Be a Joiner

One of the values Tim and I both are enjoying living into so much is what I'm going to call Participating*. I was sheltered as a child from the world around me, including my neighbors. This was not intentional, per se, but we lived in a wealthy neighborhood and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. We went to private Christian schools, predominantly outside of our neighborhood and participated in daily bus trips or carpools in order for my parents to live into one of their highest values, private education.
When it became time for Tim and I to decide how we were going to educate our children, we decided to go with public school for a number of reasons. Financially, we were in the same position as my parents were. We could afford to privately educate our children but it would hurt. A lot. If that was a high priority of ours, I know we would find a way to make it work financially, just as my parents did (we had a very leaky roof when I was little. Luckily, it rarely rains in San Diego!) What we decided was that we really wanted to participate in our neighborhood life. What better way to do that than to put our precious children alongside theirs to learn at school every day. I know a lot of Christians who care very much about assimilating into their neighborhood and being a real presence there. Do it! This is one of the ways we chose to participate. If education isn't where you want to do it, there are other ways for sure. Be home on Halloween for Trick or Treaters. Host block parties, holiday parties, garage sales, whatever sounds fun. There's no wrong way to be a good neighbor. One of the best ways to be a good neighbor is to be home and to answer the door when people knock. (This will probably be another value discussed in the future).
We've lived in the same townhouse for 9 and a half years. We love it! Our cul de sac is tiny and most of our neighbors have been here as long as we have or longer. Our kids ride their bikes in the street and everyone looks out for each other. I called the fire department when our neighbors smoke detector didn't turn off a few years back. Our next door neighbor called the cops when one of our teen girls was getting beat down by another high school girl in the street. We all came out. We got involved. We all stand up for each other. We've got each others backs. I can't help but wonder if part of that is because we aren't wealthy. This is probably my own prejudice speaking. But there's a certain group mentality that comes from actually needing each other, asking to borrow things we don't have, sharing our resources and being in each others lives that I did not experience growing up on an affluent street as a child.  
One of the teachers reading to the kids.
As you can imagine, this has greatly affected our public school experience. Our school is a Title 1 school, which means we get extra funding because we're considered poor (this was a funny realization for us since we've always felt incredibly blessed). The teachers are committed, well-educated and just all around kick-ass at their jobs. Macy's first grade class is 50% ESL students. It's a great, close-knit, diverse school environment. Macy's education has been fantastic (I've found that often Christian schools are more focused on protecting children in a "safe" environment than giving them a better education). I've been impressed by the moral values emphasized in the schools behavioral expectations as well as the consistency with which they deal with infractions. Everything is clear, streamlined and fair. At Curriculum Night this year, I was blown away by the Class Pledge Macy's teacher had created with the children's input. It read, "In our class we try our best to be respectful to each other. We are nice and kind and think of other peoples hearts. We are friends with everyone and we try to share. We help each other out and cheer each other on. This is our promise to ourselves and each other." Can you imagine if this was posted on our streets, in our stores, in church, on government buildings...This would change the world. And you know what? It is changing the world, with these 21 1st graders who read it every day in class.  
Waiting to sing!
When you go to a school event after hours, the PTA is there, the principal, many teachers, the community liason (she helps families with financial needs) and a gang of parents and kids. In the 15 months we've been involved with our school, we've participated in fundraisers, book fairs, a family dance, Thanksgiving feasts, Back to School nights, Curriculum Nights, conferences, performances, skate nights, bingo nights - you name it. Last night, Macy and I attended the school Barnes & Noble Book Fair. Barnes & Noble hosts the whole school (during normal business hours) and they give the school 20% of all purchases made by participants back to the school. The children display their artwork. Many classes sing and dance. There are trivia games between parents and kids. We even had a renown illustrator there to speak and sign books for the kids. As you can see from the photos, this is not really a conducive environment for such an event. But we don't have an auditorium at our school to accommodate all the parents and kids. So, for our school Seuss-themed holiday night, we sat on the floor of Barnes & Noble with children standing on blue tape lines 3 inches in front of kids sitting in the audience. 
Sorry it's blurry - trying to inconspicuously capture the parents.
We had a boom box playing the accompaniment. We had children in sweatpants, fancy gowns and everything in between. Faces streaked with cheesecake samples from the baristas, these beautiful, messy children sang their hearts out about the Grinch, Christmas, family and love. I gotta tell you guys, I was a freaking mess. What a beautiful experience! All of us crammed in together celebrating community, love, life and children. Turns out, the accommodations weren't amazing when Jesus was making his way out of teenage Mary's birth canal either. But his entrance was grand in all the mess and beautiful chaos that I can only imagine ensued. (Mary AMAZES me but that's a side note). 
Macy proudly showing the gift she made to decorate the walls.
This is my community. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Participate in the world all around you. It's ripe for the taking. It's easy to think, "they don't need me. Last night would have gone on even if I hadn't come." That's true, except if every person there had the same idea, those hard-working music teachers, art teachers, principals, children and awesome Barnes & Noble workers would have done all their work for nothing. No books purchased on behalf of the school. No one to impress with Seuss-themed artwork. No one to clap while they danced and sang. Your community wants your participation. It's the better for it. And so are you.

