Christmas 2011 has the excitement of last night’s ginger ale still sitting in the lipstick stained glass on the counter.
My children are teenagers, my parents are the only family I have in town and most of my closest friends are struggling with significant health and financial problems this year.
Setting up Christmas decorations alone is depressing, so I was reluctant to get the tree out at all this year. When tradition and guilt prevailed, I shuffled to the garage where I keep the 17-year-old dust-catcher.
It was missing.
I stood there, staring blankly into the hole under my work bench. What the hell did I do with it? The box is enormous, it’s not like I could misplace it. As I stood there numbly recalling the past year, I remembered how hopeful I’d been last winter. My relationship was deepening with a wonderful man. When the time came to pack my tree away, I figured that next year, I’d probably be married and wouldn’t need the musty old thing. I threw it out.
There is a hole under my workbench where the tree used to be, and a hole in my heart where the man used to be.
The man and I still talk sometimes. I told him what happened and he brought me a live tree, which was very nice of him. This is the first live tree I’ve had since I was about 6. It was different, and a nice change. It makes my house smell incredible, and I am grateful for it every time I walk in the door.
I went to put on the decorations and turned on the radio. The Christmas music was too sappy for my mood and I turned it to a station playing Blink-182. After the lights and ribbon, I pulled out the memories. I unwrapped each ornament and my mind went instantaneously to the year it joined our history. When my kids were little, my marriage was really bad. Our family dynamic was toxic, and I was the continual whipping boy for everyone. These ornaments bring back intense feelings of tremendous loss for me.
I pulled out a plastic bag of wooden hand painted ornaments from the 70’s. When I opened the ziplock, the stench of old oil paint hit me and I was overwhelmed with the sweet nostalgia of my childhood. My mother and sister painted these at our kitchen counter. and I remember it vividly. I wanted so badly to help with these cheap paint-by-number trinkets, but I was too young and would certainly have made a mess of the ornament and everything else within reach of my brush. It added one more layer of longing to the season, wanting something that I couldn’t have, or couldn’t have yet.
I thought about the cookies my Mom and sister and I made. I remembered the whole family decorating the tree together and the snow and the dinners and waking up on Christmas morning and seeing the explosion of gifts Santa had left under the tree.
I took another deep breath of the old oil paints. They are ugly ornaments, but they are durable, and we made them and they make me feel connected to the very best part of my past.
My sister and I don’t get along. My parents are aging and there are significant health problems now. My relationship crashed and burned and my children are leaving the nest. This year is hard. Next year might not be better.
I can’t go back and redo my children’s youth. I can’t get those years back. The relationship is over and it didn’t work out the way I’d anticipated. The future I’d planned won’t exist as I’d designed it. This is the Christmas of my discontent. I want things to be sweet and happy, but I can’t have that yet.
The good news is that this is not the last opportunity I will have on this Earth to have happy memories. Life will continue and my children will probably marry and (most likely) have children of their own. I will be an incredible grandma and do all of those awesome Christmas crafty things my Mom did with me. If my kids don’t have kids, I’ll find a family who needs a grandma and be that for them. I will find love again and we will create our own wonderful traditions and memories together.
So yeah, this year is lacking in joy and enthusiasm. This creates “1” on the scale of “1-10”. It’s purpose is to make me appreciate the good years I’ve had and the ones I am yet to experience. I will take this on; I will embrace it for what it is and not waste time wishing it was different. It is precious in the ongoing story of my life, helping to shape me into the woman God created me to be.
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