Picture this: I was twelve years old. My crafty self had recently discovered Sculpey (a bright-colored modeling clay that can be baked to harden)...and everyone I loved needed a handmade ornament that Christmas. I can't tell you how many hours I spent pinching and moulding little moose with Santa hats and angels with clumsy wings. Only that, to this day, I know every word of that Beauty and the Beast cassette tape playing in the background while I crafted.
There's been a version of this every year.
Handmade cards with scraps of leftover giftwrap. Watercolor pencil drawings and Modge Podge and wood burning and Sharpie mugs....
Each project with one common thread. The time spent creating it was also time spent thinking about the recipient. Focused on how special they are to me, in a way I was unable to do if I were to go shopping for gifts--distracted by the bustle of stores.
So it's no surprise that when I was in a workshop about the 5 Love Languages, I tested high for both Acts of Service and Gift Giving.
And maybe that's how I was able to smile through ten years of holiday selling and scheduling and merchandising and chaos in the retail business. Because for every cranky customer, there was the one whose eyes lit up because I helped them put together the perfect gift. For every 5:00AM start time to unlock the store, there was an employee appreciation day in the break room with milk and cookies. For every midnight closing shift, there was the chance to rehang one more clearance dress alongside the associate six hours and nineteen minutes into her very first job.
All of this translated just swimmingly into Motherhood. Here, a handmade stocking...and there, sweet smelling cookies for the Littles to decorate.... And after bedtime, the planning and sewing and crafting and packing up boxes to be shipped to family and friends.
Just one small problem.
Cancer has hijacked my Love Language.
It started last year. I had all my ideas saved on Pinterest. My lists made. My supplies bought. But all those projects made my lymphedema so bad. So bad that one gift, for Jason's family's Secret Santa exchange, wasn't finished and shipped until well into the spring. Because I just couldn't.
And the thing with lymphedema is, there's no rewind. Since last holiday season, I haven't stopped struggling with the swelling.
Now that it's December again, feelings that have been brewing for months are finally on the surface. And I finally see them for what they are...my broken Love Language.
Five years ago I would have folded that pile of laundry on Jason's side of our room. Cleared the garage of recycling. Not because the mess bothers me. As an Act of Service.
An Act of Love.
It hurts to have my body limit what I desire to give from my heart.
Since the day we decorated our Christmas tree this year, the kids have expected a Real Christmas Dinner on the table. Night after night, reality disappoints. This Friday, when they faced plates of reheated salmon and rice, they reached their limit.
"I don't even think you know how to make a real Christmas dinner!" London said to me.
First I was offended, then irritated, then I made space for amusement.
I was furthered softened that night. Quinn picked "Love You Forever," for a bedtime story.
I dare you to get through that one with a dry eye.
After finishing the story, and mopping up my own face, I read it a second time (per their request) before tucking them in.
Upon which Quinn burst into tears. "When are you going to be very old and very sick, Mommy?"
That's a tricky one for any parent. But a parent still in cancer treatment? What a clumsy dance as I tried my best to reassure her. In the end, she decided she was simply never moving away. Lights were turned out. Lullabies sung.
I was glad the next day was Saturday. A day with no school, a day to keep them close. Sierra from Sierra B. Photography spent the morning with us, allowing (forcing) me to slow down. A morning of ukulele' and Christmas stories and cookies.
Cookies that I let the kids roll and cut out. Because I am learning where to step back, set limits, and give myself a (physical) break.
A morning followed by a slow afternoon with tomato soup and snuggling on the couch with Christmas movies.
Later, the kids were distracted playing together, as I started dinner.
I laid the table with candles. Nutcrackers. A snowman plate with our frosted cookies. It had been a full day. The menu remained simple. Because, limits.
"Now this is a Real Christmas Dinner!" London said that night.
Game point, Mommy.
It wasn't a perfect day...but I didn't push myself. I spoke a bit of my Love Language. And it felt good.
That doesn't mean I'm not looking with frustration at my bin of "future gifts and projects." Cheese boards waiting to be burned with a catchy quote. A white tea set crying for Sharpie designs. The first week of December has passed, and I have no idea if I'm going to dig into that bin, or head to the mall. Will my lymphedema and fatigue allow me to spend the season creating? Do I take the chance...knowing a flare up takes away from other activities that I want to do (playing with the kids, yoga) and need to do (cooking, laundry).
But most importantly...now I've realized the core of my recent frustration. I've been lost, and I didn't know why. I haven't been able to speak my Love Language--to Act in Service--for months. The side effects of cancer treatment have hijacked my Love Language. I didn't know what was broken, so I couldn't replace it. I just looked around, discouraged, at the things I wanted to do but couldn't. Or worse yet, tried to act in service anyway, wearing myself out, frustrating Jason in the process, and feeling the very opposite of loved or loving.
Can I learn to speak a new Love Language?