Even with all the lights and the holiday fun- the Argosy Christmas Ship, the Bellevue Botanical Garden d’Lights, and the 1st graders holiday concert that had me tearing up every two minutes, it wasn’t enough to keep the Grinch at bay. I’m still a horrible Grinch- or at least I have one lurking inside my imperfect heart.
Maybe it’s just inevitable at this time of year, but he poked his ugly green head out and made himself at home at our dinner table yesterday. Let me explain.
As I have shared before, we do a “gratitude practice” at dinner, where each person says one thing they are grateful for from the day. So last evening, Sofia started us off. “Trees.” she said. Okay, not a great answer and kind of generic, but okay. Now, it was my turn. I was feeling worn out from a day of holiday cheer (see aforementioned Christmas Ships), and feeling somewhat bitter and grouchy about the general lack of gratitude and appreciation that seems to be rampant among our children at the moment, and so I said, “I’m grateful you kids have camp tomorrow.” Yes, I said that. DURING our gratitude practice.
Well, kids aren’t stupid. They knew that my “gratitude” was actually a thinly veiled dig at them. Sofia looked at me with big eyes and said, “Why are you grateful for that?” I’d been caught. Ugh. Bad mommy. BAD. MOMMY. I mumbled something lame about how I had to work the next day, so I was glad they’d have something fun to do. But that wasn’t really why I said it. I’d said it because I was tired of the whining, the grousing, the total lack (at least to my Grinchy-self) of appreciation from the kids. My husband’s look from across the table was one of grave disappointment. I stared back defiantly. What, this massive hole that I’m in? I like it here, in my dark, grinchy place. Thank you very much.
Audrey was next. Whether because she has truly the sweetest soul or because she is a guilt-trip mastermind (I suspect the former but wouldn’t put the latter past her- she’s wicked smart), she said, “I’m glad it’s winter break, so that I get to spend more time with you, Mommy.”
Yes- she went there. I felt about one inch tall and shrinking fast. I think I may have actually transformed into a heel, like you see in cartoons, for a moment. Here I am saying snarky things about shipping the kids off to camp for Winter Break (To be clear: this was NOT the intent when I booked Drama camp as a special treat months ago.), and here is my lovely daughter talking about how all she wants to do is spend time with me. It wasn’t like a knife to the heart, it was like a chainsaw.
I wish I could tell you that my mood immediately lifted and that for the rest of the evening we snuggled, and read Christmas stories, and ate Christmas cookies, but that’s not real life. I did have enough grace to at least look further ashamed of my comment and I thanked her softly.
After dinner, I needed to run to the store quickly, so I popped my head in their bedroom to say bye before heading out. The girls were all tangled in heap on the floor, like a couple of sour tomcats, hissing and kicking over whatever inconsequential thing they could come up with to fight over. This fighting has taken a significant uptick in the last couple weeks. I shook my head and went to the store. We all are infected by the Grinch.
My takeaway from my complete failure during our gratitude practice and from the month of December is that the holidays are hard and stress everyone out. Parents have high expectations, kids have high expectations, and those expectations are just plain unrealistic.
When we strive for that ideal of sailing through the holidays without tears or complaint or well-laid plans gone awry- we set ourselves up for disappointment. Disappointment may be the present not received, the smile not gotten in the Santa photo, the special holiday dress that doesn’t get worn, the relative that can’t come or does come home for Christmas. It can take a million forms, and inevitably you find your emotions and expectations tossed around like a tiny ship in a hurricane.
This morning when my husband got up, I said, “I’m sorry for being such a grouch with you and the kids.” He said, “Me too. Good thing today is a new day.” The hurricane had passed, at least for the moment. We hugged and promised to try again today to keep the Grinches away. Then I went and did the same with the kids.
Even over the holidays, we are still human and flawed and messy. In fact, we’re worse. The highs can be higher, but the lows are lower. Even with the Christmas lights, and carols, and all the effort we put into smothering that Grinch.
So, be kind to yourself and your family, and when you aren’t- forgive quickly. Forgive yourself. Forgive your spouse. Forgive your relatives and friends. And most of all, forgive your kids. They are just learning how to navigate the high seas of the holidays and if we don’t have it right yet, how can they?
