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And so this is Christmas... [Dec. 27th, 2011|02:59 pm]
Disclaimer: Don’t think for a minute that I’m not grateful for what I have: a very minimally dysfunctional family who are wonderfully loving and supportive; a whole host of friends who share that same minimal/wonderful range. I’m acutely aware that I’m lucky to have that. This has been a hard year for a lot of my friends – having lost or in the process of losing loved ones, and just a lot of generally craptastic. This was probably the last Christmas for a young woman in my extended family, so don’t think I’m insensitive to the hurt. We just deal with it differently. Repression and Denial: my people practically INVENTED it. Salving pain with humor? We totally STOLE THAT.

For nearly the first time ever, I actually hit the road having baked all 8 cookie recipes (I’ll admit it, I planned on ten and I bailed on two of them, but I’m pretty sure my subconscious designed the list that way – no one needs the excuse of Christmas to bake coconut sables or butter cookies) and having wrapped all presents ahead of time. Plus my own tree was completely decorated a full DAY before I left. Sadly, the last few years, it’s been a bit of a Bataan Death March of Christmas Tree decorating, up until all hours of the night, sucking the joy and contemplation of the experience right out of it. I do take my tree very seriously. I don’t spend hours in the tree lot agonizing…it’s a tree. It should be imperfect by nature. Once I’ve established that it smells good, it pretty much has to clear the ceiling, not be too fat so that I can still get in and out of the living room, and have branches that lend themselves to having lots of things hung from them. Because I have LOTS of things to hang. Symmetry or straight uprightedness are fairly optional, since it almost always goes against a wall or corner, where an “ugly side” comes in handy. And I will spend only so much time trying to get it to sit straight in the tree stand, so it’s a blessing when I can blame the very structure of the tree.

I used to have to decorate at least a half a dozen trees when I worked at NowDefunctHomeFurnishingsStore, where we sold a lot of Christmas ornaments and the visual merchandising handbook specified dozens and dozens of strings of tiny white lights, wound carefully up and down every single expletive branch of the tree. I will admit, the trees looked lovely, lit that way. And there was a certain illicit thrill to getting PAID to decorate Christmas trees. Of course, after decorating half a dozen trees there…then several weeks later decorating my own tree…then at most a day or two later heading north and decorating my parents tree…the jaded is a little too easy to tap. So, I have to carefully re-set my mind to really enjoy decorating my own tree – carefully limiting the number of lights I use, because the number of lights we used at NDHFS would probably BLIND you if used in a small living room such as mine…GAH, what do you mean tree? What the hell is that solar flare in the living room?! Why is everyone wearing t-shirts, it’s wint…god, it IS hot in here, isn’t it? But once the tedium of the lights and balls are done, I can revel in the ornaments, all of which mean something to me. And for a brief night or two, enjoy it, before the crazy mad dash up north begins.

And begin it did – 7 hours to drive what should be a 5½ hour drive, Merry Christmas to YOU, New Jersey! Oh, it’s mostly my fault for not leaving on time, but on the other hand, for the first time in years, I was completely organized, the car was packed well, and the house was…well, in its usual state of slovenliness and disarray, as opposed looking as if a horde of gift wrapped Vikings had had a baking orgy all over the house.

For obvious reasons, it has been an…emotionally complex…holiday season. It did prove, though, that when all I have to pack is me and my stuff, no companions, no dogs, I can actually do it fairly quickly and efficiently. Please note, I’m not blaming the companions or dogs for the chaos – but clearly there’s a tipping point to the logistics for me, and ONLY me appears to be just on the non-chaotic side. Just. I still get in the car, sweating, out of breath, running late, mind spinning…but with just enough functioning brain cells to remember that it’s actually colder than it seems to my overheated, overwrought self, and will be even MORE so an additional latitude north, so I should unlock the house, go back in and get a coat. And pee again.

