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This year has been rough, for many of us.  I don’t mean ” I stubbed my toe and had to get a pretty serious ingrown toenail removed” rough; I mean “my soul got ripped from my very core and turned into mashed potatoes and taken to some sinister potluck in Hell, and  had to go find it and figure out how to make it a soul again” rough.  You may have noticed a lot of radio silence this year, as I’ve spent a lot of time inside myself trying to sort out what I wanted it to look like.  What better time to remodel than after a pack of demons has rampaged through your inner temple and torn it to shreds from the inside out.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit histrionic, but that’s what it felt like most of the time.

At Yule we are prompted to give up what no longer serves us, what harms us, and what stands in our way.  We keen, we burn, we eschew what we can no longer afford to hold in our lives.  People, things, sentiments, everything must go!  As we say goodbye to this darkness within we invite the new light that grows with the seasons.  We accept the sunlight into us to shine bright with hope and renewal, and we celebrate that we have survived the longest nights.

This year I have enough friends who have opted out of the holidays to feel it in my heart.  Some have lost loved ones.  Others are having health or financial hardships.  Still others have just become jaded for their own personal reasons.  This is not a new phenomenon, but it has been a bit more pervasive this year, but it always reminds me of my own holiday spirit and the lessons that come to be from the holidays.  I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, so excuse me while I wax a little Hallmark Special on you all.

My mom loved Christmas.  Every year, without fail, we had the tree that almost grazed our high ceilings covered in lights and ornaments.  We had garland, worn from years of use, strung around the beams and banisters and enough light up animatronic scenes and characters to confuse the cats enough not to touch any of them.  Some years the nativity scene would be almost buried in presents, but some years it would not, but I hardly noticed.

The warmth and joy that filled our house was tangible, and it instilled in me a Christmas Spirit that goes far beyond commercial messages or expectations we place on ourselves, beyond the stress and the worry, and beyond all the jaded skepticism and religious bickering I see every day on the internet or the news.  No, this Spirit is about love and togetherness.  The memories we made decorating the tree have outlasted any gift I’ve ever been given.  The snuggling on the couch watching Prancer and Miracle on 34th St is something I can still feel when I miss my mom around this time.  The love I felt at Christmas just from the time we spent as a family is something I’ve carried with me and tried to emulate in my own family during the holidays no matter what our situation might be.

Here’s a story I have not yet told:

The second Christmas Hubby and I spent together was a bit bleak.  We were i our first apartment together.  I had just started having fibro issues and hadn’t worked much.  All I wanted was a tree.  The fake one my father in law had given us was in storage, and it was locked up until the 1st of the year because we were behind on our rent.  Hubby’s grandparents had just replaced their tree, so they had an extra, which they offered to us.  It was bigger than the space we had for it, and it shed like a nervous chinchilla.  After an hour of measuring and furniture scooting I gave up.  I was sad, but we had tried.  Hubby, on the other hand, was not going to let me concede to a fake pine tree so easily.

I watched the wheels turn as he surveyed our kitchen and dining area, then we put the resulting plan to work.  What we ended up with was a quarter of a tree.  We had stood the base of the tree against the wall behind our kitchen table and only used the branches for the top three sides we could see.  It was a bit of a stretch, but we decorated the hell out of that little patch of tree, and we laughed and sang the entire time. I knew then that there would never be a dark Christmas at our house even in the worst times.  There have been years that have tested us, but we have managed to find ways to make every one special.

The point?  I’m getting to it.

The point is that Yule isn’t about eradicating the darkness, it’s about finding hope and joy in the light. It’s the stars and moon at night, just as we must also embrace the shows and shade in the daytime.  It’s about approach and soul building.  When I eventually found my soul, it wasn’t really any different than it had been before.  I merely had to scrape off a layer of negativity, pick out some things that made it seem spoiled, and put it back where it belongs.  The darkness didn’t ruin it, and the light didn’t do anything but show me what was already there.

