John Henry loves Christmas trees. He likes to stare at the lights and look at the ornaments, and of course, sometimes try to touch both. I put our trees and all of our decorations up on Friday afternoon, and before the weekend was over had said, “please don’t hit the tree with your popsicle,” more than once. The things that are heard in our house… The things that aren’t…
My son doesn’t write letters to Santa. He doesn’t even like to hold pencils, much less can he use one. Christmas Eve always breaks my heart at least a little — after he’s finally in bed I go get the things I’ve stashed away for him and put them out around the tree, and it never looks like enough. Truth is, I struggle to come up with gifts that he will like — last year he got a balloon tree, mardi gras beads, squiggly worms and sensory balls — it is a decidedly non-traditional scene, as is Christmas morning. He doesn’t get up earlier than normal and run into the living room to see what’s there that wasn’t the night before. There is no ultra-heightened joy that I can see, there are no shrieks of excitement. I wonder what he thinks about it all. I can tell that he knows something is different, I can tell that he knows he has gotten some new things, but he doesn’t pick them up to show them to me. There is no, “Mama — look at this!” The things that are heard in our house can sound absurd. The things that aren’t heard in our house can be deafening.
I try to see the bright side — my son isn’t materialistic and never, ever pulls on my sleeve to ask for big, plastic toys or video games we can’t afford. I also, at the same time, know I’d sell the world’s secrets for just one whispered request. What I’d give to know I’d been able to make him happy for even one morning. The bright side is sometimes a bit hard to locate. I do it, but I admittedly have to look for it in these situations.
The holidays are, and mostly always have been, difficult in my world. There wasn’t a whole lot of joy in our house while I was growing up, and that didn’t change just because we started singing Christmas songs around the end of November. Though Mama worked hard to give us everything we wanted, and I’m sure Daddy took part in the procuring of the items in our Santa letters too, there was always an uneasiness surrounding it all. Did we have enough money? What were we going to get everyone? Where were we going to have lunch? Would we be going to Mama’s parents’ or Daddy’s? Who had to host on the 26th due to the other getting the 25th? What are they fighting over now? Why is Mama crying?
I’ve had a saying about being an orphan for a long time: “No one to answer to and nowhere to go for Christmas.” It isn’t true that I have nowhere to go for Christmas — I am welcome in many homes from those of my relatives, to those of my friends, and that of my sweet in-laws, but truth be told, I just want to be in my own nest where it’s safe. I never quite feel a real part of any merriment but what I can create on my own terms. My control issues are abundant, as are those of abandonment, and I know it. I also know the home I wish I could go to doesn’t exist, and it never has. There is nothing that I “always do,” over the holidays, I have no real traditions. And honestly, “always doing,” because it is “always done,” bothers the crap out of me. I know, at bottom, that that is a defensive, unaccepting way of thinking and one that reveals a fear of being excluded, a fear of not belonging anywhere. That I feel that way has begun to bother the crap out of me even more than other people’s “always” traditions. I suppose awareness is the first step to change. I remind myself to focus on the positive. I remind myself to do that a lot. I also remind myself that the discomfort I feel with having to do things to feel included is probably good for me. I remind myself that I can have traditions, and that having them is a good, grounding thing, even if my tradition is to not be traditional.
What traditions can I make in my own home besides listening to The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” over and over and decorating the house? How can I create happy memories for my son when he doesn’t seem to care that much about toys or the other surprises that Santa might leave for him? I suppose this is the time of year when the grief sandwich that I feel like I live in some days begins to get really gooey — I have no traditional experience on either side, not with my parents, and not with my child. I think we often try to correct what we missed as children with our own offspring, but that’s not possible for me — it’s as if John Henry puts his hand up and says, “nope — I’m not going to accept this baggage from you” — and if that’s true, he’s spot on. I can’t fill what is missing in me through trying to give it to him. Sometimes I feel my entire life has been an intensive crash course in non-attachment — everything I come up against seems to remind me that attachment equals suffering and that the only way to peace is to constantly let go, to constantly forgive, to constantly try to understand and even if I can’t understand, to constantly accept.
If I could have one wish this year, it’s that I will become better at that. I know that’s the best gift I can give John Henry, and the best one I can give myself.
Peace, love, and happy Wednesday.