Many people who are very dear to me are struggling. There’s been a death, heartache, some surgery, and a bunch of general life bullshit. Dentistry, tech crises, critters in walls, a nail in a tire.
It’s been a nail-in-the-tire season.
My mother’s little brother died and we spent a few days doing what people do. It was reliably sad and cathartic. Grief is odd, with the awkward eruption of something like joy in the midst of despair. Barking laughter, raised highballs, plates of surprising food. Followed by dark clouds and black moods.
We cooked, cleaned, and comforted. Watched bad Christmas television and cried. I hugged a frail and ancient aunt, caught up with a long lost aunt, and saw the post-surgery boobs of yet another aunt.
“Do they look okay?”
You’re alive, honey, they look great.
And now the holidays. No matter who you are, The Holiday™ is somehow a thing. We run either to or from it. We nurture gauzy fantasies of a beautifully built season, or loathe the pressure to create it. We seek distractions from the Madison Avenue fever dream, or line up and join in. We wrestle every kind of memory, from Hallmark clips to nightmare dysfunction. It brings out the best and the worst in all of us. We are in thrall to expectations, perfectly poised for disappointment.
When I was a kid, Christmas was magic. A twinkly, snow-dusted tree, found in a field and followed by cocoa. Pine boughs, sparkly packages, festive food and more food. The magic was made by my mother and as I got older I saw the price. The tree farm was an exercise in herding cats, the snow on the tree came from a can. The pines and packages, the endless food was all the result of her weary trudge through a season that frazzled and exhausted her every time. As a teen, I sat up late on Christmas eve and helped her frantically wrap the last gifts (oldest child 🙋). It nearly broke her. After many years, lots of tears, and loads of disappointment she learned to calm down.
I learned what to avoid and what to look for.
I found a tiny brass Buddha on a bookshelf at mom’s house. He has a wide grin and a big belly, his arms in the air, gesturing to the world as if to say, “Look!” He exudes joy. I fell hard in love and mom sent him home with me. I smile when I see him and rub his tiny, massive belly with my thumb. He reminds me to “Look!”
Have I stolen my mother’s joy?
I made blueberry bars. I’m researching festive cocktails. The kids are coming home. Some of us will drink nog, some of us will cry. We’ll eat cookies and commiserate about death and heartache, memory and hope. We’ll bake and watch baking shows, scrunch up our faces to make the tree lights twinkle. We’ll argue because that’s what some of us reliably do. I’ll show them Buddha and encourage the rubbing of his little round belly. Another holiday, enough to feel and maybe heal, but not so much it hurts. We’ll slide through the short, dark days together.
Look! This is it and the joy is in the details.
Bad Sisters is so so good. Best thing I’ve seen in ages. (Am I the last to know that Bono’s daughter is an actress?)
This playlist is the perfect holiday treat.
This cocktail will be under my tree. I’m not a royal watcher, but YUM.
These are the blueberry bars. So much butter, so much joy.
O Christmas Tree is my tale of the tree, published in Human Parts.
Hee hee he's cute...give him a blueberry bar and a pat on his tum tum!