This year has been rough, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to even afford gifts for the kids.   When I left work with a flight bag full of small handmade gifts I never imagined I wouldn’t make it all the way home, but a few days later I returned to California feeling deflated.  I hadn’t even send cards.  We just hadn’t had the money.

I put everything in a box and sent it to Hubby and his girlfriend hoping it would at least make him smile for Christmas.  The rest I carried with me on trips I picked up for the time I was supposed to be home.  The cards, I sent.  I figured that was the end of it.  Then I saw the smiles on the faces of people I saw on my trips and the happy Facebook messages from people who were surprised by my cards.  I heard Hubby and Mouse’s voices when they called me after opening their gifts on Yule, and they were so full of joy that, while I was still homesick, my spirit was renewed.

Yesterday as I placed a blue and while Yule/Christmas bouquet at my mom’s headstone, full of her favorite flowers, I caught the scent of pine that rose from it and was immediately reminded that I get to spend the holidays with family I haven’t seen on Christmas in many years, that I have been able to spend the better part of this year with people who are no longer with us and that I have been able to be a part of the lives of the children in our family again.

This was my first home, and it remains a very special part of me and my Christmas heritage. When I got back to y room I set up an impromptu alter, some festive things my grandma had left as a surprise for me, and the cards Hubby had brought me on a surprise overnight visit, and my heart was immediately lighter.

Light.  There it is.

Light of hope.  This doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better.  This doesn’t mean all the injuries we’ve sustained this year are gone.  This means there is hope.  This means a light has been shed on our strength and our resilience.  This means a light has been shed on those around us who love us, so we know we’re not in this alone.  That light means guidance and a promise that if we are growing we are alive.

Light.  Light reminds us that there is more than darkness.  The fact that we recognize darkness is, in part, due to the very light we hail, as we are reminded when we speak to balance.

Aloha, Light.  Aloha, Darkness. Aloha Christmas.

Go now, be joyous.

Note: This letter is written mostly as snark, but partly as a genuine list of concerns families have on both sides of coming out.  I found that when I stopped trying to gently explain things and just started pointing out to our family just how ridiculous some of their concerns sounded to us, they began to understand more that our lifestyle choice didn’t have to be a lifestyle change for them, that we were still the people they raised to be responsible adults, and that we weren’t going to destroy our extended families with our poly laser vision.   Maybe don’t print it out verbatim, but feel free to use it as a rubric for conversation.    

Dear Friends and Family,

I have chosen to be open with you about my family and how we choose to live.  This honestly means that I trust you to at least not condemn me, though I hope you’ll try to open your heart and accept my extended family even if you do not understand how or why we have made these choices.  I understand that this may be unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable territory for you to navigate, so I will do my best to give you some helpful highlights to make this holiday season enjoyable for us all!

1.  My partners are people, not aliens or monsters.  They have lives, families, and personalities of their own.  Try having a conversation.  About anything, really.  You don’t need my mediation.

2.  My partners are not made of glass.  See above.

3.  My partners are not homewreckers.  See number 1, and see my husband/wife/etc.  That smile?  That means we’re still happy together and that this is a mutual decision we’ve made.

4.  Remember when I went to prom and you met my date at the door cleaning a shotgun and interrogated him until he had sweat through his cummerbund?  Don’t do that.  We’re all adults now, and the fact that these are people I love and value alone should convince you that they’re good people.

5. There is no need to tiptoe around our children.  They know exactly what they need to know, that they have a family full of people who love them and that there are presents to open.  I assure you they are more concerned about the presents than who sleeps in what bed with whom.

6.  You don’t need to buy us all gifts.  Don’t worry, this is not a scheme to get more stuff.  If you want to include us all, and we hope you do, you can give us something we can all use!  Or feed us.  We LOVE that.

