(What follow is purely emotional venting – you know I’m big on feelings and on that whole experience, so forgive me for detailing it all so intensely. If you’re not familiar with this particular family dynamic, there’s no point in attempting to further your knowledge with this post – so look elsewhere for your daily entertainment. You certainly won’t find it here, at least not today.)
It’s about to get a little heavy, though. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I’m not big on Christmas.
I used to like it, I think, but as the years have passed, I’ve become more and more of a Scrooge about the whole ordeal.
Because it really is an ordeal to me.
I love Christmas lights, Christmas trees, the flutter you feel when you’ve found the exact right gift for someone you love. I love driving in the dark on those bitterly cold nights looking at lights. I love seeing our Christmas tree weighted down under the ornaments; I love remembering how much they all mean to me.
There’s the sparkling ice cream cone to commemorate my years of Dairy Queen servitude, the pink car I got when I was 16, the mugs tilted on their sides showing a family of mice baking cookies (my personal favorite ornament), Mike’s fishing stuff, the Broncos ones, the crystal ones, the doves, the homemade ones, the glass ones…everything. Some are dated, some aren’t, some get more love than others, but each year my Mom wraps them all individually and puts them back in the boxes they came from and then we haul them down the stairs where they’ll wait patiently for the next year.
I don’t like remembering. I don’t like Christmas.
It brings back really bad memories.
I automatically tense up when the holidays approach – I feel them coming as the weight gradually settles around my shoulders and I prepare to grit my teeth and get on with it. I know I’m old enough to have grown out of these stupid little moods, but there are times when I can’t quite manage to keep it all together. I try, really, but somehow, something always slips through my defenses and nags at me until it has all come undone.
This year was no exception. It was all going well enough. For the second year in a row, I was watching Danny’s dog Emma, who comes with a free house to stay in for a few days. I was taking advantage of a quiet bathtub and an adorable dog and an empty house.
We’d made plans to go to one Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve (as usual) and then more plans to see the other side of the family the next day.
I felt that something was off, so when I finished Christmas Eve dinner and checked the text messages, I immediately knew something was wrong.
“Merry Christmas!! hey we now have plans tomorrow, but would love to cu guys soon. What’s tom’s #?”
My heart sank. I’d even spoken with Mom about this exact scenario. I’d seen it coming, but foolishly believed it wouldn’t happen.
How foolish I was. You can’t trust anyone, of course. There’s no point in convincing yourself it’s possible.
I spent the rest of the night holding in tears. Mom saw this, the eventual breakdown was sliding toward us, and ushered me home to go look after the dog. She saw the pain shooting through me, the hurt feelings. I rarely get my feelings hurt. I try to be tough enough, but every now and then….Christmas, and I was off-guard.
I love the family elements of Christmas – and I was beginning to think that pulling off family time wasn’t going to be so difficult. It never is with Mom’s family. I’ve come to realize over the years that they are the most family I have, really. They’re never to busy to see us, they go out of their way to do things together, they help each other.
Uncle Mike, my mom’s brother-in-law, took a few days off to drive me to college my freshman year. Even though all the boys claimed they were just in it for the Cubs tickets (which I’m sure wasn’t a huge lie), they were sweet enough to make the drive and then leave me. They still tease me about how much of a mess I was when they left. I can see Uncle Mike now, imitating my voice, crying, as they left. “Don’t leave me, I’ll go to DU, I swear! Take me with you!” I’m eternally grateful for their help, and I sincerely hope they weren’t too scarred by my hysteria.
I’m the only girl grandchild on that side – you can imagine how they react to me. They understand more than they let on – they all had sisters – but that doesn’t mean they don’t take every opportunity to tease me. Christmas Eve, Uncle Mike was sitting telling me that my shoes made my ankles look skinny. Implicit in that remark was that they were fat enough to need to look skinny. He paused, then said, “What are they called? Cankles?” A lightning fast surge of fury shot through me, followed by a comfortable warmth and then a smile.
It was well-played, I have to admit. All the boys were laughing to themselves while I protested mildly about cankles.
That’s the kind of family that you want around you.
Christmas Eve, my brother Mike came home with me. I was on the verge of tears and furious. We walked the dog and he let me vent at him. Then he sat with me and we watched tv for a couple of hours late into the night – long enough that a calm had come over me. I’m grateful that he did that for me – he knew exactly what I needed without even asking.
Christmas Day was fine. We saw Dad’s new apartment. He cried, but that wasn’t unexpected. We dug through his garage and found retro Broncos sweaters from the ’80s, which we immediately claimed.
I rocked one of them for the game yesterday. Not a bad look, I must say.
It was Boxing Day when the phone rang and Dad’s mom was on the other line. I could hear the guilt creeping through her voice, I know that’s why she called me. I wasn’t in the mood to play nice, so I told her exactly what I was (am) feeling.
That it’s bullshit to call and cancel on us at 7 pm on Christmas Eve, that we’re not stupid enough to think that “other plans” aren’t just the regular plan minus us.
“Maybe they’ll make it up to you,” she said softly. I snorted into the phone. “Not likely,” I told her. “They never do.”
And so it was. I stated my case, told her how this always happens just because her side of the family doesn’t want to see Dad, told her that Mike and I are independent adults who are capable of father-free actions, that we’re sick of feeling left out like that.
(If it’s not because they don’t want to see Dad, then I have no idea what it could possibly be. I’ve spent so much time trying to be the niece and granddaughter they want me to be and I’ve finally given that up. I’ve tried to show them that I’m not off doing drugs – as Dad used to tell them – and that my life is on track. Hello, does my Bachelor’s degree from a Catholic university mean nothing to them?
I can only think of once, maybe. We were little – I was fifteen. They found a lighter in their house and assumed it was mine. [It wasn’t.] I never explained that to them, but if that’s what it is, it’s been way overblown. That was 8 years ago. I babysat their kids a week ago, so it can hardly be the lighter thing, right? I’m responsible, respectful, polite. I answer the kids’ questions in a very PC way that no one should be able to find fault with. I’m a pro-babysitter, remember? It’s my job to assist in child raising, not de-rail it.)
“You always have Christmas Eve with your Mom’s family,” she said. That fact has nothing to do with it. I wasn’t invited to any Christmas Eve thing on Dad’s side, so how can that be played as a card?
She was crying, and soon, so was I.
“It’s really shitty to cry on Christmas Eve,” I told her. “It’s shitty to feel left out by your own family. Rejected like that.”
“My hands are tied,” she said. I disagree.
“Do you want to see them?” she asked.
“Why would I want to see people who have no interest in seeing me?” I asked, before I had to hang up because I was crying so much.
The divorce didn’t have to put us in the middle like that. It’s stupid that ten years later, we’re still paying for the mistakes of our parents. It didn’t have to come down to one side of the family against the other, but it’s looking like we’ve got a clear winner.
And no, Dad, this one’s not about money. It’s about family and yours obviously doesn’t think that we belong.
Again, that Christmas refrain: Bad memories and a sour taste.