Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home for the Holidays

It was our first holiday season as a married couple and we were living in Washington, D.C.  I was eager to fly out of Ronald Reagan National Airport to get home in time to see Santa Claus atop the Indialantic fire engine as I had every Christmas Eve since I could remember. It was the Eve of Christmas Eve 1998. And it was snowing.

My husband and I endured delay after delay as they de-iced the plane yet again. Finally seated on our flight and ready to go at ten o’clock at night, we heard the fateful words of our pilot:

“Sorry, Folks, the flight is canceled. Please deplane, collect your luggage and call the airline in the morning about rescheduling.”

At this point two people on the plane started sobbing hysterically:  The over-tired five-year-old seated behind us and me.

With his inconsolable bride wailing non-stop, my dauntless husband retrieved our bags, hailed us a cab back to our Arlington Courthouse apartment, loaded up our Honda Accord and started driving us through sleet and snow in the middle of the night to Florida.

Somewhere in southern North Carolina or northern South Carolina we stopped to rest for what was left of the night at the only motel off I-95 that wasn’t full. When we awoke the next morning we found our vehicle iced shut.  We opened the lock remotely and started the car to get it warmed up for the half hour it took us to consume our free continental breakfast and check out. 

At around 5pm Christmas Eve, we cheered at the sign indicating our entrance into Brevard County. We made it to my parents’ house where the smell of baking homemade apple crumb and pumpkin cream cheese pies welcomed us. We were just in time to hear Santa coming down Riverside Drive.  I jumped up and down and waved from my parents’ driveway as Santa and his crew threw candy to us from atop of the siren-blaring, holiday-light-bedecked fire truck. There were tears of joy in my eyes.

It was great to be home for the holidays.

We’ve since moved home to Indialantic, in part so we would never have to make the trek down and then back up I-95 ever again. You would think that the thought of the holidays would continue to delight me. Not necessarily so. I’ve heard it said that we don’t really become adults until we have children of our own. That certainly seems true this time of year. Now, my perspective is a little more like: 

“AAACK, I’m not ready! We can’t spend all that money! I can’t stand to have one more toy junk up the house or the floor of my car. Not one more toy that is destined in ten months or less to find its way to the bargain pile at a neighborhood garage sale. Hand write, address and mail dozens of heartfelt holiday cards? Not happening. Bake an assortment of traditional pies? Fogettabout it. Can’t we have something healthier please? And just when are the kids going back to school? I can’t get any work done without a schedule. They seem to be watching entirely too much T.V.”

How could a woman so nostalgic for her childhood holiday memories turn into a veritable Grinch twelve years and two school-aged children later? To summon up some holiday cheer this year, I turned to the wise little people in the back of the minivan on the drive to Indialantic Elementary:

What do you think about the holidays, Kids?

“AWESOME!” said my son.
“Yeah, AWESOME,” my daughter concurred.
“What’s so awesome about them?” I queried.
“Well, we get to open lots of presents.”
“Is that what it’s all about?”
“No. It’s also fun to stay home, play games with the family, eat special foods like turkey and latkes. We get to drive around and see all of the holiday lights, especially that light fest in Wickham Park. Can we do that again this year?”
“Of course,” I said getting a little excited myself, “I guess it is fun to have that break from school and activities and have a chance to really hang out together, isn’t it?”
“Yeah!” they chorused.
“I guess we don’t get to do enough of that during the rest of the year, do we?”
“You’re right, Kids. The holidays are awesome. You know what Mommy likes? Mommy likes it when Santa Claus comes by on the fire truck on Christmas Eve. Did I ever tell you about the time Daddy and I were on a plane to Florida and we almost missed seeing Santa Claus...”

What we need is to savor these special times with our families. We need to focus on the fact that each holiday gives us a unique opportunity to make sweet and magical memories for us and our families to cherish, look back on, and laugh about. It's a time to spend quality time together, slow down and remember to love each other. We share this love with special foods, rituals, and traditions that even include giving each other little (or big) tokens of our love for each other. This time of year, we are reminded to be a little more gentle, a little more tender and to think of others. 

So I've decided not to be a Grinch or a Hum Bug this holiday season. I'm going to forget about the stress and the mess and just enjoy being home with my family. Better yet, I'm going to try to hold on to this feeling all year long and I'm going to do what I can to make amazing memories for my children. I want to make the holiday season something so cherished that my adult children would be willing to drive through a snow storm just to get back home.

