“Home for the Holidays”?

I woke this morning to the sounds of “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” playing on the radio. That has been my dilemma for a while now. What is home? Where is it? Is it a place, or a feeling?

For many people, “home” means where their family is. My parents died almost twenty years ago, and the rest of my family isn’t kind. I tried spending Christmas with my aunt for a while and that just didn’t work out. I was always the “Tennessee cousin” – always in the way, always left out. I felt like I was crashing a party. There were a few members of the family who made space for me and seemed to understand who I am, and for them I am grateful. But it wasn’t enough to make it worth the drive, and the constant travelling to visit every other member of that extended family on that day was overwhelming to me.

Now that I’m married, “home” could mean my parent’s in law. I’ve faked it for years, but it just isn’t what I need. They mean well, but it isn’t quite the gathering that makes me feel the peace that I associate with the birth of Christ.

This past month it has been extra awkward, and if you’ve been following along you’ll know what I’m talking about. Just thinking about going over there is bringing back that old feeling that I’d almost forgotten – dread. I thought that my hernia was acting up – but no, that’s the feeling I get in my stomach when I am very anxious about something. It is a sharp, scary pain. It is the kind of pain that curls me over into a fetal position. It is the kind of pain that stops me in my tracks. The last time I had it was in my first year of college. I was away from home, in a dorm room, no friends, no car, no idea what I was doing.

That was about as un- “home” as possible.

If “home is where the heart is” then if there is no heart, no love, no peace, then that feeling crops up.

I’ve been meditating on this day for a month, after the whole Thanksgiving fracas. I talked to my spiritual director about this, and her take on it is that maybe God put me into this family to bring healing. Maybe I’m the Christ-bearer – that I need to bring Jesus into the situation. This doesn’t mean to preach to them. It means to be like Jesus. Calming. Peaceful. Compassionate. Loving.

The line from the 23rd Psalm has started coming to mind in the past few days. “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies.”

This is not a vision of “home” that is particularly appealing. “Home” and “enemy” should not be in the same sentence. For many of us, it is. For many of us, “home” isn’t a place to run to, it is a place to run from. For many of us, at the holidays we remember why we left home in the first place.

So what is “home”? Home to me is where I can be myself. Home is where my husband is. It is where I can spend all day in my jammies, making jewelry or reading, stretched out on the couch in the sunlight. Maybe a nap will be involved. Maybe a walk around the block. Home is peaceful, and quiet, and calm. Home isn’t full of sound and noise and people. It certainly isn’t full of drama.

I’ve been doing the math on Christmas this year and trying to figure out what I can handle if I go over to my in-law’s house. Go, but leave early? How early is too early? Don’t talk about certain topics? Put on a brave face? Don’t talk to a certain family member who always likes to argue, especially about faith?

I really can’t handle being around someone who speaks ill of my faith on my holiday.

I can handle it any other time. I understand. I have a lot of the same issues with Christianity. I dislike the hypocrisy. I dislike the fact that the church has become something other, something where I can’t see Jesus for all the administration and bureaucracy. Sometimes “church” is more “crazy” than Christ-like. But on Christian holidays I really can’t take the criticism.

It is like I’ve invited someone over to my house, shared my special toys with them, and then they throw them down and stomp on them. It is rude. It is childish. It is thoughtless.

So, “Home for the Holidays”? I’d rather stay at home. But I’m expected to be at the in-laws. I don’t want to. I don’t want to play the dutiful wife. It was easier, way back when, when I got stoned for the holidays. Everything blurred into a nice warm glowy blob. Now that I’m sober it is all spiky and strange.

Kindergarten 12-18-13 – Holiday

The order today that I was given was J, S, and V. I chose V first because I didn’t get to work with her last week.

She is missing her front two teeth now. This seems early. Doesn’t that normally happen between first and second grade? I’ve heard that children are physically maturing sooner these days. The theory is that it has to do with all the hormones they feed cows and chickens. We eat that meat, we get those chemicals.

