Staying Calm this Holiday Season With Gratitude, Connection, and Nostalgia

An Oldie But Goodie

An Oldie But Goodie

Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.

I notice that my thinking is more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as the early darkness shortens our days, and of course, it is so damn cold outside.

But the blessings…oh the blessings. And the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty, as well as the fragility of life. I am becoming increasingly aware of the passage of time. Maybe it is because I enter a new decade of life this week (gulp). But it is gratitude that is the driving force for me as I face this milestone and enter the second half century of my life (double, triple gulp).

But I have a few days to go! And right now I would like to reflect a little more on gratitude. Over these past few weeks, I have been focussed on book promotion and pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone with more TV appearances and book events. Most of my mental energies went toward calming my anxieties and doing the necessary prep work in hopes of not completely embarrassing myself on TV. And thankfully the media appearances went just fine. However, only in the last few days have I had a chance to sit down and write! 

And although we are headed into the next set of holidays, I need to circle back to Thanksgiving.  Because not only does Thanksgiving symbolize my most powerful self-care practice of all—gratitude—Thanksgiving weekend was one of the best my family has have ever had and I want to remember it.

The long weekend of Thanks was amazing not because everyone was on their best behavior, or because the six of us all got along beautifully, and our home was perfectly harmonious. Nope, not that. Rather, it was amazing because I went into the weekend with very few expectations. In fact, the only real expectation I had was for myself—I made a commitment to find gratitude and connection as often as possible. The times when the six of us together are less and less frequent. And even though our family has plenty of challenging dynamics and our time together is sometimes tense and stressful, there is massive amounts of love between us, I  cherish this love more than anything in the world. 

Here is a snap shot of what the Thanksgiving holiday weekend looked like for the Burtons (and I have provided some real snap shots to provide some visuals):

  • Heated, completely UNpolitically correct and UNcensored dinner conversations about politics and life, often involving raised voices and swearing, which occasionally results in one of us storming off. Attempted comic relief in the form of bad jokes from my husband, and the “you GUUYYS! Please clean it up and BE NICE to each other!” pleads from me.
  • Witnessing my youngest crawling into her big brother’s lap for a security hug while watching the Vikings lose to the Lions.
  • Hearing the guttural jabs and teasing that evoke either rage or laughter depending on the jabbed sibling's mood or how harsh the poke is.
  • Managing the “I now know everything there is to know about life” assertions  by my up and coming adult children who are still 100 percent financially dependent on us (and yet they know everything there is to know about life).
  • Juggling cars, extra laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning. The older kids’ high school friends stopping over at random, sitting at the kitchen counter reminiscing about the “olden days” of their high school years as I listen and learn more about what they got away with behind my back during those poke-needles-in-my-eyes teen years when I thought I had a good handle on what was going on!
  • Delivering meals to families in need on Thanksgiving, then hitting both maternal and paternal sides for Thanksgiving food and family time. Playing the annual broom ball game with cousins and attending early Hanukah parties (tradition started years ago to grab the snowbirds before they left town and now we are grabbing the college kids too).
Sisters preparing to enter the annual post Thanksgiving day family broom ball game

Sisters preparing to enter the annual post Thanksgiving day family broom ball game

And this year we added something. We took a drive down memory lane and visited our first home—the house we lived in when our first three kids were born. But on our way to this home, my husband abruptly pulled the car over about two blocks away. We had to make another stop. We hopped out of the car and approached a tiny little house near a cluster of town homes. It probably contained some kind of electrical or sprinkler equipment but every time we would walk by this little house with our young children, we told them that it was Winnie the Pooh’s house. And they believed this like kids believe in Santa. It was Pooh's house to them, even though they could never figure out why Pooh was never home when they would knock on the door over and over.

We got out of the car to have a closer look. Maybe Pooh would be home this time. I glanced at my 22-year-old daughter and saw tears pooling in her eyes.

A very unhappy Winnie the Pooh at our old house (just blocks from his little house).

A very unhappy Winnie the Pooh at our old house (just blocks from his little house).

We drove down our street and ironically our favorite former neighbor was standing outside in her driveway so we got to catch up with her about life and how it seemed like yesterday that she and I were taking walks in the neighborhood with our babies, now young adults, buckled into our baby joggers.

We pulled up to “our house” and my oldest daughter and I jumped out of the car. There was a for sale sign in front and because we saw that no one was living there (of course we looked in the windows) so we could peeping-Tom away! Our minds and hearts flooded with memories—my son playing baseball in the front yard, my daughter dropping her baby brother down the stairs, and the “chasing game” we played in the living room.

Abey Baby stole our hearts!

Abey Baby stole our hearts!

We got back in the car and shared our memories with the others, filling ourselves up with nostalgia, love, and gratitude. As we connected our past with our present, we all yearned for simpler times when we were all together (although as a new mom with young kids, life didn't seem simple to me then). But we also appreciated how much we all have grown, individually and as a family. 

I thought about that drive back in time a few nights later as I set four places at the dinner table instead of six. The house was quiet. I felt a calmness mixed with sadness as I do every time the big kids leave. I tried to move myself forward. I had to. Because starting the very next day, I would begin a week of talking to people around the country, in person and on TV, about how and why they need to take care of themselves. And it became even more clear to me why I have to do this work.

Interviewed on a Dallas/Ft. Worth CBS News station

Interviewed on a Dallas/Ft. Worth CBS News station

Because life is beautiful and painful, joyful and uncertain. Kids leave. Grown-ups leave. People leave each other and themselves and run like hell from the pain and uncertainty of life. People spend their whole lives running. Searching for something. Anything. But the most amazing thing is that the "something" is already in each one of us. All we have to do is quiet down long enough to reach down and grab it, and continue to nurture it and gently pull at it until that "something" comes pouring out of you.

I know this because I was once a runner. I ran myself into some deep, dark places. Places I would not wish upon anyone. And I thought I had to keep running because if I stopped, I would fall apart. And in truth, I did. But the best thing about falling apart is that you get the opportunity to put yourself back together. Differently. In a way that is more true. More compassionate. More loving.

Which is another reason that I will continue this work. Because I know from my work and from my personal life that everyone struggles. Everyone sees dark days. We all need help now and then to find our way back to the light--our own light. We all need to be reminded of how amazing we are, of how we really are deserving of happiness, connection, and love. Don't worry, if you forget, I will continue to remind you.

And as you approach the holidays, please remember this:

When you love yourself fully and completely (which comes from regular, intentional, and meaningful self-care practices found in my book), you will be able to:

  • stop running (emotional running, not physical)
  • take in the joy, beauty and blessings around you
  • give yourself permission to stop doing so much to please others
  •  give from a full and authentic heart
  • see the beauty in yourself, which allows you to fully see the beauty in others
  • live a full and grateful life.

I would love to hear ways that you and your family connect with gratitude. Please share them below.