Santa is Loaded

I mean emotionally loaded.

I mean emotionally loaded.

Can I be frank? Christmas has a history of being an emotionally loaded holiday for me.

My mom lost her battle with cancer on December 21st, 1979. (To my knowledge the Mayans did not predict that event.) I was ten.

It immediately became clear after Mom’s death that she had been single-handedly holding the entire family together and making Christmas magical. Without Mom’s deft talent of redirection, I discovered that we were ill-suited to handle family togetherness and joy.

For one thing, my father hated the holiday. He was a social worker with Child Protective Services and, as any social worker or police officer can tell you, Christmas is a time for killing your loved ones. He spent the holiday marinated. Everyone else was just as miserable.

In front of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree Here I am in an ill-fitting thrift store dress, blissfully ignorant of the impending misery.

Here I am in front of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree in an ill-fitting thrift store dress, blissfully ignorant of the impending misery.

I tried my best to slip into Mom’s shoes and resurrect the Christmas spirit, but those shoes weren’t made for a ten-year old. I started finding ways to desert my family during the holiday. When I got older I would often spend Christmas alone watching depressing foreign films and thinking deep thoughts while wearing a beret.

Reality check: I’ve never worn a beret. They don’t fit my head. However when I picture that time period I see myself as a sad mime with a beret and white gloves, trapped in a box—not a real box that would spare the world the horror of a mime performance but a pretend box so that everyone could suffer through my melancholy along with me. Because I’m a giver.

Sad mime wants to give you a present. How sweet.

Sad mime wants to give you a present. How sweet.

Then I had kids and rediscovered the magic of the holiday. There is nothing more satisfying than hoodwinking a trusting child into believing in that magical bearded toy schlepper, Santa Claus. Against all odds Christmas came from dead last to miraculously take first place as my favorite holiday. Disney could make a movie about that sh!t…oh wait, they have.

But this was a weird Christmas. I’m 43, the age my mom was when she died and that fact took some of the sparkle out of the holiday. Perhaps due to this fact, my current family decided to do a serviceable impression of the dysfunctional family of my youth. They were probably trying to help me work through some stuff. It’s sweet really. Sweet like a bottle of Vics 44 with a rubbing alcohol chaser.

I love these people though they torture me so.

I love these people though they torture me so.

Picture Hubs watching a UFC match while we decorated the tree, complaining that we were blocking the fight, Riley ditching me at the city’s tree lighting ceremony to spend time with her friend’s family, Riley and Conor yelling at each other and slamming doors, Hubs complaining that I was trying to kill the whole family during a manic drive to look at Christmas lights (in his defense it did cross my mind). It was all so achingly nostalgic. And through it all I kept my teeth clamped together in a pained smile and trudged along, determined to make it a joyful holiday.

This child isn't related to me in any way but was kind enough to stand in for this photo depicting a joyous holiday occasion.

This child isn’t related to me in any way but was kind enough to stand in for this photo depicting a joyous holiday occasion.

And it was joyful at times. We had some good moments. Moments when I didn’t feel like Chevy Chase right after he received the certificate for the Jelly of the Month Club instead of his Christmas bonus in Christmas Vacation.

Sure most of my planned activities backfired, Hubs bought himself a midlife crisis motorcycle as if the audio book he received from me was insufficient and Riley lamented immediately that she didn’t get everything on her list which read like War and Peace (seriously, Santa would’ve had to rent a semi to deliver all of her requests). The important thing to remember is that we were all together, nobody got arrested or “voluntarily admitted” and we didn’t actually kill each other.

And one day all of the insanity will make for precious family memories. Like when I tried to explain to Riley why her friend wanted to hang out with her own family instead of us, even though Riley had no problem dropping us at a moment’s notice to spend time with them. I was trying to explain it in an upbeat I’m-too-cool-and-self-confident-to-mind kind of way with just a splash of guilt thrown in because I actually did mind when Riley responded in a stricken voice, “I didn’t realize that I didn’t like you” and then I nearly drove into oncoming traffic. We laughed about that later. Some of us more than others.

Don't patronize me.

Don’t patronize me.

See what I mean? Precious.

Anyway, I hope your holidays were also filled with precious memories or at least adequate Zoloft and I hope this new year is filled with more joy and less sensationalist tragedies.  May we all find a way to nourish our creativity and still get the laundry done.

Mazel tov!