V was a superstar today. She was very quick at finding the letters. She wanted to work with the Insta-Learn board that we had worked with for the past month but it wasn’t in my basket today. In fact, there was nothing I recognized in my basket today. I’ve been tutoring kindergartners for three years, so it is a big deal to say there was nothing I recognized. Half the time I have to figure out the goal of the supplies in the basket. Having familiar supplies makes this easier.

There is always a goal. There is always a purpose to the different bags and boards in the basket that the teacher prepares for me. If I can figure out the goal, then I can figure out how to get there. It is kind of like writing a sestina. If you know the ending words to the poem, the poem virtually writes itself.

V did amazingly well, and I told her so. She beamed. I love seeing her smile, and I feel that she doesn’t smile that much at home. I didn’t even ask her about her Christmas plans because I’m just not ready to hear the stories she was going to tell me. She makes up stories about her home life all the time, because the reality is just too much. Or, rather, it is not enough.

If the average everyday home life is hard, Christmas is going to be impossible. I can’t help this. I can’t fix it. So I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to remind her of the train wreck that was coming in a week.

It is like when I was taking care of my Mom when she was terminally ill. I was in college and I didn’t want anybody asking me how she was doing because it meant I had to stop and be real for a bit. It meant that I had to take off my “everything’s fine” mask and show how much pain was underneath. Sometimes the kindest thing was for people to not ask and just pretend along with me that all was normal.

Interestingly, she did talk about a holiday – but it wasn’t Christmas. She was telling me about her Halloween costume. (a pumpkin) J later told me about his Halloween costume as well. (Robin, and his Dad will be Batman). So they know something’s coming, but they’ve got it mixed up. Or maybe they have it better figured out than we adults do. Christmas done with costumes and lots of candy might be a lot better.

We played with the supplies, V and I, working with letters and colors and numbers. We had a few moments of normal, and it was nice. Even I forgot about how different and potentially awkward Christmas is going to be for me this year. Somehow we created a little oasis for both of us.

We went back to the room and J caught my eye and waved his arm to work with me. Sure – why not? Now, this means I’m going to make sure I work with S first next time. They all seem to want to work longer with me this year, so I’m not getting to as many students as in the past. I feel they are trying to monopolize my time, and that isn’t fair to the others on the list. I try to redirect but there is only so much you can get a 5 year old to stay on target sometimes.

Half of my time with J was spent trying to get him to be gentle and calm. He threw the letter dice rather than rolled them. He jumbled all the letter cards and tossed them like leaves. A lot of time was wasted with him having to pick items up off the floor that he had dropped by being so exuberant. Or is it manic? He was also a bit loud, and I had to remind him that there were other tutors just down the hall. The teacher tells me he hasn’t made any friends, so I’m trying to work on the most socially off-putting behaviors as well as teaching him how to read.

Not having ever had children, I’m sometimes at a loss on how to work with them. But, I’m learning, and the biggest thing I’m learning is that each one is different. So even if I figure it out, the next student will surprise me.

Sometimes I dread going into the school to tutor. I never know what I’m going to be doing and how it is going to go. Usually I remember to pray beforehand, and that helps. It reminds me that God is always in charge, and whatever happens is whatever is meant to happen. It also reminds me that God is always with me, even when I feel lost and alone.

Anti-Christmas Guide 2

I used to think I was alone in thinking that Christmas was terrible. It felt like there was a conspiracy of silence. Don’t talk about it, and it won’t be so bad. Don’t admit that you aren’t having a great time. Christmas was the elephant in the room.

It was like the Emperor’s New Clothes, but instead of clothes it was Christmas. Nobody wanted to admit that what they were experiencing wasn’t matching up to what everybody else said they were experiencing.

People are just now starting to talk about how hard the Christmas season can be. It has grown from a beautiful time where God has show how much we are loved by coming down to be with us, into a huge monstrosity where we spend all our money and energy and are worn out. It has grown into the exact opposite of what it was supposed to be.

Here are three things that let me know that I’m not the only one who is getting mixed signals about this time of year.

