It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

my boys in front of our tree

my boys in front of our ‘tree’

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! ~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Particular times of the year bring us full circle back to the self we have been previously at that time of year, to those with whom we’ve spent those times, and perhaps who and where we wish to be at this time in years ahead. These are times for reflection, backwards-looking nostalgia and future-imagining dreaming. On this day – 22nd December – one year ago, I was reflecting on Christmas, on making traditions with my young family and on balancing holiday indulgence with kindness, generosity, stillness and quiet appreciation.

Here I am again, counting myself lucky for being on school holidays and therefore able to wind down with my children as Christmas approaches. I’m able to be mindful in the choosing and wrapping of gifts, sit with my kids as they decorate Christmas cards and glitter bomb decorations. I have the gift of being in PhD examination limbo this Christmas, so I’m luxuriating in letting go completely from work and study. Instead, I’m immersing myself in domestic, creative and parental roles. Gardening, making, playing. Wrapping, decorating, baking. The wonderful thing about these tasks is that I don’t have to be particularly good at them. I can be immersed in the process and the people, not success or failure (just see the skew, clunky gingerbread house below!). 

The holidays, if we manage it, can be free from pressure, accountability and performativity. Hugs and handmade and asymmetry. Giving time, conversation and listening. Retrospection, affection and introspection, rather than inspection or perfection. Accepting ourselves and others, and whatever our holidays look like, whether that is fancy or basic, extravagant or frugal, celebratory or sad.

moments of our 2015 Christmas lead up

moments of our 2015 Christmas lead up

So in our house we’re making a gingerbread house (but as we tend to stay away from gluten, refined sugars, colours and preservatives, we’ve given it away). We’re baking Christmas cookies for Santa. We’re donating toys and clothes. We’re hand making decorations. We’re lighting candles for those people who are missing from our Christmastime. We’re placing presents beneath our hand made upcycled ‘tree’, nailed together from scraps of wood. We’re talking about giving and receiving and gratitude and spending time with those we love. And I’m popping my fair share of champagne corks, too.

On Christmas Eve, Santa will leave ‘snowy’ footprints by the tree. The cookies and carrot left for him and the reindeer will disappear. On Christmas morning, we’ll go to the beach and build sandcastles.

The édu flâneuse wishes you a wonderful, flâneurial holiday season, in which you are deeply immersed in your experiences and able to be attentive to others and to yourself, to the energies around you (perhaps I’m being influenced by my recent viewing of The Force Awakens). Happy holidays.

Gratitude, awe & delight: lessons from Pollyanna

“The game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas.” ~ Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

suburban rainbow

suburban rainbow

As the parent of two pre-school age children, I sometimes wonder about the age at which we are expected to be less excited by the world and more serious about it. At our local park, there are always children rolling down the grassy hill, rolling themselves over and over into dizzy giggles. On occasion, I have joined in with my own children, but a ‘grown-up’ covered head-to-toe in grass and leaves, or with scraped knees from climbing trees, or cupped hands filled with meticulously-chosen sea shells, doesn’t seem appropriate somehow. Yet I have been known to race out of my classroom to get a better look at a rainbow, jumping and clapping my hands, a line of bemused high school students trailing behind me. Recently, my small children and I have been playing with mirror-ball Christmas decorations in the late afternoon sunlight, painting the walls with light patterns.

mirror ball joy

mirror ball joy

Finding daily magic, seeing things from new perspectives, and allowing ourselves daily moments of presence, connection and wonder are surely the starting points for gratitude. One of my fondly-remembered childhood stories is that of Pollyanna, the girl whose ‘glad game’ and glass-full outlook changed those around her. With her rainbow-maker prisms, physical symbols of everyday magic, she promoted thankfulness, wonderment, the search for everyday magic and trying to see the good in life. In Pollyanna’s exchange with John Pendelton, they bring magic to each others’ worlds, tranforming dreariness into a fairyland of wonder:

  It was toward the end of August that Pollyanna, making an early morning call on John Pendleton, found the flaming band of blue and gold and green edged with red and violet lying across his pillow. She stopped short in awed delight.

“Why, Mr. Pendleton, it’s a baby rainbow–a real rainbow come in to pay you a visit!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together softly. “Oh–oh–oh, how pretty it is! But how did it get in?” she cried. …

“Well, I suppose it ‘got in’ through the bevelled edge of that glass thermometer in the window,” he said wearily. “The sun shouldn’t strike it at all but it does in the morning.”

“Oh, but it’s so pretty, Mr. Pendleton! And does just the sun do that? My! if it was mine I’d have it hang in the sun all day long!”

… in a moment he was slipping off the pendants, one by one, until they lay, a round dozen of them, side by side, on the bed. “Now, my dear, suppose you take them and hook them to that little string Nora fixed across the window. If you really want to live in a rainbow–I don’t see but we’ll have to have a rainbow for you to live in!”

Pollyanna had not hung up three of the pendants in the sunlit window before she saw a little of what was going to happen. She was so excited then she could scarcely control her shaking fingers enough to hang up the rest. But at last her task was finished, and she stepped back with a low cry of delight.

It had become a fairyland–that sumptuous, but dreary bedroom. Everywhere were bits of dancing red and green, violet and orange, gold and blue. The wall, the floor, and the furniture, even to the bed itself, were aflame with shimmering bits of colour.

“Oh, oh, oh, how lovely!” breathed Pollyanna.

At the end of this exchange, Mr Pendelton says “I’m thinking that the very finest prism of them all is yourself, Pollyanna.” Pollyanna’s view of the world influences those around her. She is prismatic in the way she acts as a medium through which others’ joy and gladness can shine.

Greenflea Market, NYC

Greenflea Market, NYC

On my recent trip to New York City, I was reminded of Pollyanna. I visited the chandelier stall of Montenegrin-born Ljatif Mecikukic at the Greenflea market on Columbus Avenue. This stall is one which I have visited on all three of my visits to New York. Previously I have photographed its sun-splitting glinting crystal prettiness, but this time I also brought home a little ring of Pollyanna-style prisms, my own rainbow-making iridescence-radiating magic, stashed in my suitcase. A little Spanish chandelier from the Upper West Side:

prismatic chandelier

prismatic chandelier

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. As I, across the world, watch the light dance through my NYC prisms, I am contemplating Pollyanna’s ‘glad game’. My gratitude list includes:

  • Incredible support from those around me, which allows me to enjoy the multiplicity of roles and joys I have chosen: as parent, educator, PhD candidate, wife, daughter, sister, friend, adventuress, flâneuse, rainbow-seeker.
  • Being celebrated for being myself by family, friends, colleagues and PLN, no matter how random, left-of-centre or nerdy that is.
  • Being supported in my always-learning always-living, by my family, critical friends, affirming friends, PhD supervisors and online PLN.
  • Opportunities for professional and personal adventures, including macro ones like international travel, and micro ones like waterfall-clambering with my children.
  • Immersion in the power of storytelling: through reading the stories – real and imagined – of others, and through my own narrative research, my work as an English and Literature teacher and this blog. It’s an honour and a privilege to hear others’ stories.

Most of us don’t live in a naïve state of perpetual optimism, and there are circumstances and life events which make being glad, thankful or grateful, very challenging. Hopefully by looking for the good in situations (and in people), and by being present in our daily lives and conversations, we can connect for long enough to feel delight, awe and wonderment (thank you, Costa and Kallick). We can be the prisms which help others see beauty in life, themselves and others.

Broome beach

Broome beach, a place for reflection, wonder, delight & sand between toes