Merry Christmas internet.
I'll try to be short winded tonight. Because it's Christmas and you should probably be watching the Eagles while doing a 750-piece Disney-themed jigsaw puzzle (as Brad is) or snuggling your beagle or slumping on the couch with some eggnog (or something equally boozy) after having tucked in your kids who've spent the past week all hopped up on Santa and marauding around the house like a band of spider monkeys.
Low on the priority list should be scrolling Facebook looking for ways your Christmas was inferior or superior to anybody else's. Or was that just me? Sigh. Truthfully, I was only kinda gazing enviously over other people's yule-fences. Mostly, I love to see so many posts filled with so smiling faces and twinkling lights and stacks of cookies and ridiculous pajamas. (Seriously, when did the family pajama game get so awesome? Growing up, had my family tried to do matching pajamas for the obligatory in front-of-the-tree photo, we would've had three options (based on the three main pajama-ing methods in our household): We would've been A. Covered head-to-toe in plaid, flannel nightgowns B. Slouching in oversized souvenir T-shirt from most recent family vacation, no pants or C. Proudly sporting a white undershirt tucked into our tighty-whites. Reading this, I'm again thankful that Facebook didn't exist when I was a kid).
Where were we? Oh right, I was going to be short winded.
I felt like showing up here tonight just in case anyone was struggling with the holidays ("What?!" you ask, totally befuddled. "Feeling a little bit gloomy and wistful and overwhelmed by the state of the world, on Christmas?! Of all days. Impossible!"). I know, I know. As unlikely as it might be, I have to go ahead and assume there might be someone else out there who, like me, texted her sister, "I just want to hide in a closet and cry for awhile."
Because, pretty much, that's where I was. I won't go into all the gory details. Suffice to say hormones, exhaustion and general anxiety about the future all played varying roles.
I'm sure none of you can relate.
I found myself really missing being little. Missing my mom and dad and Christmas morning in the great room my dad built with the woodstove making everything so cozy and dad's sorta stuffy but deeply moving Handel's Messiah album playing in the background. Even more, missing Christmas dinner– getting out grandma's china and the silver and mom fussing over this and that in the kitchen her apron and her cheeks covered in flour. Sitting down to dinner with my siblings where we'd inevitably throw rolls at each other or get in tense conversations about politics or social issues that would result in one or more of us leaving the table in a huff. Doing dishes with my sisters afterward. I miss all that. Now I'm the mom and I have these kids and we're left to create our own traditions and I can't help but feel sometimes that it's just not as good.
Like I said, it's probably just me, right?
Laura reminded me to take some deep breaths.
"Enjoy Christmas on a micro level... the needles on the tree, the shine of a glass ornament, the smell of dinner, the warmth of a home, the smiles on the kids' faces, the flush of their cheeks ... So... go cry ... cry... and cry and then dust off and know that you are loved, no matter what you do or don't or how you feel or look or anything. Love you sister."
I never did go hide in that closet. I made a chocolate peanut butter pie with the girls, took a nap with the dog and played Go Fish with Jovie instead. I wrapped the last gifts, made some butternut squash soup.
That's not to say I didn't cry. Because that happened in short bursts throughout the day.
Like at the start of the the 5 o'clock Christmas Eve service at the local Methodist church. We're not churchy people, but someone told us last year that the children's service features a puppet show and we thought that was an ideal way to introduce our heathen children to the idea of church without going full Catholic (as Brad and I were raised).
There's no place like a church on Christmas. The candles and the seats full. Girls in their floofy shiny dresses and boys in reindeer sweaters, their hair slicked back. The sense of peace. The music. The music is what gets me.
No sooner had we started singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" at the start of the service and my nose is dripping and I'm chocking on the words.
I'd just listened to an interview Krista Tippett did with writer Adam Gopnik. There was this portion where Tippett quoted Gopnik that I loved:
"I keep coming back to that piece, 'Bigger Than Phil,' where you talk about how the hardest rationalists, people who would define themselves that way, still 'they polish menorahs or decorate Christmas trees, meditate on the great beyond, say a silent prayer, light candles.' At the end, you talk about them going to services and leaving early — but, you said, 'You will know them by their faces; they are the weepy ones in the rear.' "
I'm not a rationalist or anything (at least I don't think I am... that probably means I'm not one. Most days I feel like an irrationalist.) But no matter when I go to church, I'm the weepy one in the rear. And on Christmas I'm especially weepy. Partly, because all of my memories of Christmas as a child involved going to Mass. Wearing itchy tights. Parking waaaay in the back to avoid all the traffic. Holding hands with my sister for the Lord's prayer. Hearing my dad sing (maybe only because my Grandma was there and she would always comment on what a lovely voice he had).
But it's not just reminiscing that makes me weepy. It's also because there's so much community and goodness and love at the heart of a church. On Christmas, there's so much promise, you know? For our better selves. So much hope. And I feel so desperate for that. That we, as a species, can be better than we are.
