We are at the threshold of the Holiday Season or if the retail world is to be believed we are halfway through it. As a result, I am bracing myself for the onslaught of cynicism that comes along with arrival of the shopping mall Santa.  “Ugh, I just hate this time of year”  “The holidays have become so commercial, its all about money and greed”  “I hate the stress and pressure, why can’t it just be January already”

I have decided that for those folks who feel this way, I am going to provide a how to list to help them actually enjoy the Holiday Season and see it as an opportunity rather than an obligation.  Please feel free to print it out, put it on your refrigerator and reference it often.  Share it with friends, start a revolution, a wave of holiday spirit if you will.

I am going to begin with a couple of simple questions before I move on to the laying out of tangible strategies.  Do you have indoor plumbing?  Access to food, shelter and medicine? The right to vote?  If the answer to these questions is yes, I would suggest a counting of blessings

Has your home been demolished in a tornado, fire or tsunami?  Are you begging for loose change?  Has your heat or electricity been shut off?  If the answer to these questions is no, I would suggest a recount of your blessings and a moment of thanks to the powers that be.

I ask these questions because I have noticed that the nay sayers and holiday haters are rarely folks with any of the a fore  mentioned legitimate reasons to be miserable.  The anti-holiday sentiments have most often been uttered to me in the comfort of a friends warm and lovely living room, or at a social gathering at a nice restaurant or while driving in their well running automobile.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Holiday Spirit like happiness in general is a choice much of the time, and if we are lucky enough to be getting through life with minimal battle wounds, we should make a conscious effort to choose it.

I can hear all you scrooges muttering in response to my theory, “How can I choose spirit? Its not my fault that the retailers, the commercials on TV and all the greed around me just make it impossible.  The crowds are awful, the rudeness is unbearable”  I am throwing the bullshit flag on that argument, there is nothing forcing you to participate or buy into any of that.  If you would like it to be less commercial, less materialistic, less hectic, then make it that way for you and your family.  You want people to stop being rude and impatient? Start with yourself. Probably easier said then done I know, but I am going to help you do all that with concrete strategies you can utilize and share with others.

I will begin with gift giving.  This seems to be a particularly nasty sticking point with those that are anti-holiday.  Prime talking points on this subject include obligation, cost, greed, and shopping crowds.

Begin by tackling your attitude about feeling obligated to buy gifts. Instead of thinking of it as something you are being forced to do, think of it as an opportunity to show the people in your life how loved and appreciated they are.  This is not done through the amount of money spent on the gift but through the thought put into it.  By truly knowing the person and paying attention throughout the year to what they have longed for, cared about or been interested in.  The common response to this argument is that we should be showing our love and appreciation all year long.  Well of course we should, but the truth is WE DON”T!  For those of you who are buying for people you do not love or appreciate but have somehow been pressured or bullied into putting on your list, then STOP.  Really, just stop, no one can force you to do it so don’t.  If there are folks you care about but they stretch your holiday budget past what is ok for you then suggest an experience instead.  Take a moment out of what would have been shopping time and share a peppermint martini or hot chocolate with each other.  Watch Its a Wonderful Life  or Christmas Story or Elf in PJ’s with popcorn. Make it a tradition, smile at each other, be kind.  Kindness is the best gift out there.

Change your attitude about the actual gift buying as well.  It doesn’t have to be a greedy commercialized experience it really doesn’t.  I start my shopping each year by visiting a couple of my favorite websites that specialize in fair trade goods, and global awareness.  I made a decision a few years back to do my best to buy gifts that provide some type of charitable reward.  That way I can feel good about the whole buying process knowing that money I spend is not just about material goods but about helping others less fortunate.  There is the added bonus of shopping from the comfort of my couch, while I sip a holiday beverage.  Two of my favorite websites are http://www.serrv.org  and http://www.thehungersite.greatergood.com.  They offer a huge variety of wonderful things and each and every product is fair trade and helps support a global or local cause.  I have also recently discovered www.bravelets.com which sells bracelets that each support awareness and research for conditions such as Cancer or Autism or Alzheimers.   You can find your own favorite websites by googling fair trade gifts, or gifts that give back.  When you shop at these sites not only are you doing a good deed,  you are also guaranteed a unique and special gift.

When I have exhausted those websites I turn to my local mom and pop shops.  I love to support local business’s and will turn to them next for my holiday needs.  I am sure if you think about it, there are many small store’s in your area that you drive right by on a regular basis without ever thinking about going in.  It is good for our communities to support these hard working folks, so take the extra time and effort to seek them out.

