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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Liar, Liar Easter Bunny On Fire

"Easter bunny, are you real?" "Sure, kid. Now get in my van." (image via dreamstime)

Last year while walking down to school, my daughter, Riley and I were talking about inconsequential things, as we usually did in the morning, when without warning, she segued into:

 

“Debbie told me there’s no Tooth Fairy. Debbie’s brother told her that it’s really our parents only you will never ever ever admit it. Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

 

“Uh…”

 

Keep in mind that I was still in the sweatpants in which I’d slept, my hair unbrushed and thrown into a sloppy ponytail. I might have been prepared for discussions about breakfast cereal at that hour, but I was totally and completely unprepared for a discussion entailing the loss of childhood fantasy. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be having the conversation with my innocent, fairy-loving daughter in the first grade so I was caught flat-footed between my commitment to honesty and my love of childhood innocence.

 

Why didn’t Riley want to discuss something easy, like where babies come from? I’d spent numerous hours preparing for that question. I would’ve hit that one out of the park. But Debbie Downer had stolen my opportunity for parental success.

Waa Waa. (image via Wikipedia)

 

 

Who was this Debbie? And why was she heading a massive conspiracy aimed at undermining  my parental acuity? I felt the powerful urge to kick her first grade butt. She was ruining my morning.

 

Thanks to Debbie, I was under the gun with no time to Facebook my friends and set up some sort of parental poll regarding effective ways of navigating this crisis. I had to handle it on my own. Like an adult. I need to be warned before I’m asked to do that. Or at least caffeinated.

 

I longed desperately for someone to run out of their house at that moment and yell “I have something really important that precludes all deep family conversations!” but our neighbors were seemingly oblivious to my predicament. Unlike dogs, my neighbors can’t smell fear and desperation. I scrambled to buy myself some time while I wrestled with my moral dilemma.

*Hey do you smell that? Smells like a cornered rabbit." "Mmm, cornered rabbit is my favorite."

 

“Wow. Really? She said that? Huh. What’s Debbie’s deal? She sounds like a very unhappy and possibly unstable girl. And what’s up with her brother?” (When in doubt, undercut the credibility of the source.) “Can you imagine me in a tooth fairy get-up flying around, and getting stuck in your hair while trying to wrestle your tooth out from under your pillow?” (Then deflect with humor.)

 

I added a visual demonstration of myself as a fairy struggling through Riley’s hair to sell the absurdity of the thought but Riley was unswayed by my comedic genius.

 

“Are you the Tooth Fairy, Mom?”

 

In that moment I was reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my own mother about Santa’s existence. A boy in my school had unloaded the “Santa is actually your parents” bomb on the whole 4th grade class and I felt the need to get reassurance from my mom. Her answer: “The spirit of Santa is real.” Not the definitive answer I wanted. I asked her about 50 more times and received the same answer on loop. I desperately wanted my mom to tell me outright that Santa was real. I looked into my daughter’s trusting blue eyes and remembered my own desire to keep believing.

"I'm what you call a Christmas poltergeist." (image via dreamstime)

 

“No, I’m not the Tooth Fairy, Sweetie.”

 

There it was. Bald faced lie.

 

I felt the weight of guilt crushing my skull and I realized that my mom probably had the right approach. She didn’t lie. She gave a nebulous answer that, while unsatisfying, did afford me the opportunity to decide for myself whether or not I was ready to let go of my childhood fantasies.

I hate it when my moments of clarity come just after I actually need them. It’s seriously inconvenient.

 

I tried to make up for my misgivings and feelings of guilt with a long, rambling speech about how different people believe different things and some people just don’t believe in magic and magic is important in childhood…yadda, yadda, yadda. I can’t remember the whole speech but frankly it was embarrassing. I think I included a whole theological discourse on the differences between Paganism and Christianity. I was in the midst of a shame spiral and could not stop talking. By the time we got to Riley’s school her ears were bleeding from my verbal onslaught. She ran onto the school grounds screaming “Please stop the madness!”

 

That last part might have happened only in my imagination.

 

Flash forward to this year’s Easter. The kids discovered their Easter baskets, which I had packed full of things specific to each of their tastes and needs. Riley pulled out a box of Altoids from her basket and said with a disturbing lack of incredulity,

 

“The Easter bunny must know I like mints.”

 

Translation: I’m onto you and your little bag of tricks, you bald-faced liar.

"My mom's a big fat fibber."

 

Cue shame spiral. Somebody please get me a muzzle.