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Commentary: Prepare for Turbulence

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

Congratulations!  We’ve made it to December and are that much closer to being able to say goodbye to 2020 in a few short weeks.  We survived Thanksgiving however we chose to observe, or not observe the day.  Whatever it ended up looking like, it is behind us now and in front of us are a plethora of holidays to celebrate.  Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hogmanay, and New Year’s Eve are all festivities that take place this month.  While 2020 has been a challenging year, there is still much to be grateful for.   

For many of us, myself included, the holidays are a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride.  I can be sitting comfortably on my couch with my pups and family and a commercial comes on and all of a sudden I am a weeping mess.  Memories of holidays past and loved ones who are no longer with us take hold.  Honestly, I love a good 60-second spot that brings forth tears of joy and sorrow.  There's nothing quite like those miniature tours through themes of life, death, love, and triumph to get me out of my day-to-day cynicism and feel some actual feelings.   Letting my family see that it is okay to not be okay is an important lesson not only during this global pandemic, but for life in general. 

I grew up in a loving household, but one where my parents rarely shared their feelings with their children.  Looking back at what they endured – cancer, heart disease, depression, the farm crisis of the 1980s – my parents stoically shielded their children from the hurt of the real world rather than helping them prepare for it. 

I don’t find any fault with how they parented, they were wonderful and loving parents, but Michael and I have a different parenting style, one that is more forthright and sets a different emotional tone. 
Since they were young enough to understand we have been honest with our girls about the reality of life.  In my world, things mostly don’t go the way I want them to.  People don’t always do the right thing.  Hard work and kindness isn’t always rewarded at the end of the day.  And while I love routine, change seems to be the only constant in life. 

In order to deal with the changes we will all be confronting this holiday season, I immediately think about the pre-departure safety mantra that flight attendants recite before departing from the gate, preparing passengers for an unlikely emergency event.  “In the event of decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”

This holiday season will likely be full of turbulence and a good way to prepare for it is to follow the advice of those flight attendants and Lori Gottlieb, a practicing psychotherapist and author, “Steady yourselves first, then listen to your passengers on this voyage, validate their feelings, communicate honestly as circumstances evolve, and be flexible about shifting course as conditions change.” 

We can do it.  The holidays may be a bit bumpy, but we can make them our own.  We have made it this far and it has taken resilience and strength, empathy and flexibility.  Honor yourself and those around you.  Be well dear listeners.  I will see you in 2021.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.