Despite my best effort there are always going to be items I need to turn to the big retailers for and I am sure you will find yourself in that situation at some point.  All is not lost, you can still be a conscientious consumer there as well.  Pay attention to what big name retailers you are giving your money to.  Amazon now has a program where you can buy from them and support a local group at the same time.  I will confess to doing much of my shopping with them recently through their Smile Charity program because I can get what I need while supporting Theatre on Fire, a fantastic fledgling theatre company in Charlestown Ma.  Take the time to see if there are any folks working with amazon that you would like to support.  I also do much of my retail shopping at Target because they donate so much money to Special Education.  So don’t be a sheep, know who you are giving your money to and you can feel a little better about spending it.

While we are on the subject of donating, consider adopting a family to buy for this Christmas.  Nothing lifts the spirit faster than knowing you can make this difficult season easier and more joyful for someone who has less than you.  If you are without the money to do this then donate your time.  Find out what local groups are looking for help servicing the poor during the gift giving season.  I am a huge fan of a local charity in my area called My Brothers Keeper.  They help thousands of families all around me have a joyful holiday.  Some years I have been in a position to buy gifts for their program but even when I had nothing to spare there was a chance to help, I went to their location in Easton Ma and volunteered in the workshop wrapping gifts and putting together packages for needy families.  Take the time to see who in your area is helping out the folks who need it and jump on in to lend a hand.  I promise you it is what holiday spirit is made of.

When it comes to the stress and frenzied pace, my best advice is embrace the things that come along with the season, breathe deeply and often, and refuse to hurry.  Drink eggnog and cocoa and holiday inspired cocktails.  Listen to your favorite holiday music and decorate early.  But decorate with things that are fun and make you happy.  Stop worrying about having a Currier and Ives Christmas card for a house and put a blinking Santa on the lawn if it makes you warm and fuzzy.  In fact let go of what doesn’t make you happy altogether without fear of judgement.  If you hate sending cards, don’t do it.  If baking Christmas cookies makes you want to cry then go to the local bakery.  If you want lasagna for holiday dinner, go for it.  Do what you love, drop what you hate, seriously, it’s your holiday, make it what you want.  Don’t go to the mall if it makes you nuts and if you have to go, laugh about the craziness.

In fact, try smiling at everyone you see all through the holiday season, it is infectious, truly.  And if someone scowls back you can feel good that you are in a better place then grump pants and maybe, just maybe, your smile will make their day.  Even if it doesn’t, you will feel happier simply from the act of smiling, its science folks.  When all else fails and you cannot help that you are stressed out and everything seems to be going wrong, try what my sisters and I have done for years.  We take a moment, embrace our crankiness, yell Merry Christmas Dammit!! and then move on.  It makes us laugh a little and it releases a little tension.  Try it! It works!

Last but not least lets tackle the whole Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas thing head on.  I say if you are wishing someone a happy holiday because there are a whole bunch of holidays in a short amount of time and you would like to include them all, then fantastic, that’s great!  If you are saying it because you feel it is politically correct and you really want to say Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanzaa, then screw political correctness and say what you like.  Anyone who is offended by being wished a happy anything is just a big tool and I say they can suck it.

So final thoughts; the holidays are coming, like it or not.  Choose spirit and happiness, embrace the ideals that can make it such a wonderful time of year.   For those of you mourning loved ones during this time, rather than being sad, honor their memory by being a kind and loving person and celebrate them.  There is not a single person who loved you that wants you to miss out on the magic of the holidays in their name.  I will be thinking of each and every special person in my world as I sip my eggnog listening my sweet talented daughter sing carols and while I admire my colored lights and dancing Santa.  And in that moment I will feel grateful.  Happy Holidays!

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If you had asked my parents which of their children required the least amount of help for most of our lives, until recently the answer would have been me.  I held down a job from the time I was 12, went to a state school, had what looked like from the outside a successful marriage, lived in the big house on the cul-de-sac and gave birth to two healthy children.  Who could have known that when my life as I knew it blew up four and a half years ago that I would so completely make up for lost time?

It took a special kind of strength to allow myself to be weak and often my parents had to persuade me to let them help. Inventing a clever spin on how the charity was received so that I could find a way to live with it.  I imagined that things would get better when I moved in with the man that I loved, we would share expenses and emotional baggage, and fall asleep together every night knowing we were partners in life.  I was going to pick up some extra classes to teach and hopefully be able to work more hours now that I would not be the only adult at home.  Through it all I held on tight to my positive attitude, reminding myself that the freedom to find joy peace and love was worth the financial struggle.  I loved my job, my children were incredible and I was dating a wonderful guy.  Everything else would fall into place.

I was prepared for the road to get easier because thats what happens when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right?  Good Karma will come to those who do good, isn’t that what we are told?  So how was I to explain this past year to myself? My relationship ended the day after we looked at a house together, my ex-husband did not pay his share of my son’s first year of college tuition or any of the related costs, and one of my classes was canceled costing me roughly five grand. Despite working as many as five jobs at a time and trying to rethink everything I spent money on, I existed much of the last twelve months hanging on by my fingernails.  I mean this in a financial sense but also an emotional one.  I have struggled to find meaning in all of it, what could possibly be the upside of such a stripping down of dignity?

