Christmas expections, maggie mcreynolds blog

Changing Your Tune for the Holidays

Oh, the weather outside is frightful—but the fire is so delightful.

Well, yes, they are. But only if you think so.

Snowy weather can seem awful if you’re a commuter with bald tires who’s running late for work. But it’s likely a pretty cool thing to a kid, a skier, or that lucky dog with a good book and a day off.

A roaring fire in the hearth? Great with good company, or said book, or a cup of something comforting. Not so awesome, perhaps, if all you can think about is your heating bills soaring up the open flue or you’re having a hot flash.

Weather is just weather. Fire is just fire. They are observable, uncontestable facts. It’s the thoughts and stories we pile on top of them that give them meaning. And the holiday season is one of the biggest storytelling times of the year.

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Gratitude Without Attitude

It’s easy to be thankful when times are good. But what kind of pea-brained Pollyanna goes around feeling grateful for crappy stuff like illness, financial crises, and broken relationships?

Well…um…this kind, it appears. Now, wait. I’m no saint, and I’m just as capable as anyone of snapping at my kid, swearing at drivers who cut me off, and shaking my fist at the heavens, Job-like, over a cascading series of setbacks.

But over the years, I’ve noticed something. Although it’s normal—even necessary—to get angry or grieve when life throws a big spitball, getting stuck there serves no one. When we are blind to whatever gift might be contained in the grief, we are unable to move on—and we end up feeling even crappier.

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handling fear, pixabay, maggie mcreynolds blog

Just the Facts, Ma’am

I’ve got a terrible story stuck in my head. A story so awful, I don’t even want to write this sentence:

I am afraid my son might get sick, come to harm, or die.

Oh! I can’t even express how much I recoil at just seeing this in typeface. Because I am also afraid that by even giving voice to this fear, I will have somehow made it more likely to come true. I find myself itching to hit the delete key. Cancel, cancel! This fear is too horrible, too powerful, too evil to have out there in the world.

But when I can get a deep breath—actually doing so, here—I can remember that this fear, like most fears, is just a thought with the gloves off. By that, I mean a bully of a thought, a thought that will just beat me up if I let it.

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Making Friends with Fear

I am four, and I am being chased by a giant mask. It looks like the mask of tragedy, with a huge downturned mouth and sad eyes, but it’s the size of an adult, with arms and legs. I am terrified of it, and I run, shrieking, through our house, trying to elude it. Finally I find a space behind the dryer and hide there, but no sooner am I tucked away when the mask runs behind the dryer and hides with me. Horrified, I realize something even scarier is chasing it.

tragedy mask, maggie mcreynolds blogThis is one of the first nightmares I can remember, but it was far from the only thing scaring me at the time. I was an easily frightened child, spooked by things both benign (dogs, dragonflies, my bedroom closet) and theoretically, if indirectly, dangerous (raised voices, gunfire on TV, the dark). I had vague nameless fears, and fears that were just plain weird (at one point, I was afraid of the elderly, the infirm, and anyone using crutches, a wheelchair, or any kind of assistive device). Because I spent most of my time with adults, there was a period when I was even afraid of other kids.

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murmuration, maggie mcreynolds blog

Be Here Now

I narrowly escaped a nasty car accident this morning while taking my son to school. I drive a gigantic Toyota 4Runner, and it’s not easy to overlook. But the woman who came within inches of smashing into the passenger side of my vehicle, where my son was sitting and happily telling me about his new gig as a member of the fifth-grade safety patrol, wasn’t looking at me, my car, or even the road. Instead, she was staring deeply into a compact mirror and gazing, with some displeasure, at her own reflection.

I could easily turn this into a finger-wagging essay about the dangers of multitasking while driving—and I’d have plenty of horror stories to recount. Over the years, I’ve seen people reading books and newspapers, shaving, applying makeup, texting, hunting for something in the backseat, or even, as it appeared in one case, attempting to kill a bug with a paperback book, all while sailing down the highway at excesses of 70 mph.

But there was something about this particular instance—the woman so absorbed with her own face that she was missing all around her—that took me down an entirely different mental road.

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open hand, maggie mcreynolds blog

Learning to Let Go

When we’ve lost something really big, something important, something meaningful, the last thing we want to do is let go of anything else. So we hold on to what we’ve got left just a little bit tighter.

It’s a natural response. And it works—at first. Our friends rally ’round. Family is supportive. Unemployment checks kick in. The potato chip bag feels like a friend.

But after a while, those people we’re clinging to for dear life start to get, well, itchy. Our friends have their own stuff to deal with. Family members want some breathing room. The unemployment checks eventually stop. The potato chip bag morphs into a frenemy—it might feel like it’s keeping the grief away, but all it really offers is a deferment and a kind of insulation. And it’s doing it with a nice cushy layer of adipose tissue, aka fat.

Still, we hold on. Because we’ve lost enough, damn it, and we’re not going to lose one single more thing.

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green light, maggie mcreynolds blog, traffic light

Red Light, Green Light

It was my first day of kindergarten. I was already homesick and scared. And then the teacher, Mrs. Brown, brightly announced, “Today, class, we’re going to make stop lights!”

I promptly burst into tears.

Mrs. Brown tried to figure out what was wrong, but I didn’t know how to articulate the cascade of overwhelm in my head. It went something like this:

OMG it’s my very first day of kindergarten and I’m not at all sold on this school thing and now apparently these people expect me to somehow construct a working traffic signal and nobody else seems worried so I guess I’m the only kid in the class who doesn’t already know the mechanics and electronics involved—kindergarten is going to be way more awful than I thought!

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woman alone, maggie mcreynolds blog

Alone, Not Lonely

The first night Barb spent on her own in 20 years, she lit candles, opened a bottle of wine, rented a chick flick, and ordered in Chinese with a Ben & Jerry’s chaser. She had a fabulous time.

The second night, she cried her eyes out.

By the third night, she had made alternative and admittedly somewhat conflicting plans for remodeling the entire first floor, ditching her current job to become a massage therapist, dyeing her hair blond (or possibly just cutting it off altogether and letting it go grey), and moving to Spain.

Barb spent the fourth night in a combination of rage and exhilaration, cleaning out closets and tossing everything that had any negative associations.

The fifth night, she dug some of the more sentimental items back out of the trash.

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