Afterword

I used to have trouble differentiating between afterward and afterword. When I wrote books, I would have to think about what, exactly, it meant to write the afterword.  I had this problem even though the meaning is right there in the word: after word. It is the word that comes after the other word, all the other words.

This week I’ve been listening to some Jungian teaching about the American unconscious. Something I heard that interested me was that it is a peculiarily American trait to be forward-looking more than backward-looking, and that by being so future oriented, Americans often miss out on the lessons of the past. We are not a wise people, this teacher said. We are a lot of things, but we are not very wise. We are outwardly and consciously sophisticated and advanced, but unconsciously bestial.

This teaching came from the 1960s or 1970s or so, based on some thoughts of Jung’s about the American temperament. I think that the products of our collective American unconscious do bear out the truth of what Jung and others have said about Americans: we appear to be advanced and sophisticated, but underlying it all is a deep, abiding violent, feral, unattached quality. We see this through our media and cinema, where we splash violence, wanton and irresponsible sexual behavior, and other symbols and myths of our hidden collective life.

The ability to learn from one’s past behaviors is possessed by labaratory rats and by human beings. However, wisdom is the sole possession of human beings, if they choose to cultivate and use it. I’ve written about this distinction before, commenting on why we are called homo sapiens; sapient meaning “wisdom,” from the Latin.

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The big holidays are mostly over, and I learned a lot this year because this year we changed the way we did Christmas. We gathered on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day, and we went to an earlier mass rather than the midnight mass. We played “Dirty Santa” rather than exchanging real gifts among the adults in the family. And we ate a different meal than we would normally eat.

By the end of Christmas Day, I had an Afterword for the holidays this year. My word was “interesting.” I was interested to learn that I am as predictable as the next girl, and like receiving certain types of gifts at Christmas. Though this year we told everyone not to buy us gifts, and they didn’t, I discovered through receiving little that I do like shiny things and baubles. I like small gifts like bookmarks and notebooks, colored pens and new gloves. I also like big, extravagant gifts of jewelry. I like things that smell and feel good, too. My son gave me perfume even though I told him not to buy me anything, and I’ve worn that perfume every day since, and I love it (Notorious, by Ralph Lauren).

I learned that my husband will not only give me what I ask for, but he can do a better job shopping than I would have done for myself. You’d laugh if you knew what we gave one another this year, and you’d probably think, “Wow, what a couple of rednecks!” I’d laugh, too, and I’d say you were right! But he did a thoughtful job while shopping for me this year, and I perceived his love through the gifts he gave me. His backwoods girl.

I learned that I liked doing Christmas Day the way we did it in the past, the way it evolved naturally rather than the experimental other-family way I arranged it this year. I like getting up in the morning, early, and coming to the fireplace with our hair all messy and our jammies on, and the smell of coffee and firewood mingling. I like the kids tearing into their gifts, and their squeals of happiness, and how everything is informal and come-as-you-are. I like it when my daughter Violet and her husband, my son-in-law, come over and he opens the bacon and sausage and starts cooking, and how we stand companionably and side-by-side and cook and smile about it. My first son-in-law. He’s like a son to me.

There is wrapping paper from one end of the house to the other, and dogs rustling through the paper hunting for dropped candy and chocolate, and everything’s a mess. But I really love that. Ivy and her husband arrive, and the testosterone in the house quadruples when my next son arrives about the same time, looking like he just rolled out of bed. His voice booms through the house, and he is wearing a hat and he doesn’t take it off at all. He looks like a big ole lumberjack about half the time, and we don’t have so many trees around here for him to pull off that look, but he manages to pull it off.  And he and his younger brother start bantering and insulting one another, and they laugh a lot. And then all the boys–and there are a lot of them–go off and play Halo or poker or some other competitive thing that has them hollering and laughing at one another, after we finish opening gifts and eating.

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I didn’t like shopping late this year, starting after December 1 and ending only a few days before Christmas, without any cookie-baking time. I don’t like the rudeness people exhibit in their rush, especially in traffic or in long lines at the stores. You can really see who people are, for better or worse, at times like that.

I didn’t like putting up with family members who don’t act like family members any other time of the year. I wonder what’s the expiration date on family membership? I wonder why a person feels obligated over the holidays to be polite and even kind and welcoming to family who are absent the rest of the year? I wonder how many years your drunk relative can spend in recovery or can be sober, as compared with all the years they caused so much pain and chaos, before he or she ever feels like family again. If ever? I wonder why I still say “yes, come on over” when what I feel is, “I don’t want to see you.”