The simple answer is the gift of grace.  Who would have known that a willingness to put aside your last drop of pride in order to take care of your children would bring with it a special type of nobility.  When you get to the end of your rope and your strength has been pushed to its limit, you have no choice but to let go and trust the universe to catch you.  There is a strange freedom in knowing you have no options and that the price of dignity is no longer something you can afford.  Its hard to ask for help, for some of us it is crippling.  When it is your only option you are forced to learn the art of receiving gracefully.  If you are wise than you choose to learn about being humble instead of letting it humiliate you.  You embrace the feeling of such complete fragility and store it away so that you can tap back into it when you find yourself in a position to help others.

Like all difficult times, there are important lessons to be learned.  If I can recognize them and internalize them then I can look back on this time in my life as one filled with personal growth rather than pain.  I am learning that it is far more difficult to ask for help than it is to give it.  I have had to ask a wide array of people for a whole spectrum of things, ranging from a shoulder to cry on, to major child care help, to a loan or in some cases a flat out donation.  The range of responses has helped me understand what kind of person I want to be.  Some people have a special gift for giving assistance without shifting the power relationship between you.  Some give but make you pay, not financially but emotionally.  One person told me I should feel bad for asking; it will take years to recover from the mark left by that comment.  There are those who have been unable to help but have so kindly and sincerely expressed a wish that they could.  I am as grateful to those folks as the ones who were able to step up.  I will strive to be there when I am asked for my help in the future, not just with actions, but with kindness and empathy.

I am learning that I am not invincible and that even those who work very hard and try to be good people can sometimes falter.  If I find myself once again in a place of comfort I will look upon those less fortunate and know deep in my soul that what separates me from them is the strength of my safety net and that there but for the grace of god go I.  I am not better or worse than anyone else trying to make their way in this world.  We should all realize this more fully.  Often we are so sure that the reason we are in a better situation than someone else is because we were smarter or worked harder.  The truth is those things matter but they are not always missing when someone is in crisis. It is possible that the person you are judging is working as hard as you but is also the victim of circumstances beyond their control.

My belief that kindness is the only thing that makes this life worth living has been reinforced.  There have been moments when I survived purely because my soul was healed by an act of pure kindness.  There is simply no overstating this truth as far as I am concerned.

I have learned that sometimes in order to truly be strong you must be brave enough and wise enough to be weak.  I have my wonderful parents to thank for that lesson.  In a recent moment of utter despair when I was doing everything I could to keep from asking my mom and dad for one more drop of help, they tag teamed me on the phone.  First my mother, with tears in her voice, explained to me how it would kill her to know that I needed something and didn’t think I could ask, no matter how many times I had asked already.  My dad followed up by wrestling the phone out of her hands and in a shaking voice asked me if I understood that we were a team. He told me that this is what we do, we help each other, we are a team and at the end of the day, we do what needs to be done to make sure that each and everyone of us is ok.  Sometimes it is one persons turn and then later it may be someone else’s, but whoever was falling would be helped up by the rest of us.  In order to be the best mom I can be, I needed to be weak, accept help from the team.  Letting my pride get in the way would have hurt them, and I would rather die then let that happen.

And so finally, I have learned to accept help, with grace, and the new kind of dignity that comes from putting it all on the table for the sake of those who look to you to care for them and keep them safe.  I have learned to express my gratitude and say thank you from deep within my heart and soul.  As I write this, the light at the end of the tunnel is beckoning me and my faith grows that I will come out stronger than ever, but in the meantime, thanks to all of those around me who have linked arms, creating the safety net that has cradled me in my moments of need.  Thank you.

Ladies, I am just going to say it, fucking is fun and we need to embrace our right to enjoy it.  I wish I had come to this conclusion before I hit my forties, but hey, better late to the party then missing it altogether.

Let me begin this discussion by pointing out that it is incredibly important to teach our young people that no means no.  Our girls should be told that no one should pressure them into sex, and that they are in control of their bodies and their sexuality.  We should teach our boys to be respectful and honorable when it comes to women and never to push themselves on anyone or take advantage of a person who is under the influence and cannot give consent.  There is tremendous value in lessons regarding safe sex and waiting till you are responsible enough to handle all the emotional aspects of intimacy.  I do think, however that in our earnest, we sometimes plant the seeds for an attitude towards sex that does not serve us well when we are in mature, adult relationships.

I’m not sure exactly how it happens, but once we are past the stage of frenzied teenage hormones and we have become comfortable with our partners, we operate under the assumption that sex is a commodity that woman get to dole out or withhold, and its men’s job to beg for it.  It somehow becomes ours to give or refuse, and the guys are perpetually put in the position of initiators. I am here to suggest that this arraignment does a grave disservice to both genders.