7.  We don’t care if you say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or Hi.  Just be nice, and smile.

8.  There is no need to worry about us acting inappropriately at your gathering…unless it’s that kind of gathering.  The important thing here is that we’re people, not animals.  Those manners we’ve exhibited for years?  Didn’t disappear when we chose to love more than one person.  Let’s add to that that we won’t discuss our sex lives out loud if you will promise the same.  Lookin’ at you, Grandma.

9.  I understand that members of our extended family may not understand our relationship situation.  If they question you, tell them whatever you feel comfortable saying.  It’s not integral to our household that you use titles.  When I introduce my family to people who might not be poly-friendly I simply say “this is Jane”.  Jane knows she’s my girlfriend.  People who have asked me know she’s my girlfriend.  Let Aunt Gertrude make her own assumptions.  People do it all the time for all kinds of ridiculous things.  Again, see that part about acting appropriately at a family function.  We have this covered.

10.  Please don’t feel like you can’t ask any of us questions or trust us not to make the entire family name look like a circus.  I’m still your son/daughter/etc, and we are all family.  We want to share these celebrations with you, and we are thankful to be included as a family.

Love,

(sign here)

It’s that time of year again.  The holidays.  This isn’t going to be a cynical post about the Holly Jolly Spirit, because I, for one, love the holidays and find it offensive when people say “tis the season” like it’s time for their annual rectal exam.  I do, however, understand how stressful this time of year can be.  Our expectations run rampant, out time runs short, and our patience runs thin.  Now add in family.  Even if you get along well with your family, putting everyone in one under such conditions is like a peppermint flavoured Molotov cocktail.
I try to write a yearly Survival Guide for poly families.  Unfortunately, last year I broke my arm two days after Thanksgiving and wasn’t doing much of anything before Christmas but left-handed, pain-killer inspired gift shopping on the internet.  It was a unique year for Clan Clifford.
In any case, I am a more traditional person than people seem to expect around the holidays, possibly because my mother was, and this is my way of connecting with her every year.  In the process we have also developed our own family traditions, and as our tribe grows those new traditions become vital to our cohesion and culture.
New forms of Old Traditions
This year we made the decision to include the entire household on our family holiday card.  While we are open about our poly lifestyle, aside from our wedding day we have not been so brazen as to present it to anyone giving us more than a surface glance, in the same way that we are pagan but have yet to send a Yule card with a pentagram printed on it.  This year I expect questions, especially from those who are not as accepting.
When Hubby and I first met I started the tradition of getting us an ornament every year.  I still do, but in addition I get one for the whole family.  I love the unique personality this gives our tree, and it’s a good reminder that while our family has been through some rough patches and changed shape over the years we have made some amazing memories, and we continue to thrive.
Another trend we’ve noticed for the past several years, even though it hasn’t been a decided tradition, is Hubby and I seeing a movie together on Christmas after all the chaos has settled.  It gives us a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company without thinking too much.  There’s also generally a photo booth around, which is one of my not so secret addictions, so we’ve got a fun little archive of our Christmas movie activity.
New (to us) Traditions
So, this year, Ralph and I decided we wanted an Elf on the Shelf.  While the rest of the family finds it creepy and disturbing, we are having a blast with her, mostly because her actions are the product of our slightly twisted inspiration, but also because I can share her benign activities with my stepson, with whom I hardly get a chance to see and connect, via email.  It’s really given us a way to stay playful and a bit mischievous, reminding us that the holidays are about our inner child’s spirit as much, if not more so, than it’s about the chaos and everything looking like a Better Homes cover.
This is also the first year I’ll be going to a partner’s house on Christmas.  While we have had A at our family events, she’s become a familiar face to our family, and it’s always been as a group, not as a couple.  With the actual holiday falling in the middle of the week, it makes little to no sense for me to take the day off to travel home only to have to be back the following day for work, so the family will meet that morning and I’ll be going with Ralph that night.  It will be a bit an adjustment, as Christmas Eve has always been extremely important to me and Hubby, but one we are willing to try out this year.
My advice to you?  Stop stressing about the details. When it comes down to it, the holidays should be about togetherness and family.  Even if there’s a spiritual aspect to your holiday experience, the exact date is less important than the spirit in which you celebrate, especially if members of your household celebrate different holidays.  My second piece of advice?  Enjoy yourself.  Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks or does, and celebrate our holidays your way.  Make tacos.  Go to the movies.  Have a bonfire.  Drive some go-karts.  Do what you do, and make some memories as a family.
Next week I’m giving you all a special gift, your family’s guide to surviving your poly family during the holidays.  Disseminate it as you wish.