I wonder why I do that? And whether I will continue.

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On Christmas Day, my son Reed was repeating lines about Jesus from various South Park episodes. One of them was, “Every day before I go out, I ask Jesus, ‘Jesus, if you don’t want me to do what I’m about to go do, please stop me,’ but He never does.” We laughed about this, although it also bothered me on another level, this truth from South Park, because the sobering truth is that the Bible teaches that a person can grieve the Holy Spirit of God to such an extent that he can no longer hear God’s voice, and God’s counsel and whispered love are closed to that person. It is as if a person has been rendered spiritually deaf and completely insensate. The possibility of relationship, communication, and communion are blocked. The Spirit flees, and the person may end like the man Jesus healed in the gospels, who had been naked, hiding among the tombstones, violently crazy. Metaphorically speaking.

So, after the holidays were over, I wondered how long is too long. How many years does it take before a door in your heart is closed, and how many more before it is locked? It isn’t a lack of forgiveness, for forgiveness is easier (if you ask me) than continuing along one’s own way with wholeness and discovering that sometimes, one has to leave others behind because their poison may well render us immobile. There’s something about being whole that makes a person not want or need to be around certain kinds of other people. And yet there is also charity and compassion, service and tending to the wounds, hunger, and nakedness of others.

It isn’t easy to figure out. In fact, I don’t try too much to figure it out. I feel my way through it intuitively, and do what the moment requires. Sometimes the requirement of the moment is easier to bear than others, though, because sometimes the Afterword is “The End.” Other times it is “Not Now,” and sometimes it is, “Come back in five years, and be sober.”

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What was your holiday Afterword this year?

18 responses

  1. Christopher, good points. Yes, so much about family values and so little done to actually support families. We can start with the “marriage tax” and move on to the fact that we were the last modern country in the world to allow family leave at work, for instance… and still no universal health care. Yup, good points.

  2. Librarian, as always, you’ve moved me and probably all who read your beautiful description of your niece being alive in the moment. How we lose that.

    About each person being his/her own gift… I was talking with one of my daughters about this today, in a way. The discussion was about people who wish they’d had other parents. I commented that I never wanted other parents. I always wanted my real parents–that is, the real people they were meant to be, the gift people. But sometimes you don’t get the gift people. Most times, probably. You get a cheap substitute.

    Your niece… that’s the real deal.

  3. “…….we appear to be advanced and sophisticated, but underlying it all is a deep, abiding violent, feral, unattached quality. We see this through our media and cinema, where we splash violence, wanton and irresponsible sexual behavior, and other symbols and myths of our hidden collective life………..”.

    Might this be why, in American political life, leaders pontificate about “family values” and the various other moral issues to an extent seen in no others of the industrialised democracies?

    I see this same dynamic in the pervasiveness of “God” and preachers in American public life (“God” is even mentioned in the inscription on coins).

    Odd in a land which uniquely in its constitution separates church and state.

  4. We had a man in rehab over Christmas. (He is still inpatient) Your brother reminded me of him. He comes from a wealthy family and a family of addicts. His brother paid a lot of money for him to get treatment. I guess they re-opened the door or unlocked it for the time being.

    The patient has lived on the streets the past two years. Before his addiction he was a successful businessman and now he is the biggest manipulator I have ever seen. He doesn’t want to change. He likes being high and self reports craving daily. He liked living on the streets because it gave him “freedom”.

    I don’t know what to think about this patient. It frustrates me that I cannot find resolve. I see him and he really is there…not a blank stare. But someone very angry and so full of ego that he cannot surrender. How easy could it be for him if he only surrendered? For him, the pain of getting rid of his own guilt keeps him in the same broken, shitty place.

  5. Afterword…afterwards…after all the bad drama, poor acting, misbegotten and poorly written characters, ill will, rants, missed cues, forgotten lines, fumbled approaches and retreats, empty bottles of wine, spent ire and torn wrapping paper…afterwards, all that remains is now, the eternal now and whatever it is or happens to be.

    Christmas day at Starbucks (yes they have those in Purgatory), journal, notes in the margin:

    …each person is unique, THEY ARE THEIR GIFT, no one can see/reflect the work like they do and in that regards, we are all artists— life is art— and as such, it’s each persons’ job/responsibility/life-purpose to reflect back the world however they choose to do so. The individual is the art, the medium, the message. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to make whatever sense of it they can or will. Art, Life, True Expression, the individual is beholden only to their message, whatever it may be.

