Monday, December 2, 2002

Santa Claus' Last Stand

I am sure every family has unique ways of celebrating the Christmas season. Going to the holiday parade, hanging of the greens, or just eating a delicious meal together, every family has their own exclusive way to celebrate Christmas with their immediate family. My family is just like everyone else, and we have many Christmas rituals that have become traditions and it does not seem like Christmas without them.

I know it may seem like we are rushing the season, but we have always put our Christmas tree up on Thanksgiving Day. We look forward to setting up the tree and decorating with all the lights and ornaments. Last year my husband added a special feature to our tree—a revolving tree stand. Now, not only do we have many colorful lights and hundreds of wonderful ornaments, but the tree slowly turns so every side is visible. The first time I saw the tree all lit up, I wasn’t sure if I was excited or just nauseous with motion sickness, but after a few minutes, it began to grow on me. One major advantage to the revolving tree is more of my precious ornaments can be seen.

Our Christmas traditions have grown into the non-stop, hurry-hurry, rush-rush of one huge meal after another and then the outrageous amount of gifts there are to open. It seems we have become so trained to try and make our holiday season as picture perfect as possible that we have forgotten to slow down and just enjoy the season.

My children have always been my motivation when it came to the holiday seasons. I’m guilty of trying to make my children’s Christmas’ as perfect as possible. I always had to make sure I had just the right gift and that I had spent equal amounts of money on each child, which can be really hard if there, is a big age difference in your children. Now that I have two grown daughters and a ten-year-old, my enthusiasm to have the “perfect Christmas” is starting to fade. I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for a more simple type of celebration. Is it because I’m getting older, or is it because my children are getting older?

This Christmas will revolve around that inevitable question…”Momma is Santa Claus real?” I don’t think there is a parent out there who has not felt that pang of sadness when their children stop believing in Santa. Although my brain tells me that Christine has stopped believing in Santa, my heart has a hard time accepting. I hate to see this tiny bit of childhood fantasy come to an end. Christmas is truly for children but I am going to miss playing “Santa” every year. ZI am going to miss making sure there are just enough crumbs left on Santa’s plate so the girls think he got full. Or, meticulously wrapping each and every gift from Santa, all in the same type of paper with the same types of bows. Or, putting on bright red lipstick and kissing each girl on the cheek every Christmas Eve, just so they will think Santa cam in to kiss them.

This year, it will be just me, my hubby and Christine to open gifts on Christmas morning. I am not going to make an issue of Santa, I’ll just do like I did with the big girls, and I’ll ignore it. I never had the Santa “talk” with Amber or Marie, and I probably won’t with Christine. They have all three asked me, at one time or another, if “I” believed in Santa and my answer was always “YES”. I firmly believe that when a child wants to stop believing, he or she will, but they should not be forced to give up the fantasy before they are ready. So, until Christine is ready to truly stop believing, we will still open gifts on Christmas morning. In all honesty, my husband can’t wait until Christine decides she wants to open up ALL her gifts on Christmas Eve, just like her sisters. Then we can stop getting up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. Now that is one tradition I won’t miss!

© Bobbi Rightmyer, December 2002

Saturday, June 8, 2002

The Lessons of a Child

All our lives we have been taught to learn from the examples set forth by my elders. We learn by reaping the benefits of life by following the rules imposed on us by our parents. We learn by fostering information and lessons from our school teachers. We learn from the patience and unconditional love shown us by our grandparents. We also learn by following examples of faith observed by our religious leaders. But how many times do we learn from someone younger, like a child? My life recently entered a new phase of education, and the teacher. . ? My nine-year-old daughter, Christine.

Raising children has been the hardest job I have ever tried to tackle. Being responsible for molding and shaping the life of another human being is a taunting task, and there have been many, many times when I have felt like a failure. There have also been many other times when I have been in awe of the lessons my children have learned. As a parent, I want what every other parent wants, for my children to be happy, healthy, and to have all the advantages life has to offer. As my oldest two daughters reach adulthood, I look back and realize I didn’t do such a bad job after all.

The oldest, Amber, choosing not to pursue a college career, is a happy, hardworking member of our society. She is following her own dreams, even though they were not my dreams for her. She is her own woman and she has learned to support herself by following the examples of the adults in her life. My middle daughter, Marie, is preparing to graduate high school, and as an honor student, again my hopes are high that she will continue her education. But like her older sister, Marie is her own woman and she will not be pushed into a preordained mold. At this writing, she is still undecided about her plans for the future, but I rest assured knowing she has the skills and intelligence to following her own plan for the future.

As for my youngest daughter, Christine has had a much more relaxed upbringing in comparison to her sisters. When Amber was born she brought with her all my insecurities of being a first time parent. Everything had to be Dr. Spock perfect, so I placed undo pressure on her to be perfect. When Marie was born, I threw Dr. Spock out the window because I was doing good just to keep two children clean and feed. By the time Christine arrived, I had already lived through every possible scenario of childhood. I learned it doesn’t matter how early my child walked or talked, or what kind of clothes they wore, or if their face and hands were clean 100 percent of the time. By the time children reach adulthood, none of their childhood accomplishments matter. When I see Christine doing something that is against the norm, I have learned to ask myself, “Will it matter in ten years?” If the answer is no, then I don’t force my opinion on her. Like her sisters, she is growing into her own person.