I have a confession to make, dear friends.  I still believe in Santa.

My mom worked very hard to make sure I believed in Santa as long as possible, and I did far after my friends and other kids had grown jaded and cynical.  One year she even made dirty boot prints on our carpet, a mortal sin in our house and punishable by slow, torturous death, only to complain about having to clean it up.  That Santa, she said, he can come down a chimney, but he can’t deliver presents without making a mess?  There were years of half eaten cookies of which I took pictures with dreams of running dental records, glasses of half drunk milk, and dozens of letters and pictures left for Santa.  Yes, my friends, my mother suffered terribly in her role as Santa.  I often wondered in later years why she went through so much work.  All kids eventually stop believing in Santa or dragging their irrefutable proof of his existence to school for skeptical friends on the first day back to school.

The simple answer is the sheer excitement, mystery, and wonder that comes from waiting for Santa.  For years my cousins and I would swear we heard sleigh bells and feet on the roof.  Hubby’s mom even snuck him to the top of the stairs one year to witness Santa, proxied by Pop-pop, to suspend his belief for a few more years.  Especially for kids like Hubby and I were, kids who knew too much and always looked for more answers, it was hard to keep that belief and excitement alive.

I have not yet had the opportunity to have  Christmas morning with Lil Guy, but his excitement around opening presents and Santa this year was contagious.  I hope someday we can come to some kind of agreement with his mother, but I hope more that she does what she can to keep that spirit alive in him as long as possible.  Too often we stress to children their need to mature and grow, and we let those things that keep them young and vibrant well into their adult years fall by the wayside.  Children need a good portion of fantasy and mystery in their lives in order to not become adults with no sense of imagination or silliness.  Bah humbug to that!

In any case, it appears this year, his five-year old’s excitement was contagious, and could not have needed it more than I did this year.  With Hubby and I apart for the holidays for the first time in four years,  it had been a stretch for me to find the spirit.  I was going through all the motions and waiting for January until one night I had a thought.  I hadn’t had Christmas with my family in at least six years, and I missed it.  I’ve always had jobs that kept me home at Christmas, but this year I had enough seniority to get the day off.  If I could find people willing to pick up the rest I would fly to California for Christmas.

The logistics here were rough.  I decided to make it a surprise to everyone but my dad, who would have to pick me up.  I wanted that excitement!  The last few times I’d seen my maternal grandmother she’d seemed down and a little depressed, and I hoped this would brighten her day a little.  I also didn’t know if I could get there.  Because my day job is at an airline,  I fly for free, but I fly standby.  To fly standby at Christmas is a gamble all around.  I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up and not make it after all.

So, I schemed.  My dad helped.  Co-workers were kind, and flights were miraculously free of a seat or two.  Lo and behold, Santa arrived in Oakland two days early on a Boeing 737, carrying me!  I was as excited as a kid on…well, Christmas.

What I didn’t know is that both grandmothers had been having a bit of a rough year, and both of them needed a little extra Christmas spirit.  When I showed up at the first one’s house she almost fell over.  Then she cried.  The other was so excited after I called that she rearranged her plans the next day and couldn’t sleep that night.  They needed to reconnect as much as I did.

And so it began!  My dad and I drove the neighbourhood looking for elaborate displays of Christmas lights.  My grandmother and I made the cemetery rounds, and I was able to reconnect with the family I’ve lost.  Afterwards we had lunch and were finally able to talk like we haven’t been able to do in a long time.  It’s been an amazing experience.  While Hubby and I may have needed the overtime pay, but he recognized this need as well and encouraged me to do what was best for me and my spirit.  We can make up the money.  I would never have been able to make up this time with my family.

