a celebration of moments (not monuments) of holiday okayness
There was a moment over the Thanksgiving holiday where I observed my life, as if I could still decide my life, and thought okay, now I could get into this.
The five of us—Rush, me, and our three teen girls—were crowded around the kitchen island of a vacation rental, peeling salami rosettes off a cheeseboard that Middle and Youngest had prepared and answering questions pulled from an acrylic conversation cube. What’s the first thing you would do if you were president? Would you rather be invisible or fly? What’s the hardest thing about being a kid or a parent? It was the deepest and easiest conversation we’d had as a family in I can’t remember when and I didn’t have to orchestrate it.
And then the moment passed, interrupted by some small meanness, and I was back to analyzing what went wrong and how to escape it, my life, preferably with popcorn.
I went to bed on a hard mattress that night, my mind reeling with hard fixes. This kid clearly needs more scaffolding and this kid clearly needs less screen time and I clearly need more courage to dole out the non-anxious tone that is enlightened parenting. Oh, and while we’re at, I’d like to change my earlier answer to what’s the hardest thing about being a parent from “all the second guessing” to “this, whatever this bedtime brain snatch is right now” —which, in the end, is probably just the same answer.
But then I tried a new thing. I tried a good thing. I tried recounting the moments where good prevailed. My research team tells me this is research-backed. That positive mental health isn’t just the absence of disease but the presence of protective practices, like speaking hopefully about the future or savoring when things turn out okay.
Like around that kitchen counter with all five of us. Or when Oldest had the guts to admit, during the Michigan game no less, that she was struggling in college chemistry. Or when Youngest was effusive with thanks for simple scrambled eggs. Or when Middle, in a rare moment of defenselessness, said, “I’m always pissed when you make us share Chinese food, but somehow there’s always enough to go around.”
And there was enough to go around last weekend. Not monuments of okayness. But moments of okayness.
I sort of hate that okayness is my new barometer for success. And there’s a certain restfulness to it. Okayness can be a gentle thing to aspire to amongst the hustle of holidays. More than that, I’m pretty sure looking for okayness is the closest thing I have to hope right now, that is, if hope is not actually a belief in some future growth but an attention—a coercive attention—to present seedlings, soiled and barely visible.
In other words, it is as Emily Dickinson supposedly said: “Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.”
P.S. More than okay are these holiday ornaments from my man, Rush Beam. Order your wood crystals or surfboards today and savor the good of gifting handmade.
P.P.S. One of my favorite writers on a life filled with moments (not monuments) of okayness is Kate Bowler. Download her free Advent devotional for the life we actually have here.
P.P.P.S. Thank you for being a community perennially interest in belonging beyond the binary that is “parenting is precious” and “parenting is prison.” For more writing in this spirit, subscribe to Ann Friedman’s newsletter where she’s currently publishing an essay a week on becoming pregnant after years of being childfree.