By Carolyn Riker
“I shouldn’t write this,” I keep telling myself.
I should be sharing something positive and cheerful and full of gratitude. I should be focused on peace and love. I should be singing ‘chestnuts roasting by an open fire’ and planning perfectly poised decorations, while making hot chocolate from scratch and wrapping presents with glee.
However, I am not. I struggle with the holidays.
I have been on an emotional rollercoaster since early October when the first artificial Christmas trees were sighted in a big box store.
My heart fell to my feet.
“It’s already here,” I thought. The race towards the perfect gifts, the over-the-top houses decorated with matching bows tied to each tiny branch. The precision of lights outlining homes. I will never ever succeed. This, all mixed with an overwhelming dissonance and is there something wrong we me?
As I walked by the artificial trees that day, I was riddled with sadness and flooded with memories. I became part of A Christmas Carol and was visited by my own ghosts. Christmas Past left me crying in aisle three. I forgot why I was shopping and how I even got there. I found my list and held on tight just to get through.
We are preprogramed to be cheerful because the opposite is dreaded and uncomfortable to deal with. Few want to hear the awful side of the holidays. It can be an overwhelming loneliness, illness, grief, not-so-pleasant-memories, familial expectations, families excluding those who don’t fit in, the separated families, the divorced families and the so-called sharing of children.
I feel for the children being shuttled for a day or two, or a week or a month away from one parent to visit the other.
Even in ideal circumstances, they feel the stress too. There’s also the ghost of who-can-out-do-the-other-parent. There’s the resentments and hurts and jealousies.
With Christmas less than a week away, I’ve simplified. Self-care is important and I have learned to say, “No, thanks,” more often to white elephant functions, concerts and forced holiday cheer. The only Christmas movie so far that has made me laugh, was Elf.
Which of course led me to daydreaming, I need an Elf; a ‘house elf’ would be so wonderful. Someone else to help make the breakfasts and pack the lunches and plan the 4,001 meals and snacks and grocery store runs. An elf or two or three to help me navigate the city of laundry and to deep clean our home. An elf, to calm me from exploding when I hear late at night, “Mom do we have poster board? And do we still have a Santa hat? I want to wear it to school.” All of this is sandwiched between work and writing and worrying and paying bills.
Sometimes, the weight of it all is really extra heavy.
And I can’t hear another rendition of May All your Christmas’ be Bright. When I really feel, I’ll have a Blue Christmas, Without You.
And I don’t even have a ‘you’ and maybe I never will because I’m on the outside looking in at the perfect-families, with the perfect-partners attending the-perfect-parties with the perfect-smiles and dresses and vacations and….
I have to stop myself because this isn’t helpful.
I have to stay with the now and maybe what we all need is a little more self-forgiveness and less perfect and that will lead to peace and love.
I will focus on what we do have and I am grateful that I have food to feed my kids. That half the lights on our artificial tree still work. I am thankful we have our health and that their dad can afford to take them somewhere warm.
I really love that my cat hasn’t left my side in the last 48 hours. How my daughter took over the holiday baking and my son readily vacuumed the house. How we put less than half the ornaments up and the back of the tree remains blissfully bare. And how I gave myself permission to be sad, while my kids are away and discovered how much I needed the break. I cried a little more and it was good because it reminded me how every bone and cell ached. I feel flu-ish and feverish and poured myself into a nest of blankets and pillows for the last two days.
I appreciate deeply how the fireplace burns brightly on this early morning write.
I took some of my shoulds and always and recycled them between the dust bunnies and mismatched stockings hung by the fireplace and the click of my keyboard, the purring of the cat, while I listen to the soothing sound of rain’s tears and know, “So this is Christmas….”
And “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin” right here and now.
Editor: Dana Gornall