Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Beginnings

This is the time of year when we all get asked the same question.

"What's your new year's resolution?"

If you're like me, you're not into all of that. After all, countless years have gone by during which we vowed to lose weight, get financially fit, quit smoking, or a bevy of other promises we never keep. So, instead of making a resolution, I have made a simple commitment to myself - to be a better woman (in every way) than I was in 2012.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is a time for reflection. We look back on the year that was, and we reflect on where we started, what happened along the way, and how it has all turned out. Our hope is that the new year will bring with it positive changes, prosperity, and an even better outcome than the year before. So in that spirit, I've compiled a list of the areas where we should all be focusing our attention as the new year rolls in.

Health: When we get on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs us that in case of an emergency landing, we must FIRST secure our own oxygen masks before attempting to assist others. The same is true of our health. We spend so much time worrying about the health and wellness of our children, spouse, parents and grandparents that we often neglect our own well being. Speaking from my own experience, I noted that this year I had scheduled dental appointments for my sons, taken them for their annual physicals, even gotten their vision and hearing checked. It wasn't until late November that it occurred to me that I hadn't visited my general practitioner in far too long! So I finally went in for a check of my cholesterol, thyroid, and blood pressure. In 2013, I plan to continue eating healthier, exercising, and meditating. My renewed commitment to mind, body, and spirit will carry me forward into 2013. Often we begin the year with good intentions. And then by Valentine's Day we're off track again. In the new year, let's all do our best to finish the year with the same optimism and commitment to change as we started with.

Family:  Many of the events in 2012 made me hold my loved ones a lot tighter than before. Trayvon Martin was gunned down for no reason at the beginning of the year. Toward the end of the year, the nation mourned  the massacre of twenty six and seven year olds at their school in Connecticut. In between those two events, many more lives were lost, many more families torn apart. Hurricane Sandy gave many of us on the East Coast a wake up call about what is truly important. When the lights go out, and the heat is off, when gas is a commodity, and our world comes to a standstill we discover what's most important. Family. Our children grow so quickly. Our lives move forward at a rapid pace. With every day that goes by, our parents and grandparents age, their bones become more brittle, and illnesses and conditions arise that threaten their health and longevity. The matriarchs and patriarchs who loomed larger than life are suddenly dependent upon us. Let's not forget them throughout the year. Call them, check on them, and stop by to see them. Let's ensure that every member of our families - young, old, and in between - are surrounded by love and support all year long.

Career: One of my favorite sayings is that, "It's never too late to become what you might have been." We start out in our youth ready to take over the world. We set our goals high, we chase our dreams with all we've got, and we imagine incredible futures for ourselves. But somewhere along the line, many of us settle for jobs instead of careers. We do what pays the bills, often settling for positions and duties that are beneath our skill set. When we lower our standards and settle for less than we desire, something inside of us dies a little. There's a difference between living and existing. When you are living, you are thriving, happy, alive. When you are existing, you simply go through the motions without any fulfillment. It's never too late to chase that dream of yours. You can make 2013 the year that you take your career to the next level.

Travel:  I LOVE TO TRAVEL! My career as a writer has taken me to some places that I never thought I would go. But I want MORE! My goal is to visit every continent before my 50th birthday. In 2013, I plan to set my plan in motion. What cities, states, or countries are on your bucket list?

The Pursuit of Happiness:  Heartbreak and disappointment are unfortunate realities in all our lives. As the year comes to a close, we look back on those we've loved and lost, those who've come and gone, and how our lives have changed as a result. Before the countdown to 2013 begins, let's let go once and for all. A new year is a clean slate, a fresh canvas on which to paint our destiny. Leave old cares behind and embrace new possibilities. Don't stare too long at the doors that have closed in your life that you don't notice the ones that are wide open for you. The possibilities are endless. Let's make 2013 the best year of our lives (so far :) !

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Christmas Story

The Holiday season is a bittersweet time for me. On one hand, I LOVE CHRISTMAS. Each year, my kids shake their heads and smile as they watch me pull out huge Rubbermaid bins full of decorations and Christmas cards. They laugh while I sing along (badly) to the Christmas songs I love, and they help me decorate the whole house. I shop, wrap gifts, and check items off my list, transforming my bedroom and home office into Santa's workshop. There are few things better to me than giving a great gift to someone, and seeing their face light up with joy. I really do love this time of year.

But since my dad passed away in 2008, I get a little melancholy at holiday time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day...these were all special occasions with my dad and there is a void in my family without him. I miss him a great deal. As I thought of him the other day, I felt myself getting kinda misty-eyed. But then, a memory came to mind that caused me to laugh (literally) out loud.

Daddy was like a big kid. I guess that's where I get it from. My sixteen year old constantly asks me when I plan to grow up. I get my childlike energy, sense of humor and precociousness from my dad. Well into his older years, he would still make silly faces, do funny dances, and crack the most hilarious jokes.
He was fun-loving, and Christmas was one of his favorite holidays - not because of the joy of seeing his grandchildren happy, but because he was like a child himself, anxious to find out what gifts were waiting under the tree with his name on them.

