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Do. Donate. Demonstrate. How to Crush a Dampened Holiday Mood and the College Essays.

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

I really wanted to write that on EVERYONE'S gift tags this year

Pretend this was written 3 weeks ago when that quote was still funny.


That was my intent. But then, you know, life happened. And now suddenly it’s 2019, and Christmas vacation is a distant blur. But I’m writing about it now anyway. 


Christmas 2018 was not my favorite. As has become the norm, my kids leave for their grandmother’s house in West VA on the 23rd, which means they celebrate “Christmas” with me that morning. They rush-open presents, then pack their bags and jump in the car with their dad mid-morning, leaving me (and Wags) with a really empty (and messy) house. We don’t lounge around in pajamas all day and have the good we’re-in-no-hurry-comfort-food-meals that meander through the day. Well Wags and I do, but we miss doing it with the kids. 


We don’t try on new clothes, watch movies, drive the tacky lights tour or look at each other’s gifts (I grew up with siblings so it was always fun to see what everyone else got). Instead, it’s become a mad scramble that feels way too hollow. By the time they get back, their vacation days and mine have dwindled to nil and we don’t have time to celebrate with my parents or my brothers and their families. Add to that 2 friends who have each lost a parent on Christmas day, and too many others facing illnesses and losses that boggle the mind, and bruise my heart, and you’ll begin to glimpse my mood. 


It was like hitting the long slide on Chutes and Ladders. Straight down to bah-wallowing-humbugville. 


And I did wallow. For a while. But then the good stuff floated up. Joy is buoyant. 

Some of the best mood boosters: 


Starbucks. Seriously. I hate that their employees had to work Christmas day, but loved having a place to go, and the Juniper Latte was surprisingly good (better with only half the sweetener though).


The bin of old Christmas cards. Apparently I have just been throwing them all in a storage bin for YEARS. As in all the years of my children’s lives. I had a blast seeing everyone’s kids from their first baby photos with Santa to pictures of them in college sweatshirts. Also judging by the photos, lots of our kids did not like Santa as babies (my girl once bit him on the cheek. Hard.)


My mom’s Christmas cookies, that she made for my kids to take to West VA. They forgot. And her cookies are A-MAZ-ING. Especially with coffee. Score. 


Wags. Who turned 14 years and 5 months old on Christmas day. Also amazing, and better than anything else on this list. 


Going to Christmas Eve mass for the first time in years, holding the hand of someone I love and listening to an awesome children’s choir. 


My first trip to The Melting Pot. Better than I expected. 


Delaney voting her ‘KC the sloth experience’ gift certificate her favorite gift. 


Keegan being genuinely excited about the AGR fraternity keychain and ornament in his stocking.


Reading past Christmas cards from my friend Lisa, most of which involved poems, and all of which made me cry laughing – some of the best lines…

“I haven’t been baking cookies or holiday breads, I’ve been home with sick kids and stripping the beds. I’ve missed some good parties and my decorating is lame, I’ve got only myself and bad luck to blame.”
“The good news is the floam arrived today. The bad news is XXXX bought Chris a squirrel taxidermy kit. I am not kidding — he thinks Chris is going to kill a squirrel and then stuff it. It’s all bad really.”
“It’s hard to believe another year has flown by, we’re glad to say nothing major has gone awry.”
“XXXX is no longer obese. Though the biting and pinching have still yet to cease!”
”I hope your Christmas is happy even though mine seems to be crappy.”

She should publish all her holiday cards in a book because Christmas mommin’ is a special kind of hard (and hilarious), and she is mom-slayin’ it.


Finding pictures of a couple of babies in the infamous card bin and having absolutely no idea who they were. Mystery babies. I never solved whose they were, but babies always make me smile so there’s that and it was fairly hilarious I kept the mystery baby pictures all these years. I should post them, and see if anyone recognizes their kids.


Seeing a stack of letters addressed to my daughter (also in “the bin”) from a host of names I didn’t recognize. After I read the first one I was flooded with memories of why they were written.


Three years ago, Delaney volunteered to bring gifts to the residents (all of them) at The Little Sisters of The Poor without clearing it w/ me.


I was voluntold to buy tissues, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, candy, & stamps for 22 residents (after I told her we had to break them into smaller groups because 75+ was excessive). That created a massive Costco bill & even more massive grumbling from me. She hand painted a card for each of them and we delivered on a Thursday, then received a slew of beautiful, thoughtful, grateful thank you notes within days: 

“Thank you ever so much for your tremendous generosity and thoughtfulness by giving me the wonderful bag of gifts! Be assured of my grateful prayers and prayerful gratitude for longer than forever!:)”
“You have such a good heart. May God continue to bless you and your family.” 
“It means a lot when someone shows they care in such a thoughtful way.” 
“I want to thank you for the wonderful present you left at my door. No one has ever done that before — thank you and God bless —”
“Thank you for your thoughtful gift, I hung the wreath on my bedroom door and already ate the chocolate. May God send you a year of joy.” 

Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. Both times I read them. (Also, how much do you want to volunteer right now??)


Rereading those cards brought it all back. How when I was working for a friend at the Bizarre Bazaar he asked me if I wanted some wreaths that weren’t selling. He was going to throw them away. I said yes, and after unpacking them at home realized there were exactly 22. One for each resident at the Little Sisters Unit where we were headed. Quite a coincidence, no?


And that feeling of genuinely lifting someone’s spirit? Whether you’re volunteering of your own free will or being voluntold , that feeling is golden.


It’s the overlapping sweet spot of what the Track It! Curriculum calls “do, donate, demonstrate.”


The arena where your interests and hobbies deepen to become what you’re passionate and excited about pursuing. Where what you do on the reg (how you spend your free time), what you donate (how you help/what community problem you want to solve) and what you demonstrate (where you show dedication, responsibility and leadership), intersect.

That’s where your college bound one should focus when looking for essay ideas, direction re course of study/major, intern options, and summer jobs, and ultimately where they’re likely to not only be successful, but fulfilled. 


For my daughter it was about her passions, art and dance, and how she used them to focus on social problems she wants to change. She drew cards, bought gifts and visited a group of often overlooked, lonely, elderly neighbors to help them feel loved at Christmas. She volunteered as a dance instructor at a camp for special needs kids, and she can parlay either of those experiences into actual paying jobs teaching (and she did write about them in some of the college essays). Her thoughts about college major and career goals mesh her love of art and creativity and her need to help people feel better about themselves. More importantly she’s zeroing in on the zone where she is most likely to be happy.


As for me, I looked inward too, and did things I love (my “do”), reading those thank yous and seeing my kid thrilled with small gifts satisfied my “donate” and this blog became my “demonstrate” piece. All things that fulfill me.


So keep looking for that sweet spot, and if you have an old bin full of holiday memories, I highly recommend taking a look in there too. 


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