I often write about the joys of being over 50 years old. The holidays are yet another time to be grateful for reaching that age of independence.
IN RECOVERY FROM FAMILY CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS
From my mid-twenties to my mid-forties I found the holidays something to be endured with as much passive grace as I could muster. I referred to Christmas as “The Christmas Ordeal”. During that period I lived in New York City. Three of my four siblings lived nearby.
My parents would make plane reservations without consulting anyone and notify us when they would arrive at La Guardia Airport. Sometimes they would stay for over a month. The siblings would begin squabbling (oops, I mean negotiating) about where Mom and Day would stay. My oldest sister had the most space (and her own family) so she endured the heavier burden.
I wish I could say we were squabbling because each of us wanted our parents to stay with us, but that was not the case. My parents were terrible guests. I think they felt they had earned the right to descend on us as they pleased since they had raised and educated the five of us. As with every family, there is a lot of back story that goes with that statement. The five children maintained relationships with them that ranged from a few cozy friendly hours together, to barely speaking, to outright confrontation, to stiff faced smiling acceptance (with an undertone of rage). We were happy to see them for a short time and then we wished they would go away. I experienced their visits as emotional bullying.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…
I tried a new tactic every Christmas. Usually the tactic was based on planning an honest conversation that would somehow clear away the stresses of our past. It never worked. The parents usually sulked or stormed home with hurt feelings. One year I left town with my boyfriend for the whole holiday. It was lonely and cold. One year my sister left town with her entire family, leaving her house to the parents (who were furious).
There were always happy moments, but those times did not counterbalance the weeks of dread before they arrived, or, worst of all, the miserable aftermath, once they returned to their home in Texas.
My father would usually trigger the confrontations, but, my mother, who was the master of the stiff smile, would usually be the one to write “The Letter” afterward. It would be filled with zingers guaranteed to make us feel like crap. It took me many years to learn that I needed to be particularly careful in my every word and deed for about three months after each visit. My personal relationships were always off, my temper was short, and I was on edge at work. If I had not had such an empathetic boss, I probably would have been fired. It was a struggle to get out of bed. Depression and suppressed rage permeated everything.
WITH EXPERIENCE COMES WISDOM
I learned to enjoy planning presents and events, to recognize my emotions as they happened, and to process my feelings without acting out. When I began to understand how I sucked it up through the holidays and experience my emotions afterward, I was able to recover from the holidays faster. I planned my real holiday for a different time.
This is a kind of downer post for Christmas weekend, but it is really just an overture to Part 1. Christmas Past (Part 1) was a downer. Christmas Present (Part 2) is just swell!