    So, the Sunday after Christmas we go to the zoo. It was a good time, family being civil and acting like nothing had happened, nothing had melted down a day and a half prior. I’m on the carrousel with my two-and-a-half-year-old niece, the Wee Pirate, and I’m watching her. Rides were two for $3 and she carefully selected her first animal, a tigger. My God, when the music started, the whole thing spinning, the animals swaying up and down; her eyes sparkled, just alive and shining, the world of her little dreams come to life— the animals dancing, the music enchanting, spinning, all of it.

    I saw Infinity in her eyes. I saw Magic. I saw Heaven. It brought a tear to my eye then and I had to choke back the lump suddenly, mysteriously in my throat; am having to do it now. I saw an incredible perfection through perfect innocence. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. For those four or five minutes the world, and everything in it, was perfect; there was nothing but good and anything was possible.

    I couldn’t see it myself— chipped and worn painted animals, missing marquee light bulbs, uninterested parents and grandparents whirling by at a speed just fast enough to be consciously annoying to the last vestiges of my hangover— but I saw her seeing it, eyes sparkling like all the stars in the sky were reflected in them, an excited, private little smile as she hung onto the brass pole, so full of hope and wonder and awe and excitement and possibility. And I felt it, I understood it, I could touch it a little. She showed me something I don’t know that I have ever seen or felt before. The words fail me now— a wonder so perfect in its innocence. The Still Small Voice in the whirling carrousel? I don’t know; only that it was heartbreakingly perfect, innocent, expectant, and wonder-full.

    It must be, I think, what Grace feels like. The Wee Pirate lives there, in it, not having learned how to use the past to poison the present or terrorize the future. I caught a glimpse of it, felt it brush against my scarred and armored soul— Don Quixote me, Hamlet I, Faust aye. And in that, there were no apologies, no mistakes, nothing to atone for, no regrets, just unending perfection exactly as things were— Skinny Legs and All— full of wonder, magic, and the joyful innocence of being what you are and being exactly correct and being loved for it, of adventure and wonder, of unending newness and discovery, of every dream, every wish being met before it was even dreamt of or conceived.

    The music stopped (we had switched from the tigger to the gorilla, generally known as a monkeeeeeys!!), the animals slowing, coming to rest, some frozen in mid-dance as the carrousel coasted to a stop. We got down and made our way to the exit, her little hand in mine— eyes still sparkling and that knowing little smile still on her face— she thanked the kind man running the ride and then bolted for her mom, screeching in delight, pigtails bouncing, to tell her about the ride and what she had seen and done.

    Of course she wanted to go again, would have ridden the thing till the zoo closed— the eternal perfect moment. I’d have gone with her, just to watch the light in her eyes…all things shining.

  6. “Afterword” is actually a word? O.o Sounds strange to me.

    I had a really good holiday. Extended family all came over… the household was chaos. 😄 It was fun, exciting, tiring, frustrating… and well, that’s bound to happen in a household of 6 adult, 3 kids, and a toddler.

    But it was so awesome to have everyone together!

  7. My afterword: “I am so blessed.”

    My kids were so pleased with their gifts, which were modest and few. I was so proud of them for enjoying what they got instead of complaining about what they didn’t get.

    They were very good about buying gifts for one another. Our son, who has some “issues” was particularly thoughtful toward his sisters.

    The kids were also good about thinking of others. We distributed homemade cookies to friends and relatives. We gave food to some needy folks around us, and the kids were glad to help with it.

    We’ve had a good time visting friends and neighbors here. We have also had good family time, playing games, watching movies, and so on.

    Our son had some serious academic problems at school (ninth grade). He failed one final exam and did not turn in a term paper for one class. Although we had a stressful talk with him, he was able to stay calm and help figure out some ways to do better next semester. I feel that there has been significant improvement in our relationship over the last three months or so.

    Strangely enough, I feel peaceful about him and his school situation, because I see some big growth, emotionally and socially, in him.

  8. oh –

    There’s this, “His head is muddled, but his heart is right.” I think there’s that. And the wish that the heart is in fact in the right place. I go with that and am happy for the fact that some of these transients are in fact transient, because would my heart really be generous enough to let them in every day? No, once a year is plenty. Once a year might be capacity.

    (Here from crazzymumma’s and blown away by your careful and far stretching words.)
    erin

  9. Eve, thank you for your prayers. I had thought that the “friend” part was a lie, too. But I really didn’t want to think it.

