Monday, February 3, 2014

Why I Didn't Send Out Christmas Cards

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? I don't really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.            -Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail

I meant to this year, I really did. It was going to be my first Christmas card ever. I even had professional family portraits taken (for the first time since we got married) at the beginning of November. After all, we have an adorable child now, and isn't that basically a prerequisite for sending Christmas cards?

I should have just ordered those photo prints that have "Merry and Bright" swirled on them and been done with it. But I love the parade of festive cards that arrive every December, especially those stuffed with newsy updates, and I started thinking about our hypothetical newsletter. I know (most) Christmas cards aren't meant to come off as "braggy," but they're basically a way to neatly sum up accomplishments and major life happenings for the year. And for the first time in my married life, I just didn't have anything to say for myself. 

That's a rather mournful way to look at it, but here are some headlines from the cards we could have sent in years past:

2008: Got Married! Jay's second year of dental school! Lindsay starts grad school!
2009: Still in grad school! Fun weekend trips all over Texas!
2010: Lindsay graduates with MA, starts full-time job! Jay in fourth year of dental school!
2011: Jay graduates dental school, starts residency! Lindsay working full time! Expecting first child! Jay runs marathon!
2012: Kate is born! Jay finishes residency! We move from Texas to Las Vegas! Jay starts full-time job!

Now, I'm not knocking 2013. It was a lovely year. Jay switched jobs last January which made our lives about one thousand times better. Kate charmed me so completely from month to month that I wondered how I could possibly enjoy her more, and then the next month she went and did it again. There were many, many days last year that I melted into the couch in quivering awe of my happiness and the goodness of my life.

I did have a couple of significant accomplishments last year; namely, I ran a half marathon and completed a pieced, hand quilted, queen-size quilt for our bed. Those, for me, were not small feats, and I am proud of them. But what to say of the rest of it, of the minutiae that filled my days? The lazy mornings, too much internet, small interactions with Kate, striving to overcome myself and learn to be a homemaker even though it's like trying to fit the pieces of ten jigsaw puzzles into one seamless picture?

Playing with Kate, being organized, keeping things clean, sticking to a self-imposed schedule, cooking daily dinners... These are all things that don't come naturally to me. I think I spent the first part of the year mentally playing connect-the-dots with the Cheerios scattered across my floor and fighting down panic as the rising tide of my inadequacy overcame me. It wasn't as much of an issue in 2012 when Kate was born: I spent most of that year just trying to keep my head above water and find the pieces of myself that were lost somewhere in the ocean of motherhood. But in 2013 I felt like myself again (or a version of myself, at least), and I realized my need to do more than back float in just-getting-by mode. 

So I made an effort. I worked to establish a routine (dishes and kitchen in the morning, laundry on Mondays, pick up the downstairs daily, start dinner around 5:00, have a list of meals so I wouldn't feel overwhelmed by indecision every day). I kept the house clean(er). I independently made a legitimate dinner around four nights a week. There were always clean clothes (even if they weren't always folded). 

A few months ago, Jay said to me, "Don't take this the wrong way, but what changed? The house looks good most of the time now, and you consistently have dinner ready when I get home." 

I didn't know how to answer him except to try to explain that I was tired of having a "job" that I was less-than-mediocre at. I felt like my domesticity report card was full of C's. I was that guy at the office who knew he wasn't hacking it and shouldered a millstone of dread and inadequacy everyday. I couldn't live like that anymore.

I am still far from a paragon of homemaking virtue. I still struggle knowing how to play with Kate. I still have to force myself to make dinner. I still have a less-than-spotless house. I still often feel like I'm wearing a job description that is loose and baggy in some places and tight and restrictive in others.

But I'm working on it. 

And even though I didn't send out Christmas cards in 2013, and on the surface it doesn't look like I accomplished much, it was a year of grace, a rich season of growth and becoming. 

I only hope I'll be able to say the same for 2014.

 {All photos taken by Amy Rhodes Photography. Final edits by me because I'm a vibrance-obsessed control freak. Also, these pictures are a lie: sweet Kate was a monster the entire session. She wanted to play with the ducks and run amok and hold anyone's hand [Jay's, the photographer's] but mine. There was much whining and frustration and a few suppressed tears on my end. If any of my smiles look like they're fraying at the edges, that's why. How we ended up with ANY pictures where one of the three of us wasn't screaming (okay, just me or Kate) is a miracle and a credit to our photographer!}