Friday, December 2, 2011

*The Worst Christmas Ever*


I knew I was in trouble when my husband questioned the pile of packages by the front door.
            “I have a good excuse,” I said.
            One of his eyebrows arched. “Really?”
            Both of my eyebrows went up. “Really,” I said. “These are the Christmas presents I bought and wrapped for your mother to give the kids.”
            “She already did that .”
            My heart hiccupped. I squinted. “She did? Why?”
            “’Cause she wanted to.”
            “But, this is how we always do things. She buys. I fly.”
            “Not this year.”
            Inside me, my holiday spirit engine gasped. Shimmied. Chugged, then stopped. The Christmas carol soundtrack in my head ceased. The skippy spring to my step flattened.

And then it happened again. We stepped into my mom’s house less than a week later and her hearth was smothered with red and green packages adorned with smooshed and pointy pre-tied bows.
            My breath caught. My eyes widened. The two shopping bags of packages I was carrying dropped to the floor with a thunk and a rattle.
            “Uh . . . Mom? Did you forget how we do things—you buy, I fly?”
            She beamed from her lavender recliner. “I don’t know what got into me. One day I felt a burst of energy. And there was this great sale at the mall and . . . “
            For the second time in seven days my holiday spirit engine faltered. I stared at the fireplace for a few minutes—almost hypnotized by the blueish yellow flames that danced around the fake logs.
            “They got double presents,” I said, without moving my lips.
            “Excuse me?” Mom said.
            I walked down the hall to the bathroom and washed my hands. Put on sweet pea-scented hand lotion. Tried on every shade of lipstick on Mom’s vanity. I lowered the toilet lid and took a seat. I counted on my fingers. They got presents from my mom. They got gifts from his mom. They got stuff that I bought them from my mom. They got stuff that I bought them from his mom. They got presents from us. They got toys from Santa.
            I stood and surveyed my reflection in the mirror. Leaned forward and tugged my eyeskin to make the wrinkles disappear. I sighed. My mom was happy. Mother-in-law was too. The kids were ecstatic. And he was thrilled. Husband adores giving and receiving gifts. “Can’t take it with you when you die.” That’s one of his favorite sayings.
            I grinned at myself. "Faker," I hissed. Everyone was giddy with holiday joy but me. All the stress I’d put myself through—making the lists, checking them twice. Shopping all over hell’s half acre and the Internet. Wrapping, hiding. I didn’t need to do any of it. Well, I didn’t need to do half of it. I’d put myself out, way out, for nothing.  All that Advil gone to waste.
            And that’s not all. The double presents thing? It fed the fear inside me. The fear that all the gifts, the mile high stack of gadgets and sweaters that no one really needs, would make Christmas Day into Stuff Day. I worried that the intense focus on buying, giving, getting, repeat, would take the attention off little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
            Back in the living room, I sank into the sofa beside husband. He shushed me as I mumbled, “It’s gonna be Stuff Day, not Christmas Day.”  He stroked my back. Massaged my shoulders. Murmured, “There, there. Everything’ll be all right.”

A few nights later we gathered in the foyer. Donned hats and coats, mittens and gloves. Prepared to go to the last holiday party of the season—Christmas Eve at my mother-in law's. One of our children dawdled. Or whined. I don’t remember which. I snapped at her. A little too loud, a little too mean.
            All of a sudden the front door whooshed open. Frigid night air rushed the room. Husband slammed the door and turned to me, his eyes squinty and small.
            “Shut. Up,” he said. “You’re going to ruin Christmas Eve for everyone.”
            All three kids gawked at me, my husband, each other, then the floor. I winced and inspected my boots. I knew I deserved it. Not in front of the kids, but still . . .
            Husband stomped out into the night to start the car. After a few minutes, the kids followed. I locked the front door and slunk down the steps. It was bitter cold with no snow. There would be though. Eventually. I could smell it.
            I climbed into the SUV. Flipped my seat warmer on. The silence was too quiet, even on the Silent Night, so I pushed the stereo knob. Charlie Dodrill sang. To me. “I am under the impression that it’s all for me.” I rubbed my thighs with my Granny Smith apple green gloves and waited.  For someone to say, “Hey, he’s singing your song.”
            At husband's mother’s house, the kids raced up the sidewalk to get at the warmth, the seven fishes, and the gifts inside.  Husband gathered my sour green apple gloves into his black ones. I lifted my chin cautiously. Noticed the solidness of my breathless diaphragm. His mouth pulled to one side. “Sorry,” he whispered. I blinked slowly. “Me too.”

I realized something. A few days later. That particular Christmas Day was not Stuff Day. It was Grace Day. The day three kids received way more than they expected, way more than they needed. And they rejoiced. With hoots and hollers and declarations that this indeed had been the best Christmas ever.

3 comments:

Catherine said...

I can intimately relate to your internal conflict here. I've been struggling myself this year especially, trying to figure out how bloated consumerism honors a Savior. Yet, the Christmases of my childhood are joyful memories of wonderful food, crazy little crafts my mom thought of, a loving spirit in the house and yes, massive piles of gifts. Why do I feel differently about it now? Somehow we have to strike a special balance if we want to keep what's sacred and know when to let go and not impose what may be our own caustic thinking onto others. I haven't figured out how to do this.

The Empress said...

Oh, well...problem solved and I had the solution on the tip of my nose...like a dog with a biscuit.

This is what I do when the grandparents go nutz, and the uncles, and the aunts, and the godparents: we split the gifts and put them away until their birthday.

It's so much nicer for us that way.

BUt glad you figured it out.

Thank you for your kind comment at Chalupa's...so glad you did stop over.

I hate falling out of touch with good writing.

Just hate it.

writingdianet said...

So guess what? It happened again. Did I not learn my lesson?
Note to self: DO NOT BUY OR FLY FOR GRANDMOTHERS NEXT YEAR.
But this is a different year. This time when it happened, I was like, pinching child cheeks and high fiving hands. "Guess-a-what-kids? It's Double Christmas presents again! How cool is that?"
What a difference a year (or two) makes:)

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