Tolerance and Generosity

Rockefeller Center, New York City, Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2007

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?

This entry was posted in Childhood, Christmas, family, Healthy Living, Memoir, Mental Health, Navigating Through Life, Thanksgiving and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Tolerance and Generosity

  1. wpvintage says:

    I still love the holidays and look forward to December–the lovely carols, snow (hopefully) and time spent with friends and relatives. We don’t have room for a tree where I live now, which glums me out, admittedly. Oh, how we expect and hope–hope, hope, hope that things will be a certain way and are disappointed when we come up short. Or, are somehow wired to get sour for unknown reasons. The most disappointing thing as the years go by is how many of my contemporaries dislike Christmas, which often limits my ability to join with others to really celebrate what the season means. Can we learn to let go of bad memories and take the season at face value and simply celebrate and try to cultivate peace, love and joy in our hearts? Sure, it’s nauseatingly commercialized, but our judgements are just as commercial… “buying” into the story by being overly judgmental of it. I yearn for the simplicity of season I felt as a child, which emerged through shared creative action: baking cookies; making ornaments, etc. There has always been family drama–sometimes huge crescendos of melodrama in my family–but that’s part of the great arc of the story of being human, isn’t it?

    • jzrart says:

      Oh, Yes, Susan, it is part of being human, but as I get older, I’m discovering that I can indeed learn to forget the those crummy stories or at least not get them confused with my story right now. It’s the discovery of, “Oh, that’s what it’s like to relive an old story.” Then I have an opportunity to choose to stay with it or allow it to exit my life as unnecessary baggage, I no longer need to haul along with me.

      I long for the sweet simplicity of yore as well. As children we bathed in it, as we innocently waited, unable to sleep, lest we miss the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof. I believe, despite the commercialism of our time, that if we slow down and consider what is truly important, we can keep our selves unburdened by what is happening around us.

      I hope that you and Larry have a wonderful holiday, filled with simplicity and love.

      I miss you, my friend.

      Joan

  2. wpvintage says:

    Hey, wow, Joan.. I finally have figured out how to get signed in!

  3. Caroline says:

    Well now I know where the boa came from 🙂 I remember that snake.

    I actually had really good Christmases as a child. If there was tension either I didn’t notice it, or it has faded from my memory. Until he died when I was 8, dad’s father came down the lane and would bring us each a large doll. (He lived 1 mile down the dirt road from us in Fairfield, not far from where the Ropers used to live). He always smelled like cigarette smoke and had peppermints for us. Dad’s mom died when he was in high school, and I don’t remember any of mom’s family coming up to see us, we were more likely to see them at Thanksgiving. Dad’s family was never really comfortable with mom, so even though they were local, we didn’t do much with them, usually a visit on Christmas day or the day after, at our house, sometimes their place. Lots of good food. I loved the tree, all the crafty decorations, the cooking, and mom, with her emphasis on singing always had music around and there was quite a bit of activity at the various churches & vocal groups she belonged to that time of year. I was a HUGE snoop, and it became quite a game to hide presents from me. One year I actually broke into locked files at VMI to look for my present from dad. We still laugh about that. And I really miss the landscape at home, we used to go find shoestring for a vase in the living room, we always bought our trees, but all the evergreens to decorate the house with and make wreaths with we collected from the woods. I miss that time and the landscape. I can’t find a comparable tradition for Alexander, so I’m still mulling over that one. I also don’t like to travel much around Xmas, because even though I love looking at all the fabulous decorations, I really am a huge homebody this time of year. I’m one of those crazy people that gets almost all my shopping done BEFORE Thanksgiving so I can really enjoy the decorating, crafting and foods of the holidays.

    There are faint sad memories, one year when I was in middle school (or high school?) I remember mom being upset that she didn’t get an item she wanted, and going to the bathroom to cry. Even then I knew it wasn’t so much the item as it was thinking that dad wasn’t listening to her. (She actually got an IOU for the item, because dad was so worried he’d buy the wrong one, but she didn’t realize that until later in the day.) I also remember when I was in college, when it was clear that mom and dad were going to live separate lives, that one of them sat in the dining room while the other one sat in the parlor and opened Xmas presents. The archway divided them both. And there was one Christmas when Laura, who was always rather volatile, hit mom. I don’t think it was Xmas proper, but it was around then. After mom and dad got divorced things became different. You don’t really think of who owns the Christmas ornaments until a family gets divorced. Mom took almost all those items. Needless to say I was pretty mad when I found out. For the next few years when I came home from grad school, I couldn’t get dad to celebrate Xmas at home, we traveled on Xmas day (not really fun), one year to NYC and another to Belize. Mom was always hurt that I didn’t want to come to SC, but that wasn’t my home. Xmas without a tree with dad always felt more like Xmas than Xmas with a tree in mom’s house. I always felt bad (one of those times you wish you could clone yourself) but I only had so much time. By then Laura was married and had escaped to Germany with her husband.

    So I guess I have a fair smattering of not so good memories to mix with the great ones. Since neither set pay rent to be in my brain, I give the good memories the prime real estate, and delegate the not so good ones to the back. And I just try to remember the good ones. I’m pretty sure it is better for my blood pressure anyway. 🙂 Starting in October, I was looking for different Xmas cookies to bake for all the neighbors (I still haven’t decided yet!). And as I’ve been working on knitting a sweater for Alexander, I seem to recall you knitting sweaters for Lisa, and your *fabulous* top floor studio filled with all the colors in the world.

    • jzrart says:

      Caroline, I love reading your memories and about your love for the landscape of home. I’m sure that traditions for Alexander are already there even if you don’t realize it. We all carry those bags of mixed memories and in the long run I believe the happy ones are the ones that we remember most.

      I envy you you’re organisation around getting Xmas gifts before Thanksgiving. Try as I might it never happens. This year it will a holiday of simplicity, with most things very inexpensive.

      I hope your holidays are blessed with delicious food, surrounded by loved ones with Future memories to cherish.

      Xo, Joan

      • Caroline says:

        Hope you have a fabulous and peaceful holiday season with your family. Wish you lived close enough for some kitting help- should have learned to knit when we both still lived at home. (I’m attempting my first sweater in panels, I’ve always knit in the round before, which seems to be a significant time saver.) Give Lisa a hug from me.

  4. jzrart says:

    Caroline, I haven’t done any knitting in years, but I’ve actually had the hankering to do it lately. My favorite way to knit is in the round. Fewer seams in the end.

    I will definately give Lisa a hug from you when we go down to be with her at Christmas. Can’t wait!!

    xo, Joan

  5. Becca says:

    Well, I’m so glad you wrote this. I don’t when I started dreading this time of year – I get so annoyed with all the commercialism that goes along with it, that sometimes I feel sick. I just want to barricade myself in the house until it’s over.

    I am anticipating more joy this year with baby Connor, and I think if I could see him more often it would really lift my spirits.

  6. jzrart says:

    Becca, thanks for your comment. I know I’m not alone in my Grinchness. However, Connor, will I’m sure bring you many Christmas joys. That’s why I love being with my grandkids for the holidays. It’s comforting to have young ones about and fun to have them share their perspectives about the world around them. As Connor grows you’ll have more and more fun!

    Blessings to you and yours for an anxiety free holiday season!

    Joan

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