While I only celebrate Christmas secularly, this is what it’s about to me.  It’s about family, togetherness, and excitement.  It’s about sharing, connecting, and laughing together no matter how rough the year has been.  It’s about hope for the coming year and casting off the grudges and petty arguments of the past year.  It’s about excitement, mystery, and surprise.  It’s about magic.  It may be only a part of the Spirit of Christmas, as I do respect that it is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is the power behind the Spirit of Santa and the reason I will always believe.

Aloha.

Go now, have a Merry Christmas!

I’ve been doing an awful lot of serious topics lately, so tonight I decided to do something festive and fun!  If you’re like the boyfriend, you wait for the last minute to buy gifts, and if you’re still trying to that perfect gift for your poly friends, here are some functional as well as a few non-functional ideas.

A BJ’s Membership: We go through a lot of…well, everything.  Stores like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club were made for the poly household.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 T-shirts: One for each partner!

Utensil Sets: I don’t know where our forks and spoons go…maybe the kids have started eating those, too.

Hula Hoops: Three kids.  One hula hoop.  Watch the hilarity ensue…for hours.

His and Hers Towel Sets…in bulk:  His and hers and hers and hers and his and his…..you get the idea.

Storage…of any kind: We like leftovers.  We really like leftovers, because cooking 3 meals a day for that many people takes forever.  We have lunches to pack, and there are never enough places to put the freshly cut veggies or newly shredded cheese I want to use later.  In addition, we have boxes of orphaned crayons and art supplies, books, socks, camping gear, and outdoor equipment that would run the place if we weren’t obsessively organized.  Believe me, it’s happened.  My OCD won’t have it!  We love bins, totes, and those neat canvas drawers.  If you’re not sure, The Container Store sells gift cards.

Picture frames:  Have you met my girlfriend?

The Trojan Variety Pack:  Just sayin’.

Band-Aids…first aid kits in general: Boys will be boys, and girls will continue to beat them up.  Bumps, scrapes, burns, cuts, and all sorts of freak injuries happen in our family.  Maybe we’re more accident prone than most households, or maybe it is some odd side effect of being poly.  Our kids love the fun Band-Aids with everything from Angry Birds to Shrek on them.

P-touch labeler:  Never have to hear anyone fight about whose anything is again!

Pasta boat: Good for singles, good for families. You can prepare tons of pasta quickly in a pasta boat. Pasta boat. http://www.pastaboat.com

Family passes to the zoo (or local waterpark as the boyfriend suggested):  Usually these come with multiple passes, and you don’t actually have to be related to be on a family pass.  Way to go, Dorney Park, for being alternative family friendly!

Toiletry kits: For all the non-live ins!

Netflix: Whether it’s obscure foreign films, 80’s cartoons, or Troll Hunter, there’s something for everyone.  Hopefully they have enough computers or TV’s to stream them on…or you may also need to provide dice, duct tape, and more Band-Aids.

Magnetic Poetry:  You’ll be surprised what your partners…and kids…will make your fridge door say to the world.  Or, maybe you won’t.

Pillow pets:  Because sometimes you just need a puppy pile on the floor.

Giant mixing bowls:  If you cook like Hubby you cook for a small army, and our family happens to eat like a small army.  These bowls are lifesavers…I’m talking stick-your-head-in-em sized bowls.  As it has been pointed out, they also make excellent helmets, drums, and baby doll beds.

Finally, I hate to admit it, but…

Those giant cans full of popcorn: My family can’t keep their hands out of these things!  Just don’t let your 3 year old shake the can.  Then it’s a surprising collage of flavours every time.

There you have it, friends, everything you need to shop for the polys in your life.  Happy Holidays, and happy hunting!  You’ve got 10 days!

Aloha!

Go now, be merry.

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