When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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In Defence of Playing Dress Up

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my makeup habits a lot.

Why do I wear this stuff? How I justify hauling a “mask” of sorts around town? What am I trying to prove? What am I trying to hide? 

While sometimes the answer is “Um, obviously you’re trying to hide that pimple, Shauna,” I have realized that these questions as a whole are flawed. My makeup isn’t really a mask.

IMG_8802Story time.

Growing up, my mother rarely wore makeup. She was a low-maintenance country girl and, perhaps more importantly, she had four little people to look after. I was the oldest of these, and the only girl.

On very special occasions, my mother would unleash the mystical cosmetics bag. I would watch, fascinated, as she expertly curled her lashes and powdered her face with whatever-that-stuff-was. She would share her eye shadow with me (just a little bit, just for fun) and I would giggle as I buried my little feet in her size-8 shoes.

Dress up was one of my favourite games.

My day-to-day makeup free momma was no more or less beautiful than the date night version, and she was certainly no more or less my momma. Still, I really dug the special-occasions grooming process. I loved watching my mother ceremonially draw on her face before leaving us with the babysitter. Once, in one of my most embarrassing moments ever, I even stole red nail polish from my her bathroom and tried to use it as lipstick.

(Wait. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how stupid that was.)

Fast forward through a few face paint faux pas and the turtleneck-centric middle school years, and I found myself in the dress up big leagues. High school meant my choices were endless and personal. It also meant that the factors influencing those choices were complicated. I had more self to express, more peers to please, more categories and clothes and I finally got my ears pierced. 

So I shaved my head, then dyed my hair brown for awhile. I went through everything from au naturel months, to questionably bold colours, earthy tones, pinkish glows, red lipsticks. I wore cowboy boots. I wore sneakers. I wore huge hoop earrings and tiny necklaces. I stole (borrowed?) my mother’s nail polish once again, and actually managed to finally use it right.

This was dress up. This was the same game my mother played when she got ready for a night on the town. The same game I played as a giggly little kid, stumbling around in mom’s shoes with 20 different barrettes falling out of my hair. 

…and it’s the game I play now, as I try on my third outfit and rush through my current eyeliner-infused routine each morning.

And so the questions follow:

Why do I keep playing this game? Am I trying to be something I’m not?

Hardly.

Actually, as I look back on my life, it appears to be quite the opposite: Dress up isn’t about denying who I am. It is a part of who I am.

Is part of the motive to look pretty? Of course it is. I felt pretty in my twenty barrettes when I was five, in my vintage earrings and cowboy boots at 16, and in my big-kid makeup yesterday. No, I don’t believe I owe it to anyone to be consistently attractive (though for some people that’s a thing, and it shouldn’t be). I just believe that feeling pretty feels good. work really freakin’ hard to be beautiful on the inside (not sure if that’s a weird/vain thing to say), so sometimes it’s nice to feel like my face is a part of that. 

Do I try to look pretty for other people sometimes? Of course I do (‘sup, hormones?). But I also try to act nice and be funnier and listen better. Highlighting your best qualities isn’t a bad thing. And getting your game face on (literally) isn’t a bad thing either, not really.

Dress up doesn’t have to be about changing who we are. It can be about expressing and highlighting who we are, where we are, how we are. We just have to own the game.

You’re allowed to wear whatever makes you most comfortable. If that means sweat pants (helloooo Thursday night Netflix!), then great. If that means covering blemishes and highlighting features with a so-called mask of colours and chemicals, then cool.

As for me? Well, I’m just going to stick with what dress up means to me today: Reddish lipstick, blue jeans, and unmatching socks.

IMG_0793(2)Classy is as classy does, folks.

Because Easy Answers are Boring.

 “What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.

I smiled at the question.  She smiled back.

“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”

My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.

We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge.  Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”

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I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some).  I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”

She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Wait–what. What?

At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?

Answer: Probably not.

[Insert prepubescent panic here.]

As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting.  “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”

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A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.

“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”

I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are).  So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”

“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”

“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”

“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”

It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.

Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.

But maybe, that’s the best part.

Big thanks once again to image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
Big thanks once to my image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!