(Disclaimer: I asked and received full permission from my daughter to share this. I am eternally amazed by her courage).
It was Thursday, April 9, 2021, the eve of my daughter’s sixteenth birthday. Izzie was struggling mightily with her mental health; we hadn’t yet got the correct diagnosis or medication. It would come soon, and with it much brighter days, but we didn’t yet know that was coming. Izzie was finishing up a week at an in-patient psychiatric facility because she was, at the time, a threat to herself. Her doctors had agreed to release her a day early so that she could “celebrate” her sweet sixteen at home.
While she was there, she was asked to make a list of things to look forward to. When you’re suicidal, even the smallest ray of hope can be a lifeline. Her list contained two items:
- Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
The first item was a no-brainer. Taylor was in the process of re-recording her albums to which she no longer owned the masters and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was set to be released at midnight that very day. Taylor taking back control of her creative property had always felt empowering to Izzie and Fearless was the album she jokingly referred to as my Taylor gateway drug.
The second item on her list gave me pause because we were not, by any stretch of the imagination, what you would call Christmas people. I was always one of those people that found December more jarring than jolly, rolling my eyes at the Christmas trees for sale alongside the Halloween pumpkins, decrying the companies prematurely shoving Christmas in my face to profit off of a holiday that is supposed to be about the spirit of giving. I hated watching humans become their most depraved shopping selves on Black Friday, would wrinkle my nose in distaste every time Mariah Carey started crooning about all she wanted for Christmas. The holidays felt rushed, stressful, and so expensive. In a season of cold darkness, when other animals hibernate, we’re expected to stay up late in merry-making. Since I’m not especially religious, the whole advent thing never resonated deeply. December just felt like another over-commercialized tradition I was obligated to take part in.Thinking about the handmade wrapping paper and caroling and sledding and Christmas pageants and decorations and Elf on the Shelf and homemade cards and watching 140 different Hallmark movies left me exhausted instead of excited. I couldn’t wait for it to be done so that we could get to Twixmas and take a collective breath.
But evidently, my Scrooge-like beliefs hadn’t been adopted by my off-spring. If the holidays were important enough to her to stay alive, they needed to be important to me too.
So I asked Izzie why she loved the holidays and what we could do as a family to make it really special. She loved wearing matching pajamas, making cocoa, and watching The Holiday by the fire. She loved guessing if the Hershey’s Kiss in her advent door was green, red, or silver. She loved hanging a stocking for our dog, assembling and decorating a gingerbread house, baking cookies to leave out for Santa. She loved learning new carols on her guitar and finding out the history behind each song. She loved the lights, the smell of the tree, the Christmas morning brunch..
Her excitement was contagious. I had already curated perfect holidays for my child, and didn’t need to spend more money or plan new events. I just needed to soften my heart and be present enough to witness the holiday magic.
That year changed everything for me, though from the outside very little shifted. I simply decided to love the season. Where I used to grouch at people who decorated what I deemed too early, now I fully support you doing anything in this dark, hard world that brings you joy. I actually spend less money on presents for my family so that I can afford to surprise others: my mailwoman, the kind waitress, the homeless man on North Main Street. I take time to move slowly through the world, wish more people Happy Holidays, pause more often to be grateful for all I have and send peace and well-wishes to those who have less.
Bring on the season y’all. I’m ready to celebrate.