Barenaked Ladies Christmas album – “Barenaked for the Holidays” – It has Hanukkah and Christmas music done their way, and some manic bits about snow and murder.

Denis Leary’s “Merry F#%$kin Christmas” – 2005 TV special. Think Donny and Marie Osmond variety show, but done by a bitter New Yorker.

Augusten Burroughs’ “You Better Not Cry” – book. It makes your Christmas look like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is a collection of tales of horrible Christmases he’s had over the years. I find it cathartic and redemptive.

Christmas, and bottled up feelings.

I hate Christmas. I don’t hate the idea of it. I hate the execution of it. So painful. So hard. So tedious. Many Christmases I’ve washed down with a bucket of tears and a side of regret.

One was with my boyfriend, now husband. We met with his brother and then wife at a Mexican restaurant. Jeff gave him presents. Scott gave both of them presents, some of which were from me. I got nothing. Not even a token something. I wanted to go sit in the car and cry. I wanted to remove myself from all of it. I wanted to just leave, because it was obvious that I didn’t matter, I didn’t count.

I didn’t leave. I sat there, being ignored. I ate my chicken enchilada and chalupa in silence. I drank my sweet tea. I held in my hurt and my anger and my sadness.

I cried all the way home, wee wee wee, just like a little pig.

Sadness and anger are the same thing. They are signs that expectations aren’t being met. They are a sign that what you think should happen isn’t happening.

Perhaps I need to lower my expectations. Perhaps I need to not care so much.

Life was a lot easier when I was stoned. Things didn’t hurt as much. Feelings were further down. Pain didn’t last as long.

Last year was another painful Christmas with that family. I’m married now, and I’ve known them for ten years. The years previous were awkward. I kept feeling like nobody knew what to get for me, and that I didn’t know what to get for them. Since there was a new member added to the family I decided to go to the effort of getting each person to fill out a gift list. I asked each person what they liked and didn’t like. What is a good present, and what is a terrible present? I figured it would make it easier. I gathered the lists from each person and made sure each one got a copy of all the others. There. Done. Everybody knows what everybody likes.

When Christmas Day came, I made sure that each person had at least two presents from me. Some were handmade by me. All were picked with that person’s wants and personality in mind. Somewhere in the middle of the opening of presents I realized that I had gotten two presents. Two. For me. That is all. And one of them was a blanket. My sister in law got a similar blanket, but hers was in the color I liked.

Why did I go to the bother of that list?

Why do I go to the bother of caring?

Why do I keep allowing myself to be hurt by these people that I did not choose?

When I commented on my Facebook page how hurtful that Christmas was, my sister in law insisted that I take it down. She’s a therapist. You’d think she’d know something about pain and hurt, and how dangerous it is to suppress it. She cared more about her husband’s feelings than mine. That is her right. I should have taken it as a sign of who she really is.

Once again, I don’t count. I don’t matter. I’m ignored, and forgotten, and left out. I’ve asked my husband to tell his family that it would be easier if nobody bought presents for each other this year. That way, everybody would save money. That way, no feelings would be hurt. He hasn’t taken the time to do this. It would be really embarrassing to show up at that house with no presents and they actually, for once, got me something.

Perhaps I shouldn’t go. Perhaps I shouldn’t care. His mom has had cancer all this year. She should be dead by now, according to the doctors. It is a big deal that she is even still alive. Perhaps I’m just not caring. We are all dying, and it doesn’t make anybody special. She announced that she had cancer before Christmas of last year and it was super difficult – people pretended like everything was fine.

I’m sick of pretending.

Being emotional and getting upset is embarrassing. It is right up there with vomiting or defecating in public. People can’t handle it when your insides come outside. They want you to take it to a private place and do it all by yourself and clean up the mess. Don’t show. Don’t let anybody see that things aren’t fine.

But sometimes you’ve bottled it up for so long that it doesn’t come out in a clean way. Sometimes it doesn’t come out when you want it to. Sometimes it bubbles up and out and over and it leaves a big mess right there, all over you, standing there, right in the middle of the room.