As for me, Christine has taught me that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. I have always considered myself a religious person, even though my church attendance has been sporadic throughout the years. My oldest daughters have adopted my relaxed ideas on religion, but not Christine. She has embraced religion with a passion I haven’t seen since my Granny Devine was alive. Christine is active in every aspect of church life from choir to GA’s (Girls in Action) to the recent Easter pageant. She was so excited about her role in the pageant and her enthusiasm spread to her father and myself.

The Sunday morning Christine accepted Jesus as her personal savior, my heart swelled with pride. Her subsequent baptism on Easter Sunday was a testament of her faith and belief, but it was also an awakening for me. Through her simple act of believing in Christ, I realized I had been taking my faith for granted. Although Christine has a long way to go before she reaches adulthood, I now know this road will be paved, not only with her experiences, but also with the lessons we teach each other.

And as Christine so plainly stated, her name contains the greatest name of all. . .Christ.

© Bobbi Rightmyer, June 2002

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Recording the Past

As I contemplate my role as a mother, I can’t help but see the role of “mother” as a basically, thankless role. While I sit home moaning and groaning because my “big” girls don’t visit as often as I like, I realize my kids learned by my example. My kids don’t visit because I don’t visit. This realization hit me like a lightning bolt on a clear, blue day. Do my mother and my mother-in-law sit at home wondering about the same things I do? As the lightning bolt sliced through my heart, I understood that, yeah, most mothers have the same complaint when it comes to their grown children … why don’t they visit more often?

I look back and the majority of what I remember about my childhood are the happy times. With three children of my own, I know there were many, many bad times growing up, but for some reason, we seem to suppress the bad in favor of the good. Maybe it has something to do with the way our pasts are recorded for prosperity. Have you ever taken a really close look at an old photograph and ever wondered, “What’s going on in that person’s life right now?” Try it some time; you’ll have a new appreciation for the people of your past.

Like me, my mother keeps her photographs, newspaper clippings, and other mementos of her past in a wide array of places. Boxes, dresser drawers, you name it and there is probably a little stash of memorabilia carefully tucked away. As I look through these treasures, I suddenly see a pattern to all this information. Every picture, every newspaper clipping, every little scrap of paper or ribbon, everything had to do with a happy memory from the past. To a stranger, all these happy recordings of our past would show my family as the perfect little family. But these recordings don’t show the whole truth. Where are the bad times? Where are the bad memories? Because of some unknown force, the only things my mother saved were things that correlated with the happy times of our childhood.

At home, alone with all my own boxes and drawers of keepsakes, I realized all my children’s scrapbooks contain happy memories. There are no bad times recorded, only the good remembrances. But that wasn’t the only thing I noticed, I also realized that photographs belonging to my grandparents showed a different kind of life. As I continued to stare at these faded reflections of the past, I realized my ancestors were just like me, in that they recorded many good memories. But what struck me as odd, were these pictures also recorded the bad times. Floods, tornados, fires; all types of destruction, even death, were recorded along with the birthdays and weddings. Looking at these pictorial scenes, you can see people who have suffered bad right along with the good.

When did our generation stop acknowledging the bad stuff in our lives? When did we decide it was okay for our children to grow up remembering all the good things? Right now there are probably hundreds to thousands of news stories and photographs flooding every type of communication media, and they all concern one thing: the crises in the Middle East. But as we sit at home, watching the war unfold, how many of us are saving pictures or clipping newspaper stories of the terror overseas? How many of us are writing down thoughts and ideas we have concerning the war, so that our children will have some idea of how we are feeling during with worldwide conflict? I know there is not enough, and that has to change so our children don’t grow up with a warped sense of their history.

Where would our society be without The Diary of Anne Frank, or all the hundreds of other books about Holocaust survivors? Where would our national pride be without all the immerging news coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Korean War? And where would our democratic arrogance be without the traumatic coverage of the Vietnam War? Our national pride has slowly been on the rise since the first Gulf War, and with the events of September 11, 2001, Americans have really stepped up to the plate.

I have always kept scrapbooks and journals for all three of my children, as well as myself. I noticed that for the past few years my keepsake skills have decreased dramatically as my life has become busier. With renewed energy I told myself I would do better; that was Mother’s Day 2001. As an avid reader of TIME and Newsweek, as well as the entertainment section of the USA Today, last year I began cutting an occasional article about whatever was happening in the world, good as well as bad. I tried to make a concentrated effort to record my feelings on the Middle East Crisis, and of course, the horrors of September 11. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job, although it has been hard to actually write down my feelings about the bad things in the world. Hopefully, my grandchildren will have a better understanding of the aftermath of September 11.

If you don’t already keep a personal journal or some type of scrapbook, it’s never too late to start. Mother’s Day is coming up; make sure you visit your Mom. But not just because it’s a holiday; we all just need to visit more often, period. We need to talk with our relatives and record it for our future generations. Whenever my mother or mother-in-law make some little comment about something that happened in the past, I try to remember and write it down in my journal. Hopefully, my future generations will be able to piece together a historically accurate account of their past, the good along with the bad.

Happy Mother’s Day to my Moms: Brenda Devine Sallee and Christine Holtzclaw Rightmyer.

© Bobbi Rightmyer, May 2002