Ok women, before you get up in arms, let me ask you this; how would you feel if you went to kiss your partner and they turned you away.  What if you decided that you were all hot and bothered one night, planned a romantic evening, wore your sexiest get-up and they said, “yeah… I’m really not in the mood”?   You would be furious, insulted, maybe a little humiliated, and yet we turn down our guys all the time and expect them to recover from rejection over and over again.  Believe me, I am not implying that anyone should be bullied into sex or should have to comply when they are sick or miserable.  I am simply suggesting that you consider a request for intimacy on a night you’re not really interested like seeing a movie you wouldn’t have chosen if your guy hadn’t wanted to see it, or going to a restaurant you don’t love because its his favorite.  Give it a whirl not because its your duty or because you have been pushed into it, but because you love your partner and you are willing to give it a try.  Here is the kicker, nerve endings are nerve endings, and more often than not, before you know it, you are having a great time too.

I know what you’re thinking, ok, so I do that for the man, what do I get out of it?  Well, this is what I have come to realize, when women are always the ones who get to say yea or nay, it stifles our ability to enjoy sex to the fullest.  Just the concept that men are always after it and women are always saying no, creates the notion that men like sex more than women.  Once you plant an idea like that, it has a nasty way of taking root.  Not to mention, despite our supposed  growth in areas of sexuality, down deep there is still that nagging thought that if a woman admits to loving sex, then she is a whore.  Well I say, fuck that!  Sex is fun ladies, take it back! Decide right here and now, that you are going to enjoy it to the fullest and have it as often as possible.  For some of you this is a larger shift in thinking than others and you are probably not sure where to begin.  No worries, I am going to give some advice on how to do this, and stay with me guys because not only can you learn from my words of wisdom to the ladies, but I have some helpful hints for you that I promise are a straight path to getting laid.

Ok women, lets begin by just thinking about sex more often.  Allow your mind to wander several times a day, think about what really turns you on and then picture it happening.  In fact make a “fuck it” list.  Its like a bucket list only sexier 😉 Share this list with your partner and start making plans.  Reconsider some of the things that you previously put away in the “I would never do that” file.  Be brave, if you love and trust the person you are with than there is really no limits to the fun you can have.

Speaking of fun, try to reclaim your sense of adventure but keep your sense of humor.  Lets face it, sex can be funny sometimes.  Not everything on your list will turn out as planned and not every position is as good in practice as it is in theory.  Its ok to laugh in bed and admit that you NEVER want to do that again.

Remember that its your sex too, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, give him a helping hand, or say, “hey I’m not done yet” We are so lucky, we can have all kinds of orgasms, no need to stop at just one even if he is done. You may be thinking, “oh but he is too tired once he has cum”  Yeah? well hand him a toy and tell him what to do!  Let him know what your favorite stuff is and then show him how to be the best at it.  Try not to worry that you aren’t supposed to like something, or that you may be judged.  If you have chosen your partner well enough than the bed should be a no judgement zone.  Feel free to have some cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, ass smacking fun if thats what floats your boat.  You want to make noise? Go for it. Wonder what it would be like to make him lay perfectly still while you tease him until he says PLEASE, by all means suggest it. In return don’t judge him either, fair is fair.  Try your hardest not to look horrified or say, oh gross!!!

Do things a “lady” is not supposed to do.  Tell him in the middle of the day that you can’t stop thinking about fucking him.  Suggest he come home on his lunch hour and be waiting naked. Watch a little female friendly porn and discover some new positions. Masturbate way more often, sexual stimulation has a funny way of creating desire rather than quelling it.  Most importantly; tell yourself from now on, barring sickness, or natural disaster, you will simply not say no.

Im sure that suggestion really pisses some woman off.  You may be thinking that to make such a promise would make you feel subservient or like a slut.  I can tell you from personal experience that nothing is further from the truth.  I made such a pledge to myself during my first serious relationship following my divorce.  It was an attempt to reclaim my sexuality which had seemed so lost to me.  The result of this little experiment was that I felt empowered, and that made me brave, which led to a type of equality in the bedroom that I had never known. This new equality in turn fueled the most mind blowing sex I have ever experienced.  Guess what ladies? When the sex gets really good, you stop wanting to say no.  If it is impossible, really impossible for you to have the level of trust that allows this to happen, then you are with the wrong partner.

Ok guys your turn, there are things you can do in order to create the kind of environment where a woman feels inclined to follow some of the advice I have just given.  I promise you, take my words to heart and you will be getting laid so often you’ll be begging for a break.

First and foremost, be kind and trusting in the other areas of your relationship.  When we feel safe, loved and cherished outside of the bedroom, it is a hell of a lot easier to be wild, fun, and open minded in it.  To be honest, romance is most effective when it shows up in the day to day stuff, the bedroom is a place for the end result, its not the starting line.  Give us the level of security that lets us feel comfortable taking risks and you will not be disappointed.