It’s that most beautiful time of the year again, when houses are dressed in twinkling colored lights, schmaltzy Disney characters, and severed tree limbs wrapped in ribbon. Snowmen, frolicking deer, and candy canes adorn yards and driveways. Halloween is nothing but a distant memory and Thanksgiving has been trampled underfoot by the horde of consumer-goods obsessed holiday shoppers.
And yet, a majority of houses in our neighborhood remain shrouded in darkness. So let’s just get one thing straight- I don’t care if you celebrate Christmas or if you are Christian, you need to get a few strings of light out and slap them along the porch rail. It’s not about YOU. It’s about staving off depression. We aren’t Christians either but that doesn’t stop us from getting into the holiday spirit. The reason for *our* season is not religious tradition but weather.
Don’t think it’s an accident that many religious and cultural traditions are clustered around this time of the year. Fall and winter are chock full of holidays because otherwise we’d all go mad. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s dreary, and if not for the parties, the lights, the festive meals, and the gift giving, people would huddle inside their homes having existential crises. They would cocoon themselves in unwashed sweatpants, eat gallon after gallon of ice cream, watch foreign films or reruns of Fantasy Island, and weep for what might have been.
Over the years, religions and cultures have realized that as a matter of self-preservation, it’s important to focus us humans on something more uplifting than the fact that it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon (at least here in the far north of North America- I shudder to think how Canadians cope- Whiskey, I suspect) and that there isn’t a fresh vegetable in sight. Okay, that last bit isn’t true any longer with the relatively recent globalization of vegetable production. But rock-hard fruit cake and hearty stews at this time of year grew out of the fact that the gardens had all died and the only vegetables you had to eat were either stored in a root cellar or canned. I still remember looking forward to avocados and the return of guacamole as a kid. Now, avocados are cheap and plentiful year-round. It just doesn’t taste as sweet without six months of anticipation.
This year, my daughter has to do a report on a special family tradition in our house…. Hmmmm, we’re a little short on the conventional ones. It seems boring to talk about Thanksgiving- it would be like serving leftover turkey AGAIN (and I just dumped the last of the gravy down the drain). We don’t worship or pray… but it turns out we do rejoice and celebrate and we do have a strict calender that we follow- I like to think of it as the 5k calendar.
There’s the St. Patrick’s Day Run, the Mother’s Day run, the 4th of July Run, the Derby Days Bike Parade, the Pride Parade, and the Pineapple Classic. All are looked forward to. Most involve costumes. These tasty appetizers lead up to the big three that (as noted above) coincide with shorter, cooler days- the Running Scared 5k, the Turkey Trot, and our high holy day- the Jingle Bell Run.
Yes, my daughter will be presenting the Locati family’s greatest, most sacred event of the year- the Jingle Bell 5k. We brave the cold, we dress up, we put on bells, we invite friends, we bring thermoses of hot chocolate to fortify ourselves, and then we run through the city- laughing, reveling in the camaraderie of fellow worshipers who have agreed to make merry and bright on a chilly morning in December. You simply can’t be depressed and grinchy when surrounded by 5,000 other elves, santas, gingerbread men, and whatever else can be wrapped in ribbon, bows, and bells.
For us, it’s not about an ideology, though I wholly subscribe to the idea of loving one another, giving to those in need, reaching out to friends and loved ones and telling them how much they mean to me. I am dedicated to the idea of making the long days of winter brighter, merrier, more filled with laughter and joy, than they would be if we relied on Mother Nature alone.
So put aside your stuffy objections and join in the fun- I don’t care what religion you are (or are not). I love the Diwali lights that sprang up across our neighborhood! Heck, I might put some up next year too.
But people- seriously. I am counting on you. I want to turn down my street in the evening on December 24th and have it look like I just pulled up on Main Street USA in Disneyland. Lights, happy children, delicious treats, smiling neighbors. I don’t think you are too busy- they sell Christmas lights at the grocery store, the gas station, and you can even hire someone to put them up for you. You want to get the kids out of the house anyway- have them throw a few strings on the bushes and call it good.
I hope to see you for this year’s Jingle Bell Run too! I’ll be the one with bells on. And lights on. And tulle- lots and lots of tulle. Oh, and a shining, golden star atop my handmade Christmas tree costume. I’m not afraid to say my costume is magnificent this year!
Joy. Happiness. Friends. Family. Getting off your duff and getting some exercise. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year!