And while I was concerned that, especially with the attendant traffic, that I’d get sleepy (moving vehicles are a soporific for me. A cross-country train, plane or automobile ride with me? You’d better bring your Kindle. ) turned out I was fine, having packed a large and eclectic selection of randomly mixed CD’s, and being alone, could bellow and carouse all I wanted, moving from ‘80’s New Wave to Medieval German Christmas carols to Appalachian Folk to traditional Breton Christmas Carols, to Elvis Costello in various incarnations to Jim White’s “If Jesus Drove a Winnebago”. And this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNvZqpa-7Q If you passed me on the highway and I was crying, that one was probably playing. It’s the only piece of Christmas music written after about 1900 that I’ll tolerate.

So time flew by, although I was hoarse by the time I got there and the floor of the car was littered with Diet Mountain Dew cans and the evidence of an unfortunate popcorn accident. Just in time to eat, have a glass of wine, a chat with my parents, and, as predicted, after keeping my eyes open until 10pm, I slept like the dead. Unlike as predicted, there was no waking up early in the morning. Or maybe I did, but not long enough to look at the clock. I began the day by putting an edge on all of their knives, butting in and roasting the vegetables for the lasagna, although as my mother prefers glass cutting boards, I prepped the vegetables to the aural accompaniment of nails on a chalkboard. And you would be proud of me. I WANTED to say “Hey, look out, I fixed your knives, they’ll actually CUT food now. If you would stop putting them in the dishwasher, they’d actually stay sharp.” Instead I just said, “Oh, be a little careful, I sharpened up your knives a bit.” And later on, during a conversation about the abrasiveness of dishwasher detergent, I got to slip in a “that’s why your knives get dull if you put them in the dishwasher.” See, I CAN overcome nature and nurture!

Then it was on to decorating THEIR tree. Which took most of the day, considering the lateness of the beginning. And it was relatively stress free…although running through the previous week’s events, at one point I mentioned something about having put ten pounds BACK on, owing to all of the work-related drinking occasions, where I drink beer instead of wine or liquor, as my internal editor has a tendency to stick around with beer. And my mother says “Well, if it’s work related, I HOPE you were drinking from a GLASS and not just out of the bottle!”

These are my genes, people. Next time I say something similar, please remember that I am battling the heritage of generations of women who will interrupt a story to etiquette-check you. You’re cruising along, relating the tale, and then suddenly, there’s an arm around your neck, a chokehold, and you’re flat on your back on the ground stammering that no, of course, you would NEVER use the enclosed reply card to respond to a wedding invitation. Just be glad I’ve managed to tone it down as well as I do.

And I know that I can go on and on and on and in the telling I could turn Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” into a novella, but let me tell you, I am an AMATEUR, compared to my mother. Because my mother never, ever shuts up. (Which is a cruel way to say it. I love my mother. But I need a certain amount of quiet in a day. One of the joys of visiting my parents is that there are pockets of quiet when I can just read a book and chill. But when the visit is short and I don’t visit often enough, my mother overfloweth.) So, it feels as if she takes my picking up a book as a invitation to talk, rather than a signal to let me have some peace. And she tries. I can see it. I can see her sit and try to do something else, open her mouth to make a comment and then stop, wring her hands a bit, pick up a magazine or dishtowel. And then she can’t stand it. And I sigh, and put down my book, or the newspaper, and as she’s talking, all I can hear in my head is “Hush, hush, please, mother of god stop TALKING to me, let me REST” and then I feel like a complete EXPLETIVE. Because there’s nothing better than the heady combo of stress/anxiety from being talked at all day slathered with guilt for not visiting enough, not calling enough, not extending the simple freaking courtesy of just DEALING for three bloody days to create a throbbing headache. Which makes the talking...

Other visits it’s not so bad – I can escape outside, we can arrange to do things that naturally interrupt the flow, or we’re together for long enough that I don’t feel like an ungrateful jerk for saying “Hey, I’ve got a bit of a headache, I’m going to go have a bit of a laydown.” But Christmas, there just isn’t that room for maneuvering, plus again, the guilt – what’s WRONG with me that I can’t just suck it up and converse?

