Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Tis The Season For Families to Come Together...

    There is one thing the holiday season does unfailingly, and with the mighty force of all that is powerful. From Thanksgiving Day through the first day of the new year, it is as if the very stars in the heavens shine down as one to spotlight all that is good, bad and ugly about our families. The pull of our family ties is so mighty, we journey across town, across borders, across oceans to share the season's celebrations together, dragging all our nagging resentments, petty irritations, grudges and disappointments, right along with our crock pots, pies and presents.
   “Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we're related for better or for worse...and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”
 Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters
 It sometimes feels this tedious tradition is more an exercise in contradiction than an act of devotion, loyalty and bonding. None the less, we pour great energy and effort into the scheduling of arrivals and accommodations, the preparation of meals, the purchase of gifts, the decorating and the photographs that will document it all. All this is done so that we can unite  in restraint-mode, holding our tongues and our wise cracks to vent later with spouses and friends who sympathize. Small wonder nerves are tense, tempers flare, and the neighborhood watering hole is always packed on holiday nights. Ah yes, it is a season to celebrate family, like it or not.

One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.”― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

“Home is where you are loved the most and act the worst.”― Marjorie Pay Hinekley

   It has been my observation that the ordeal of returning home for the holidays doesn't take on it's true colors until that stage in life when we have moved out and on to create our own world. Somehow the new found independence, along with a partner, husband or wife, new friends and interests changes us. It's not that we're not drawn, or even long to visit our relations. It is more that we don't wish to step back into the place we were so eager to leave. We don't want to be treated like the child, the little sister, the youngest again. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we inevitably turn into the bratty little kid we always were. It's disappointing to realize that despite how far we have come in life, we have changed so little at the core. 

     For me, going home meant stepping under the scrutinizing, judgemental eye of my mother. From an early age, I understood that no matter how I tried, there was no pleasing her. If I played quietly in my room, she would prefer I was outside with friends. If I spent time with my friends, I was limiting my options. If I wore makeup, it was always too much, but without it she said I looked plain. If my hair was long, she liked it better short. If it was short, it wasn't feminine enough. When I was married, he wasn't the right man for me. When I got divorced, I had ruined his life. It took me years of living away (and a good therapist), to accept what I wanted as the right or best choice for me. Holidays were tough because I had my family issues, so it wasn't long before my own son developed family issues as well. 

     Despite it all, I always went home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The few times my parents came to me, something always went haywire. I remember the first time they came for Thanksgiving, my oven caught on fire at the exact moment their car pulled into the driveway. While I ran the turkey next door to finish cooking, my son blasted the oven with the fire extinguisher. What a mess. All I could think about was what Mother was going to say. It was simply easier for me to go there, because I could leave when my control began to wain.

“When your mother asks, "Do you want a piece of advice?" it's a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.”― Erma Bombeck

     This year is the second Christmas since Mother died, and the third since Dad passed away. I have realized that despite the old torture, I actually miss those holiday visits. There was plenty of good stuff during those visits, although I was generally to engrossed in my own thoughts to pay much attention. 

    Now, I'm the mom, and mother-in-law, visiting for the holidays. I often wonder what my daughter-in-law goes through each time I come to them. It seems I have inherited my mother's knack for triggering mini-disasters when I visit. Once it was mice in the walls, then came a leak in the bathroom. There was the burn in the kitchen flooring, and last visit the kids had been exposed to head lice. The poor woman is always a nervous wreck anticipating my reactions. At this very moment she is no doubt deep cleaning every inch of their house, rearranging furniture or painting the extra bathroom, hoping to make everything perfect. 

    I am determined to put her at ease the moment I arrive. I'll wear something that says I'm comfortable, and will avoid being so over dressed I intimidate. I understand their life is more casual then mine, and I want her to know it's alright. I really don't mind sleeping on the sofa in the family room, and I hope she will believe me this time. No apologies necessary. I'll tell her she looks pretty, and that I'm proud she's going back to school and doing so well. I'll gush over how the grandkids have grown and blossomed into such smart, well-mannered children under her good parenting. Above all, I'll be a good mother-in-law, leaving the opinions and advice at home. I'm there to enjoy their company and celebrate Christmas, and I want them to enjoy their holiday too.
When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching--they are your family.”
― Jim Butcher, Proven Guilty
     In the end, they will be glad I'm gone, and I'll be glad to get home. But no matter what, I hope we will all be happy we spent the holiday together this year.

Happy Holidays to You and to Your!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Get Out And Embrace the Season. There Is Much To Do For The Holidays In Greensboro.

     There is absolutely no reason you can't get into the holiday spirit this year. You just need to step outside your door and enjoy what is available to you in your own home town. Greensboro offers so many wonderful events and opportunities to make your season merry and bright.

  • Dec. 7-9, 14-16: The Greensboro Ballet presents THE NUTCRACKER at the Carolina Theater in downtown Greensboro. Perfect for the entire family.
  • Dec. 2: The dance connoisseur, the MOSCOW CLASSICAL BALLET presents The Great Russian Nutcracker, at the War Memorial Auditorium.