Daddy also loved a good drink! Each Christmas Eve, he would show up at my house at around six or seven in the evening, with his pajamas and a bottle of vodka in tow. I would be there getting everything ready for the next day, and to celebrate with Daddy I would usually have a bottle of my drink of choice - Hennessy - and he and I would sip our drinks and listen to oldies while the kids got themselves ready for bed.  Year after year (and hangover after hangover) I would ask myself why I ever tried to keep up with him. After all, Daddy was a professional drinker. Me? Not so much. I can handle my liquor in most situations. But when it comes to hanging with the big dogs like my father, I am no match! Still, year after year, I would try to keep up and I never succeeded. Not even once.

One year in particular, we sat in my living room laughing, talking, reminiscing, singing, and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Throughout the night, Daddy kept glancing at the Christmas tree, anxious to find out what was in the three big boxes and the one smaller box bearing his name. From time to time, he would say "What could be in those boxes?" I smiled at his childlike excitement as the night went on. Soon, my kids were snoring in their beds and I was exhausted after a long day. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was after 3:00 in the morning. I told my father that I was going to bed. He had other plans.

"Let's wake the kids up now!" he suggested. "It is officially Christmas, so let's open up the gifts now instead of waiting until the sun comes up."

I laughed, seeing right through him. This wasn't about "the kids". It was about Daddy being desperate to find out what I had gotten him. Even though I knew his true motives, I couldn't resist. So I went and woke up the kids to tell them that it was show time!

My first indication that I was drunker than I thought I was came when I stumbled a little on my way to my kids' rooms. I soldiered on, though, and woke them up and then returned to the living room. My father sat in his favorite chair while the kids gathered around the tree. I reached for the light switch on the wall behind the Christmas tree and that's when everything went down - literally.

Somehow, in my drunken stupor, I missed the light switch I was reaching for and felt myself falling toward the tree. Frantic, I grabbed at the air for something to hold me up. Aware that my family was watching me, my arms flailed around desperately and I tried to pull it together and stand up. Everything happened so fast. But the next thing I knew, I had fallen to my knees on top of the gifts with both arms wrapped around the Christmas tree. Pine needles were in my hair, the tree was shaking and my kids were in hysterics.

I refused to look at them. In shock, I stayed there with my arms hugging the tree for several long moments. Over the sound of my kids' laughter, I could hear my father cracking up. He was trying hard to compose himself so that he could say something, but the laughter had the best of him. Finally, his voice boomed, peppered with sarcasm.

"You think she's a little tipsy??"

The whole family erupted in laughter again. This time, I joined them as I slowly stood up and brushed myself off. I knew that it was my own fault for thinking I could ever be grown enough to drink with Daddy.

We opened the gifts at 3am that year, and I still remember the joy on everyone's faces. But the face that stands out the most in my memory is Daddy's - beaming while he opened up the Bible I bought for him, and the three suits complete with ties, socks, and pocket squares. But the best part of recalling that holiday memory was picturing my father's face as he laughed at me - his head in his hands, his eyes squeezed shut, his laughter wracking his body. Makes me smile even now as I write this.

Merry Christmas. If you are blessed to have your dad in your life, don't take him for granted. Have a holiday drink with him for me. I'd give anything to do the same with mine, just one more time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This Christmas

This is one of my favorite times of the year, especially living in NYC. Street corner Santas ring bells, Christmas songs blare from department store speakers, windows and homes are decorated with beautiful lights. People are kinder to one another, unselfishly giving gifts to those they love. It's a special time of the year filled with warmth, love and peace.

This year, however, the holiday season has taken on deeper meaning - at least for me it has.

Hurricane Sandy recently ravaged the east coast, particularly my hometown of Staten Island, NY. Thousands lost power, many lost their homes, and some even lost their lives. It forced many of us to examine the things that are really important to us.

Today, a masked gunman walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and began shooting children. The images are hard to see without my eyes filling with tears.

This, of course, comes during a year that saw Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Sanford, Florida who could have easily been one of my sons, gunned down for nothing more than wearing a hoodie in a gated community where he had every right to be.

 A year that saw a gunman walk into a Colorado movie theater and open fire on random strangers, killing several.

A year that a man was pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train while people stood on the platform and no one tried to help him - while a photographer stood by snapping pictures for the local newspaper.

All of these things and more have given me a reason to cherish my loved ones even more, to count my blessings more than ever.

I think about the way the holiday season has become so commercialized. Thanksgiving used to be a day filled with food, family, laughter, and fun. Now, for many Americans, it's a day to go to work because department stores are open. It's a day to stand on line and fight other consumers for flat screens, computers and other sale items. Christmas used to be a day of giving, symbolic of the gift God gave the world in the form of his son, Jesus. Today, most of us don't even stop to notice the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Instead, we're out trying to make sure our (often spoiled and unappreciative) children get every designer label, electronic game system, overpriced pair of sneakers or $500 headphones they ask for. We're focused more on what we receive than on what we give. The price tags grow larger while the focus on God grows smaller.

This Christmas, let's all stop and take a moment to remember these things: Trayvon Martin's parents are without their 16-year-old son for the first time this holiday season. Hundreds are living in FEMA trailers after losing every earthly possession. Parents in Connecticut are mourning their babies just days before Christmas. Dozens of families are in omourning, in poverty, and in despair.

Thinking of the loss and devastation so many are facing has humbled me. This Christmas, let's focus on the reason for the season. Family. Love. Peace. Joy. Gratitude. Those are the things my heart is full of this Christmas.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who were lost in these tragedies. God is still in control, even while this world that we live in seems to grow colder every single day.