    My parents gave her the best they could (she lived with us from around age 2 to 9) but in the end her addict parents and other dysfunctional relatives have had more influence. The really sad part for me is that she is smarter than that. She can rationally see what the bad decisions are, how addicts function, and what her parents did that was wrong. But her rational side isn’t always in charge, obviously. She also thrives on chaos and drama, as her stories are always extremely complicated Jerry Springer-style sagas. And it’s always someone else’s fault.

  10. My afterword: Surreal.

    On the one hand, the Christmas was quiet, but good. Our families are so far away (South Dakota and Russia) that our problem is too much solitude. We open gifts the 24th (the German tradition), but get “Santa gifts” on the 25th. We didn’t overdo it, the kids had a blast. We had a fondue with another family on Christmas day, which was great. Our now 3 year old son Dana had a birthday December 27, and on the 29th a late package from my sister arrived giving us another set of gifts to open (Wii Mario Cart — kids love it).

    But it was also a non-Christmas in many ways. I am chapter President of AFUM, the Maine university faculty union (affiliated with NEA). Our university system is in a financial crisis, and five faculty positions were cut, including a professor who has been here 30 years. For most of the month this issue consumed me, culminating in talking with the affected faculty members, one of whom is a friend. There were faculty members mad at me for not having a more angry reaction, numerous meetings with administration, faculty, the state union…and of course a lot of emotion, especially the professor who has been here 30 years and is really loved by students and faculty. Add to that the semester winding down, stacks of papers to be graded, and I was literally working past Midnight and leaving all the Christmas shopping and preparations to my wife. I did not feel like I was in the Christmas season except when I was telling stories with Christmas themes at bed time to the boys (Calvin and Hobbes are the main subjects of my stories these days — I use the cartoon characters to build stories around).

    It felt surreal…being in a meeting with state union and university system officials and getting an e-mail from a friend that she was one who was being called to a meeting the next day — meaning her job was on the line. Talking with people about their options, getting dozens of questions a day, learning the union-university contract protections and procedures, etc. Uff da. Yeah, maybe that’s a better afterword: Uff da (a Norwegian form of oy vay).

  11. you write and write and write and i read and read and read.

    my afterword?

    I am going to enjoy this family because I made it

    Eve responds:

    Oh, I love your afterword! I love it!

    In fact, I think I’m going to copy it. This is something that you put on the fridge or tatoo onto your forearm.

  12. We had a nice, quiet Christmas. We even went to church, for the first time. We (I) made a lot of our gifts this year, and the ones that had to be shipped out of state didn’t arrive on time. Next year I vow to be on time! But we had a white Christmas, we all got some nice, thoughtful gifts, and ate well and have many, many things we are grateful for in our lives.

    But yesterday I got an email from my cousin, who is like a sister to me. I called her back and she explained her latest, greatest tale of woe. And this one probably is the greatest of all. Long story short, she got pulled over for expired registration, and upon being searched, it was revealed that someone in the car had cocaine on them. They were all arrested, and her 5 children have been dispersed either to their father (3 of them) or to foster care (the other two, including her baby). She got out on bail, but the check bounced, of course. And they’re two months behind on their car payment, and all their possessions are in custody because they were moving to a new house when they got pulled over and don’t have the money to get it all out of impound. And if she can’t get this all resolved within 6 months, her baby will be put up for adoption. And she won’t take the felony charge because it will ruin her background check history for employment. And, and, and….

    She is literally at her wit’s end, and said she doesn’t see the point of living without her kids. She’s essentially repeating the errors of her own mother, who committed suicide in jail. I thought my cousin was on an upward path, as she has been known to hold down a steady job over the last few years, wasn’t living with drug users any more, had found a partner who seemed to also be relatively stable, etc.

    But she chose to have a “friend” who carried cocaine with her, in a car full of little children, driving with expired tags. So while my heart breaks for her and those children, part of my heart is also a little hardened. Since she was 18 and had her first child, she has always vacillated between having common sense and seeing the errors of her parents (her father was also a lifelong addict who became sober only a few years before his death from cancer), and making colossally bad decisions.

    I’ve helped her in the past — co-signing on a car (that didn’t end well), sending her cash, even considering taking in her first child into our family. But even if I could help her now, I’m not sure I would. I will love her, and talk to her on the phone, and if she showed up on my doorstep I’d let her sleep the night on my couch.