************

Photo Credits:

Dreamstime

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Outnumbered: A Retail Tragedy

I took the kids to the mall today. Both of them. At the same time. I try never to do this because it tests my sanity but today it couldn’t be helped. Either child on their own is no problem 99% of the time. However, the two together are a volatile mix, the likes of which blow up chemistry classrooms and send chemistry professors into early retirement or a habit of drinking in the closet.

But BFF’s birthday party is tomorrow and we hadn’t yet found the perfect gift. We’d found many imperfect ones but not the absolute right gift to capture the specialness of the bestest friend in the entire universe, including fairy kingdoms, without whom my daughter would surely perish of sorrow and boredom. So off we went today, all three of us, to the mall.

Dum Dum Dum Dum.

I should mention that Conor has skinned and reskinned his knees again, so he’s working his Dickensian limp while holding his shorts up, like Tiny Tim learning to curtsy. It is impressively tragic. Immediately after entering the mall Conor wanted to be carried with his imaginary cane to the Disney store. Scrooge Mommy denied his request.

Don’t laugh. It’s tragic.

The Disney store didn’t have the item we sought. They also didn’t have the back-up item Riley came up with after 15 minutes of coercion. Conor on the other hand found 50 things he desperately wanted in the same amount of time. Have you ever tried to keep two children together and focused in a Disney store? It’s physically impossible. Because they sprinkle crack on the floor.

(Note: Disney denies this allegation and the local CSI teams are all too busy solving “actual crimes” to call me back, but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.)

Finally we fled left and headed to another store in the mall to look for a back-up to the back-up item. But alas, the perfect gift was nowhere in the second store either. We know because we checked. Every. Aisle. Twice. Riley was despondent and Conor was losing patience and demanding his twentieth escalator ride, so I corralled them into a restaurant to eat.

Immediately after we ordered, Conor announced that he had to pee with an urgency reserved for pregnant women, drunk coeds and children who wait until the last minute. Riley is deeply insulted by even the thought of any boy’s “private parts” (congratulations Hubs) and didn’t want to come with us. As the waiter had disappeared, I also didn’t want him to think that we’d ordered and then left like fugitives. So, with Hubs popping a blood vessel in my imagination, I left Riley to hold our table. Alone. At the very front of the restaurant. Wearing her Dear Child Predator, Take Me Because My Mom Is An Irresponsible Parent t-shirt. While Conor and I took a trip to the bathroom. In the bowels of the earth.

Okay Riley wasn’t wearing that t-shirt. She was wearing this.

Her My Mom Is Irresponsible Enough To Let Me Draw On My Clothes tank top.

Same difference. And the bathroom wasn’t in the bowels of the earth, but it was in the back of the restaurant, which curved around a corner and went on for ten miles. Nearly.

Riley wasn’t abducted but I got plenty of dirty looks on the way back to the table. I wanted to yell, “Shut up! Tiny Tim had to pee!” But I realized that would only be an admission of guilt and we already knew I was guilty. Of so many things.

Conor likes to stretch his meal out as long as possible, so we finally took his corndog to go. Not in a container. That would be too classy. He yanked the stick out and mashed the fried bread/meat combo into his little fist and we took it through the mall. We were giddy from all-you-can-eat steak fries and beyond caring.

When I stopped at Teavana to sample their wares, Conor was possessed by the spirit of mall music and started to bust out some ambitious dance moves, still clutching his fist o’meat. A steak fry buzz will do that to you. Mid-spin he went down hard. So hard, in fact, that the Teavana sample dude just took his things and went inside his store. Conor lie there stunned, wondering where it all went wrong.

Never dance with carnie food. (image via dreamstime)

I helped him up and we shuffled on. Not ten yards later, Conor stepped on somebody’s discarded pastry and took another digger, this time letting loose with his famous super sonic cry. Malls have excellent acoustics. I gave up on BFF’s gift and started to giggle hysterically.

If you saw a manic woman hustling two children through the mall, one of them screaming and limping dramatically while clutching a dirty wad of corndog, it was me. At the car the kids managed to headbutt each other and all three of us started to cry, though I was the only one who also cursed. Then I bought them candy and waited for our car to burst into flame as a capper.

When Hubs got home, Riley and I went out on our own and found a birthday present. We laughed, skipped, shared a soda like childhood sweethearts. It was magical.

One child. It makes all the difference.