My mother was bemoaning what a horrible year she has had. In an effort to point out how we should all be thankful for what we do have, I mentioned an article I read about a Palestinian doctor whose three daughters were killed by mortars during an attack by the Israelis. This, two months after his wife and mother both succumbed to acute leukemia. In an effort to make sense of his losses, he is promoting peace in the Middle East and says it will be his life work to ensure his daughters’ death would be the last in a long-standing war. There was silence and then my mother rolled her eyes.
It would be easy to look at my mother and label her a depressed person. She has been to varying degrees as long as I can remember. My aunt said my mother is not capable of handling emotional turmoil as most people can. I scoffed at her diagnosis, which excused and allowed my mother’s bad behavior. Perhaps it is our entire history, which makes me unable to find sympathy for her. I look at the upheavals in my life, the pain I have endured, the disappointment and I look at my mother as simply ungrateful and spoiled.
For the first time in years, her prodigal daughter returned for Christmas. Her husband stood by her this year despite her devastating their lives with her selfishness and refusal to quit a myriad of pills she consumes. Her sister survived her third bout of cancer. Her grandchildren are healthy and happy. These things apparently are not enough to be thankful for.
My father is blind to her manipulations and nefarious plotting. Early this year, my sister and I determined our mother no longer wanted to be employed and simply wanted to stay at home taking various pain pills and muscle relaxers. We staged an intervention that quickly spun out of control. There were wounds opened and salt copiously poured and all the while, she sat there seething with anger. When we asked her why she did not want to see a psychiatrist, her reply was “Because I don’t want to.”
There, in a nutshell, was my mother. Our entire lives she has been a depressive person. There were uncontrollable rages and hours spent locked in bathrooms. There was an incident once where I ordered her out of our house as she pummeled my sister who had been begging at her bedroom door. My father has seen all of this, and still he sits beside her, mute to demanding or asking anything from her, and feeds into her desire to be completely taken care of. She does not want help because the dynamic of their relationship would most certainly change.
Despite all of these incidents, she has never seen a counselor. Because she has never wanted to. Her behavior has served her well over the years. As cruel as she can be to my father, he loves her unconditionally and takes care of her ever need. He even turns a blind eye to her current addiction and swats away our feeble attempts to get her help. When she is passed out on the couch, he simply tells himself she is tired. When she was unbelievably cruel to us as children, he put the onus on us to get past it. I said it before; she is my father’s favorite child.
She’s lied to him. She’s been fired from job after job for behavior she could most certainly control. She’s quit the other jobs because she has hated a manager or a co-worker and simply could not tolerate the environment any more. She’s lost friends and family who no longer could tolerate her behavior. She’s devastated my father financially this year with money spent on prescriptions, doctor’s visits and being fired from yet another job. Yet, there he is this Christmas, waiting on her hand and foot and scurrying to fix what she has broken.
I watch all of this and I think of that Palestinian doctor. There are worse things in life than watching this train wreck of a family. He has no one to sit at the table with him, even if there is resentment and anger served along with the ham. I look at my daughter, so smart and beautiful, the whole world to be explored. I have not been the best mother, but I hope she looks at mine and thinks to herself, I am grateful for what I do have.
1. Denial – Arrive at parents and pretend your mother did not just insult your hair, your makeup and your kid.
2. Resistance – Resist the urge to be defensive and/or drink copious amounts of rum.
3. Relief – Celebrate the arrival of your sister and her family and the brief relief you will get from the onslaught of motherly guilt.
4. Annoyance – Tell your father firmly for the fifth time you do not want to try the peanut butter fudge shipped to him from Michigan and shoot your mother dirty looks as she questions what color your hair really is.
5. Organization – Meet with sister, synchronize watches and decide what time for each event and when you will be leaving.
6. Enthusiasm – Fake it while your children open gifts.
7. Anger – Suppress it while your mother begins bemoaning the fact she was fired from yet another job and overplaying her victim hand. Fight it when she begins crying how much pain she is in and how she cannot go back to work, yet she joins in with you and your sister who is now doing a kick line and singing Christmas carols badly.