Speaking of romance, do you know what a grown woman finds romantic?  I will tell you a secret, flowers and chocolates are lovely but nothing drops a pair of undies faster then taking something off a woman’s “to do” list.  Do her dishes, the laundry, clean her car, and she will be naked in no time.  When our mind is not occupied with all the things we have to get done, we are free to think about trying that crazy thing we saw on Redtube the other day. 😉

Most importantly guys? Do not fall prey to the deadly Madonna/Whore complex.  This is that no win way of thinking that separates woman into good girl and bad girl categories.  I promise you, we can still be the kind of girl you take home to mom and also be capable of swinging from the chandelier, monkey fucking.  If we finally get brave enough to give you the kind of sex you dream about, then for heavens sake, don’t make us feel badly for it.  Count your blessings, let us know how unbelievably sexy you think we are then make sure you get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

There are the things you are allowed to admit in this world and then there are things you are supposed to deny, even to yourself.  I have found that I am not particularly good at pretending or keeping what I consider personal truths to myself.  I am more of a “the emperor is naked” kinda gal.  So in that spirit I will risk the wrath of all the well meaning people in my life and say it – I don’t want to be alone; I don’t, I want to be part of a couple, a plus one, someone’s partner.  I know that is not the “I am woman hear me roar” thing to say, but it is the truth, and I have decided to stop beating myself up about it and embrace it.

In my experience, when this admission is made to others, it typically provokes a pretty universal reaction; so I am going to use this blog as an opportunity to have that conversation with everyone at once.  I figure it saves me from saying the same things over and over, and perhaps my feelings will resonate with someone else who shares my outlook on the subject.

WELL MEANING RESPONSE: You don’t need someone else to make you whole, you need to be ok all by yourself.

ME:     You’re right, I don’t.  I am a wonderful complete person all by myself.  I like me…. a lot! (another thing you are not supposed to say out loud)  I enjoy my own company very much and I have no problem spending long stretches all alone.  I will get a drink, dinner, see a movie, all solo without a second thought.  You know what else? I find myself very amusing and quite entertaining.  I would definitely hang out with me if I were someone else!

The irony is that I discovered much of this while I was still married.  There is nothing  lonelier than feeling alone while you are in a relationship with someone else.  I fought hard to build my own self sufficient life that did not require the emotional support of my husband to feel whole.  After my divorce I continued my journey to independence and took great pride in my ability to handle things without a man.  I still remember the day I put together a kitchen table and replaced two toilet seats with no help from anyone.  For some that may not seem like much, but for the newly single me it was a victorious day.

I guess what I have come to recognize is there is a difference between needing and wanting.  It seems we are allowed to have preferences without judgement on a myriad of other subjects.  You can prefer to live in the city or be more of a country gal, you can like yourself better in short hair or long, you can label yourself a cat person or a dog person, but for some reason admitting you would rather be part of a couple as opposed to single makes you a weak, needy, perhaps even desperate female.

Well I am one of the strongest women I know, I put my needs last on a regular basis and the only thing I ever feel desperate about is whether or not I can provide for my children.  And yet, my vision of my life has always and continues to include a partner.  The truth is, I prefer being in a relationship.  I don’t need to be, the world won’t end if I am not, but I sure as hell want it. Single doesn’t feel organic to me, it just doesn’t fit.

WELL MEANING RESPONSE: If you focus too much on wanting a relationship you will end up settling, it will happen when you are not looking.

ME:    Just because I want something and am working actively towards obtaining it does not mean I will settle.  In fact my desire to be in a relationship was ignited when a man I dated raised the bar for what I dared to expect from a partner.  In fairness, he also gave me insight into what was unacceptable to me.  I learned that sometimes love isn’t enough, the equation is more complicated than that.  Between the insight gained during those 3 years and what I already knew from my marriage, I am less likely to settle now than I ever have been before.

I have come to understand that I have my own unique key code for what is a good fit.  I don’t need to justify it or explain it, I just need to honor it.  Trying to deny it because I think I am not worthy of having everything I want, or because it makes me feel rigid or selfish, is the surest path to settling.  My criteria includes big things like honesty, kindness, humor and fidelity, but it also includes a plethora of “quality of life” items.  It may seem silly to some, but I want a guy who enjoys their morning cup of coffee as much as me, has an affinity for comfy pajamas, loves a morning campfire with a lake view, and thinks ice cold oysters and wine on a rooftop bar in the summer is heaven.  They need to “get” my relationship with my black Frye harness boots and accept my less than mainstream wardrobe.

I have learned that just because someone is a good person, doesn’t mean that they are a good person for me.  It’s not ok to be inflexible but its ok to strive to create an atmosphere conducive to staying true to myself. I am not looking for someone with all the same beliefs and interests as me, but the things I love most I would really like to share with the person who lies next to me at night (in soft cotton lounge pants and a clean t-shirt) I have decided that I am worth someone who fits my key code and I don’t want to change myself to better meet someone else’s list of must haves.