    She’s the black sheep of my family, and I love her so much, and my heart is breaking for her. And we both know that long ago she stopped having the right to ask me for help, and so she now just asks me to listen. And that’s all I can do.

    I’m so sad right now. I just have to treasure these things up in my heart and pray for her, because that’s all I can do.

    Eve responds:
    Heni, happy holy days to you! I’m so glad you had a lovely Christmas. I read your blog last night and enjoyed reading about what things you’ve been up to over the past few weeks (especially loved the one about Anthropapa singing). It all reminded me that we can get what we plan for, and that as we head along life’s path, even what’s unplanned comes to us as blessings that give us joy and repose, if we will just leave enough space for it. I admire how you are a person who is able to do that, who has grown to be able to do that. :o)

    Your cousin sounds a lot like my brother in his past life (and sometimes current life, as the chaos habit is hard to break, even if sober). And your Afterword is good words, even if difficult (sometimes impossible) to say and follow through on. I am most sorry for her children. I hope someone who will give that baby a home and a chance gets that baby post haste, for if not, another generation of chaos will be born. I hope all the children are rescued.

    I know you probably know this, but the friend carrying the cocaine? It was your cousin. She’s doing it, too. She’s using again and her story is a lie, I’d bet money on that. It’s the way of the addict, because to tell another story would be to admit she has a problem she’s powerless over, and that’s the first step to recovery. That’s why they all lie until they stop lying. It’s pathetically sad, and I’m sorry for her. I’ll keep them all in my prayers this week.

  13. I am not a fan of Christmas. Before we had Katie, it was my father who would ruin Christmas and now, it’s Katie. Katie’s needs do not go away on Christmas day or Boxing day or any day. She doesn’t understand that we might like to sit for an hour and relax, or cook a meal, or chat, or do anything. She demands constant attention and we give it to her because it’s easier than the alternative which is crying, slapping, pinching, kicking and hair pulling because she’s upset.

    I saw my son on Christmas Eve, he stopped by to drop off his sister and to wrap presents. He said he would be back for supper on Christmas day but he never showed, never called. I left it alone. My middle daughter had a melt down on Christmas day, told me how rude I was and then stormed out of the house to have supper with a friend. So my husband and I sat down together after Katie had gone to bed and had a quiet supper together. It was nice actually.

    How much time is enough? I don’t know the answer to that one either. I tend to surgically remove people from my life when they hurt me. Everything that I feel is full volume and shows on my face. People always know what I’m thinking and I find the emotions overpowering often. For me, as a means of self preservation I guess, I have built up walls to protect myself. I can feel the walls going up when someone hurts me and I go cold. Not because I am unfeeling but rather the opposite, I feel too much. Maybe my father was the same way. He lived inside his fortress. I never thought about it before.

    I find Christmas such a strange time. I want desperately to be with my family and at the same time don’t want to be with them. I want a family that gets along, that doesn’t fight, I want a family like they have on the TV commercials. I am always disappointed at Christmas, it doesn’t life up to my expectations. This year I kept my expectations very low, few gifts, three decorations, very little baking but still my kids managed to hurt me. How low do my expectations have to be?

    Eve responds:
    Deb, kids have power like no one else to hurt us. Every parent knows that, and I guess that’s the way it should be if we’re alive and we love them. Your middle daughter is young and probably doesn’t know how to use her words about her feelings yet, and had to create something in order to storm out so she could give herself permission to do what she wanted to do, which was to have supper with a friend rather than her parents or sister or brother. She’s rude, but she isn’t enough of a person (yet) to be able to be anything else.

    I’m going to digress, here, but I’ve been wanting to write about launching kids forever, and just haven’t had time to get around to it yet. But I’ll make a start here by saying that, though many people consider ages 14 or 15 to 18 the hardest teen years, in my opinion the most difficult are from about 17 1/2 years old to about age 25. My friend and co-author on my first book has done some research into and writing about growing up, and tells me that our biological brains aren’t actually mature (adult mature) until we are 25 years old, more-or-less. I truly believe this, for I have never had a kid who was the same way after age 25 that they were prior to age 25. That’s the first bit of information that may help you realize that your daughter’s adolescent brain isn’t what it will be after some more years.