That is my special holiday wish. So peace on earth, good will towards all and bless us every single one.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I Accepted the Opportunity to Represent the Space Coast in the Mrs. Florida Pageant

When I first got the email I just deleted it. I didn't even ponder it, just sent it to the trash bin. When my girlfriend asked if I had gotten it, I decided it would be rude not to take another look. So I did.
The email was a request for applicants to the Mrs. Florida-America Pageant.
Let me tell you about my experience with pageants. When I was seventeen years old, I actually participated in a preliminary Junior Miss Pageant with some other local high school girls. But as much as this gawky valedictorian wanted to be considered pretty, I walked away instead with the scholastic achievement award for having the highest GPA among the contestants. I took it as a sign that I wasn't cut out for the whole beauty thing and hung up my tiara. After getting in early decision to the University of Virginia (Wa-Hoo-Wa!), I went off to study, travel and later graduate Harvard Law School. I married the perfect guy, have the most amazing children, live in the greatest little beachside community near almost all my family and do work every day that I really love. I even get paid for it.
What else could a girl want? I already have it all. Asking for anything else would just be plain greedy.
But I still get all wistful when I see those girls in the Miss America pageant. I mean, on the one hand, how cool would that be? On the other hand, what about all that pressure? What are we telling girls? They have to be perfect? They have to be beautiful, accomplished and amazingly fit? They have to set out to save the world while looking flawless in high heels and a swimsuit? The feminist in me was somewhat dismayed. The little girl in me wanted to talk about creating world peace one family and one community at a time while wearing an evening gown. A really sparkly one.
Conflicted about what to do, I decided to get my kids' perspective. My 9 year old daughter's reaction was to jump up and down and ask if she got to wear a back-stage pass. My 7 year old son asked if it would make us famous. Both assured me they would help me pick out what to wear.
My Mother said, "Absolutely!" My brother and sister-in-law said, "You HAVE to do this!" My Father was cautious, not sure what this would mean, then decided I should go for it.
I started to think that maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea. That it could be a fun adventure for the whole family. But, there was just one more person whose opinion really mattered here.
After all, this is the Mrs. America pageant for a reason.
I just knew that my husband--the most reasonable and solid guy ever--would think my participating in the Mrs. Florida-America pageant was completely ridiculous. I just knew he would be concerned about my being taken seriously as a lawyer if I did this. I just knew he would say that we didn't have time for such nonsense, that I was already too overcommitted with too many causes, boards and activities. I was convinced that he would tell me not to do any such thing. I was terrified to even bring it up. I kept it to myself for about three days, then finally summoned up my courage and said,
"I've been recruited to participate in the Mrs. Florida-America Pageant. It is the married woman's version of the Miss America Pageant. They looked at my website and thought my practice of peaceful divorce would make a great platform. The pageant is February 4th and 5th in Kissimmee at the Westgate Resort. There's no talent portion but I do have to wear a swimsuit. They said I could be Mrs. Space Coast."
Without missing a beat, he said, "That sounds really exciting."
"Well, OK then. I think you'll have to escort me on stage or something."
"OK, great."
So there it was. Nobody left to stop me but me.
It's not that I think I could win this thing. I mean, there will be younger and prettier and shall we say "physically fitter" ladies on that stage. But I've started eating more salad at dinner and stopped eating cupcakes for breakfast. I've started being more committed to my exercise routine and regained incentive to take better care of myself. I've actually started to walk taller and be more mindful of my posture.
I've decided this is a chance to be a role model, talk about the causes important to me and to promote my beloved Space Coast, where I was born and raised and now raise my own family. 
Therefore I'm accepting this opportunity to be a candidate for Mrs. Florida. I'll do it for the fun and for the love of it. I'll do it for the little starry-eyed girl inside me who really does want world peace.
I'll do it for me, but not only for me.
In her book, A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson writes that "as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So as I hope to shine on February 4th and 5th, my wish is that it will inspire all the other 40-something minivan moms out there striving to balance work and family and muddle through each day to remember that what they are--and what they do--is beautiful. As Mrs. Space Coast, I seek to represent all of the unrecognized Mrs. Americas struggling to do their best to take care of themselves, their families, their homes, their jobs, their obligations whatever they may be. This one is for every single one of us, because as the popular song goes, "We are beautiful in every single way...we are all beautiful today."