8. Bargaining – Tell yourself if you do not confront and/or argue with your mother there is a place in heaven for you.
9. Depression – Gorge yourself with food to numb the fact this is your holiday.
10. Passive Aggressiveness – Giggle with your sister as you close your eyes in every picture your drunken uncle attempts to take. Do not feel guilty. The pictures are so blurry you can’t even tell who is who. This is followed by much merriment as your sister takes a few of the many magnets on the refrigerator and throws them on the floor, ornaments off the tree she then throws behind the tree, and a knick knack or two that will never be found.
11. Enlightenment – Realize you still have two more days to celebrate Christmas and this is not going to ruin your spirit.
12. Acceptance – Accept this is your family, the only one you get, and drive away, squealing your tires and grateful you have survived it.
A Christmas Present to my Sister
I can remember the morning our parents brought you home. I ran outside, the sidewalk was wet from rain, and jumped up and down on the top step of the porch as mom carried you, swaddled in a yellow afghan, into the house. I looked down at you, examined you to make sure you had ten fingers and toes; I kissed your cheek and welcomed you not only into the house but also into my heart.
For days, I would stand on a chair next to your crib and watch you sleep. If you cried, I would pop the pacifier in your mouth or pat your stomach until you drifted off again. I would help mom bathe you and change your diapers. At some point, I would resent your intrusion on my life, but not during those first few months. I was in love with the idea of a baby sister and you were mine just as much as mom’s to take care of.
Over the years, I took my job as big sister very seriously. We had our moments of war, and then peace as we played and sought comfort from whatever was happening in our household with each other. You were a pest in the highest degree, and I am still bitter over you throwing away my hundred crayons set and writing on my baby doll. You loved to smear your face with food and gross me out at the table. There were bugs exoskeletons you hung on my sweaters and sucking the oxygen from the backseat as we went on long car rides. Yet, you were my first audience, the one I cared about entertaining the most.
We would lie in our beds at night, sharing the same room for what seemed like twenty years, and I would tell you stories. Making you laugh was always my goal and you had the best of them all. In you, I found a respite from any pain from my childhood. I would make up wild tales and you would demand more and more. We even shared the same imaginary friend.
I wanted to protect you from the harsh realities, and sometimes I succeeded. I would tiptoe to your bed at night, and put my finger under your nose making sure you were still breathing. The thought of losing you, was unbearable to me. You were my other half, and I would never be whole without you.
There were times I let you down. Times I let myself down. I left you when you were still barely a teenager and went off on my own. Mom would call me nightly to talk to you about your behavior. Maybe you felt I abandoned you. I tried to bring you along with me, but at some point, our lives veered off in different directions. We were both grown, both moving on with marrying and starting families. We did not always see eye to eye on everything.
I moved away and I thought we would drift apart. We did momentarily, both so consumed by the choices we had made in our lives. I missed important events. I feel like I missed everything. Yet, somehow, that bond we cannot explain and probably do not want to, kept us together. I could call you, and you could tell from the sound of my voice exactly what I needed. It was the same with you. You were miles away, but you were always wherever I needed you.
Coming home again, I am amazed at how easily we fell back into the relationship we always had. From the first embrace in the driveway because I could not wait for you to get into the house, we are what we always were. Sister, best friends, each other’s sounding board and psychologist. We are two halves of a whole and distance cannot erase what we have built together.
I am proud of you and the children you have raised. I watch you in awe that the baby I stood over is now this woman. We laugh a lot together, with our secret jokes and our silliness, excluding everyone else from our shared world. We commiserate, rant, and rave and at the end of it all, we know we do not have to agree on everything.
From the minute you were home, I knew you would be one of the most important relationships in my life. You make me a better me. You have reminded me of who I once was, and I found her again. All of those years being your substitute mother, prepared me for my own daughter. I would not take back or erase a minute of our lives together, even the worst of times.
