Standing on what seemed like an endless line Tuesday afternoon at Wholefoods, I noticed my attitude beginning to slip and slide down a peg or two. I was impatient, judging what the person in front of me for buying foods that were really poor choices, and just wanting to go home and sit in my cave.
When I finally unloaded my groceries onto the belt, Ms. Attitude had moved further down a notch. I did smile and made happy holiday, small talk with the cashier. I’m positive I looked joyous, confident, and unbothered by what seemed like chaos surrounding me. Really! I’ve lived with my actor husband far to long now not to know how and when to put on a cheery face and be a comedian, while the world goes on its way, clinking and clanging around me, generally making me feel nasty.
But on the inside, my body wasn’t buying my “deck-the-halls” facade. The usual holiday dread was beginning to take hold and I was sure that I was going to blow it if I didn’t get home fairly soon. Even I hate me, when I get grumpy. As I sat in my car, at every single red light between Wholefoods and my house, I asked myself why I turn into such a grinchy curmudgeon every year at the end of November.
I don’t remember being that way as a kid. I was always excited by the holidays and started sneaking around in early December, to see if I could find the stash that Santa would eventually be leaving under the tree. I usually did find it, and even though I knew what I was going to unwrap on Christmas morning, I was still very excited. The gifts I remember best were the Alice In Wonderland doll, with long blond hair that I could comb. And later, when I was getting into boys and rock ’n roll, a pink portable radio, I could take any where as I listened to The Platters, The Everly Brothers, and Johnny Mathis.
I spent the rest of my afternoon, thinking and trying to figure out my hang-up. I thought, “Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety.” Or, “Maybe I wasn’t an introvert back then and now I am, unable to handle the holiday wear and tear of being with all those people intent on getting the biggest turkey for the lowest price.”
Like Scrooge, I revisited Christmas past, when my kids were small and we stayed at home for the holidays, because Santa wouldn’t be able to find us if we went somewhere else. I couldn’t remember any difficult times. I loved watching them digging through wrapping paper to find their most wanted toys and usually felt a bit of melancholy as we took the tree down and packed up the ornaments until next year. I do miss those times.
Then 1987 came to mind. My dad had died several years earlier. Mom and my brothers came from New England to the spend a week with us. My kids were in their teens by then and Mom had started giving them money so that they could buy what they wanted. They loved having dollars to spend and it usually didn’t stay in their pockets for very long. One year, Lisa, spent her’s on a boa constrictor and live white mice to feed it. Mark usually spent his money on books and recordings of music by his favorite musicians.
On that particular Christmas morning, while everyone was sitting around the tree happily opening gifts and eating Blueberry Boy Bait, my yearly holiday coffee cake, Reid, my youngest brother noticed that Mom had given his son, who was at home with his mother, less money than she’d given my kids. I believe Mom’s thinking was that she should give Jesse less money because he was quite a bit younger. When she tried to explain, Reid had a fit, tossing his own Christmas check into the fire and stomping out of the room.
I was in tears, Zed was yelling at everyone, and the kids slipped downstairs to get out-of-the-way. While Bill was trying to calm everyone down, Mom and I got into our own little argument. As a result, she insisted that she needed to go to the airport right that minute so that she could fly back to New Hampshire and away from this craziness. Filled with shame and anger, I was ready to leave for the Bahamas.
After discovering that there were no flights out of Charlottesville on Christmas day, she made a reservation for the next day. We spent the day quietly, trying to avoid each other and ate our usual holiday meal of roast pork and perogies, without saying much. Afterwards, someone suggested that we take in one of the newest blockbuster movies. Later, when it came time to choose which one, there didn’t seem be too much interest in going, until my brothers discovered, Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal’s, comedy, Throw Momma From The Train, was playing at the nearest cinema.
The title says it all. Mom naturally decided to stay at home and pack for her escape the following morning. Tired and feeling as though we were about to go even more crazy than we already were, Bill and I decided to go to the movie as well, just to get out of the house.
It was, of course, the makings of a disaster. It was mean, cruel and I spent the rest of the evening feeling down and miserable that Christmas had turned into a Holiday Horror Show. But no amount of apologizing made it better. Still angry at all of us, Mom left the next morning and called us when she got home, as if nothing had happened. My brothers drove her car back to New Hampshire a day later and life went on as it usually does in dysfunctional families. You have a fight over something silly, blame the whole thing on everyone else, and then act like it never happened, until the next time.
As I ran it all through my head, I realized that I was diving into victimhood. My stomach gurgled and hurt. I was anxious. Exhausted. And living in a story that was over, gone, and so very unimportant. But I was the one choosing to replay part of the nightmare, I felt my life had often been.
So instead of allowing myself to get depressed about the holidays being here again, or railing at myself for being a complete idiot, I decided to quit creating another version of Mr. Dickens’, Christmas Carol, and stay put in Christmas present.
It matters not what causes me to go all weird at Christmas. I choose to celebrate myself and those around me for all of the growing we have done over the years. I want the spirit of holidays to fill me with generosity and tolerance for all of those around me, including myself. I needn’t fuss and fume because somebody else chooses to shop at eight o’clock in the evening on Turkey Day, or how they spend their pennies. I need only to look after myself, and live by my own values, which includes something about not judging others. Oh, well.
How do you feel about Christmas and the holidays? Do you love it or do you have demons like mine that come to visit every year at this time? How do you handle them and send them on their way?