Cleaning Up Christmas

There is something about dismantling the Christmas tree, no matter when it happens — something that makes me feel simultaneously nostalgic and impatient. The pre-Christmas process of choosing, setting up and then decorating the tree is communal in our family. One of the great pleasures is hearing the kids recognize various ornaments as long-lost friends as they shake off the tissue paper and then choose the perfect place to hang each one.

But taking the ornaments off the tree is almost always my job as The Mother, and it’s the decoration process in reverse: as each ornament is wrapped up again, instead of that little throb of joyful recognition it’s something more wistful. It makes me deeply aware of time passing and my children growing up, and of all the changes coming our way now that even the youngest is about to head off to college. The impatience is there in the wake of it, a kind of stiff-upper-lip salvation that says, Okay then, since we’re done with this Christmas and all the sweet reconnections it’s brought us, let’s just get on with it! Pack it up already and let’s usher in January! For God’s sake, where’s the new calendar?

I’m not sure how Christmas clean-up ended up as my job, but I suspect it’s out of the same semi-masochistic tendencies that drive other mildly neurotic mothering habits that lead us to take on the hidden, rather onerous tasks that make a house a home (such as changing sheets or cleaning out the nasty detritus in the kitchen drain). No one likes to pack up Christmas. And every mother wants to make the holiday as pure and lovely as possible for her kids. So we gladly engage them in the anticipatory fun of preparation and the sated relaxation of the holiday… and then the Christmas tree and whatever other decorations announce the season become a bit invisible. No one is much motivated to turn on the tree lights on December 26th, and though everyone does a part of the post-presents clean-up, the scene itself just kind of fades into the background, though all the trappings are still there. 

And then here it is January and a new year already. We help our kids get ready to plunge back into school, or we pack up a box of lovely new stuff there isn’t room for in the suitcase and ship it out to them in Chicago or wherever it is they’ve landed for this phase of their lives. And after they’re out of sight we finally set to work to pack it all away for another year, like the stage hands who take down the elaborate set after the show is over, sparing the audience.

I don’t really mind. Every once in a while I do feel like announcing, in a slightly passive-aggressive way: Hey folks! This stuff doesn’t happen by itself! And then I remember all the years of my own growing up, how after Christmas there would be a day when I’d come home from school and suddenly realize that everything was back to normal — just a winter day, post-Christmas. My mother never announced that she had put away the decorations and gotten the tree out of the house. But I’m pretty sure she never had any elves helping out.

Living Unplugged

I’m not a very good blogger, because as one day slips into another the notion of writing another post tends to drop to the bottom of the priority pile, behind the more pressing needs of work, kids, laundry, gardening and errands. It also ranks lower than a morning bike ride, spiritual practice (already slipping more than I’d like) and a bit of quiet time to sit on our deck at the close of the day and admire the changing light and the birdsong.

Consequently, most of what translates into a posting when I do get around to it is not what I envisioned when I first began to blog. I don’t have enough will toward speed and timeliness to read the news and other blogs first thing in the morning and then add my commentary or particular spin to whatever seems to be the breaking story. I’m not disinterested in most of it and I’m quite opinionated on a lot of it —  just not in enough of a hurry. So by the time I have the time, the pressing issues of the day seem to suddenly be the pressing issues of the day before yesterday or even of last week, and any commentary seems a bit silly. What I end up with instead are these ruminations on life, writ small: my life, my perspective, the bits of drama that unfold in my family or work or even in my garden.

And now I’m heading out on vacation for two weeks. Part of the time I’ll be in Spokane, where my mother’s slowly unfolding Alzheimer’s disease tinges all our gatherings with the low-horizon clouds of dread for what is to come. For now, she is very much herself: lively, competent, mostly keeping track of things, and prone to statements like: “I’m going to be senile one of these days but I’m not senile yet, so quit patronizing me!” Which tends to be deeply reassuring.

The rest of the time we will be gathered in the marvelous chaos of an extended family (and friends-of-the-family) that has happened for the last eight summers at Priest Lake, Idaho. Upper Priest Lake is wilderness, and we’ve seen moose and bear, elk, deer, porcupine and eagles. Where we spend our week is a sprawling, casual network of very basic cabins, where we’d be too much on top of each other except that we’re mostly outside hiking, kayaking, swimming or reading. For some reason known only to the gods of procreation, absolutely everyone my generation who has kids managed to reproduce female only, so there’s a posse of more than a dozen girls ranging in age from two to nineteen. It’s all pretty perfect.

I won’t be taking my computer. Sometimes that’s the only way to really be on vacation: to vacate the electronic premises entirely and remember what it’s like to be unplugged for two whole weeks. There are other networks to tune into, after all: lake water, wind, sun, birdsong, sunsets, leisurely conversations. And a hike to the top of Mout Roothann, where I’ve long demanded that my ashes be scattered once I’ve slipped this mortal coil. My kids prefer the beach, so I figure that’s the best way to make sure they get to the top one day and see that 360 degrees of Rocky Mountain horizon. It is one of the most exhilarating and deeply satisfying vistas I’ve ever known.

