Monday, December 21, 2009

Holidays: First year quiet moments

For the past several years, I have tried not to get too sucked into holiday "busy-ness." I keep my shopping to a minimum, say no to about half the party invitations I receive, don't pressure myself to cook elaborate meals...

This year, I have felt an extra strong need to simplify and just enjoy quiet moments in life. Those quiet moments are especially important with C. It is our first Christmas together as a married couple and that is incredibly important to me.

Everyone says that Christmas is for the children. Honestly, I disagree.

Sure, children get excited for Christmas lights, Santa and presents. It is sweet and nice to watch, but this time of year can also be nice for the grown-ups among us. Who says we can't enjoy this time of year after we have passed a certain young age?

As an adult, this season is about moving out of darkness and into light. (The Winter Solstice is today and the days will begin to get longer again - I love that.)

It is about celebrating the beauty and blessings in our lives. This year, I am celebrating my new marriage, my love for C. and the opportunities for growth this past year has brought me -- in addition to the constant blessings of my wonderful family and dear friends.

After Christmas is done, the year winds down and it is a time to welcome new beginnings. This past year has brought so much love into my life and so much change - some challenging and some exciting - and I can't wait for what the next year will bring.

I have been racking my brain trying to come up with new traditions that C. and I can share as a couple, but haven't come up with much.

However, we have shared a few very sweet moments that will help make this first holiday season together a wonderful memory. We decorated our self-cut Christmas tree alone together after Jonah* was asleep one night. It was almost meditative - the two of us quietly selecting and placing ornaments together during a quiet evening.

This past Saturday, we attended a Winter Solstice celebration downtown. It was a nice change of pace from the typical holiday events - eclectic world music and a relatively small group of people sharing the joy of the season. C. and I settled into a back corner of the room, which was illuminated by red and white Christmas lights. We drank dark beer and mead (honey wine, yum), held hands, snuggled,  enjoyed the excellent people-watching and listened to the music. It was a quiet moment for us to connect and just BE as individuals and as a couple.

I have tears in my eyes thinking about it. It was a simple and powerful moment that I will treasure.

So, I wish everyone a God Jul (good yule in Swedish), a Merry Christmas and a new year full of light, peace and new beginnings.

* name changed

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moms, dads ... and stepmoms

I have been doing a lot of reading on blended families, how to be a good stepmom, how to have a successful marriage in a blended family, etc. As with anything new in my life, I always turn to books and research for comfort and hope, as well as direction and tips.

I have been reading a few online message boards and blogs on the topic, as well. Something I read on a stepmom blog yesterday has really stuck in my craw...

(The blogger is also a nationally recognized author on the topic.)

She wrote something like, paraphrasing here, "the two women in a child's life (mom and stepmom) often become the two most nurturing forces." Adding, again paraphrasing, "women have a natural ability to nurture and often end up competing for top spot in a child's life."

Deep breath.

I have a few major problems with that assertion:

First, I am not competing for the mom-spot in my stepkids' lives. They have a mom whom they love and see on a regular basis. She is far from perfect, but she is -- and always will be -- mom. I really resent the idea that I would presume to fill her role, or that I would be "naturally" drawn to do so because I am the more nurturing sex.

Second, who says dads can't be nurturers? I think it is so insulting to dads to assume that they are the hands-off parents and leave the nurturing to the women in their lives. It shortchanges their ability (and desire) to be emotional and have deeply connected relationships in their lives.

(I have heard that PromiseKeepers actually tells men to be hands-off during children's younger years and that their job "kicks in" when the kids turn 13 and need help growing into adults. That idea is insulting both ways -- it implies that dads can't possibly nurture young children and moms can't possibly help teens become healthy adults. Grr.)

Back to dads as nurturers. C. is amazing with his kids. He handles bedtime and bath time. He does their laundry. He kisses their booboos and offers bear hugs during the scary parts in movies. He snuggles with them on the couch to watch TV. He colors with his daughter and plays cars with his son. He lets them wear their Halloween costumes when they want and encourages their healthy imaginations. He is constantly on the lookout for new books on parenting and taking care of a special needs child. This list could go on and on and on. He is an amazing dad. I would even argue that he is the most nurturing parent in their lives (but I am not a fly on the wall in mom's house - so don't know that for sure).

He didn't need me to swoop in and take care of the kids' emotional or physical needs. He knows how to do it and does it well.

(I would argue that he needs my emotional support and care as a wife much more than he needs my skills with children.)

As stepmom, and as the second adult in the house, I do support him and back him up. I do offer emotional support and physical care to the kids, but my role as a "parent-figure" comes after C. and the kids' mom. (Their stepdad is also a supporter and cheerleader in their lives.)

My role as stepmom is something unique. I don't see myself as a parent, but I do see myself as a responsible adult in their lives. I can offer extra support and care -- but that will never be a true substitute for what mom and dad can provide.

More on this later. Ruminating for now...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter fun

C. and I took a weekend trip to Grand Lake, Colo. for his birthday -- just the two of us. It was so relaxing and wonderful. We had a view of the mountains from our room, which was complete with a cozy fireplace and log furniture. Saturday was a very lazy day of napping, lounging and just walking around the little town.

I surprised C. with a massage appointment at the lodge, which he loved. He needed the relaxation time for sure, and it feels so good to give just the right present. :)

After the sun went down, we went outside for a dip in the hot tub. There is nothing like looking at the stars from a mountain lodge while soaking in a hot tub. The trip back inside in the 5-degree temps wasn't as fun, but it was such a Colorado moment.

That night, we went to the Community House in town and enjoyed a concert by a men's a cappella group. They were adorable -- senior men in their Christmas sweaters. They were pretty good, as well. It was such a small town Christmas experience.

After the show, we enjoyed an amazing dinner across the street at the local tavern. C. had duck stroganoff and I had lingonberry-sauced salmon (my Swedish side loves anything lingonberry) with a side of honey-roasted sweet potatoes. Yummy.

Most of the men's choir made its way to the same tavern and graced us with another impromptu concert there (ahh, memories of my high-school choir singing anywhere, any time).

Sunday, we had a leisurely breakfast at one of the local cafes and then went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. There's a pretty trail just outside town that winds its way past several waterfalls and lakes. We hiked about three or four miles along the river, but didn't quite make it to the first lake before it started to snow. It was only about 10 degrees, so we decided to head back before we got trapped in the storm.
I was really hoping to see a moose on our hike, but no dice. Still, hiking in the cold with nobody else around was invigorating. Colorado is a stunningly beautiful place and I am so thankful for the opportunity to enjoy the natural assets of my home state whenever I can.

Back to reality today, but I am so glad for the weekend diversion that refreshed both of our spirits so much.