Oh, right, did I mention that we're going to Detroit to see John's family for Thanksgiving? Yeah, we are. I have a lot to say about that. I will save it for another post.
Skipping ahead in the holiday lineup, what's on my mind today is Christmas and my Poor Holiday Attitude.
Christmas was a big deal growing up at my house. We had a huge tree, lots of presents, and lots of great traditions around food and friends and family. It was not a religious holiday for us (although my mom is adamant that Christmas never be written as X-Mas because X is no substitute for Christ). Christmas was a celebration of time together and the joy of giving. My mom is an excellent gift-giver. She always finds perfect things to give, and she gets great pleasure out of the whole ritual. I did, too, for a long time.
But, as the years have gone on, I find that gifting brings me pretty much no joy. John and I didn't give each other gifts. He was insanely hard to buy for and what we really enjoyed was spending time together. We have a small condo, so the last thing we need is more stuff. Pre-kids, our practice for holidays and birthdays was to go out for a really nice meal and/or spend the weekend away, usually in Portland, Maine. We'd often buy something for the house: a piece of art, some new dishware, a replacement for something that was old or worn-out. We gave each other cards. We bought gifts for our families, but both of us would have been happy to let that fall by the wayside, too.
Holidays are different when you have kids. John and I only shared one Christmas with the twins. They were six months old. John was very, very sick. In fact, Christmas 2006 was the beginning of the end for John. To add to the fun, I ended up getting sicker than I've been in years. We did not travel to see either of our families that year; we wanted to be in our own home to celebrate what we knew would be our only Christmas as a foursome. I think we got a little tree, but I can't remember for sure. We had boxes of gifts for the kids from their grandparents. I don't think John and I got Maddie and Riley anything and I know we didn't exchange gifts with each other because, as previously noted, we didn't do that. I remember taking a walk on Christmas day in insanely warm weather. I remember feeling resentful that John could not help out more with the babies, and I remember being guilty for being resentful. It was not a happy time.
The next year, last year, I took the kids to Oregon to see my family. My dad helped us out with the travel. It went OK, but the trip was really hard. Sleeping was terrible and, in fact, that trip ushered in the era of Poor Toddler Sleep from which we really have yet to emerge a year after the fact. It was good to be home, but mostly I have bleary memories of sleep-deprivation and running from one activity to another with children who were always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I totally boycotted gift-giving and card-sending, using recent widowhood as an excuse for my Grinch-like attitude. Once again, not a happy time.
This year, we'll be back in Oregon. I'm hopeful that being a year older, more verbal, and more emotionally mature, the kids will handle the travel better. I'm hopeful that a year further along in my grief process, I'll do better, too. But the past two Christmases have both marked the beginning of months-long dark periods in my life, and I'm thus fearful that this year will be the same. I worry about what kind of special hell will get kicked off this year. 2006 was Spousal Death March. 2007 was Sleep Boycott. 2008? We'll know in a couple of months. Ever optimistic (not that you'd know it from this post), I would like to believe that this is the year that we Turn It All Around. Please. Please? Please!
And then there's the gift issue. The twins have an awareness about what gifts are and love to receive packages and goodies. Their joy and delight in the process has helped me see that gift-giving can be fun, and I enjoy buying things for them in a way that I haven't for some time. But like many/most/all parents, I worry about how to set limits and teach Maddie and Riley that gifts are to be appreciated and enjoyed, but not expected. Since the message of Christmas is not religious for me, I need to think of how to explain why they will be showered with gifts on a random day in December. I need to think about how to rein in the commercialism, since the commercialism is one of the things that most bothers me about Christmas. And I need to decide if any of the gifts the twins do get will be from Santa.
John was anti-Santa in an almost venomous way. He was also anti-Easter Bunny and anti-Tooth Fairy. He was very clear that it was not OK with him for us to foster a belief an any of these entities. To be frank, I don't remember the details of his opposition, but I can practically feel the strength of his conviction, and I need to think about how and if to honor that. I'm totally ambivalent about Santa, really, but do I want M&R to be the kids destroying the Santa myth for their playmates when they get older? Would they enjoy the idea of Santa, and, if so, do I have a real reason to keep that joy from them? Would getting surprises from Mama be just as good, or does the Santa myth make it all better?
It all just makes me want to put my head under a pillow and wake up in 2009. It all seems like so much effort, and these days I'm hard-pressed to find the energy to make it through the needs of the day. I know the holidays are a hard time for a lot of people, and these past couple of years have given me an insight as to why that is. Not only do I need to think about creating our own family holiday traditions, but I have to do that without John. I'm struggling a lot these days with anger and resentment about not having the life I thought I was going to have. While I've been moving forward in some really positive ways, grief is definitely a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of process, and I feel very weighty these days. Sick, sleepless babies don't help, I'm afraid.
Speaking of the sick ones, time to go home and find them something for dinner, get them washed up, and hope they sleep tonight, for all of our sakes.
Your musings on the holidays are welcome and appreciated in the comments or via e-mail, especially if you have thoughts on how to skip Christmas entirely. Ha!