    Second, my friend tells me that the adolescent brain is more similar to those of adults with schizophrenia than it is to a normal brain. I’m going to have to ask her for the studies she read on this, but I also tend to believe that’s true. The way she puts it is that adolescence is a mental illness, when compared with all other developmental phases. As offensive as this sounds to teenagers (not to mention those grappling with mental illness), I also tend to think this is a good explanation for the behaviors of the adolescent. They’re like people who have gone off their meds. And I have the idea that many people who are diagnosed with mental illness and medicated for it, by the way, are not mentally ill on that level at all. I think they are people with arrested development who didn’t get to grow up beloved and cherished for the 18-20 years during which they needed (and deserved) that, and now their development is arrested and they’re desperately trying to heal. And then some fool puts them on meds and it merely numbs the pain and further arrests their development. And if nobody is around to help them grow up and regain lost ground, because they’ve gone and married or otherwise partnered with someone who was guaranteed to be as abandoning and abusive a partner as their parent was (or parents were), then that person is going to be no help at all. This is why I’ve written that good help is hard to find, and what I meant by that. The right, good help is the help that helps you regain lost ground.

    So anyway, your grownup (kind of) kids are really not grown up, are they? I know what that’s like, as I have several myself who are like that. I have some who are out of the adolescent brain, and some who are in the throes of it. We have had two holiday displays of adolescent brain (let’s just call it AB, shall we?) with one of my kids and both made me cry. But later I still did my job as mother and therapist, and I talked to that adult kid with AB, and by using words and what I’ve learned over the years, I taught that kid how to treat me and how to handle strong emotions in an adult way. Repeated role-playing helps a lot, and repeated calm examples from me, and there will be plenty of chances to keep on practicing if I happen to blow it because my own unhealed AB happens to crop up (which could happen!).

    But I digressed, which I said I would. I’m going to blog about this, I swear. It’s the hardest parenting I’ve ever done, much harder than screaming babies and todddlers, I’ll tell ya. I’m sure you can relate. And then you have Katie, and she is always on the verge of dissolving.

    Deb, this has been a huge year for you. You’ve moved, your kids have moved, Katie moved, you and your husband separated. You started two new jobs, and regular, everyday life marched on. Were I in your shoes this year, I would have planned a Disastrous Christmas from the beginning. I would have listed all the things I planned (see note to David, above), such as this:

    (1) Throw Christmas tree
    (2) someone must storm out
    (3) at least two people must get into screaming match
    (4) someone complains about turkey/dressing/food
    (5) someone gives someone else a shoddy gift
    (6) someone expresses lack of gratitude in most rude way
    (7) remote to TV is lost and we can’t even watch TV
    (8) Aunt Tilda calls and she’s drunk again

    I’d just write down exactly what I predicted would happen, and then I’d write down a list on the other side of the page that would be called Magical, Wonderful Christmas. It might look like this:

    (1) lovely music playing in the background
    (2) fire crackling in fireplace
    (3) mulled cider/hot cocoa/coffee/tea/hot buttered rum
    (4) good friend/kid/hubby/dog to sit near
    (5) good book
    (6) one gift that makes me smile
    (7) one gift given that makes another person smile
    (8) a good meal
    (9) two hour limit on bothersome, difficult family members and two week allowance for myself with #1-#8 amply applied

    That’s what I’d do. In fact, that’s what I did this year. I didn’t get it perfect. For instance, by bringing bothersome, difficult family members into the mix with the rest of the lovely ones, I kind of screwed myself out of the experience of having the lovely ones all to my piggish self, because I didn’t set aside time to hog the lovely ones to myself without inviting the difficult ones. But, happily, almost all the lovely ones showed up on Christmas day anyway, apart from the pre-arranged Christmas Eve gathering for difficult folks (and others), that I felt happy and was able to wallow around in love and good feelings, and call the ones who weren’t there and tell them I love them and so on (except for my daughter and son-in-law who were with his mom, and who I didn’t want to disturb, but I called them in my heart).

    Maybe on your next holiday you can plan the Disastrous Holiday and invite everyone; and then whoever behaves him- or herself nobly gets to come to the Secret, Special Holiday for Deb. And if no family member steps up to the plate, girl, get yourself a friend over. And, failing that, get the dogs.

    This is why I have dogs. They are always happy about seeing you, they always love you, they always want to cuddle you, and they never bug you about sex, money, doing stuff for them (other than filling the food bowl), and they love to go on walks and listen to my bad poetry.

    I hope you’ll consider reporting back on what your happy holiday would be, or at least journal about it or mull about it, or even blog about it. Maybe you could practice for Boxing Day or Epiphany, just as a practice run.

