Friday, June 29, 2012

Christmas in June


Never a holiday I particularly cared for.  Actually, most holidays I haven't particularly cared for. 

Growing up (ah, my all-elusive predecessor for many bad memories), holidays were not a joyous occasion for celebration and camaraderie among family members.  There were fights, arguments, and my mother playing the after everything I've done/bought/
cooked for you
card.  Holidays.  Ick.

But the last few holidays that have come and gone have been...pleasantly okay.  Much of this is attributed to my boyfriend's mother.  She is the sweetest woman you will ever meet and the type of mom that does everything incredibly well.  Her and I connected instantly when I met her 3 years ago when my now boyfriend and I were just friendly neighbors.  She scooped me up from day one, and there hasn't since been a holiday or special occasion that has passed without my receiving a card from her.

Christmas 2010 was the first holiday I spent actually at my boyfriend's mom's house.  From the moment I woke up, she called me downstairs for surprise after surprise.  She had a few presents waiting for me, wrapped and underneath the Christmas Tree.  I was shocked, which seemed like too strong of an emotion at the time.  Pleasantly surprised, okay.  But shocked?  I didn't know what to do with myself.  Literally, I felt very awkward with her smiling at me and enjoying me unwrapping my gifts.  I didn't know what to say or do or what facial expressions to make.  It was all just so...very...genuine. 

Now, I'm not implying that I've never received gifts from my own mother.  Aside from the year she returned all of my presents because I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with my dad instead of eating the chicken alfredo she'd been planning to make for weeks, she gifted me with plenty of stuff up until I was 18 years old (once I was 18, I was considered an "adult").  But all of these perfectly wrapped gifts came with a price.  After all I bought for you, how dare you talk back to your MOTHER!  After all the time I spent wrapping YOUR presents, how dare you be so selfish and ungrateful!  Oh, and don't get me started on her Christmas Dinner.  I slaved away in the kitchen for hours and hours after spending ALL night carefully wrapping your presents, so you better sit down and eat.  This was her way of telling us that dinner was ready.  Thanks, mom.  I'm starving.  And so I ate Christmas Dinner with a solemn look on my face, afraid to say how good the food was for fear she'd call me a liar or dismiss my gratefulness as "talking back" or "trying to make her feel better" or "just saying that so she wouldn't be mad at me anymore".  I spent many Christmas's after I no longer lived at home with other people's families or alone because I didn't want to unpack the emotional baggage that came along with holiday parties and gift giving and sharing meals.  January through October I was fine, but once the calendar switched to November, I began feeling anxious and dreading what was to come. 

Fast forward to my ripe old age of 29, and here's this woman handing me a giftI'm not her daughter, her son and I haven't been together for years and years, and non-gifting me wouldn't be awkward since she wouldn't be seeing me day after day for the next year.  There was no obligation or price or complaint that came along with her gift.  It was simply a gift.  Just because.  She wanted me, a grown woman, to feel special on Christmas Day.  I suppose that is why I was so shocked. 

After feeling unsure of how to act or what to say, I politely said "thank you so much" and went back upstairs and cried in the bathroom.  This was all so new to me, feeling valued and appreciated just because, without fear of disrupting the happiness surrounding me.  In the bathroom, I realized I had spent so many Christmas's tip-toeing around my mother's emotions.  I had spent so many Christmas's missing out on genuine joy and anticipation for the day, and instead, felt like a selfish, unwanted obligation, a burden to my mother.  I was pulled out of this painful reminiscing when my boyfriend's mom called me back downstairs because "breakfast was ready".  What would you like to drink?  I put grape jelly on the table but I also have strawberry, peach, orange marmalade, and blackberry in the fridge that I can get out for you.  Is the food hot enough?  I ate and ate, I smiled and smiled, and the feel at the table was light with love and laughter (and embarrassing Christmas Day stories about when my boyfriend was a kid).  I told her how delicious the food was.  Just wait till dinner! 

Once the first week of November arrived in 2011, I started asking my boyfriend about our holiday plans.  What do you want to do for Thanksgiving?  I'd like to spend it with family, either my sisters or my dad's extended family, or we can go to your mom's.  What do you think your mom is doing?  What do you think your dad is doing?  Oh, and about Christmas, do you want to put up a Christmas Tree?!  We can get cool ornaments at Hobby Lobby or maybe even decorate some blank ornaments ourselves!  This was the first time in my life when I wanted to put up a Christmas Tree and enjoy the traditions of the holiday season, and enjoy these traditions as early as what is socially acceptable.  My boyfriend looked at me, shocked, and said, "I don'"  Was it that obvious?  Like a man, he bluntly replied, "Are you kidding me?  That's one of the first things you told me when we met."  Oh,'re right.  I did tell you that.  Well, I sorta feel different this year. 

Thinking back on these memories, I realize I've shed so much the bitterness and anxiety of what holidays used to mean and created a safe place that welcomes the cheer and traditions of the season.  If I can make a place for holidays, I can make a place for the other difficult transitions I need to begin making.  Running.  Scheduled counseling sessions.  Prayer.  Writing.  Community.  The difficulty does not come in the beginning; it comes in the commitment of continuing to do.   

And about that dang Community -- It's uncomfortable.  I've had bad experiences.  I want to keep to myself.  But prayer and counseling push me toward community.  And since I trust God, and I trust my counselor, I suppose technically I should trust community.  The only person I don't trust is myself and I'm the only one saying "don't do it!"  But just like with the holiday change of heart, I know space exists inside me; I'm not, after all, jam-packed with negative thoughts and emotions.  I may not be able to see the space or feel it or find it on my own, but eventually it will reveal itself (hopefully without my crying in a bathroom again).  It's time to allow room for something new, and to commit to experiencing it -- for no other reason than just because.

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