Thursday, November 29, 2012

The "F" Word

   Years ago while still married to a vision of a man who did not exists, holidays were awful events. It would alway have me in tears at some point. It did not matter if it was a birthday or Christmas, the tears were sure to appear. Like an uninvited guest they would lurk right at the brink of falling, coloring my day in heartache. My then husband went out of his way to bring them on. He could not seem to help himself. Or rather, he refused to try and control his own anxiety and took it out on those who loved him. I had always loved this time of year. I was captivated by the promise of what was to come.  I think that somehow mad him worse. I would start playing music Halloween night and I kept it going through Christmas night. I loved the packages and boxes. RIbbons and bows were always magical to me. I have very few memories of Christmas growing up. Or really any holiday. My parents were not the holiday kind of people. When we were very young and lived near some of my mother's sisters we would spend the day with them. It was a trying ordeal. The sisters would fight and be catty. Each of them worried more about the behavior of the other's children and not at all interested in their own brood. This created tension, as first one child and then another would be called out for something or nothing. An attempt for each sister to show the other's parenting skills were not up to par.

  We all just tried to stay out of the way. Presents were compared and I remember so clearly at the age of five my aunt taking away one of my gifts because her daughter had not received the same one. She put it high on the mantel promising I could have it before I went home. Well being just five, of course I was crushed and later forgot that special toy behind. I woke up the next morning and realized that it was gone forever. Mourning that Makeup Barbie Doll as if it was a life long friend. I knew it was gone. And indeed it was. When I asked my aunt for it on our next visit, she said it had been lost. The one item my parents had chosen to bestow on me and it had been taken away from me. I would come to see presents or the lack of them as a measure of how much I was or was not loved. Birthdays were incredibly painful. Any time that gifts were to be given I would try to shore up my feelings. Raise my armor high. Because chances were very good that there would be nothing for me. My parents just did not believe in spending money on such things. And so when I married, of course I chose people who continued that long line of pain that comes from the realization that you were not important enough for a special token of love. I tried to bury the hurt in the creating the perfect events for my children. I loved to make their birthday special and would go in to debt to make sure that they got whatever they wanted.

  I would cook for days. Flitting around in a world held together with hope and denial in equal parts. I knew I could have that dream life. The one where I was loved and needed. Where my husband was kind and there was plenty to go around. A place where there would be enough. Of course, it always feel apart. I would plan and plot, working on making that perfect Hallmark holiday and reality would break through all my carefully constructed pretend world. My husband would forget to get me anything. Or even worse, run to the grocery store and bring back random cheap gifts. A plastic jug of milky bubble bath that smelled odd and refused to produce suds. Or a pair of tacky slippers which were three sizes too big. He would hand me the plastic bag that they came in and walk away. That was his idea of Christmas or birthdays. I decided that I would much rather have his words, so I started asking for just a card and a few thoughts. Again, it was too much to ask for. And I always ended up feeling forgotten. My children however were marvelous gift gives. I got breakfasts in bed and the most wonderful hand written cards and notes. I kept them all and when times are hard, when days are just too long I reread them. Pulling love constructed of colorful craft paper with glitter and ribbons. They would remind me of what was important and that the best gifts come from the heart not from any store.

  When I was in my twenties, I still tried to maintain the semblance of a normal family by going to my mother's or sister's for brunches and dinners. It was horrid. I would be filled with anxiety and walking on egg shells. There were always fights and I rarely escaped unscathed. I was so determined that I was not going to be treated poorly. I had had enough bullying and mean remarks and I went looking for excuses to cut down others with my words. I brought a great supply of ammunition for the war that was sure to take place. One of my sisters had been married to a very mean man. I cannot do his capacity to be cruel justice here. He would call my sister fat and lazy, stupid and ugly and I would watch her bow her head and tremble with my rage. I would take a long swing at him with my own weapon of choice. I would remind him he was unemployed and also fat. My sister had just had a baby. What was his excuse? No one else ever intervened on her behave. It was as if we were living a continuation of our broken childhood. My father had been replaced by an equally abusive person and no one seemed willing to remind this new attacker that his behavior was not to be tolerated. I would get blamed for stepping in. For standing up to him and for not just ignoring it. But I could not. I would look at my sister, older than me and yet not. Looking at the floor. Trying to hide the tears that flowed down her cheeks. I just could not stay silent. My child had instilled in me the need to protect others. The need to avenge those who could not defend themselves. It made me the warrior I became. And there always seemed to be a battle raging. After just such a run in while warming the car to leave my oldest sister's house, it came to me. My son asked me why we came to family get togethers. We were all miserable and could find no joy in the day spent in a house full of strangers who just happened to come from the same gene pool. I could not give him a good answer. I did not know why we had to do these things. And that settled it. We made a pact, my children and I. We would not come back. We would make our own special days. We made our own traditions. Special days were spent with those we loved and who loved us in return. When my son was six or seven he started binging me a card and kitkat for every special day. Now, at 24 the Kitkat is larger and the card is store bought and I treasure them greatly. There is something about this man who is still so much my child handing me chocolate and an envelop that says simply mom with a heart that just makes me smile.

  I always thought, back in those years of too few dollars and too many expectations that money would cure my sadness. That if I could just buy fancier things or better food then all would be well. I was oh so wrong. It is not the size of the tree or the presents under it that matter. No it is the love around it that matters. Who we spend our time with and what we chose to say. That is what makes the holiday season special. And family, that most dreaded "f" word, is whom you chose to include into your life. Whether they are there by marriage or birth, friendship or neighbors they can all be part of your family. I pick and choose now. And I have never been happier. I wish for you peace and happiness this holiday season. And if like me, you are filled with apprehension at the very idea of dinner with your family, change that. You have the power and control and you decide what your world looks like.