This Christmas is my first at home with you and your family in a long time. I am happy we will be sitting at the table, laughing at each other’s antics, while everyone else looks puzzled at what is so funny. Later tonight, one of us will call the other and we will talk about whatever happened, be it good or bad. We will wish each other a Merry Christmas and for a moment, I will wish I could go back to when we were kids.
Christmas morning, before even the sun had risen, you would bounce on my bed, up since the night before so excited about Santa’s arrival. You will beg and plead with me to get mom and dad up so we can open our presents. We will drag them grumbling out of bed and we will sit on the floor in front of the tree while dad, always dad, passes out the presents. The best part is that no matter what toy we have received, we will look at each other and say, “Let’s go play.” Then we will scamper off together, making a blanket fort in the gap between our twin beds in our room, and spend the rest of the morning, until we are dragged from our fun for family obligations, playing together.
This Christmas, we will spend it playing with our kids, and we will appreciate and hold on to those moments as precious because we have seen how fleeting they can be. We will know, that someday there will no longer be toys and blanket forts and make believe Barbie worlds. Life moves so quickly and someday our children will have moved on just as we have. Yet, it is always there isn’t it. That wonderful memory that we share.
I can still look at you, even in adulthood, and say, “let’s go play” because you are even today, my best friend. The one I want to share my toys with. The one I want to share my pain with. The one who understands me and all my complication. We have the best gift of all. Each other.
It’s that time of year
Time to spread my (pause)
Jingle bells far and wide
In my work I take great pride
While some families trim their trees
I do my part on my knees
Lifting spirits and my dress
I provide a buffet of goodness
I’m gonna bone
The wise men
Donner and Blitzen
The carolers down the block
All I want is Christmas c***
It’s time to sell my a**
In the alley after mass
It’s never a holiday chore
Being a Christmas whore.
You may choose to deck the halls
I prefer decking (pause)
Something entirely not related to rum balls
It’s not a holiday
Unless it’s the season for a lay
I won’t work on chaunaka
Winter solstice or Kwanza,
I do my part to celebrate
I give more than fruitcake
I’m gonna bone
The Mail Man
Even Father Damien
The carolers down the block
All I want is Christmas c***
It’s time to sell my a**
In the alley after mass
It’s never a seasonal bore
To be a Christmas whore.
I don’t need Mistletoe
It’s with great glee I’ll give a (pause)
Special holiday with all the trimmings job of blow
You won’t see me standing in a line
I’ll be on my back by dinner time
You won’t need to follow a star
I’m perched on a stool in a bar
Waiting for an offer of cash
In the car we will dash
I don’t want no frankincense
Pies of pumpkin and of mince
I don’t want to open a gift
Only one thing gives my spirit’s a lift
I wanna bone
The twelve drummers
Eleven pipers pipes
Ten lords need a ride
The carolers down the block
All I want is Christmas c***
It’s time to sell my a**
In the alley after mass
Tis the season to adore.
Being a Christmas whore.
I wish I was the type who teared up over It’s a Wonderful Life. I suppose it’s my cold dead heart which prevents me from even enjoying what I find to be a maudlin movie. Instead, I’m more of A Christmas Story watcher. I watch Grinch every year (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey debacle) and I’m sentimental when it comes to memories and traditions with my daughter. Yet, I cannot watch Jimmy Stewart become grateful for what he does have in his life and take it seriously.
This year we’ve put up our tree, minus some ornaments which are being held hostage by an ex. Instead of being bitter by it all, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to create new traditions with my daughter. The problem is we can’t think of a new tradition. We trimmed the tree as usual, we’re baking cookies today and we did manage to gorge ourselves on Christmas movies (minus It’s a Wonderful Life…yes, I know heresy). Yet, we cannot think of a new tradition to share to celebrate the new path of our life.