* If you're unfamiliar with my series on personal values, see my previous posts on honesty, kindness, sharing, giving dignity and decency

Perfectionism and the Holidays

Being a perfectionist around the holidays can be a truly terrible affliction. Not just for the perfectionist, for you the whole family of one (and we have two in our house!) It creates this vortex of colossal expectations, one-shot opportunities, stressful expense of energy and money, shame, shame, oh, the shame - So. Much. Pressure. Usually with a lot of people around. 
I've always been the holiday queen in this house. My husband is not really into holidays, though he tries to be a good sport (after we've had many conversations about how much they mean to me). But, I do everything I can physically do myself. This includes putting up our exterior lights and getting down most of the heavy boxes. When I get into "holiday mode" I want everything done my way, on my timetable (now!) and with cheer. This is why I do not wait for my husband. Our dynamic usually requires respect and patience and I don't exude either very well in these crucial holiday prep moments. So I do the classic perfectionist move (passive aggressive) of taking it all on myself so it can be done perfectly. I highly recommend this healthy choice.
I'm very emotionally invested in how all my hard work, dreams and extensive planning plays out. Not only must everything go well (exactly as I imagined), look beautiful, but everyone better have fun and be happy -- or else! The icing on the cake is that my therapist likes to point out that somewhere in all this expectation, exhaustion, total lack of grace for myself and others, I'm truly looking for appreciation. So, I run around hoping that everything goes according to my perfect expectations (very interesting when you remember that this involves two very spirited young children) while expecting every member of my family to be filled with gratitude after I've told them all exactly how and how not to have fun. 
This dynamic has never been more apparent to me than last night. I was in a really bad place to begin with, which is an indication to me that it was probably not a great night to add in all the holiday hooplah involved in decorating the house. But I still operate under the illusions that holidays are fun. Sweet, right? So when I'd had a bad day and I love Christmas, why wouldn't I unknowingly make the mistake of suggesting to your energetic six year old that it's the perfect time to decorate? 
As the usual crazy unfolded, I was also trying to put the baby down for a nap, keep our oldest from digging through the breakables, setting everything out "just so", and of course - secretly prepping our homemade Advent calendar because duh, it's also December 1st. Oh, and a school night. And I had an insane Thanksgiving week filled with hosting, endless cooking, traveling alone with 2 kids, lots of driving, working, shopping, plus a SHITTY day to begin with. All that means is, I didn't have any emotional energy to be patient, kind, generous, calm or gracious to myself or my family. This situation called upon my shame voice, just to be on standby for any human moments. All it takes is one broken treasured item, one terse word exchanged for it to start shouting. "See! It doesn't matter how much you run around. This isn't even fun. You're not having any fun and neither is anyone else." Or this self-pity gem, "Why do you even bother? All you do is make your daughter feel bad when you want to re-do her 6 year old decorating because it's not perfect. Sure, you're trying so hard to rein it in and let her help, but you just can't let everything go. You might as well be a tyrant. You've got to "correct" her sometimes and that hurts her. Look at how she's stomping her foot and turning away from you. Now you're shaming her too." Ha, even my shaming voice shames me about shaming my daughter. Who can win in that situation?  
If you thought I was going to end this post with all these loose ends neatly tied up, loaded with tips on how to simplify your life this Christmas season and all my personal anecdotes on how to give yourself grace and be victorious over perfectionism, you're not gonna get that from me. This was where I was at last night, people. Not much growth happens while you sleep. All I'm prepared to do at this point is identify how unhelpful shame is in this hot mess of unfair expectations, very poor self-care, and a total lack of giving grace. Sometimes just seeing yourself objectively is all you can do to say, huh, this isn't working. 
At least I have a whole 36 hours to figure it out, before we plan on cutting down our tree and decorate that thing too.