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It’s just me and John Denver and the Muppets in the family room this Christmas Eve afternoon. I am wrapping presents. Everyone else is in their bedrooms, asleep or otherwise occupied by a virus (not COVID, we checked) or depression or a device. I am hoping the quiet alone time will enable everyone to muster the energy and good cheer required by Christmas Day with the family tomorrow.

Spread out across the kitchen table and counters are ingredients for treats that will likely not be baked tonight. Maybe if everyone rallies we will throw a few things together. Or not. I have secured two excellent vegan pies and a variety of appetizers and my brother-in-law is preparing the rest of the feast. Neither of my children have eaten much in recent days. My younger child suddenly doesn’t like any of the food they used to like. My older child has been dealing with stomach stuff. But we have another whole week of vacation so maybe people will be inspired to bake. Or not.

What I am giving myself this Christmas is the gift of letting go of expectations. The past 21 months have been like some kind of demonic algebra problem in which there are many more variables than constants. And even non-demonic algebra made me cry when I took it in junior high school. The universe is filled with ever expanding unknowns.


The kids and I just came back from a lovely drive-thru Christmas Eve moment at church. UUCA decided to cancel in-person services tonight after they learned from the Arlington Department of Health that COVID cases in Arlington had doubled from December 21 to December 22. Determined to share joy with the congregation, the ministers and staff set up luminaria along the driveway, the music director was playing carols outside on the keyboard, the ministers were festively dressed and waving their glowing Christmas wands and greeting families, then some mystery person was operating a snow blower so we enjoyed a moment of white Christmas Eve, and then the intern minister was handing out little goody bags including a candle we can light at home during the service, and he collected the hat and mittens we brought for the mitten tree. It was all very sweet and touching and we drove through a second time just to say thank you.


I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (in the best possible way) and I am addicted to her honesty. She is absolutely hilarious. And she narrates all her own books so you definitely feel like you’re laughing right there with her. She also struggles with a host of challenging physical and mental illnesses, including severe anxiety and depression, and she holds nothing back when discussing them. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, which I received at my friend D’s Jolabokaflod (book exchange party). Apparently I love reading romance novels now–some of my favorite books this year have been by Casey McQuiston (who I had the pleasure of meeting!) and Emily Henry. I always thought the genre was limited to the ridiculous Harlequin Romance novels I used to get from the library when I was 13 and flip through with my friend Diane to find the sex scenes and laugh hysterically. Or books you see in airport gift shops with terrible titles and pictures on the cover that make you cringe. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a new kind of romance novel that’s actually just a regular novel–funny and smart and compelling–whose plots happen to center on a romance and that include surprisingly charming sex scenes. Anyway my point here was actually that The Charm Offensive was a much about mental health and gender identity and how we treat each other as it was about romance. The book includes realistic depictions of OCD and anxiety and depression and self-discovery and stigma in our society.

I’ve read so many articles in the past year about how the pandemic has affected our mental health. As you might guess, or know for yourself, it’s not good news. For kids and young people, it seems to be even worse, because they’re mired just as deep in the intermittent isolation, the uncertainty, the constant churn of disappointment from cancelled plans, but they have so much less control over their lives and their choices than adults do.

My kids have been so happy to be back in school in person this year. Over the past four months they’ve made new friends, cultivated relationships with new teachers, and–not insignificantly–been able to leave the house every day, follow a predictable routine, learn things, see people besides us, and practice being their own individuals. I know the school system is prepared for a return to virtual learning if COVID demands it, but I dread that decision if it comes. Several schools in DC have already reverted to virtual learning for at least a few weeks as we ride out Omicron. It just makes my heart hurt to think about all of us home all the time again and trying to do work and school all at the same time in our little house and eventually driving each other berserk.


I love my kids so much. And I think they’re really awesome people. Not that I haven’t always felt this way, but you know how it’s easier to get perspective on people when they’re not staring you in the face 24/7? They are each unique, but they are also both funny and kind and creative. They both still want hugs all the time. They both love music. During the pandemic the four of us bonded watching live streams by Brandi Carlile, and we’re all going to get to see her perform live in 2022 if some freaking future virus variant doesn’t get in our way. For the past few Christmases, I’ve taken the kids to Five Below to shop for each other. They bought excessively sequined stockings there and filled them with treats they knew each other would like, and they opened them first on Christmas morning (in part to buy us time before we had to wake up). This year Niki learned that they too could be Santa, so at Five Below the kids chose treats for each other and for Randy and me. Today we’ve taken turns filling all our stockings with thoughtful surprises. I love being Santa and sharing Santa with them.


So we are moving slowly right now. And that is absolutely ok. We haven’t written any Christmas letters. Even my mom, who is the driving force behind this tradition, suggested that there’s not much to write this year because she doesn’t like to write about only negative things. Of course there have been silver linings. But there’s also been a lot of %*&(*^#@ (insert your favorite curses here). And when you’re surrounded by it, writing a cheerful missive seems just a little bit out of reach. We haven’t sent presents to our family members who live far away. You know who you are. I promise you’re still on our list, and we are grateful for the gifts you’ve sent that are currently under our tree. (At least we decorated our tree!) I have yet to send e-gift cards to any of my kids’ teachers. A few weeks ago I did remember to put out a box of snacks and drinks in front of our house for the delivery people. There are always a lot of delivery people and they are working their tushes off. I know they’ll still be busy after Christmas delivering the various things we ordered that are still sitting in Groveport, Ohio or Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve.

We’re doing the best we can. And I’ve learned this year that my best varies from day to day. Maybe even from hour to hour. Life is a lot. So many people I love have faced crises and losses this year. But we keep going. We provide shoulders for each other to cry on. We check on each other. And tonight we light candles to shine through the darkness. We hold onto hope. Neither the grinch nor omicron can keep Christmas from coming.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. Sending you all love, peace, and health.

I had this poster up on my wall when I was younger. I’ve had migraines of some kind or another since elementary school.

The thing about migraines is that the pain is familiar but it’s never quite the same. Sometimes it builds slowly and slyly and you think optimistically that it won’t escalate, but will remain a manageable aggravation. Very rarely, you are correct.

More often when the pain starts you know immediately that it’s going to expand exponentially–you can imagine tiny migraine cells replicating until they fill your entire head. Sometimes the pain grips your eyes and engulfs them in flames or seeps into your ears. When it’s the barometric pressure inciting your migraine riot, it feels like a balloon is being inflated inside your skull and it continues to get bigger and bigger until you can envision nothing but your skull shattering into a million pieces.

Usually the muscles in the neck and shoulders tighten so much that everything from the top of the head down the spine feels like steel rods encased in cement. That particular part of the pain long outlasts the headache. After the headache lifts it still feels like a monster has crumpled my neck and back muscles into hard little masses that are stuck in my body. Stretching barely makes an impression.

What is most mysterious is when you know the moment that the migraine pivots–where the pain has reached its crescendo and begins to abate. Sometimes this takes minutes and sometimes hours. Sometimes it’s after the medication kicks in or after you’ve slept. The ascent and denouement can take any amount of time during any given episode. As it’s fading, the pain is still present, but no longer consuming.

Eventually, it’s gone. Every time a miracle. You know exactly how excruciating it was, and yet it has finally–finally–disappeared, leaving you able to function and feeling (mostly) whole again. At this point you think, “Hallelujah, my head is entirely free of pain at this exact moment! What a gift! What a surprise! Again, I did not die from that migraine even though at some moments I felt sure I would.”

Those hours lost to pain are gone forever, but at least you can think again and be a human moving through the world. Until the next one comes along.

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