Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I love decorating. I love Christmas carols. I love gift giving.
As I’ve grown into motherhood, I now love watching the look of anticipation and wonder on my children’s faces. Their enthusiasm and excitement. I love creating new traditions and keeping the magic of Christmas alive.
The holidays, however, feel like a confusing time.
I am, for the most part, feeling so much better. So much more hopeful for what my life will look like.
There is, though, something bittersweet about the holidays–every year, but especially this year. This year, I’m full of new realizations. New hurts. New grief. New perspectives.
Every year, my family gathers together to celebrate Christmas Eve. We do dinner, gifts, and games, with my immediate and extended relatives. This year, I have been pretty hands off. I have set up my boundaries pretty strongly–so much so that my mother really did not even ask me to help her cook and prepare for the big dinner.
In many ways, this was a huge relief. I worry about the times where I am forced to spend time with her. I think, How do I act? What should this look like now? How do I feel angry and know what I know, and still pretend like nothing is wrong?
The balancing act of protecting myself, maintaining and guarding my own personal growth, and the ripples it creates is difficult. Confrontation over what happened would be pretty fruitless–it would get me nowhere and would simply cause a bigger blow up than I would want to deal with. But, at the same time, staying silent and pretending all is fine when I have to be around my family is equally difficult. Sometimes, I want to shout, God, I am pissed at you!! Do you even realize what you have done? What you are doing?
The holidays, to me, always represent a time of such hope. A time where we can all get together and enjoy one another. Yet, most years, they just end up hurting.
This year, it looked different.
This year, my husband picked up a card for my parents. A warm, fuzzy, lovey-dovey card for a mom and a dad. I picked it up, last minute, realizing I had to sign it and get ready to go. I read the text and sighed. What a load of bullshit. None of it represented how I truly feel. Did I sign it? Yes…but only to make my life easier and to fulfill the expectation that I had at least thought of them.
This year, rather than arriving and working my tail off to help with the meal, I arrived with my family, after our Christmas Eve service, late and unconcerned by that. Still in our church clothes, I walked into the house and my mom surveyed me with a look of unhappiness. “You’re late. I thought church would be over earlier?” and then, always my favorite, “You’re wearing that? You’ve lost weight but….hmm. What do I know? I am the fat one.”
Deep breaths. Self-control. Deep breaths. I smile, give her a hug and say “Merry Christmas, Mom.”
And then I found the wine.
This year, the holidays are different. This year, I have grown.
The holidays represent a hopeful time for me–but this year, that hope looks different. It is no longer the hope of a young woman, seeking approval and validation from her mom and dad. Her family.
Nope. This year, I know that, no matter what I do, that ain’t happening.
This year, I know that it isn’t my problem. I could do any thing and it would not be enough. I could lose 20 more pounds, bake the most amazing cookies, buy the most expensive, wanted gift, cook an elaborate meal and, you know what?
It would still not be enough.
And, that isn’t about me. It is about their unhappiness, insecurities, and ego-centrism.
So, instead, I got my wine, sat down with my husband and kids, away from them, and ate my meal. I opened gifts, talked to the kids, and smiled with other relatives.
…And then I left.
And, it didn’t really bother me.
The real kicker for me occurred this morning, however. My grandmother has been ill, going through test after test for lung cancer. I took her to the Emergency Room on Friday afternoon, so she was not at all up to attending Christmas Eve festivities. She was mad about this. She is struggling with the sense of injustice that comes with illness, facing mortality, and playing the horrible waiting game of what-if.
This morning, I picked her up and brought her to our house for Christmas brunch. She left after a few hours, and about 20 minutes after dropping her off, I get a phone call from my sobbing mother. “Your grandmother is mad at ME. After all I have done for her. She says that I didn’t care that she had a horrible Christmas Eve.”
I empathized. Told her that it is hard. Grandma is frustrated and depressed by everything that is going on.
Then she says, “But she would never take it out on YOU. You’re her favorite. You just don’t understand. You don’t know what it is like to have a mother that uses you as a whipping post. Nothing I do is ever good enough for her. You just don’t understand what that is like. I try and try and she gets mad at ME.”
I had no comment for her. No words of encouragement. I simply said, “It’s hard. I’m sorry you feel that way.”
And then I got off the phone. And I literally laughed.
Happy holidays. 🙂