This year, first of many that have gone by, we are going to be with my parents. If you’ve been following my blog you know I have an entirely complicated relationship with them, especially my mother. I’m still angry with her and the wreckage she has caused this year and it continues. Sitting with them while decking the halls will be tense to say the least. My sister and I have already established our arrival and departure times so we do not have to suffer more than necessary. It’s sad this year instead of heartfelt homecoming, we are merely enduring the celebration.
I wanted this year to be different for my daughter. I wanted to be the type of mother who cried over It’s a Wonderful Life and wore atrocious bow covered sweaters with pride. I wanted to be the soccer mom she’s deserved. Instead we made a gingerbread ghetto and she made a Christmas octopus manger scene for our mantle. Yes, I said octopus. We’ll be baking cookies later while watching Elf and sipping hot chocolate with cinnamon. We’ll laugh and eat raw cookie dough and I’m sure there will be a beheaded snowman made. At some point, we’ll argue about something trivial. It will be our version of a sentimental holiday.
Maybe I don’t like It’s a Wonderful Life because everything comes wrapped up in a bright red bow. Jimmy watches his life crumble around him, but his loving wife is there to pick up his pieces and his children are nauseatingly precious. He decides life isn’t worth living, but his guardian angel shows him that even at his worst, he matters in the life of his loved ones. Apparently the entire town collapses without him. Rubbish, I say. He then realizes despite his utter failures, he matters to those who love him and he rushes home to some cliches and a cute ending.
In my opinion he’s a narcissist of the worst order and selfish beyond compare. I’m glad his epiphany prevented him from devastating his children with a Christmas memory of their father throwing himself off a bridge. In my opinion, he shouldn’t have needed a guardian angel in the first place. Life sucks, accept it and keep moving forward. I don’t need an angel working hard for his wings to remind me I am important in someone’s life, not just for Christmas, but year round. It’s my duty as a parent to take the lumps and prevail despite them. It’s a gift I’m putting under the tree for my kid, one that I never received from mine.
So as we bake cookies, maybe our new tradition will be embracing our weirdness. We’ll watch only the holiday movies we like and not feel bad about the rest. We’ll make inappropriate cookies and laugh about it. Maybe we’ll eat pasta as our Christmas meal. Who cares? It’s our holiday to celebrate however we see fit.
Oh wait, I didn’t mention Miracle on 34th Street. Now that movie leaves me sobbing into my snuggie. There, I’m not so cold dead hearted after all!
My mother tightly coiled, always walking the fine line between despair and tension, began to unravel just before the holidays. She began locking herself for long periods of time in the bathroom and I would stand in the hallway watching my sister push pictures beneath the slit of the door trying to cheer her up. The part of me that used to care about whether or not she would open the door with a crooked smile and still sniffing tears had departed. My compassion for my mother was replaced by anger. I felt left alone to raise myself and my sister and angry with my father for not yelling at her to stop what she was doing.
When I left the house in the cool morning to go to school, I would no longer look back at my sister standing in the doorway, her fingers pressed against the glass as if beckoning me to take her with me. I would tell her she was too little, but I also felt if she were home, nothing bad would happen to my mother that day. When I was home, I refused to come out of my room unless it was dinnertime or my father insisted I come out and play. I would count down the hours he was at home on the weekend, watching my mother pretend to be something other than what we saw during the days he was at work. I roiled with anger and rampaged against whatever was happening in my house.
Then one day I arrived home to my fake grandmother making dinner and announcing my mother was in the hospital. My father arrived later and told us it was an infected tooth. She would be in the hospital for a little while. It was as if someone had flung open the windows and fresh air was blowing through the curtains. To this day, I am not sure what actually happened to my mother. She was in the hospital for a week, we saw her exactly once, she burst into tears, and we were bustled from the room.
My father stumbled with being both mother and father. He was unsure how to wash clothes and whites were suddenly tinged pink. He cooked frozen pizzas for dinner, still slightly frozen in the center, but we ate happily anyway. We built elaborate cities on the carpet with Popsicle sticks and went to bed leaving it there. My mother would have balked at the idea. I began insisting my sister take baths that consisted of more than splashing her face and laying out her pajamas for her nightly. I cooked scrambled eggs for breakfast and burnt bacon and thought for the first time in a long time, there was nothing to worry about.
