learn if you don’t – to borrow the slogan for Nike – just do it! Get in there. There is nothing wrong with trying it all and seeing what happens.
We learn from the failures as much as we do from the successes so get out there and fall flat on your face!
I’m serious. Get out there! What are you waiting for?
We photographers can be a depressing bunch. I mean how many more ways can we remind people they need to get photos of their family members because soon they’ll all be dead.
Yes, it is true we want to have photos of family members before they pass from our lives but enough with the emotional blackmail already. How about we just suggest people capture their memories in photos or video so they can share the memories with each other in the future? How about we stop depressing people into buying packages or spending more money than necessary by using fear tactics.
“Grandma will be dead next year so you better buy this $300 canvas for your wall.”
“Grandpa has been in and out of the hospital. You’d better spend that full tax refund on 18 different poses of you all together and the digital files that you’ll have to take a loan out to get. He will probably be dead in a few more days and you’ll want those memories of him forcing a smile for my camera.”
I think one reason I can’t push myself to market myself as a family photographer is I can’t bring myself to play the mind games of marketing small businesses 101. If I see one more Instagram post that talks about how glad a photographer was that she took photos of a relative at the last family gathering because a few months later they were dead and then ends with a sales pitch, I will scream. If you want to say you were glad you took the photos and then end it there, fine. But the sales pitch too?
I swear family photographers are becoming the car salesmen of the creative world.
Tell families they’re going to love capturing their moments together, fine. Tell them they will love looking back at the photos of their children as they grow. Tell them they will treasure these memories as the years pass.
But, please, stop threatening the deaths of their family members so you can line your own pockets.
My cousin and I were talking about whatever teenage girls talk about when I heard a clattering on the roof outside the upstairs window of the bedroom we were staying in. A quick look outside the window confirmed the source of the noise and it didn’t take long for my brain to register who the tuft of gray hair just above the edge of the roof belonged to.
I ran out of the room, down the stairs, through the dining room and the kitchen and out the front door. To my right was a ladder and on that ladder, luckily only about two and a half feet off the ground, was my 88-year old grandmother. She had a bucket on the porch railing near her and she was cleaning out the gutter. I didn’t want to startle her, but I knew I needed to get her off that ladder before she fell and broke her hip, or worse, her skull. Before I spoke a word, I did what any good granddaughter does – I walked slowly back into the house and grabbed my camera.
“Um…grandma?” I spoke softly so I didn’t startle her and send her flailing backwards in shock and over the porch railing to the ground below.
She wore a hearing aid but she still heard us fairly well. My mom used to joke that she couldn’t hear anything unless we talked about something we didn’t want her to know about, like that time we spent $300 on our cat that was hit by a car and he died anyhow. We were pretty certain she would have told us, “Back in our days we threw them in pillowcases and drowned them or just shot them. $300 on a cat. Ridiculous.”, which is why my mom made us whisper about the cat or speak of it only when Grandma wasn’t in the room. Eventually, she did learn about the cat and her response was one of expected incredulous shock. Luckily she didn’t suggest we should have shot him.
Grandma heard me fine when I called to her from the bottom of the ladder but didn’t turn to look at me.
“Yes?” she said, continuing to pull slop from the gutter and toss it into the bucket.
“Um…what are you doing?” I asked, walking over to hold the bottom of the ladder and keep it steady on the concrete porch floor.
“I’m just cleaning out this gutter,” she told me, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your dad said he could get to it after work but I figured I wasn’t doing anything else so I’d take care of it.”
I assured her Dad would finish the job when he got home and urged her to climb down. My cousin and I were at home alone with her and I couldn’t imagine how much trouble we would be in if we simply let her climb ladders and fall off and break a hip.
The photo of the moment wasn’t high quality since I took it quickly and on a simple point-and-shoot camera. I barely took time to focus out of fear I would capture her mid-fall. Had I been married at the time I’m sure my husband would have said what he has said about some of my photos of the children.
“Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and helped your 88-year old grandmother off the ladder instead?” he might have asked, much like he once asked, “Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and taken the dog food out of our son’s hand?”
Of course the answer to those types of questions is always ‘no, I should not have put the camera down.’ The photo is almost always worth more than a thousand words used to describe it, though sometimes words also help. In my defense, the baby didn’t eat the dog food and my 88-year old grandmother didn’t fall off the ladder.