I have a confession to make. This past week I went back and changed history--my history. And honestly, it was so easy to do, one stroke of the pen so to speak. After all, I'm a writer; rewriting is what I do best. And I really didn't think I'd done anything wrong; I mean, it didn't even dawn on me that maybe you're not allowed to do such a thing. It wasn't until my teenage girls called me out on it that I began to question my actions.
Let me back up a bit . . . Every year since my oldest's first Christmas, eighteen--gulp--years ago, I have oh-so-lovingly created pages to put into my beautiful Christmas scrapbook. With most every page, I also wrote a family Christmas Letter which I would include in my mass mailing to friends and relatives (back when people actually sent stacks of Christmas cards through the US Postal Service.) About eight years ago, life took a hair-pin turn in Tacoma, Washington, depositing me in the Land of Lincoln and leaving me with no desire to continue my scrapbook project. Ever since, that beautiful Christmas scrapbook, with its pictures and Holiday letters tucked inside, has sat for years at the bottom of a cardboard box in a damp, over-priced storage unit, followed by a back-breaking crawlspace under my house.
Post-Thanksgiving this year, I found myself hunched over amid concrete, steel beams, and copper pipes at the request of my children who wanted me to search for their childhood ornaments to put on the tree. So as I shuffled along, careful not to break light bulbs with my head and thinking how much easier this was when I was under four feet tall, I came across my Christmas scrapbook. I was in a particularly pensive mood that day as I sat down on my 13 year old's skateboard and poured over each and every page. Now if you've ever been a parent or at least one who endeavors to be good at it, I don't have to tell you that the job comes with its fair share of guilt. I am currently the ringleader of three teenagers (a statement I will only be able to say for two years, a statement I wear like a war medal and one that I intend to say often for effect), and although they are honestly amazing children, I couldn't help but tear up as I rehashed their younger days and chided myself for not teaching them
to make their beds daily, or hold doors for others, or have confidence in themselves, or respect elders, or ask if they can help others, or put in a good, honest, manual day's labor, or not succumb to peer pressure, or do their homework without being nagged, or remember to lock the door when they come in at night, or to say thank you without being prompted when I give in and take them to Panera for dinner, or roll their eyes at me when I insist they write thank you notes to their relatives for Christmas gifts, or say "okay you can go now" when I stop by their bedroom or laugh at me when I blast "What a Feeling" while on the treadmill. And I promise you, I DID teach them manners, and I taught them respect, and self-worth, and kindness too, but they're teenagers and I know nothing. In fact, they remind me daily that I am delusional to think that I am the one running the show.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to rewriting history. As I have mentioned before, I am extremely critical of my own writing. Whenever I go back and reread something I've written (and I'm talking years later), I am not happy with either what I've said or with the tone of my thoughts. As I sat in the crawlspace, reading some of my past Christmas letters, I realized that I was, at times, a bit too factual, a bit too detailed. And my tone at times was not upbeat and cheerful. Now, to be fair, I did write the truth that I was experiencing at the time; however, 10, 12, 15 years later, I didn't like how it read. No one needs to know, ALL the details. (Don't get me wrong; I wasn't one to chronicle every trip to the doctor or every grade on the kids' report cards (I once received a Christmas letter that mentioned her husband's struggle with chronic diarrhea!) It dawned on me that some day my three kids are going to be reading what I wrote, looking for clues as to why they turned out the way they did. (Newsflash: it's always the parents' fault.)
And so, I took it upon myself to rewrite several of the Christmas letters. They are now more upbeat; they use catchy verbs such as focusing and excelling and A+ adjectives like impressive and eye-opening. We were busy and challenged, not exhausted and stressed. And in the end, we were always hopeful for the new year and filled with wishes for health and happiness.
What my teenagers don't understand--with their hey you can't do that's--is that life is full of messy, ugly details. More often than not, we muddle through our days, simply doing our best, hiding our anxieties, doubting ourselves, making mistakes, and learning valuable lessons along
the way. It was easy at the time for me to get caught up in the daily battle of raising three children under the age of five; no doubt I was sleep-deprived and overwhelmed. But when I look back on those precious days--10, 12, 15 years later--I realize that life, albeit difficult at times, is truly a blessing, and it pains me to think that some great-grandchild of mine, in the year 2080, would sit down to look through Great-grandma's (who?) Christmas scrapbook and think of me as gloomy or ungrateful. History is passed on from generation to generation in pictures and in words. We can frame it any way we'd like; we can leave in the cringe-worthy bits and pieces, or we can focus on the overall theme if we choose. In other words, we have the chance to write our own history each and every day--and each and every day, if we don't like the way things are going, we have the opportunity to rewrite our history as well.
So maybe my three teenagers don't make their beds every morning, come downstairs immediately when they're called, or say thank you when I loan them the car, but all in all, I think I've done a pretty good job.
And so yes, Virginia, it really IS possible to rewrite history.
After all, I really AM running the show. . .