Merry Christmas to all

This may be my favorite Christmas season yet. I've finally gotten to the point where I'm not trying to meet anyone's expectations, especially my own.

As a child I wanted to make sure I lived up to what was expected and worried about how to get a gift for each of my four siblings, my best friend Paula and my parents.

The holiday season was an equal mix of delighted anticipation and dread. A big part of me was always glad when it was over for another year.

As a single parent, I often took on an additional seasonal job to make sure that all of Louie's requests to Santa Claus were fulfilled. I had carried forward the same sense of obligation that somehow Christmas was all about making sure I got it right.

That meant going above and beyond to do whatever was asked of me. It never occurred to me to say no or to make out a more reasonable plan that included a budget. The idea that my giving could also be about what I wanted for the person and not just a desire created mostly by the media was never a consideration.

It's as if I saw myself as worth whatever I could spend on someone else. Some years I scored really high and others years I heaped on the blame and guilt.

But here are a few other things I wasn't noticing at the time that shed a little more light on things and helped me to turn around my holiday attitude.

No one remembers what I gave them when I was little, including me. Not one of my homemade gifts or something purchased with my 15 cents a week allowance stands out for anyone. Also, Louie doesn't use any of the gifts I spent 60-hour work weeks to make sure he received. There was a Ninja Turtle Sewer one year that was an enormous hit and involved a nationwide search by every aunt, uncle and grandparent till my mother finally located the last one off a truck stop just ahead of another grandmother, but that was an exception.

The truth is, every Christmas there was one question I was never asking myself that could have helped me to stop throwing everything out of balance. What was my intention behind this gift? As a child, that's a little more introspection than can be expected, but as an adult I can be more honest and realize that a lot of it has to do with making sure everyone is happy with me.

In other words my gift giving was more about me and how I'd like to be seen.

But this year, that's all changed. I've been able to make a budget and stick to it, which has meant limiting the gift giving and buying things for Louie, who is now grown, which are more practical and less expensive.

The upside is I've been able to relax and enjoy the season a lot more. Instead of a long list of gifts I can't afford to give, there's a long list of things I'm grateful for and it's pretty much the same people.

Making the adjustment has helped the way I am around my loved ones because I'm more relaxed and have the time to notice more about the beauty inside of them. It's not about meeting some goal that was more determined by an ad on TV.

This year I can be grateful for a warm place to live in a great city like Chicago near my son, who is doing well. I can give thanks for my health and all of the amazing people who helped me become healthy again. And I can say thank you to all of the amazing readers who send me notes on their lives and well wishes. No department store or web site carries any of those things but they are more valuable to me than a cashmere sweater or a new bike. Merry Christmas everyone.

©Martha Randolph Carr; distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.

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