Accepting that I have criteria has led me to the realization that I have a better chance of meeting said criteria if I actively look.  When we look for a home, a job, a car, we don’t just decide if its meant to be it will happen and wait for it to come along.  Once we decide that we desire these things, off we go with our list of must and must not haves; using all our available resources to acquire the best match.  We understand that our happiness is reliant on our ability to find a good fit.  Given the importance your partner plays in your day to day contentment, I believe the search for a suitable mate should be given the same level of importance.  This doesn’t mean that I am in a rush and I am certainly happy to have fun test driving along the way.  Everything is part of the journey and sometimes the stops along the way are incredibly fun even if you know they are not your ultimate destination ( I am thinking of someone in particular here *wink*)

WELL MEANING RESPONSE: Being married isn’t all its cracked up to be OR Be careful what you wish for OR You should enjoy all the great things about being single OR I envy your life, the grass is always greener etc…..

ME:    Who the hell said anything about marriage???? Believe me I know, I was married for 18 years.  I am a big proponent of blooming where you are planted, of finding the inherent joys in your present situation.  Please understand, knowing I would be happier as part of a couple does not mean I am unhappy as a single person or that I have any desire to legally bind myself to another human being ever again. (nah, I’m not bitter)  I have no idea how long this will be my status and I do not intend to waste my freedom by focusing on the cons of flying solo.  I am well aware that there is a healthy list of pros.

I love that I don’t have to explain the purchase of a new pair of shoes, share the remote, or explain the nature of any friendship with a man.  I am grateful for every girls night out, and cherish not having to answer to anyone regarding what time I got home.  I have less laundry, cook to please myself and don’t have to listen to suggestions on how I should drive.  There is no doubt I will mourn all of these things when and if I find prince charming.

Here is the flip side however; as I ventured out in the aftermath of a recent blizzard and struggled to shovel the mountains of snow, I became acutely aware that the things I miss most about being with someone are not the fun romantic aspects of love.  I miss having someone to share sadness, challenges, and fear with.  I was wishing I had someone to take shifts with me while the other made hot cocoa, to literally and figuratively weather the storm with me.  Worry about it together, prepare for it as a team, and deal with the aftermath as a united front.  I miss that “you and me against the world” feeling. The knowledge that someone has seen you in the morning and when your sick as a dog, dealt with your PMS, born the brunt of your bad day, shared a bathroom with you, traveled beside you, met your family, AND they still love you.

So its not that I don’t count my blessings, I strive every day to be a glass half full girl; its just that when I put the two lists next to each other, one speaks to me more.  I am under no illusion that my point of view is the correct one, but the reality is, these are the eyes I look through.  Now, if any of you out there has a nice friend……

In my favorite disney movie, Mulan, there is a scene in which the main characters march off to war singing about wanting a girl worth fighting for. They are looking for motivation to carry them through the difficulties they are about to endure.  I have decided that this simple disney moment has hit on what is at the heart of the most successful relationships.  The willingness to fight for your partner, for your bond, your future.

If you look around at the most successful couples you know and compare them to the ones who have fallen apart or who are unhappy you may be surprised to find that on the surface they share similar issues.  As a professor of Human Communications I have learned and teach that in most cases the difference between success or failure in a relationship is not what you are fighting about but how you are fighting about them.  Good communication is at the core.  And while I believe this is true, in my personal experience and observation I have come to the conclusion that it goes even deeper than this.  The strongest happiest couples I know are ones where they are willing to fight not just with each other, but for each other.

Please understand that I am not referring to physical altercations, this is not a suggestion that you get into a bar fight over your girlfriends honor.  I am talking about the courage it takes to be vulnerable and put yourself on the line emotionally; knowing you could be terribly hurt but risking it anyway.  In a good partnership we are able to take turns doing this; recognizing that the one we love is unable to be the strong one at this moment and we have to step up to the plate and carry the weight.

One of the most concrete examples of this may be when the two of you are struggling to work through a very rough patch and you can see the one you love pulling away, getting ready to run.  The words are on their lips, the keys are in their hands.  At this moment you have a choice; protect yourself from being vulnerable or hurt and let them go, or risk rejection and fight for them.  Let them know that you will do what it takes, you will be the strong one while they are feeling weak.  Tell them you want them to stay. Fight for them.

We may believe that a person is playing games with us, or that the end is inevitable, perhaps we consider ourselves weak and pathetic if we put ourselves on the line. I would suggest however, that it is just as possible the one running simply believes they are out of options and would give anything to have someone show them another way.  Remember that when you opt not to fight for someone, the result is that they feel dismissed, to  their core.  Apathy is so much more painful than anger

Sometimes the situation is more subtle than that.  Ask yourself what do you do when your partner seems less satisfied overall, less engaged.  Do you decide you better protect yourself from possible future rejection and pull back yourself?  Do you say, hey, if they aren’t going to give it their all then I am not either?  If this is your typical reaction, I simply ask that you think about what might happen if you responded instead by reassuring them, giving them reason to believe in the strength of your connection?  Think back over your relationship and ask yourself if they have ever done that for you when you were less than sure.  It is simply not possible for one person to carry the emotional burden of keeping love strong.  It must be shared, each one taking on the job when the other cannot.

