The other day my friend Annette wrote a wonderful post about her Christmas experiences. I was going to write mine, but major things came up and it became something not important to me. Today my family and I are safe and warm and recovering. I can think again.
Almost any conversation about Christmas seems to come around to Christmas memories. That always puzzles me. Maybe it is because I suffer from major depressive disorder, but when I think back, it is nearly always with sadness. My mother and father are deceased. My brothers and sister live far away. My kids are grown. No more little Strawberry Shortcake and Star Wars pajamas and toys. That just makes me sad.
But the deeper memories are always terrifying. My mother went into hyper out of control mode at Christmas. Who knows what demons she was dealing with. She definitely felt out of place since her family disowned her for marrying a Catholic man, and then, of all things, converting! She always complained of feeling “like an orphan.” Wanting the neighbors to see that there were relatives coming over at Christmas, even if they were my father’s family.
She would decorate the house as if it were being featured in a magazine. Believe me, it could have been. Everything was in order. There were some gorgeous lights from germany on the mantle. Every light in place on the tree. The tree had to be perfect and it had to be put up on Christmas Eve. We had crates of ornaments that had been my (paternal) grandmother’s, they even had old candle wax on them from pre-electric lights days – when candles were on the tree. (Somehow those crates magically disappeared in my father’s chaos after my mom died. )
If the tree wasn’t just perfect, the crisis escalated to heights nearly unimaginable to me now. Nearly every year, we had wires on the tree, directing it in the “right” direction. There were tears and screaming and ridiculous displays of emotion that were terrifying to a small child. I would run to my room and pray for the “company” to get there so my mother would act nice again. My father drank, and my mother controlled every molecule in the house. As a child, I felt there was no where to go. I would pray. I had a small secret altar in my room, hidden away because my mother and my sister made fun of my religiousness.
I left home at 18 and tried to construct what Christmas meant to me as an adult, capable of making my own choices. Some years I bought the Charlie Brown Christmas tree on purpose. I didn’t want it to be perfect or even close. I wanted my decorations to be fun, and not elegant. I made most of my ornaments. My first tree had hand-crafted peace signs all over it.
When I married the father of my children, we created some lovely traditions. In New Mexico, we went and chopped down our own tree, and made a picnic lunch because it was warm enough to do that. We had a galvanized tub with rocks in it for a stand – it was so pretty and rustic and joyous to us. We had some great early Christmases with the kids. Of course, we drank morning, noon, and night, but we were mostly happy drunks at that time. Oh, how I loved my Bailey’s Irish Cream in the coffee on Christmas morning!
After I got sober and we divorced, Christmas became a juggling act with the kids. I had them on Christmas Eve and he had them on Christmas. I would hang out at the AA club on Christmas day, which is still a very fond memory to me.
When I married my next husband I was so shocked on Christmas Eve to realize he had no intention of putting up a Christmas tree. I went and bought one and put it up – alone. We went out for dinner on Christmas Eve, and when I mentioned my gift for him, he was incredulous. And then I realized he hadn’t even purchased me a gift! He went on a frantic search for a store that was still open on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. to find me something. He found nothing. I bought him a beautiful flannel shirt. The day after Christmas he bought me the same shirt in a different color. So weird. That was my first AND last Christmas with him, Thank God.
I am beginning to bore myself with all these recollections. The important thing to me today is that I have the opportunity to enjoy whatever kind of Christmas I am having today. I usually don’t get to choose whether the kids will be here or not. This year they are not. All the grandkids will be gone to “other” grandparents. My dear sober daughter will be here. We have plans, not sure if that will even happen.
Whatever happens, I will be safe and warm in my own home. There is no hysteria here. It is decorated for Christmas, but with joy. Nothing is perfect looking, it doesn’t need to be. I have solar lights outside that bring me an inordinate amount of happiness…. I wait for them to turn on at sundown with the wonder of a 3 year old. When I come home from work they are on and it is such a happy sight.
It reminds me of that quote, I have no idea who the author is:
Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.
This year it is so clear to me why I live the way I do. I don’t want to ever have anyone in my life who creates havoc. I don’t want hysteria, or nuttiness. I don’t want dangerousness. I want my little life, with the few people in it who I love and they love me. I am safe, I am warm, I am happy. I don’t sleep with my purse under my pillow, and it has been years since I have packed a “just in case” bag – with essentials for a few days – underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a big book.
God is always near. He sent his only son to be born in a lowly manger. He may be our King, but he was born into the most humble of circumstances, and died a horrifying, humiliating death. It just sort of puts it into perspective for me. It is not about a Lexus with a big bow on it (and a bigger schedule of payments to make), it’s not about true love and diamond rings. It is about God’s son, and his incredible love for us.
All of us.