How I Get December Wrong (and You Might, Too)

My childhood memories of December are surrounded by a glowing film of nostalgia, probably brought on by the fact that I was a kid and didn't have any sort of responsibility to get things done or make other people happy over the holidays.

I would spend all school break reading by the fire while it snowed outside, and on weekends, I'd help out with the only baking my mom did all year. It felt a little like magic in the middle of the regular year.

And then you grow up, and December is far from magical.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it's all buying gifts and swearing at the burned-out Christmas lights and last-minute runs to the store for that ingredient you forgot for the cookies you promised you'd bring to the party. You play Christmas music in the background and hope to all heaven that your kids are somehow experiencing some sort of Christmas spirit, because there's flour in your hair and you forgot a hostess gift for tonight's party and how is it already a week until Christmas? 

Then we smack into December 25, and BAM. It's over. You're exhausted and surrounded by a floor full of pine needles and wrapping paper scraps, feeling relieved and let down all at the same time. As an adult, it feels like December never lives up to the hazy, snow-filled memories of my childhood.

Christmas mug

My biggest source of stress in December is the feeling that it's my job to make this season magical for my kids, and that I'm not doing enough to make it happen.

Sledding, snowmen and snow angels, hot cocoa, baking cookies, crafting ornaments, watching classic movies in the glow of the Christmas tree . . . it feels like there's not enough time for any of it. I can't shake the feeling that if they're going to have cherished Christmas memories, it's my job to manufacture them.

The pressure I put on myself is enormous, never mind that, at 3 and 1, my kids are too young to appreciate any of those things right now anyway. 

Less than ten days before Christmas, I'm making time for the first Christmasy experiences my family has had this year: baking cookies with the preschooler, then sitting by the tree and watching Frozen with both kids after lunch. (No, Frozen is not officially a Christmas movie, but there's snow, so it counts. It also seemed more child appropriate than Love Actually.)

As I watch Elsa have her Jessica Simpson moment on the screen, I'm hit with my own realization of why Christmas stresses me out so much: I'm trying to elevate ordinary moments into something special, when their everydayness is the thing that makes them so memorable in the first place. 

Not only that, I don't need to cram in all the fun Christmasy things before December 25. This season isn't meant to be celebrated according to the sales calendar of retail executives. In the liturgical calendar, we're still in Advent, the four weeks of waiting, reflection, and repentance that comes before the birth of Christ and the celebration of Christmas. 

If some of that ordinary Christmas magic gets pushed until after the 25th, during the actual Christmas season, then so much the better. My kids have no expectations for what December should look like, so why should I?

My favorite memories of Christmas are nothing extraordinary. Reading by the fire is (still) one of the best ways I spend my time all winter long, not just in December. The magic is made up of the simplest, best things, and the harder I try to make that happen, the less I'll be able to enjoy it. 

The Christmas season will always be at its best when we get out of our own way and let the memories happen on their own.

Cheers to an ordinary, magical December.

 

Halfway Here

I used to blog about grammar.

I was a 21-year-old newlywed and recent college grad trying to get my freelance editing business off the ground. I wasn't positive that my riveting posts about dangling modifiers and semicolons would attract clients, but I had to try. Thus began my years-long blogging journey that mostly looked like me trying to write about things I cared about (books, writing, creativity) in the same space as things I didn't (grammar, punctuation, how to write a novel).

That was 2012. My current job as a freelance content marketer means that I now spend most of my work hours either writing client blog posts or strategizing about what those blog posts should say. My entire career, in fact, is founded on my combined expertise of blogging and writing.

I'm an expert at content, sure. But "content" isn't what I dreamed about writing when I was a 9-year-old kid sitting in her parents' basement teaching herself to touch type so she could write Harry Potter fanfiction. 

In 2015, I realized that my business blog couldn't hold space for both the personal and the professional. I let my creative writing go as I chased after a #girlboss dream that, it turns out, I didn't want after all.

It was a bad decision, but it was the one I needed to make.

If I hadn't, I would never have tasted the success of running a part-time business that brought in a full-time income. I never would have realized that no matter how much money I make, something in me will always push me to find more, more, more. I would never have seen the effects of putting my work ahead of my kids, my friendships, and my creativity day after day.

I would never have known, deep in my bones, that that type of success is not worth having. And so I would have kept chasing, perhaps for my entire life, something I was never meant to have. 


Now let's be clear about what my life is in 2017. 

I still earn a full-time income from my writing and editing (although one that's purposely smaller than it once was). I still only work ten hours a week from a cozy home office I love. I still have the flexibility to stay home with my two young kids rather than paying for child care. 

I have nothing to complain about and I know it.

But this is also true: I've learned not to find my identity in my business, but I still need to earn a certain amount of money to contribute to our household finances. The words that pay are not the words that I feel called to write.

It is every writer's dilemma. How do you balance your need to eat actual food that costs money with the need to feed your soul through creative writing? How do you find the margin to write when there are always tiny, sticky hands tugging at your shirt and asking for more of you? 

I'm writing this post on a Sunday afternoon as a reward for doing 30 minutes of focused client work while my kids nap. I also have a creative essay to write for a site I contribute to, two other client projects waiting in the wings, and hair that hasn't been washed in three days.

I clearly don't have the answers to this balancing act. But I do know what I believe:

I believe in making space for the creative. I believe in making time to do nothing. I believe in getting paid for your art and in creating what needs to be created, even if there is no buyer standing ready with cash in hand. 

This is where I'll write about all of it, the times I've figured out writing and mothering and freelancing and the times I've screwed it all up. I make no promises about what you'll find here. If a post about cooking or knitting or decorating begs to be written, I'm not going to tell it no. The creative spirit, though, will be in the background through it all.

I'll probably never know what I'm doing, but I feel like I'm halfway here.