And really, other than a small horde of thinly veiled diet and exercise hints, and a single comment about one of the neighbor’s adult daughters who visited last week and omigosh, she must weigh nearly 200 pounds! where I wasn’t able to resist “You mean like me?” and then had to feel badly about making my Mom feel guilty, it wasn't so bad. As a matter of fact, when I think about it, I probably heard fewer “comments” about my appearance – weight, hair, clothes, etc. – than ever before. Hmm. A new benevolence? Short time frame? I don’t know, but I could happily grow used to it. Maybe it was all the schadenfreude of talking about extended family who have so alienated their children that they won’t even spend a holiday with them, and watching my brother struggle to deal with his two teenage daughters – 12 going on 13 and 16 going on 17. He’s actually doing a fine job, but it’s certainly not easy. Plus I got to say “Oh, hey, wait a minute. I seem to remember that when YOU were that age…” about a dozen times. I actually got into an interesting discussion with the girls about fashion and style and meanings thereof that was actually pretty deep considering their ages and attention spans. And it enabled me to get in a zinger about the twelve year old’s press-on nails, which gave me the cold willies.

And as I paged through the basket of Christmas cards, catching up with friends and relatives who don’t send cards directly to me, I realized that it truly is never too late for people to change: the Republican, mildly homophobic (in a “we wouldn’t KNOW anyone who’s like THAT” kind of way) parents of my younger years had received Christmas cards from several openly gay couples, as well as a Christmas card from the Obama’s. I don’t know that you can TEACH old dogs new ways of thinking, if they don’t want to learn, but new ways can certainly just sneak up and overcome them…so don’t write anyone off too soon.

[User Picture]From: dawntreader90
2011-12-27 08:07 pm (UTC)
i like the advice at the end.
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2011-12-27 08:30 pm (UTC)

Heh. After selling knives in a mall all through high school and a few years during college, I go back and sharpen my parents' knives as well. I like to keep mine sharp enough to parse arguments over the definition of "is."

apparently you've not been married to a psycho who put "wife gone" at the head of the Christmas list have you?

Mine are so dull that butter just sits and laughs at them. I wouldn't know how to put an edge on a knife if my depended on my success.

but I bet it my failure helped it along ;)
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2011-12-27 08:34 pm (UTC)
Aren't families fun?

My Dad's bunch used to just sit around and drink and play cards...and threaten people...and somebody usually threw up in a planter....

them was the days
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[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2011-12-28 02:26 am (UTC)
And really, other than a small horde of thinly veiled diet and exercise hints, and a single comment about one of the neighbor’s adult daughters who visited last week and omigosh, she must weigh nearly 200 pounds! ...

My father used to comment on people's weight gains and losses (mostly gains) all. the. time. More than once I've resisted the urge to say to him, "Jesus Christ, Dad, do you know how lucky you are I didn't develop and eating disorder?"

And while the rennie crowd seems to insist that I'm so skinny... stand me next to a bunch of high school cross country runners or my father's group of insane marathoners and I look like Jabba the Hut.

But these days? Instead of running marathons, my dad now pushes high calorie snack foods and Starbucks drinks on people.
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[User Picture]From: pyratelady
2011-12-28 05:12 am (UTC)
At least he hasn't said one word about my weight in years; if he critiqued my weight AND in the next breath said I should try the triple-chocolate malted milk balls that he got from Trader Joe's he would get an earful from me.
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[User Picture]From: giantsloth
2011-12-28 04:01 pm (UTC)
That "White Wine in the Sun" song, so good! Thanks for turning me on to that.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2011-12-28 04:03 pm (UTC)
Google Tim Minchin Woody Allen Jesus

Make sure you're someplace you can laugh out loud.
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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2011-12-30 02:00 am (UTC)
"...no, of course, you would NEVER use the enclosed reply card to respond to a wedding invitation."

And waste the stamp??????

Ah, family. That's why I spent this Christmas in the desert and not in Seattle. Without Mom Christmas seemed... well, stupidly painful and just too cruel to endure this year. I am looking forward to next year's Christmas when I'll be on your coast. Maybe not in your neighborhood but at least in the same time zone.
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