  14. I think my afterword is that Christmas without suffering doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. There wasn’t any suffering this year; my dad went somewhere else for Christmas, and my mother and I were alone. This arrangement was amicable, and although it happened due to my taking a stand three years ago and refusing to ever spend time with both of my parents together ever again as long as I live unless some miracle happens that heals their toxic marriage, nobody blames me for it, so there wasn’t any tension.

    Anyway, it was a nice day, with a nice meal, and yeah. Whatever. It didn’t seem like Christmas, with no tension, or heartache, or fear.

    I don’t know what it seemed like, really. It wasn’t particularly joyful or happy, either. It was just dinner.

    I think my afterword is that I need a better idea of Christmas. “Totally neutral” just isn’t quite doing it for me, though it is, I’ll admit, an improvement.

    On another note … I was so interested by your musings regarding whom we keep letting in, and whom we shut out, and the sometimes-unanswerable “why” of that.

    Eve responds:
    David, we have several children who grew up in other families and whose holidays were always filled with drama and suffering. One standard joke with one of our adult kids is, “Is it time to throw the Christmas tree yet?” It took years for some of our kids to stop creating drama, pain, and suffering around the holidays and to be able to live with the boredom they perceived when regular ole peace and quiet prevailed.

    You probably overdid it on the nice day, nice meal and yeah whatever part. Next year, I suggest that some of your loyal followers and readers arrive at your house early and help with the festivities. I’ll come drunk and with a lampshade on my head, and will knock over the Christmas tree for you and throw some ornaments. You can get someone to put his face into the fruit cake, and another reader to slam some doors. Two more can wait until mid-meal to discuss something incediary such as politics, religion, inheritances, or who gets the wishbone, and a fight can break out. Eventually we can call 9-1-1 and that should about wrap up the holiday.

    Better yet, why don’t you come visit us and share our Not-Quite-the-Waltons Christmas next year? It won’t be completely peaceful, but it will be far better than neutral, and we love meeting people face-to-face whom we’ve met on line (we do it all the time and have only been held at gunpoint once!).

    Hah, just joking about the gunpoint thing.

    And I’m glad you had at least a neutral Christmas. Good for you, setting up a boundary for yourself.

  15. You bring solace Eve, because you write so beautifully about how inexplicable relationships are. Our holiday was in most ways beautiful. The part with my spouse and my kids was a lot like the happy chaos you described of your Christmasses past. I loved that. I loved their unabashed joy. I loved the smell of home made cinnamon buns. I too was more frazzled this year with shopping. Ours happened later and smaller due to finances. But it got done and those things most wished for were there under the tree. The cookies were baked and delivered and so very appreciated by those who received them.

    My sister invited herself to Christmas day and in some ways she is like your brother. I love her, and i have no other sibling, but she is never really able to be there with reciprocity in a relationship. In fact, she has trouble sustaining relationships as evidenced by the fact that she has now ended marriage number 3. . . yet asked if she could bring ex #3 along for dinner. I said yes, feeling odd. Felt odder still when I truly enjoyed his company more than my sisters.

    Then today we travelled to bring Christmas gifts to my mother who lives out of state. Thankfully she was kind to the children who had all made her gifts and brought gifts for her to bring to her husband who was too ill for us to visit w/ 4 children. To my spouse and I however she was unbelievably hurtful and ungracious. Writing about it even seems petty on my part and yet it was so hurtful. She had asked for a lantern to use in power outages that happen frequently in her area. I researched them ad nauseum as she gave no specifics on her need, other than it should not use open flame as she is feeling less steady on her feet now that she is 75. So I got one from LL Bean that you plug into an outlet to charge and then will work for 9 hours in a power failure. She sniffed at it, made caustic comments about how she had no free electrical outlets and what was she going to do with this anyway. I was appalled. I was sad for my children to see such hurtfulness and I felt about 4 yrs old getting my hands slapped for choosing the wrong dang thing. I told her where I got it and that she could exchange it. She eventually found an outlet (there were at least 3 others we could see from where we were sitting which also were not in use) and allowed us to set it up and show her how it worked. But far from feeling that we had given her a tool to handle an emergency, I felt angry and hurt.

    I don’t watch television advertisements often. However this season I saw one I liked with a grandmother opening a sweater identical to the one she was wearing and smiling and saying “how beautiful” That’s the grandma I want to be.