And for a moment it seems that we can be. Beyond being a celebration of the birth of Jesus, I look to the Christmas story as a reminder of who we can be. Who we should aspire to be. I'm going to sound very un-Christian here when I say this, but I prefer to think of "The Man" Jesus, rather than "The Messiah." Because when I think of him in that light, I can see myself in him. All earth-bound and flawed. That's just how I prefer my role models. Someone who simply shows what is possible.
I didn't cry my way through the entire service. There were too many moments of levity. The silly-sweetness of the Christmas story being performed by children with puppets whose mouths were never quite moving with their words. The earnestness of the talking donkey. The little boy in front of me who could not handle sitting even remotely still for 45 minutes (I wanted to take him aside and be like, "Dude, you think a holiday puppet show is boring? Try sitting through an hour-plus long Mass with a long-winded priest whose endless sermon is just a dressed-up reminder of all the reasons you're a weak sinner destined for hell, followed by various Catholic calisthenics, creeds, prayers and liturgies that are intermittently sung in Latin and recited by the entire congregation in much the same way the Google map lady reads off the directions to the nearest Target." Seriously though, that kid didn't know how good he had it. I would've killed for a Christmas Eve puppet show when I was little- thus sealing my entry into the seventh circle.)
At one point the kid, bored with whatever was happening up on the alter at the time, pulled out the Bible and decided to take his Christian education into his own hands.
"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," he started. Then turned to his dad, not really whispering. "Wait? What does be fruitful mean? To be full of fruit?"
I giggled. He turned back to look at me. "Close enough," I told him.
I smiled, too, watching Jovie stand on her tippy toes to hold up her little battery-operated candle during "Silent Night." And Lily singing "Joy to the World" with such earnestness it made my heart burst.
"Thank you, Laura," I thought to myself. For reminding me to be on the lookout. For reminding me to see what was important.
The girls continued to offer so many reminders. Jovie screaming when she received a shirt featuring the cast of "Trolls," then proceeding to wear it to bed and then all day today and probably every day for the rest of her life or until she grows out of her Poppy obsession, whichever should happen first.
Lily screaming when she received an Eagles t-shirt– saying she couldn't wait to wear it in front of Toby, the very definition of a frenemy who never misses the opportunity to remind Lily that he's a Redskins fan. Like, she's in first grade and she's already getting into bombastic sports rivalries. It is endlessly amusing to me. A couple weeks ago, Lily was home sick with a cold. Toby wrote this note:
Or, to translate: "Dear Lily, you were [absent yesterday]. But [Carson Wentz] got [injured]. Love, Toby"
To reiterate: Statement of fact about Lily's absence. Presumed smack-talking about injured Eagles quarterback written, on purpose I believe, in burgundy.
Jovie using her new headphones to listen to the "Trolls Holiday" soundtrack and singing "Celebrate" at the top of her lungs because she doesn't think anybody can hear her. It's on Facebook. You can watch if we're friends. It's amazing and everything I love about her.
Snacks unwrapping presents. He gets so, so excited about getting a present. So excited. It's the best ever.
And the cat getting into everything. Bounding among the boxes under the tree. Diving into the trash bag filled with wrapping paper. Hiding out in the "stall" Lily's toy horse came in.
So many micro-level moments whittling away at my macro-level worries.
Brad and Jovie woke up this morning with pink eye. We were supposed to have my sister's family over for dinner– something I'd been really looking forward to, hoping to re-create some of the noise and hub-bub we experienced as kids. But the doctor told Brad over the phone that it was highly contagious and that we should probably cancel our plans. So we did. Begrudgingly.
It was a quiet day. The girls played with all of their toys over and over again. Brad and I worked on the aforementioned puzzle. I took another nap then got to work on dinner. Roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. Reminiscent of what we would've eaten at mom and dad's.
Despite the fact that we wouldn't have any guests, Brad set the table in the dining room– we used the china and the drinking glasses we received as wedding presents (my favorite dishes and glasses because they feature dragonflies) and a festive red table cloth. It was just the four of us– a small fraction of the number of people who would gather at my parent's. The girls liked the pomp and circumstance though. Especially the opportunity to say "cheers" and clink glasses. They didn't care too much for the roast beef (as I probably didn't when I was 5).
I took a few bites of my food and looked up at Brad, kinda weepy again. "What's wrong?" He asked.
"I always want my cooking to taste like what my mom made growing up. And I always feel like it falls short. But this tastes like home. It tastes like she made it."
So I guess Mom was here in a way- even though she and Dad live out in Colorado. In spirit ... or in roast beef and mashed potatoes, rather. And the small versions of me were here, too. Dancing around to "Trolls" music and brushing their new horse's hair. And Brad even wore plaid most of the day, which is Dad's signature print, though you'll be relieved to know the comparisons end there because ... WTF? That was going to a weird place.
My point being, it can be tough not to feel sad on Christmas. It just weighs so much. But sometimes you can turn that sad into a happy-sad and even a happy-happy. Sometimes it goes back to being just sad-sad. And all of those things, I think are OK. So wherever you fell on the spectrum of the day, you're not alone.
Your mom might still be lurking in your kitchen if you just dust your self off and keep your eyes open.