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Photo by Thandy Yung on Unsplash

Not every child experiences the perfect Christmas.

As Christmas fast approaches (literally eight days away, holy cow) I relish the opportunity to do all those wholesome holiday things.

I love filling my cats’ stockings with tuna treats and springy toys. I’m thrilled to top our tree with a sparkling glowy star and sneak away to wrap my boyfriend’s present. And boy, do I look forward to his authentic Puerto Rican coquito.

The apartment smells of cinnamon and gingerbread, and it fills me with a comfort that’s both so welcomed and yet so foreign.

It hadn’t really dawned on me before, that perhaps why I now wholeheartedly embrace the tradition of Christmas, though I am in no way religious, is because it’s a way to cultivate what I never really had in childhood: a sense of peace.

In other words: Christmas provides a sense of normality. And for someone with a less-than-normal childhood, that feeling matters. A lot.


I hadn’t always given Christmas the same thought. When I was little, all I knew was Christmas meant getting one of those cheap kiddy art sets from Angel Tree.

If you don’t know what that is, Angel Tree is an organization that provides gifts to children of parents who are incarcerated. It comes with a note from the parent, written in prison. That way there’s at least some semblance of connection during the holiday.

My mother knew I liked art, and therefore always asked for it.

Unwrapping the gift was … fine. Reading the letter from my mom, on the other hand, was outright numbing. It just didn’t compare to the real thing. To talking. To seeing her react to my surprise. To hugging.

“Little me” didn’t realize that all I wanted for Christmas was the one thing I couldn’t have, and to ease the pain of longing, I would feel nothing instead. All I understood was art set + mom’s letter = Christmas.

This is by no means a complaint against Angel Tree; I think what they do is an amazing contribution. I certainly used the hell out of those watercolor paints and oil pastels, and it most definitely made a positive impact on my life.

And my mom did her best. This is not a judgment of her character nor a degradation of her parenting. It just is me saying: I didn’t feel what I think I was supposed to feel, as a little kid at Christmas time.

Having this holiday apathy, I spent my teens being “too cool” for Christmas, and looked down on it as some kind of capitalist conspiracy. Then as an adult working at amusement parks, Christmas simply became “holiday pay day.” Yes, I suppose you could say I leaned into that same capitalism I fought so hard against during my formative years. What a sellout.

I spent the holiday wearing a prosthetic “Who nose,” stilt walking, entertaining the crowds. And when that fat check came in, I would always wonder if the 12+ hours were worth it.

It wasn’t.

(Again, no ill intentions toward my former place of employment. Plenty of my coworkers loved spending Christmas this way. I just did it for the wrong reasons.)

Knowing what I do now, it makes perfect sense that I allowed the holidays to fuel my raging workaholism. It was a way to avoid difficult feelings. And many experts note that it is a symptom of parentification, when a child has to take on the adult role, thereby suppressing their own needs.

Miriam Njoku, a certified Trauma Recovery Coach, sums it up best:

"When a child suffers from prolonged trauma, they live in a perpetual state of stress with no control over their life, work can become something they have control over or a means to escape their reality. They might come to believe that if they work hard enough it will bring peace in their home.

My previous life as an amusement park entertainer.

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Yep, that was me. As someone who grew up mostly without a mother, mostly without a father, in poverty, bouncing between relatives' houses and changing schools multiple times, I sought out sovereignty in the only way I knew how. Through making money.

But after a while, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Having my own Great Resignation, I slowly started to embrace Christmas as a way to wean off my workaholic tendencies. If most of the world was going to take a day off, then why shouldn’t I?

Did I decorate? No. But did I splurge on a Starbucks White Chocolate Peppermint Mocha and do some serious Netflix binging? Yes I did.

As I coated my mouth with the sweet, creamy treat and bundled up in a blanket, new sensations washed over me. It was like my spirit finally exhaled. It was so rare for me to not feel hypervigilant, goal oriented, anxious. But in that moment I was inexplicably, undeniably … safe.

And that was when my attitude started to shift.

I think for most people that come from a troubled home, there comes a point where you realize that in order to heal, you can’t simply work for a better tomorrow. The better tomorrow is already here. Instead, the priority should be giving yourself what you never had, today.

Kelly McDaniel, author of Mother Hunger, stresses that mothers provide daughters with three important developmental needs: nurturing, protection and guidance. And if any of the three is missing, an achy loneliness permeates the self-image. That loneliness is what she calls “Mother Hunger.”

This book was a real eye-opener for me. Look, I knew that my childhood was not that great. But I had no idea just how much my inner compass was warped. No wonder I didn’t know how to have those warm fuzzy holiday feelings. I didn’t know how to have warm fuzzy feelings, period.

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McDaniel shares in her book that healing “Mother Hunger” involves “thawing the frozen, innate healing process.” In my case, that meant a warm blanket and learning how to simply be comfortable doing nothing.

Though I am focusing on the mother-daughter relationship, a similar principle can be said for father-daughter, mother-son, father-son. Bottom line, when we don’t get an example of safety as children, it affects our lives until we choose to teach it to ourselves. That’s my take, anyway.

The sweet taste of coquito and normalcy.

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Now when I think of Christmas, I think of warmth. I think of rest. I think of gratitude. I also think about how nice it would have been to feel this way as a kid, and it can trigger a bit of sadness. And yet, with every holiday tradition, both big and small, I find comfort knowing that it’s never too late to reclaim those lost parts.

To me, Christmas means celebrating a recovery from numbness. And sipping coquito with my boyfriend while watching my kitties play with their toys. And I feel joy in every minute of it.

Whether or not this story resonates with you, I’m wishing you a very Merry Christmas. In these sometimes stressful, often less-than-normal times, may you find your own special way to exhale.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

It's hard not to lose hope. It would be easy to let the fuming rage consume every bit of joy and calm and light that we so desperately want and need. But we have to find a balance.

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