No postings for at least two weeks. Happy vacating.

Death By Blogging?

I know there’s likely to be another explanation, or a whole host of them. How can someone actually die from too much blogging? But that’s more or less how it was reported in the press a few days ago: two confirmed (unrelated) deaths of passionately committed bloggers, both of whom appeared to have been caught up in their work so intently that they failed to notice that their hearts were wearing out.

Of course as a neophyte blogger, this story confirmed all of my secret fears in spades. Not that it ever occurred to me that I (or anyone else) could die from the habit, but in truth the thing that kept me from starting a blog for so long was the dread that it would take on a life of its own and create one more thread of obligation wrapping around me. Once I got started I would be bound by the duties that come along with ownership, kind of like taking on a new pet: feed it, clean it, take it out for a walk. For God’s sake, don’t be neglectful, don’t leave it by itself for too long! If you can’t commit to that stuff, you don’t go out and get a dog, right?

Maybe back in the old days, like five years ago, blogs could be cared for by posting every week or so. Now it appears there are kinds of blogs, like the ones that proved fatal, in which it’s critical to write a post the very second that breaking news occurs; otherwise, readers (who I guess are also hovering over their keyboards, sleepless at 3:00am?) will go elsewhere.

I am not in danger of death by blogging, but I am having doubts about whether or not I’m cut out for this commitment. Some of us are more susceptible to this kind of doubt than others. If you are the type of person who lets the poinsettia linger (pathetically) until April and feels guilty even then for letting it die; the type who feels like your ethics are slipping when you throw out over-ripe bananas instead of dutifully making them into banana bread; the type who is compelled to capture the errant ladybugs in the house and march downstairs to release them… well, you get the picture. It’s a tendency toward obligation overload. Anything that is yours (even by virtue of unintentionally ending up in your home) you must attend to. And if a blog is yours (as a blog is now mine), it must, of course, be attended to.

But so must the garden be tended, and this is the first week when we’ve had any decent spring weather. So I have been out there raking leaves, cutting dead branches, digging up the sweet dark dirt and listening to the pileated woodpeckers holler at each other. The lettuce, peas and kale have sprouted; the crocuses, daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom, and the spring frogs we call peepers are singing their little hearts out, hoping to get lucky.

Somewhere out there, people are so intently melded with their computers that they don’t know the earth has tilted into springtime. I know, it’s hard and you might feel guilty, but here’s some unsolicited advice: Give it a rest. Take a sabbath. Go listen to the peepers tonight, or to whatever sings in your part of the world when the earth starts to warm. And please — get your heart checked out!

Fear and Trembling in the Blogosphere

Sometimes I wonder when I will finally hit my technology threshold and become wholly incompetent in the art of adaptation. This is my first posting on my first blog, and I know I’m late to the party. There is a simple explanation: I am a techno-peasant, and I am old. Only fifty-two, but still: the generation gaps, which used to be counted in decades, now seem to occur every few years.I taught myself how to type on a manual typewriter in my first year of college; my kids learned to type in school, on computers, in second grade. I bought my first computer when I was thirty-one; my kids have been using them since they were tall enough to drool on the keyboard. And I didn’t really start using e-mail consistently until about the end of the last century. By now, as my daughters explain to me pityingly, e-mail is “old people’s technology”. The girls are now thirteen and fourteen years old and, with the temporary schizophrenia that characterizes the teenage years, they are capable of simultaneously wishing their parents were cool and finding it “gross” that we are on Face Book.So why would I start to blog? There are three reasons, none of which have to do with a perverse need to add one more thing into my insanely packed days.

Number one: I am really tired of the degree to which “religion” and the “religious perspective” are still so dominated by the those who are conservative in their faith and right-wing in their politics. I want to be one more voice exploring the complexity and diversity of religious faith and the ways in which it compels those of us who are progressive in our politics toward action in the world.

Number two: I am at least as tired of the degree to which many secular progressives believe not only that they themselves have no use for religion, but that religious people in general are foolish, irrelevant and vaguely embarrassing. For those folks who draw all their hope, inspiration, perseverance and courage from purely secular convictions and heroes, good for you! But I’d like to help generate a bit more respect, open-hearted curiosity toward and solidarity with those of us who draw these things from our religious faith.

And third? I think it’s a form of spiritual discipline to notice where the boundaries are for our various comfort zones and stretch ourselves out of them a little. I am most deeply in my comfort zone in the truly “old people’s technology” of the printed page; so I am pushing back against my Luddite soul in the hope that the vast network of techno-wizards out there will be tolerant of my blunders and kind in your guidance.

So… even though I really have no idea what I’m doing, off I go! Call it an act of faith…