Equally important is what lens you look through when you see your loved one.    Is it your feelings, your heart, your gut reaction to who they are and what they mean to you that shapes what you see?  Or are you instead influenced by how others see them? Do you love them more when others admire them and think they are worthy?  Do you find it harder to tap into your feelings when others disapprove or put them down?  The truth is, fighting for someone means that you love them and have their back based on what you see in them, not what the world sees.  No one can survive that kind of scrutiny long term.  The strongest of couples understand that sometimes you love “even though” and sometimes you love “especially because”

I am aware that when we choose the safer easier road, it is not because we are bad people or incapable; it is because we have been hurt and broken in the past.  Over the years we have learned that it is better to pro-actively protect ourselves than risk being vulnerable.  Short term it is an effective strategy; but long term it results in a life without anything of real substance.  Look around you and notice what in your life you have obtained that brings you the most satisfaction?  My guess is that the items and accomplishments on that list were not things easily gained.  They were what you risked the most for, fought the hardest to obtain.

One final thought, this is not an essay about how to become “worth fighting for” because each and everyone of us has that potential.  It is instead a reminder to pick partners with enough courage to fight for you and for you to be with people you are willing to fight for as well.  At the end of the day it really is just the two of you, be brave.  I have faith, I will find the person who thinks I am a girl worth fighting for.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving, and so we are surrounded by reminders to be thankful and aware of our blessings.  Television, newspapers, blogs, and social networks are full of declarations of what we should be grateful for, and yet everywhere I turn I see cranky faces and harried people rushing around to get things done.  That is, until I stopped by to see my godson to wish him a very happy fifth birthday.

Nate Malia is a quirky little fellow, filled with energy, imagination, and a vocabulary that rivals most adults. He is absolutely one of my favorite people on this planet, and his beaming face and pure joy hit me like a tornado when I walked through the door.  I thought to myself, hmmm, if we could all see the world through his lens, perhaps we wouldn’t have to try so hard to be grateful and thankful and filled with joy, it would just be what we were, our constant.  So with that in mind, I have written what I believe Nate innately has on his gratitude list.  Perhaps this five year old has some insight that we can all benefit from.

1. Dry pants- As Nate navigates the perils of potty training, it is easy to see the pure relief and joy when he is clean and dry.  Now I may not have thought this relevant a while back, but I have found that of late a good hearty sneeze is cause for some concern in this department.  I would be lying if I did not say that dry pants at the end of a sneezing fit is reason for celebration on my part.

2. People who are happy to see you- Nate is still at the age where everywhere he goes, people are pretty happy to see him.  He goes to school and is greeted with enthusiasm at the door, he comes home to parents who have missed him, his friends are very excited whenever there is a play date; and at each of these moments his face lights up and his bum does a little happy wiggle.  Now as grown ups, it is rare that someone squeals with delight when they see you, rare, but it does happen sometimes.  Nate has reminded me what that feels like, he has taken to squealing and dancing at the top of the stairs whenever I come over, this is followed by him flinging himself at me and giving me hugs and kisses.  We should all take a moment to recognize and feel good about those moments when our arrival has really made someones day.  I guarantee you there is a friend or relative that would love to see you right now.

3. One or two really good toys- We get obsessed sometimes with having the newest, the latest, the best version of whatever we consider our “toys”, we barely use what we were so enamored with a week ago and we are off to find our next material fix. Nate  is surrounded by toys of all types but he can most often be found with the same two items.  In one hand, taggy; a square of blanket with a number of silky tags sewn around the edges, and  in the other,a small plastic Woody action figure from the movie Toy Story.  The taggy is worn and the action figure is missing part of one leg and one arm. But for Nate this doesn’t detract from their worth; one provides tactile comfort and the other is a beloved friend.  There is something to be said for the pure sentimentality and love that transcends newness or perfection.  Look around your world and enjoy the comfort of something that has sentimental meaning for you, has served you well.   Let that fill the space inside you that is typically reserved for consumerism.

4. A nice bath and clean jammies- When Nate comes running out of the bathroom after his nightly bath, smelling yummy, squeaky clean, in his favorite super hero pj’s, he is about as happy as a person can be.  There is just something magical in warm water, scented soap, fluffy towels and your favorite bedtime apparel.  Why don’t we take the time to do that more often?  So many nights wasted on mindless tv or internet surfing when we could be soothing our souls.