  • Dec. 10-20: Carolina Film Classics present the best loved Christmas movies at THE CAROLINA THEATER, like White Christmas, It's A Wonderful Life, The Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street.
  • Now through Jan. 1: Don't miss the neighborhood LIGHTS in Sunset Hills. It will warm your heart, especially realizing that friends and neighbors come together each year to create this breathtaking presentation. Bring a non-perishable food item to put in the Food Bank cart.
  • Now through Dec. 24: A CHRISTMAS CAROL presented at Triad Stage
  • Now through Jan. 22: OUTDOOR ICE SKATING. What could be better family fun than ice skating under the glow of holiday light on a winter night. Go to Piedmont Winter Fest for hours and details.
  • GIVE SOMETHING BACK: 'Tis the season to share the bounty. Donate or volunteer at the Guilford County Food Bank, 202 Franklin Blvd., or at the Greensboro Urban Ministry. Whether you volunteer to serve meals or stock shelves, or donate non perishable food items or cash, you can rest with a warm heart knowing there will be fewer empty stomachs this season. 
     There are endless other ways to enjoy the spirit of the season. Check you newspaper for more events, enjoy holiday music at church services around the city. If you are alone this year, invite a friend to join you at one of the many restaurants serving a holiday menu. If you make the effort the rewards come back in flurries.

Happy Holidays to All!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Year I Skipped Christmas.

"Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem." 
- Linus

     We have all experience a bad year at one time or another. Each of us has commiserated with the forever-depressed character of Charlie Brown, and have carried the weight of the holidays around like a sack of coal, boo-hoo-hoo-ing when we should been fa-la-la-ing instead. The year I was "grinched" was not that long ago. It might have been the year of two thousand six, if I remember correctly, although I have tried hard to put it behind me. 

     Traditionally, I have always loved the winter holidays, starting with my favorite Thanksgiving Day feast with family. Then decorating with lights and glittery ornaments for Christmas and serving the annual roast beast to friends. Finally ending the season with a New Years Day brunch of ham, greens and black eyed peas, symbolizing abundance, money and luck. Unfortunately that particular year (in fact there were several years in a row) I felt my luck had run out, there was no money, and not a smidgen of abundance. I had lost my job after only one year and completely relocating my life. My sweet dog Bear died of kidney failure, and my seventeen year old cat passed away of old age. My horse went down with collic, and had to spend a very expensive week at the veterinary hospital in Raleigh. On top of that I had serious health issues of my own and no health insurance to cover the rising expenses. I was in debt up to my eyeballs from all the moving and medical bills. Even more devastating, I wouldn't get to see my son, daughter-in-law or grandkids during the holidays. Talk about a grouch. I didn't want to be around anyone, and I felt certain they wouldn't want to be around me. It was easy to convince myself to skip the entire six weeks, and burrow into my cave to hibernate until spring.

     Passing up Thanksgiving wasn't too difficult, as long as I stayed away from the grocery store and television. Seeing all those pecan and pumpkin pies in the bakery, and the plump turkeys who gave their all for this national celebration was hard to ignore. Imagining the mounds of mashed potatoes and stuffing, steaming rolls and butter, the succulent aromas in every kitchen across the country was agonizing. It seemed every commercial on TV was about food, every program about a family reunion. It was more than the average grinch can tolerate.  Still I did my best. I rented lots of sad movies, and passed on watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the National Dog Show. I said no to invitations from friends, and skipped seeing nearby relatives. In the end, I was extremely lonely, and very thankful that K&W Cafeteria was open and serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal for a packed house of grumpy folks like me. One can only resist so long.

    I vowed to do better with Christmas. No decorations, no lights on the shrubbery. Not even a tree. Could there be anything more depressing? It is relatively easy in this computer age to avoid the stores and the decorations. While I did give gifts to family and friends (I wasn't so mean that I wanted others to feel my pain), I did all my shopping on-line, sending the gifts directly to the recipients. Admittedly, I missed wrapping presents and packing them into shipping boxes, with little surprises tucked in between. Buying gifts on the computer, and sending them without first wrapping them in festive paper and ribbon, or writing personal notes for each is a very hollow process. It left me feeling cold inside. Coming home at night to a dark house without a single glittery light or ornament was even more chilling. Still, I was determined to play this joyless Christmas through without a single hint of happiness. 

    I didn't send Christmas cards, and felt guilty when I received them. I put the box of homemade cookies my daughter-in-law always sends straight into the freezer, knowing full well nibbling on Christmas cookies is my favorite holiday pastime. I sent my regrets to every invitation, and even bah-humbugged the Salvation Army Buckets at the entrance to every commercial building. 

    It was the longest, coldest, most miserable holiday I can remember.My mission was accomplished.
"The nerve of those Whos. Inviting me down there - on such short notice! Even if I wanted to go my schedule wouldn't allow it. 4:00, wallow in self pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me - I can't cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing... I'm booked. Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness. But what would I wear?" - The Grinch   

    I will never try a stunt like that again.

    One thing I learned is that no matter how low you feel, no matter how disappointing your year has gone, it is simply not a good idea to sidestep the winter holidays. Besides the fact that it can't actually be done unless you live in a hole in the ground, it is punishment enough that the winter days are short and the nights long and dark, holidays or not. It is also a reality that despite your own sour-grapes attitude, the celebrations will go on without you. You can't avoid what has been happening with regularity for centuries, be it Christmas, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice, or Festivus (although that particular celebration began just a decade or two ago, when George's dad made it so). 

    My best advice for surviving the season: Reach out and embrace what cannot be ignored.

   Deck the halls and trim the tree. Wrap the gifts, be they large or small. Prepare the goose and share the feast. Sing, celebrate and spread good cheer. Put a penny or a dollar in the donation box, serve meals to the needy or help a neighbor with a chore. Gather your family and friends, and be generous with  the warmth of sharing. I guarantee that your winter blues will melt away, your season will be merry, and the New Year bright. 

Toast to the season, this year and every year. The spirit of the holidays will brighten your mood, and bring happiness to your life. While it may not get you a new job, fill your bank account, or solve your problems, it will definitely improve your attitude and your ability to cope with everyday challenges in the coming year.
Season's greetings, joy, happiness and light to you and yours!