It was 10:30ish on December 31, 2018 and I knew my eight year old wasn’t gonna make it till midnight for two reasons 1) Mom-guilt. I shouldn’t let him stay up because sleep is important to his burgeoning brain and who am I to deprive him of being all he can be and 2) Wine. I am notoriously the first to “fall asleep” and I knew I wouldn’t make it anyways. So I called my son and husband into the living room and announced we needed a New Years Eve tradition that didn’t involve keeping one eye open for New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper.
We’re a family that likes random traditions. We wear full body onesies on Christmas morning (my husband makes a dead sexy sloth). We get together with family on birthdays, don silly hats and glasses and eat whatever their favorite meal is. My son picks a theme for Halloween and we GO ALL OUT. But as of yet, no NYE tradition, and I was just feeling like we needed one. Okay - I needed one.
2018 was a weird year inside my brain.
Our start-up agency was in it’s fourth full year and it ran me ragged. My daughter was in her final year of high school and I was already feeling pangs of separation anxiety every time she mentioned an out of state school. I was struggling to re-discover community amid the dramatic age gap in my children; my closest friends were graduating into empty-nesters and I felt like I was starting all over again. All of these experiences were driving self-destructive loops in my head fueled by mom-guilt, regrets, and at least a little envy.
Although 2018 held no major tragedies for me, inside my brain, this slow accumulation of negative thoughts had me sleepless, spinning and feeling a little helpless.
2018 was my Felicia and I was ready to say bye girl bye.
After we stared at each other for a few minutes I started thinking of anything ‘ceremonial’ I’d heard about:
Light a candle - boring.
Sing a song - just no.
Eat a meal - negative ghost rider - kitchen’s closed.
Burn stuff - bingo.
I’d heard of burning ceremonies where you write something down and light it on fire as a symbol of letting the bad energy go. My mom-gyver mode took over and I hatched a plan. We already had a fire going and there was a pad of sticky notes on the kitchen counter. So we sat in a semi-circle in front of the fire and just played it by ear.
I told everyone to write down what they were thankful for on one note, then write down what they would like to let go of on the other one. Then, without sharing, we folded up the ‘bad notes’ and threw them into the fire. (I needed two pieces because Felicia was a non-stop bitch.)
After we went full fire-starter on the bad stuff, we took turns reading the ‘good notes’ to each other. It felt really good to hear what we were thankful for. It also felt cathartic to be honest with myself, write down what was really bothering me, then toss my bad thoughts into the fire.
I don’t think I would have ‘journaled’ my truths because a) I’m terrible at keeping a journal and b) what if someone reads them!?! With the confidence that I could toss the ‘yucky feelings’ into the flames, unshared and unjudged, it was easier to get real with myself. As I wrote them down I noticed an odd sense of control over my thoughts too. Maybe if I could control them, then I could stop spinning...
I noticed something else that night too; our son Charlie looked relieved.
Although we agreed not to share what was on the bad notes, my intuition already knew what our sweet boy had written down. For the past few months, our daily “how was your day?” was met with stories of being picked on and bullied on the playground. I didn’t have to ask, I knew what he was letting go.
Over the next few weeks we focused on the positive notes we’d shared. We even had them stuck on the pantry in the kitchen to remind us that we appreciate:
Not having bad debt
The new ‘hot-rod’
And my favorite: A Superbowl Ring (context: my husband is a data architect for the Jags. He’s an optimist and he was manifesting his future gratitude.)
Unfortunately, after a few weeks sleep was eluding me once more and my destructive inner voice was on loop. I felt the urge to repeat our NYE ceremony. I suggested we put containers on the table to hold our positive notes, but I was too scared to put one on the table to hold the negative notes. I needed to know my truths were mine and mine alone to let go.
My husband suggested gluing a box shut. My husband is brilliant.
Fast forward to today as we launch Dwelling Boxes. We’ve rebranded my “spinning” to dwelling, because you can dwell on the positive as much as you dwell on the negative. We’ve added a plus and minus to the top of the boxes to make it easy to remember and simple for kids. We’ve sealed the negative box to keep ourselves honest. Finally, we’ve added a guide to help others start their own tradition whether it’s on NYE or not.
We’re here to start a movement.
The world is full of experiences that are out of our control. Social media wasn’t around when our brains and personalities were forming. The only likes we got were real ones… on notes... in our lockers. Trolls were fluffy haired toys or storybook characters. Bullies could be outrun.
As a mom, I find myself slipping into a full panic when I think about the myriad of interactions my children will have that fall outside my span of protection. While I’m thankful my children see that life is bigger than a bubble, I’m keenly aware there’s a price for that global exposure. Even if we can’t filter every experience or control every feeling we’ll have, we can give ourselves and our families a tool for keeping a healthier mindset.
Dwelling Boxes were created as a simple way to help you and the people you love to dwell on the positive and let go of the negative. We believe that starting this one simple tradition (by the way, it doesn’t have to be just once a year), can help our families build a more grateful mindset that will serve each of us for life.
Here’s to dwelling on the positive! ~ Jenn