MUSINGS FROM THE LAUNDROMAT | Holiday reality check

When I told my daughter that I was working on my holiday column for the Queen Anne News, she asked what I was going to write about. I told her that I was writing about the importance of taking time to reflect, to be still, to enjoy the company of friends and family. I planned to include something about the seeds that are quietly germinating deep in the earth, preparing for the coming warmth and light. I wanted to write about the time we have now, as older parents, to slow down and reflect on all that life has bestowed upon us.

“Foul!” she cried. “That is so far from where you are right now, Mom,” she said. “Keep it real. You owe your readers that.”

Okay. Touché. She’s right.

This season (and most of 2016) has been anything but calm and peaceful. We have been faced with one messy challenge after another. Things beyond our control, not caused by us, but that needed to be remedied. By us. With the help of some expensive advisors. Things that have caused sleepless nights, gnashing of teeth and added a few more lines and gray hairs to be sure.

Last Thursday night, I looked at the calendar and said, “Oh no! My column is due tomorrow!”  That was after returning from several exhausting appointments to work on our stuff. Normally, I am working at least a week ahead on deadlines. But not this season.

All of this has caused me to wax nostalgic about the years I spent planning and shopping and keeping secrets. Of going to neighborhood caroling parties on Queen Anne, baking gingerbread houses and setting up the train set under the tree. Of Christmas shopping for the kids — with the kids in tow. That took some serious sleight of hand! And all of this was juggled with workdays at my job outside the home.

Considering what we have been dealing with for most of 2016, all of that seems lovely. Despite the fact that back then I felt overburdened, tortured by Christmas muzak in every store I entered, and fantasized about running away with my family and skipping the whole thing. I longed for a time when things would slow down and become less complicated. Say, when we were in our 60s and the kids were grown. In other words, now.

The reality is that life goes on. The challenges don’t end. They just change. So the trick is to appreciate what you have right here right now. Because it could always be worse. I’m reminded of that every time I drive under the Ballard Bridge and see the growing number of tents and sleeping bags and evidence of the disgraceful number of homeless in our city of abundance. Especially during this extreme cold.

My daughter encouraged me to write about the reality of what we are going through, despite it being the holiday season. This wise daughter of mine was born on Christmas Day 25 years ago. And she has kept me real for the entire time she has been in our lives. She is the reason I turned myself around all those years ago when I was beginning to resent the stress that the holidays placed on me. How could I have a bad attitude towards the season in which she was born? I decided to fix that.

It started when I heard Garrison Keillor on his radio show talking about December as a time when people of all faiths observe ceremonies centered on light. A time when people are generous and giving and open. When we grow still and reflective. When people gather to celebrate family and friendship. It’s a beautiful time of year if we allow it to be. We have the option to take control of the holiday instead of letting it take control of us. That was the game changer for me. From then on, I took a different approach to the holidays, if only in my heart and mind.

This year, my now grown daughters will be out of town for the holidays. My Christmas baby will celebrate her 25th birthday with her sister in Hawaii. We will have some family around, but it will likely be just the two of us on Christmas night.

This will be the first time that has happened since our very first Christmas together many years ago when we decided to get married. It feels a bit like we are circling back to where we once were. And that circle feels like a hug, embracing the years we spent creating our family and our traditions. I’ll miss my daughters. But I will cherish the quiet.

Despite the craziness of this past year for so many, in particular these past few months, the holiday is upon us. The work will end. Things will start looking up again because they always do. And we will find time to be still and grateful and to celebrate the light that is sure to come.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS ( is a freelance writer and essayist. To comment on this column, write to