Stories and thoughts about family and life

Christmas not-so-bliss

on December 27, 2015

I’m generally a happy person with a good sense of humor.  I like to please people, and I enjoy spending time with people who are engaging.  I want to love the holidays—I really do.  But I just don’t.  I’m over it.  I know—bah humbug.  I guess I’m getting old, maybe, or possibly I’m just tired of all the silliness one has to endure.  I’ve come to appreciate why depression is typically at its highest during the holidays, and I suspect it doesn’t have nearly as much to do with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or being alone as it does having to be with people who bring you down.  Please, please make sure those around you know you love them and you enjoy spending time with them.

We’ve struggled since our children were little with where to spend Christmas.  My in-laws didn’t like us constantly going to my parents’ house (although Christmas day was the only day of the year my husband was off, and we were always spending Thanksgiving with my in-laws).    So we jockeyed things around the best we could and tried to make everyone feel their appropriate level of attention and spent time with everyone at every holiday.   Then when our first son was born it was even worse.  My husband no longer had a job which had him working on the holidays, so the expectation was even higher that each holiday would be spent in each place.  By the time we had our second son (who didn’t sleep through the night for the first year), I was exhausted.  We started telling everyone if they wanted to see us on Christmas they had to come to us.  That went fine for a year or two (but let me tell you having a dozen people around a table built for 6 is no picnic either).  I don’t remember what happened that first year, but I suspect it was something similar to this year.  I went through the motions—I did what I was supposed to do and ensured everyone else had a wonderful day.  I, on the other hand, was miserable.  After it was all over, I sat my husband down and told him how I felt.  I think we had both been feeling the same thing, but we were afraid to say it.

Christmas had stopped being about coming together and feeling love and comfort.  It had become an obligatory event.  Someone had to kill themselves all day making a huge meal, which was consumed in 30 minutes and left everyone in a nearly miserable food coma for the afternoon.  The kids were drowning in toys and never seemed to be playing with the “right” one to suit whomever was in the house at the time.  For the kids, it wasn’t about this special day with family, but just another day to “get” things.  For us, I was usually so grateful to see everyone go and have my peace and quiet back that I couldn’t believe wait for it to be over.

So, that year, we decided we would take the boys to Disney the next year.  Not on Christmas morning—not as some big Christmas surprise, but we would book a condo and plan on spending from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day, just enjoying our family.  Our “special Christmas meal” consisted of spaghetti, I think, that year.  I told the boys I’d make whatever they wanted.  In subsequent years, we’ve either ended up at T-Rex café, or doing something equally fun.  We’ve talked about our adventures, and how Christmas is about us being together and loving one another.  The last trip we made to Disney we did Christmas Eve around the World at Epcot, and then The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on Christmas Day.  It was magical and wonderful.  I remember smiling pretty much the whole day, despite walking nearly 13 miles by the time it was over.  The boys were so happy and excited and grateful, and we made some wonderful memories I will cherish forever.

I recognize that I sound a little pitiful and self-indulgent to some of you, probably, but I want my kids to get more out Christmas than a few presents being thrown their way and a meal they’re not interested in eating anyway.  I want them to get to have time with us, and build relationships with us.  I want to sit around and play games with them or go out and run around or see something spectacular that builds special memories for them.  I want to watch them grow and enjoy our times with them.

When I was a kid, we were always at my parent’s house.  They didn’t associate with the rest of our family and so we never went anywhere or were dragged from here to there or flooded with a bunch of guests.  We opened our own gifts under our own tree, and it was just us being a family.  There was no “why aren’t you at our house” or “Grandma is bringing you presents” kind of association. I want my kids to have the realization that Christmas isn’t a cookie-cutter (pardon the pun) event and that they need to do what feels right for their families when the time comes.

