Just last week, my friend, Jacquelyn, sent me a link to a blog post in which a mom shared a refreshing idea that got a lot of attention: instead of writing a Christmas letter gushing about her perfect family, she would be a truth teller via a “brutally honest holiday card.” It contained some cute anecdotes about her young family’s misadventures.
Ha ha, we laughed, Brutality, my ass. Tantrums in Target and adult acne are for amateurs.
This exchange is what finally gave me the inspiration to write this letter, something I’ve had a dull dread about since the Christmas season started. It’s been a rough year but, dammit, we are going to find humor in it.
So, gather round your computer screen (they’ll be no cards this year) and settle in for the annual Hale Family Brutally Honest Christmas New Year’s Letter. I had to look at photos on my phone to remind myself of what happened in 2018. Holy balls. I need a drink after that scroll. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.
Sometime in the spring, Sean’s right leg decided to break from the rest of his body and go on a solo tour. It began with tremors and then morphed into something much worse. When he walked, he looked like a marionette being controlled by a sadistic puppeteer. The jarring reaction from his physical therapist when she witnessed this new development landed us in the hospital for a deja vu experience straight out of the seventh layer of hell.
What began as an ER visit quickly snowballed into a 70+ day inpatient stay that included four consecutive days in ER purgatory, where Sean became so agitated that he had to have an actual policeman stationed in his room at all times, followed by two abrupt stays at two different inpatient rehab facilities (he got kicked out of both), and a lengthy stay on the neuro floors of both Memorial Chattanooga and Vanderbilt, in Nashville. It concluded with a three-week stint at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital. During these last three weeks, Sean’s beloved mother, Mary, died after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. I had to deliver this news to him in a windowless room at the Psych hospital, flanked by a nurse and his psychiatrist. Have I reached the level of brutal honesty yet?
To add insult to injury, Sean was in no condition to travel and he was unable to attend his mother’s funeral in Illinois. Thanks to the exceptional efforts of the staff at Vanderbilt (I cannot say enough good things about that hospital), Sean was able to Skype into the ceremony and watch his loved ones pay tribute to Mary. Her life may have been cut short by a devastating disease, but she accomplished something that few people do: she managed to raise three boys to be wonderful fathers and husbands. We will miss her always.
Sean and his Forrest-Gump-running-cross-country beard finally got the greenlight to come home in June and, while we were happy to have him back, the kids and I had settled into a peaceful existence in his lengthy absence. Adjusting to the return of an unpredictable, sometimes-hostile father/husband was not easy. With the help of Sean’s exceptional neuro and psych team at Vanderbilt, his condition has improved substantially. We struggle daily to balance his need to control everything around him and my determination that the kids lead a happy, balanced life. It’s not easy but there is progress.
Have we talked about Sean enough yet? Good. Let’s move on.
I transitioned from online-only teaching at Tennessee Wesleyan to actual classroom lectures in January. Born AFTER I graduated from college, my post-millennial students intimidated the heck out of me in the beginning but I quickly found my footing. Interacting with these students and preparing for class each week gave me a sense of purpose that, in a very real way, saved my life during this past year. I taught two more in-person classes this fall and will begin three more this month. I feel certain that my Dead Poet Society moment is just around the corner. Carpe diem!
Truman went to his first Model UN conference in D.C. in March. He’ll return this year and spend a week of geeky bliss in our nation’s capital with his fellow teenage diplomacy junkies. I cannot get enough of him in his bowtie and suit! In the absence of Sean’s considerable handyman skills, Truman, with help from my Dad, has learned to fix all manner of household issues. He’s my handyman, my errand boy (him passing the driver’s test was the highlight of my year) and my finder of lost things. I’ve got just a little over two years left with him under my roof and I plan to savor every moment.
Tatum is in her final year of middle school and her third-year cheering for the CMS Raiders basketball teams. She threw her name into the hat for cheer captain this year and made it. How on earth yours truly produced someone capable of becoming a cheer captain—let alone a cheerleader—is beyond me. She’s level-headed, uber-organized, makes good decisions and serves as the official manager of my crazy. I’d be lost without her.
Harper has joined every possible club that fourth grade has to offer. She’s on the show choir, the yearbook club and the leadership team. If we get a flyer for an activity, come hell or high water, she’s participating. She whines too much and leaves a pile of glittery debris everywhere she goes, but she loves with reckless abandon. Her overt affection is the antidote for all that ails me.
I started to list all of the incredible acts of generosity and kindness that our family has received this year, but it was too long. There are too many blessings, too many people to thank. Thinking about it overwhelms me. If you are one of the many people who called me to chat, took the kids off my hands for a few days, took me to NYC to see Hamilton, donated to Truman’s UN trip, met me for lunch, drove with me to Vanderbilt, took Sean out for a burger, sent us a card, gave Truman a car (yes, this actually happened), gave us a new couch and loveseat, brought us a meal, gave my kids a ride, or invited us over to hang out and pretend to be normal for a few hours, we thank you. Tragedy sheds light on who your people are.
Damn, we’re a lucky bunch.
Love to all,