The New Year Newsletter I Didn’t Have the Guts to Send

I just found this little gem from last month. We’ll call it the cathartic holiday newsletter since I didn’t actually send it to people. 

“I just choked back the annual New Year newsletter. And let me tell you, it was the perfect mix of happy crappy nonsense with a side of truth-telling. I wanted to go with the whole “honest Christmas card” thing but got cold feet and decided on the safe and “normal” card instead.

People think we’re weird enough.

If I’d had the actual guts to write an honest Christmas card, this is what I would have written:

Greetings and salutations dear friends and family! I could not manage a family Christmas photo shoot this year, because the truth is, I’ve eaten my feelings for the whole of 2017 and the only pants that fit are gray and slightly stained, not very festive looking, and would not coordinate with any other family members.

It’s true, I could go out and buy new clothes for everyone, and yes I have seen the helpful Pinterest tips on how to maximize outfit matchiness, but the idea of trying to color coordinate makes me want to drink before noon. And who am I kidding anyway? My children live in sweats and dressing them up for a photo that I will send to a bunch of people I don’t ever hear from just to make them think I have my life together doesn’t feel very authentic.

And 2017 was the year of authenticity for me. Damn you, Bréne Brown!

2017 was also a crap heap of emotions. We lost loved ones, had other’s diagnosed with life-threatening diseases,  were plagued with endless hospital visits, and Trump became the actual president of the United States.

But I digress.

My husband has a job, so that’s good news.

The kids are great. They love to fight and argue and have some really creative name-calling skills.

As for me, I put much of my life and career on hold so I could homeschool the kids. The mix of ADHD, having your mother as a teacher and your brother as your classmate makes many days barely bearable.

It wasn’t a great year, and despite my efforts, the holidays didn’t feel very cheery for us. The movie Elf still made me crazy and no amount of mocha spiced cheery chino, holiday music or perfectly coiffed holiday photos posted to social media soothed this Grinch.

But I’d be exaggerating if I said all was lost in 2017. We did have some fun, and we definitely learned some valuable life lessons. Dealing with chronic illness taught us a lot about how strong we are as a family, and who we can rely on when things get difficult.

Well, here’s to the New Year! May it be brighter and better and less of a dumpster heap.”

How To Make Space for the Messy and Imperfect

I had one of those come-to-reality moments when I opened the photo gallery on my phone today. You know, an icky sinking moment when you realize your life looks nothing like the filtered pictures you seek out on Instagram from time to time? To make matters worse, I then stumbled upon the Instagram page of an “old friend” and felt even more lacking.

It was awful. There I was, in the parking lot of Starbucks, rifling through the beautiful photos of other people and feeling a little fatter and frumpier than usual. Suddenly, my house was ugly, my tomatoes weren’t heirloom enough, and my children weren’t intellectually stimulated in the way they deserved. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and they were still in their non-organic mismatched pajamas with the mustard stains on them. The crushing failure of my life became crystal clear at that moment.

I sat there drooling over pictures of beautifully lived lives and perfectly arranged meals, and I cursed my poor photography skills and scolded myself for not taking the time to learn how to use my camera properly.

I often tell my children that comparison is the thief of joy, but today I was caught off guard. Today I was exhausted. Today my kids were home from school for the umpteenth time and on their third round of strep throat. Today I was acutely aware of all the goals I’d made in January and still hadn’t met.

Today I opened my door wide to the thief.

To read more, pull up a chair at The Glorious Table.

If You Give An Expat Time…

They might just change their ways.

I’ve been in Shanghai for 6 months. When I arrived, I tried not to go outside on high pollution days. I monitored air pollution numbers obsessively. If I had to venture out on a “bad air day”, I would wear a mask for anything over 100 ppm. Now I don’t even check the numbers before I leave my house.

The first time I saw my friend on her electric scooter with her children, I thought she was insane. Then I got a scooter. When I got it I told myself I would only ride it slowly, on my own, while wearing a helmet. Now my children ride with me. The other day I forgot my helmet and didn’t go back to get it. (Please don’t tell my mother.)

In the beginning I would never shop at a wet market. As a foodie, I particularly loved visiting them and taking in all of the culture and elements; but when it came to actual cooking and consumption, I did my best to buy from reputable stores. With the close proximity and fact that most of my neighbors shopped there, I decided it would be okay on occasion. Soon, I was shopping there for most of our produce.

One day I went to get some fruit and I watched in shock and horror as the manager of one of the more popular fruit stands sprayed raid onto some “imported” apples. Apparently, this was necessary to ward off cockroaches; and so normal an occurrence that she didn’t hesitate to do it in front of me. I frantically sent out a neighborhood-wide WeChat to inform everyone of this atrocity. I didn’t shop there again… for a month or two. Now I send Ayi there to buy our fruits and vegetables every day. I tell myself I send her because she gets the best prices; but if I’m honest, it’s so I don’t have to know.

“You’ve changed”, my friend told me the other day. She knew the Shanghai Jen of 2007. But this new Jen; the Shanghai Jen of 2015, had changed. When we lived here before, I wouldn’t think of riding a bicycle; let alone own and operate an electric scooter. I’m more adventurous (though some might argue more foolish), and willing to try things I wouldn’t have the last time around.

When my husband and I were discussing a possible return to China, we talked a lot about what we missed and what we would do differently if we got another opportunity. I think we lived life well the first time around; but when we left, we spent a good deal of time reflecting on how we lived and what we would have changed. When we started to compare our lists, three very similar themes emerged- relationships, risk, and adventure.

If and when we went back, I was determined to be more intentional with people, more present in moments, and more adventurous with life in general.

I’ve found that getting a second chance has opened my mind even more. I’m no longer letting a fear of the unknown and unfamiliar guide my decision making. I’m going and doing and seeing. Most importantly, I’m present in these moments. I’m meeting and making new friends and building relationships that I will carry with me through life. Most of the things I found absolutely insane, have now become part of my day-to-day.  As a result, life is riskier, fuller, richer, and much more of an adventure.