Sometimes when my children are playing, they come across a necklace (they have a lot of costume jewelry that’s been handed down to them so their imagination toys include a lot of glittery plasticky jewelry). When it’s all tangled up, they bring it to me and say, “Mama, will you help me?” or occasionally and more accurately, “Mama, will you fix this for me?” Then they drop their tangled necklaces in my hand and I usually untangle them. I mostly don’t mind doing this. I’m good at it. And it’s very satisfying when something is a wearable enjoyable item instead of a mass of tangled knots. But sometimes? I was busy doing something else and/or I just didn’t want to stop and untangle a necklace right then. I’ve learned to be choosy about when and how I engage with my children’s tangled necklaces.
Emotionally, we all have tangled things. Live in the world with any sort of intentionality, and at some point you will almost certainly find yourself carefully picking your way through tricky situations that do not come apart easily. The holidays are a time when this can happen, I’m told. It can be a beautiful time and a tricky time and a heartbreaking time and all of those things can be happening for each of us in different ways. When we do the work of untangling our necklaces, we allow the heartbreaking moments to have space without letting them ruin the beautiful moments. We can feel more than one thing.
When we don’t do the work of untangling our own things, we run the risk of putting that work on other people. Sometimes when people see you Dealing With Something, they hand you their Something and expect it back neatly “dealt with.” Sometimes people don’t even realize they’ve dropped a tangled necklace at your feet. Sometimes they ball it up and throw it at you without even understanding that’s what they’ve done. Sometimes they ask permission or help to work on a tangled necklace of their own (I try to do this last one because it feels the most fair, but I definitely don’t do it perfectly all the time).
I’ve learned I’m learning to be choosy about how and when I engage with other people’s Somethings. I want to help when I can just like I want to receive help when I need it, because we all need help untangling our necklaces. Sometimes.