    Eve responds:
    Lee, I haven’t seen the ad you described, but seeing it in my mind’s eye makes me smile. That’s the grandma I want to be, too. And that’s the kind of people we’re raising our children to be, for we practiced how to receive a gift graciously before the holidays this year. Some of the most unhappy moments I recall over the years are moments in which a gift was given and poorly received (in at least one case, by me, sadly). In some cases the gift was poorly given, I’ll admit. But even so, what’s to be gained by being rude to a person in front of witnesses? Instead of “What Not to Wear” one could have a show called “What Not to Do.”

    I’ve been thinking about honesty and truth-telling lately as they are used (or not) in our closest and most long-lived relationships. Since it’s our parents who train us what not to say to them (or else!), it’s difficult to un-train ourselves to be passive or polite in the face of a parent’s monumental rudeness that we wouldn’t put up with from anyone else. Yet we’ll put up with it from parents, siblings, spouses, and children because we don’t love ourselves or truth enough (I’m thinking) to be more courageous. I do think there’s another level or place of transcending such rudeness entirely and saying nothing except to oneself on the inside, but I think sometimes that this sort of transcendence only comes after we learn to use our words with people who are mean.

    I think so because about 8-10 years ago or so someone who has been instrumental in my life asked me why I didn’t tell my own mother directly just how her behaviors and words affected me. I sputtered that if I did, my mom would blow her stack. And then what? And then she’d stop speaking to me. And then what? And then we’d have no relationship! And what do you have now? No relationship. Ah. So you’d rather continue to be fake and have a fake relationship than to be real and have possibly no relationship? Yes. Yes, that’s what I’ve been doing. And is that the way you want to continue? Ah. Aha. I see.

    And so, obviously, the only person with whom I must and can initially have a wholly honest relationship is with myself. So I began by inviting my mother on a road trip and spending three days with her. Everything remaining that needed getting off my chest was gotten off. And she told me stories that plainly showed me what sort of mother she had been when I was an infant and toddler, enlightening stories that amazed me and also made me cry later, as I got alone with that baby who was myself and realized what had been done to me.

    Since then I haven’t ever needed to go back. I went back as far as I could go, and it was done. Now when my mother is an ass (which is regularly), I am aware of it with some immediacy–either in the very moment or within the day (hey, that’s progress). I learned recently, for instance, that she’s a real ass about getting in a person’s face (literally six inches away) to get your attention if you don’t agree that she’s the center of the universe. I don’t put up with that from anyone else and neither should I put up with it from her. So I’ve practiced role-playing the encounter with some of my kids and my husband and I’m ready for the next time she does this (which will be the next time I see her, I assure you).

    Why did I share this possibly boring bit of personal history? Here’s why: because maybe you’ll consider doing something similar with your mother. Supposing she were not your mother but someone else. Supposing your spouse or child had said the things she said about the lantern, or when she came to visit recently? In the immediate moment would you have said something? Or maybe later? If so, what? Role play and practice being who you really are with your old mother. You need that, all who love and know you need that, and she needs that.

    My kids tell me that they hate it when they see me fall away from myself in my mother’s presence. I don’t always do it, but I often do it, even to this day. I’m (theoretically) grateful for my mother’s presence in my life, for I have a constant measure of how I’m really doing. I’m only kidding myself if I think that I’m becoming more whole and honest if I can’t handle an old lady with personal integrity. Seriously!

    Since your mother is so ungracious so regularly, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to practice with her. You may teach her nothing, but teach yourself and your children a lot. For example: “Welcome to our home, Mom! We were so excited and happy that you were coming that we spent [hours/days/months] preparing. The kids made these [cards/baubles/decorations/googaws/cookies] for you.”

    Mother: “Pshaw. What a waste of time. And it’s drafty in here. I don’t like that purple coverlet. Achoo! And I’m allergic to those flowers over there!”
    Lee: “Sorry, Mom. We’ll move the flowers. And I’m sorry you think it’s a waste of time for us to try to be welcoming. You know, just like you seem to wish you had an adult kid who had a less drafty home, or one who didn’t like purple as much as I do, or one who didn’t forget that you’re allergic to flowers, sometimes I wish I had a mom who would say things like the grandmas on TV say, such as ‘Wow, honey, thank you so much for the effort! I feel so loved.'”

    “So tell me, Mom, since we all failed so miserably this time around, will you tell me what does make you feel loved and welcomed, so we’ll know for next time? Because the most important thing is that we want to show you how much we love you.” And then sometime you could ask her to tell you a story about a time in her life when she felt she was very well treated, even treated like a princess, and what happened.

    Get out there and do that, and let me know what happens. I guarantee it’ll upset her applecart in the best way. ;o)

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