5. A good snack- Nate has not yet developed an unhealthy relationship with food.  To him a good snack is one of the highlights of his day, not because he his feeding his unhappiness or using food as a reward, but simply because it tastes good and he was hungry.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if all of us stopped thinking of food as either our enemy or as a replacement for one emotion or another.  How refreshing to simply enjoy it when it is needed, and to appreciate that we are not going without.

6. Snuggles- When Nate is having a moment where joy does not come as easily, his solution is to have me to lay on the couch and for him to climb up on to my body until he is practically sitting on my shoulder.  He will clutch his taggy with one hand and twirl my hair with his other.  I confess I get as much or more out of these sessions as he does.  That tiny hand playing with my hair is heaven on earth.  Fair warning, I am going to start snuggling a bit more indiscriminately, If you are a friend, you may fall victim.

7. A good nap- Seriously, who isn’t better after a good nap? Nate is aware of their healing properties and I will try to stay aware of that as well. Nap people, nap! And then don’t feel guilty about it, feel grateful that you got a moment to recharge.  The world would be a far better place if we all got a little more rest.

Armed with this new insight, I will spend Thanksgiving with people who are always happy to see me, enjoy delicious food, take a nap, snuggle at least one person if not more, try not to sneeze, and be happy for the things already in my possession. I will end the day with a nice bath and my favorite pajamas.  Happy Thanksgiving!

My oldest child, my son, my heart walking outside my body, my baby boy, will leave me on tuesday evening August 28th 2012 and fly off to London where he will spend his freshman year of college.  Yes he will return, yes we will live under the same roof again for summers and vacations, but I am acutely aware that our relationship will not have the same dynamic ever again.  My job as parent will never be over but my role in creating the man he will be is essentially done, I scramble in these final moments wondering if I have given him everything he needs, if I have said everything that needs to be said.  I feel like there is five minutes left during an exam period and I have not had the chance to go back and check my work.  I will send him off with a sealed envelope containing a letter to read on the plane.  Call it my swan song, my final rally, my hail mary pass, I know it is more for me than him but nonetheless….

Dearest sweetest Aidan;

There is so much I want to say, so much I want you to know, but as I stand here in the threshold, watching you step into the first phase of adulthood I find myself unsure of where to even begin.  I guess I will begin by telling you how grateful I am that you are my son.

This past year I have had the honor of watching you reap the rewards of many years of hard work, integrity and determination.  With each school acceptance notification, scholarship offer and athletic letter earned, my pride grew.  My greatest wish for you as a parent, was that you become a decent person, a good citizen of this world.  If I had any doubt that this had come to fruition it would be erased by the words your teachers and peers made sure they said to me during graduation season.  I am very aware of what a privilege it is to be your mom and I promise you that I will never lose sight of that.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

When you have stepped on that plane our relationship as mother and son will shift forever.  I will always be here for you when you need me and even when you don’t, but you will never again be completely in my care.  You will return to this house as more of a visitor than a resident and you will more firmly hold your fate in your own hands.  Knowing this, please indulge me as I take one last opportunity to guide you, try to fit in this one letter the things I most want you to know.

1.  Listen to your moral compass- Yours is strong, in your heart you know right from wrong; remember that there is no one standing next to you to nudge you in the right direction.  It is completely up to you.  Please know that I am not talking about rules, or social norms, I am talking about what you in your heart know is the right thing to do.  Now that you are out on your own you will bear the full weight of consequences brought on by poor choices.  Sometimes it is just a matter of taking the time to really think about the full extent and ramifications of what you do or do not do.

2. Forgive Yourself-  Even with the best of intentions you will make mistakes.  Rather than punish yourself, take the opportunity to learn from them.  There is nothing to be gained by wallowing in regret.  There is a great deal to be gained by self-reflection and determination to do better in the future.

3. Cut people some slack-  For the most part we are all doing our best to make our way in this world and we all have moments where the judgement of our peers neglects to see what is good in us.  Your way isn’t the only way nor is it necessarily the best way; it is simply your way.

4.  Be true to yourself- Simply your way is just fine for you!

5.  Run with the fastest- Surround yourself with people who have kind hearts, good ethics and who work hard.  You will always be better off if your inner circle is made up of people who bring out the best in you.

6. Be kind, honest and moral- Nothing else in this world really matters, truly.  At the end of each day take a moment and ask yourself if you have been the best person you can be, when the answer is yes, there is no better gift you can give to yourself.  When the answer is no, try harder the next day.

7.  Remember that nothing is forever-  You can always shift and alter your path, change your mind, make a new plan.  That doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you smart enough to know when something isn’t working for you.  It also makes the journey more interesting.

Ok, my love, I think thats the best stuff I have left in my mommy repertoire.  Final thoughts; there are not words to describe the love I have for you, you are my greatest accomplishment, my best gift to the world, and a piece of me goes with you wherever you may be.  Please remember that I am a part of your heart and soul and take extra care to keep them both safe.

Love mom