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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Plan B

I hope you all had a lovely Labor Day weekend. Ours was packed full of laughter, tears, head colds and injuries (all the things that make a family vacation special) even though our initial Labor Day plans fell through.

We had intended to do a little camping this weekend, but so did the rest of the world and unlike us, the rest of the world made reservations. I tell you, it ain’t easy being a slacker in a Type-A world. In order to distract the children from the fact that we weren’t sleeping in the woods, we came up with a Plan B and scheduled some camping-esque activities.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, kids, you are actually having fun in the wild because your parents would never drop the ball and disappoint you. (image via MGM)

First we distracted Riley, who is old enough to ask the wrong kinds of questions, with a sleepover at her BFF’s house. Riley wouldn’t care if the zombie apocalypse arrived as long as she had her stuffed animals and her BFF. Conor had a cold anyway, so we just loaded him up on cold meds and made wild animal noises. He never knew the difference.

(Note: By “cold meds” I mean ice cream.)

“I see bears, Mommy.” “That’s right, sweetie. Now eat your campfire ice cream.”

The next night we hosted a cook out and garage door drive-in movie night. It was a wild success. Our neighbors in the back house especially enjoyed the fact that we blocked the whole driveway so that they had to run an obstacle course in order to come and go, which they managed to do a record amount of times in two hours. Hubs got out his special military cot that was designed to collapse under anyone but armed combatants, so all of the kids got the chance to be thrown to the ground before eating their weight in marshmallows. Great fun.

The next day we took the kids to the wilderness with some friends, raced up and down hills, climbed some trees and rocks, saw the local wildlife and managed to eat all of our picnic food within two minutes of turning off the car ignition.

The tree people of Los Angeles.

Things got ugly during the hill races. You have to watch yourself next to a competitive marine. They will do whatever is needed to take a hill, including pile-drive their eight-year old daughter into the dirt. In Hubs defense, Riley was running in his blind spot, he had a blind spot because he was carrying the smallest child up with him as a gesture of good will and, as his daughter, Riley should have known to give him a really wide birth. She’s seen him break windows and crush door knobs for God’s sake. He’s Conan the Barbarian in a medium-sized t-shirt.

I watched the tragedy unfold in slow motion. Riley tried valiantly to catch herself for what seemed like two miles, but ultimately went down face first in a blaze of glory. She started to cry and Hubs, baffled as to why she would choose that competitive moment to lie face down and cry in the dirt, gave her the sensitive and sage advice, “you should watch where you’re going,” to which she replied, “I did watch where I was going, which was face down into the dirt because you ran me over, ya big clumsy oaf!”

Or at least that’s what the look she shot him implied.

I delicately let him know that he had inadvertently flattened his baby girl and he tried to make it up to her by power washing her wound with iodine. I’m pretty sure she’s going to stick Hubs in a Home the first chance she gets, which will soften her psychological scars.

Hubs took this picture because it looks like a turtle peeing from a giant turtle penis. I love his sophisticated sense of humor. You really can’t stay mad at a man who takes pictures like this.

By the end of the day each child had earned their very own injury, which was nice. I hate for anyone to feel left out. I declared the weekend a success and Hubs and I parents of the year.

Next weekend will be a festival of sloth in order to effectively lower the kids’ standards again, because I can’t keep up that kind of pace every weekend. I’d suffer burnout or a groin pull.

Our motley crew. By the way, Riley is not waving at the camera–she’s displaying her wound to document her suffering.