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Surviving the Holidays with A Graceful Heart

Written by Andrea Maldonado, LPC

For most of my formative years I practiced ballet. Dance rehearsals were my first experience with the word “grace.” In dance, grace was all about how you moved your body; making difficult movements look effortless. It wasn’t until my twenties that I realized that grace could be used to describe a person’s heart and intentions.  As I prepare to spend the upcoming holidays with family members that I love, but who can also test my patience, I am reminded of the importance and benefit of having grace for others.

I am also of Mexican decent.  In Mexican families, there are no such things as secrets or privacy. I can distinctly remember being suspended from high school my freshman year. Within three hours of being sent home, I got a phone call from my aunt, wanting to hear my “side of the story.” I was confused about how she even knew I had been suspended, and then she told me, “Oh, I was just on the phone with your grandmother.” It took about three seconds for me to start yelling at my grandma, telling her that what I did wasn’t anyone’s business. She looked at me bewildered and said, “Mija, it’s family. Your business is their business.” This statement did nothing but infuriate me even more. I immediately called my other grandmother to complain (because 13 year olds don’t handle anything directly). She listened to my complaints and agreed that it can be frustrating when people don’t respect privacy, and then she said, “But you know that’s just your grandma’s way, and she wasn’t trying to upset you. Just try to have grace for her.” I didn’t have any idea what she meant, but 13 year olds also don’t ask for clarification, so we ended the conversation. I’m sure there were many more arguments about privacy, but I never did win the battle. Despite this, my relationship with my grandmother remained much closer than I believe is typical, and when I had my son about a year ago, she was the first person I went to go see. Being exhausted and on leave from work, my fiancé and I decided to take a trip down to Corpus to stay with my grandmother, so that she could do all the things we were too tired to do: cook, clean, and wash clothes. She was beyond excited to have all three of us in the house. I was just tired. Another frustrating trait of Mexican grandmothers is that they love giving unsolicited advice. And trust me when I say that when you have only slept four hours, you have forgotten to eat since yesterday, and you can’t recall your last shower, the last thing you would ever want is unsolicited advice. And she was full of it, from swaddling techniques to bottle warming, she had advice for days. One morning she tried to convince me that my son had gas and I almost threw a plate at her. I retreated to my room, and my fiancé followed behind, trying to remind me, “It’s just her way of trying to help.” I grumbled something about breakfast tacos and coffee being what would really help. It was at this point that I remembered the conversation back in high school.  “Just try to have grace for her.” This time it all clicked. Grace wasn’t just about posture and movement, it was also about how you treat other people and how you accept others’ despite their flaws. Having a graceful body was great, but having a graceful heart was more important. Every person has their flaws, and often we see those flaws most clearly in the people we are closest to. Grace isn’t about pretending those flaws don’t exist or don’t bother us, it’s about accepting a person for their whole being, annoying flaws included. During the holidays, when most of us spend much more time with our family members than any other time of year, it can be easy to become agitated and frustrated with the things we dislike about one another. Uncle Chip doesn’t know how to use an inside voice, your brother is a self-entitled teenager, and your dad still acts like one.  It can also be an opportunity to try to practice and extend grace to those we care about most. Because most likely, our friends and family members aren’t going to become perfect people, and it can feel much nicer to simply accept them for who they are. With a graceful heart.

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