I’ve been so amused (or unamused, depending on the day) at my friends who have taken up “Elf on the Shelf” but then complain incessantly about having to do it.  Even better are the entire websites devoted to “ideas” for Elf on the Shelf or ideas for how to get out of doing it (Elfie broke his leg and so he’s going to sit here all season).  My sister even told me yesterday about a story where a child called 9-1-1 because she had touched the elf and her parents had told her if she touched it, all the magic would be gone.  Seriously, people?    The people who make the elf do something naughty really get my goat.  I thought this was supposed to be Santa’s way of watching your kid behave, not to teach the kid it’s okay to be destructive or do mean things.

Now I’m seeing my friends posting Valentine Candy pictures on Christmas day and how the stores are all moving on to the next big event.  Does it occur to anyone else that maybe the reason so many more kids have ADD nowadays is that we’ve taught EVERYone to have it?  We have toys which plays snippets of 50 little songs, or jump from activity to activity so no one focuses very long.  We jump from holiday to holiday in our stores as if we’re competing for some Olympic event.  Two years ago it was which store could open the earliest.  This year it was which one would be closed on Christmas.

I’m seeing friends on Facebook who are TOTALLY offended if someone doesn’t say MERRY Christmas.  Happy Holidays or Happy Christmas isn’t good enough.  For Pete’s sake.  Be grateful people acknowledge you at all.  Be grateful they’re trying to share whatever little bit of themselves they have.  You don’t know that maybe they weren’t raised in a house where Merry Christmas was even a thing—it might be something they’re just discovering.  I’m so tired of living in a world where a person can’t do anything without being judged for it.  And God help me if I don’t share you religious or political beliefs.  Any benign remark I make is going to get me attacked.  I’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness be completely criticized this Christmas, and I’ve seen people to whom I used to look up say such mean and spiteful things that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this holiday near tears.

My friends who have lost parents and tell me all the time “you don’t know how lucky you are that you and your husband still have your parents.”  I know you mean well, but please stop.  You don’t know what you’re saying.  You lost your parent when s/he was still in the prime of life.  Still had all of his/her faculties, still knew who you were and still cared that you were there.  If you doubt that, I’ll take you one day to the nursing home where my mother-in-law breaks my husband’s heart and the hearts of my children every time she thinks they’re nursing home workers or is spiteful or disinterested when we visit.  Having the body isn’t the same as having the person.    You don’t know what it’s like to feel like an errand person all the time, and not ever get a visit just for the sake of having a visit.  You don’t know what it’s like to take a person you’ve respected your entire life (as you were raised, by the way), and suddenly have to treat that person as if he or she is a child.  You don’t understand arguing over why they should care more about health issues, get more exercise, eat better, etc.  You don’t understand having to constantly have to have conversations with the nurses because your parent is tattling like a 3 year old every time something doesn’t go his or her way.  You don’t understand having to explain to a 13 year old who is excited to tell his grandparent the latest thing going on about why the grandparent is more interested in talking about what he or she wants than listening to this child try to share his life with them.  You don’t have to watch your child’s eyes fill with tears, or try to help them understand how their grandparents can’t help it, and he should just keep trying.

I’m the happiest when I’m traveling with my children.  I hope when they’re grown they want to come spend Christmas with us, or will invite us to spend Christmas with them.  If they want to be alone, or travel with their children, I will understand.    I hope these lessons I’ve endured will help me be a better parent.   Understanding, peace, and love.  Shouldn’t that be Christmas?  Aren’t we supposed to be reminded of the love Christ had for us, and God has for us?

As I’ve reflected on this a tremendous deal the past couple of days, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can spend any ol’ day going through the motions and placating family members to spend time.  I can make a meal which would please a group, and we can sit around the table and talk.    I’m going to reserve my Christmas day for my family and the people close to me, who uplift me and make me feel valuable (and for whom I hopefully do the same).  I’m not going to “go through the motions” any more.  I’m going to do something which makes us happy, and helps us feel like a family—gifts or not.

My hope for you in 2016 is that you are prosperous and happy and you receive the benefits of both.  I hope that you are tolerant and kind, and pass love on to the people around you who maybe aren’t feeling it for whatever reason.

Happy New Year.


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