It snowed the morning my mother came home. I remember standing in the door, watching the golf ball size flakes fall and blanket the morose brown ground we had refused to call a lawn. In Kentucky, we were use to lush green grass sprinkled with dandelions and smelling sweet of earth. I longed for the alfalfa fields next to our trailer when we first moved to Arizona. I would run through them in my bare feet, the soft leaves tickling my ankles, lie down on a soft blanket of green, and watch the clouds. Our yard at the house was nothing more than rocks and clumps of weeds.
My sister and I stood at the door calling for more snow. When we first moved to the mountains, our first winter in Arizona, there had been enough snow for a snowman. We had higher aspirations this time. I thought an igloo was surely easy to build and we had a sled just waiting to be used for something other than dragging large rocks home from the dried up creek. We stood watching the snowfall in our pajamas until my fake grandmother came in. Dad muttered something about going to get our mother, and suddenly the snowfall lost its luster.
She arrived, looking thinner, but exactly the same. She hugged us, told us how much she missed us and then went straight to bed. My father doted on her, making her hot soup and bringing her the newspaper to read. It is when I realized she was his other child. The favorite one. The one he had to tend to because she needed the most attention. Instead of feeling jealousy, I felt saddened and resolute I would never need or want anyone to take care of me.
She was still too shaky for Thanksgiving dinner that year and we had it at my fake grandmother’s house. My grandfather had been injured falling off a logging truck and there was talk of them returning to Kentucky. Micah and I ate our dinners in lawn chairs beneath the carport. It was freezing outside and there was still snow. We watched Russ building a large bon fire in an empty drum, tossing in whatever sticks and paper he could find until it roared above his head. Micah said he knew they would be leaving Arizona. I told him I would be sorry to see him go, but glad to see Russ leave. As we exchanged knowing glances, Russ threw two empty aerosol cans onto his fire and there was a sudden explosion. The can tipped over and fire shot toward the carport. When the smoke cleared, Russ stood there with singed hair and eyebrows, yet still smiling. I could not wait for him to leave.
They moved away just before Christmas. There were hugs and tears and at some point during the goodbye dinner, I hit Russ above the eye with a matchbox car. All of the pictures we had in our photo album are of me smiling from ear to ear and Russ scowling with his eye swollen and turning purple. It was my last goodbye gift to someone who would go on to cause damage in other people’s lives. Micah and I cried, our shared experiences bonding us, yet things would never be the same. We promised to write, but never did. Out of sight, so they say.
With that, whatever family we had in Arizona was now gone. There were friends, those my mother had yet to alienate, but we were ostensibly alone. Christmas was a morose day of half heartedly opening presents and arguing between my parents. There was a seismic shift in the plates of our lives, and I did not have a clue what it was. My mother was torn between wanting to return to Kentucky and wanting to stay in Arizona where she felt truly at home. I just wanted to get away.
Just after the holidays, my mother was in the hospital again. She would be hospitalized several times as I grew up. I often joked she had every organ remove you could spare to lose. I will be honest and say I am not sure what it was that time in Arizona. I am not sure my father even bothered with an excuse. She was just simply in the hospital and then she was home again. This pattern would play out through out our lives.
It was just before New Years, after mom was home and in bed again, the snow fell overnight. A deep plush carpet of white covering our yard and our street. I trudged out into it just as the sun rose and everywhere I looked there was just white. I threw myself down in it, despite the cold and my thin coat, and made a series of snow angels. I built a snowman with rocks for eyes and a mouth. I threw snowballs at my bedroom window until my sister peeked out and then half dressed, joined me in the snow. We laughed and played even as the sun grew hotter and our snowman began to melt. This was what we had been waiting for, and it was perfect. It made me believe if you waited long enough, those perfect moments would come; you just had to be patient.