Kelley took loads of pictures of my family. Here’s one of my parents, probably around the time I bought them underwear for Xmas.
I am in the Point Mall because I am in the school chorus and we are having a holiday concert there. This is a strange place, I think, to have a concert, but we go early enough to shop. I go into a boutique shop full of expensive, ugly, decorative things, and spend one of my hours for shopping rearranging words on a metal display in vague, surrealist streams, as is my present style. I have a drawerful of poems at home with streams of unpunctuated lines like, “…and the window in my mind is growing teeth…”
I get a brilliant idea. Are you ready for a nonsequitur?
I will buy my parents matching leopard print nightwear for Christmas. I am, after all, their oldest child, and I have never been grossed out by the idea that my parents have sex. I have walked in on them more times than I care to count. I want my parents to do it. I do not want my parents to get a divorce, and as far as I can tell, the only real perk of marriage is sex.
The rest of it looks like a dreadful strain: cleaning, washing stuff, taking sick kids to waiting rooms full of other sick kids so then everybody in the house gets sick, and doing it all while your husband works 80 hours a week? My parents should be encouraged in the realm of carnal pleasures. I know about the birds and bees, and have since I was five. My brother was three. The whole business is the forbidden fruit, the exquisite privilege of adulthood, and when God sends my mate, a reward for being good. It does not even occur to me that there is something a bit demented about living vicariously through my parents in this way.
Mom’s is easy. I pop into the Vickie’s Secret, and after a moment, I locate the perfect nightie. It is short, strappy, and leopard print sateen. I spend my own money, which I have earned being a hostess at a restaurant.
Dad’s proves to be more difficult. I begin a frantic tour in pursuit of gaudy men’s undewear. I start with the obvious choice, Spencer’s. My older, worldlier friends have told me about this store, and I am titillated. Spencer’s is full of mysterious and sinful things that get my heart going pitter pat and my belly dropping and churning. I can’t look away, even though I know I should. Is that a plastic penis? In a box? Oh my.
A week later, I find a pair of silk leopard print boxers in Kmart in Carlisle. I am relieved, for the force of my gift will be lessened considerably if there is only pervy nightwear for my mom.
I want you all to know how creative and crafty I am.
I got the pattern for these guys over at Crafty is Cool, which I discovered from trolling Ravelry.com, which is a knitting/crocheting site.
This morning, I woke up with a premonition that Child was dead.
She was really so lovely at the holidays. She was good and sweet and all things that are important for small children to be in order to win the favor of Jolly Old St. Nick.
But when I thought she was dead, I was full of sadness and panic for a moment, a much shorter moment than is reasonable. Then I was filled with wistfulness for returning to my pre-child life, and I felt relieved and free. I also briefly considered the delicious excusability of substance abuse and general fuck-uppery.
Then I went into her room and felt her chest for breath. It was there and I was more glad than disappointed. So that’s something, right?
I’m blaming this pile of angst on the massive, emotional build up that Xmas as a parent (especially a broke one) embodies, that is invariably anticlimactic. I’ve written before about some of my mixed feelings about being a mom, and you all know about my mixed feelings about Xmas. And please don’t take this to mean that I’m homicidal toward my kid, or that I regret or resent her. But man oh. I think I need to put some more pictures of monsters. Monsters are happy.
I let Child watch Futurama, whenever she wants. She does not get the jokes she shouldn’t get, and I find it to be a more entertaining cartoon than Fanboy and Chum Chum. She thought these were hilarious.
So did their giftees, my good friends B and T. I know these aren’t exactly proportional, and I worried for a moment that B&T would think I was making some kind of judgment about their human proportions. I was not.
Everyone was a little more interested in these little gifts than I expected them to be.
I talked Fella into going to my parents for overnight. It was lovely.
We got to hang out with my sister and her brand new fiance. They are getting hitched up this summer. Below is a picture of them and Child in Baltimore.
And now, I am feeling emptied out and tired and wishing that I could’ve worked through Xmas.
And I am hoping that you have better feelings about Xmas. More like these ones I was having a few weeks ago.
I have conflicting feelings about marriage, too. I am not married, nor do I aspire to be. When I was young, I imagined my life alone in an urban apartment, taking a succession of monogamous lovers.
I am happy for my sister. I like her fiance. I think they are both fabulous humans and they will make lean, gorgeous babies. But I am worried about them making babies. Not because I think they are incapable, in fact, I believe my sister to be gifted with natural child rearing abilities (like my mom); but because I am traumatized by making babies. And because, selfishly, I am worried about watching people I love become parents in healthy, rewarding, mature, socially appropriate ways. And because my baby sister making a baby–even if she does it in 7 years–will mean something about the evolution of family that will force me to face my parents’ mortality, mine, and my own inadequacy, by which I am daunted.
My dad showed me a passage in a book Fella got him for Xmas that indicated that he believes that I am eschewing my spiritual journey. That he thinks I am godless and hopeless. Maybe you think that, too, now.
I am not. But I do think that religion (not spirituality), is more limiting than people believe it to be. And I personally view it as a coping mechanism more than as a helpful set of mores by which to live.
So that’s it, fair blog readers. I am not warmed and filled by this season.
I am warmed and filled by the so far, only positive response I’ve had about my nonprofit, Billtown Blue Lit. By the indie book store agreeing to let us set up at First Friday, and by the way in which the project and my hard work will enrich my community. I am affirmed by doing good work, not by religious rhetoric, gift-giving/receiving, or by motherhood.
Does this make me empty or capitalist or lacking perspective? I don’t think so. It makes me honest to myself, and willing to accept responsibility for figuring out how to be a useful, good, human, even though I’ve made choices that have ended in things I don’t always know how to manage.
I did post this image the other day, but today is Solstice (for which my Pagan domestic partner could not provide a suitable idea for an icon in the dragon’s house, above), and I think this is really funny.
Also, since I drew it, I will not go to jail or be hugely fined for using it (but you might).
As I told my girlfriends the other night, I’m my own biggest fan.
And this morning, at 7:00, as I woke up wishing I cared less that I was still in bed, not wanting to emerge from my cocoon of warmth and comfort, even for 50 degree December days, I read Facebook posts. I feel like the Facebook status updates in my feed are a pretty representative cross section of culture at any given time. I have friends who are rich, poor, gay, transgender, aged between like 19 and in the 60s, etc. And starting on Turkey day, until about a week ago, all the little updates were things like, “so great to be in the xmas spirit, I sure do love this time of year, dreaming of a white xmas, etc etc etc.”
This morning there were things like, “What xmas song makes you want to puke?” and “I don’t want to brave the mall!” and “Dear Lord, when will it end?!”
And in my haughty little pea brain, I was like, “well if you people would just wait until the week of xmas to celebrate, and not drive yourselves bonkers buying buying buying presents, maybe ya’ll would be less miserable.”
But who am I kidding?
I totally didn’t drive myself nuts this year. I am broke, and so I only bought gifts for Fella & Child. Everybody else gets homemade ones.
Fella and I spent like 8 hours baking our faces off the other day, and are giving our friends pretty little boxes filled with cookies.
I made little thingies (I’ll tell you all about them with pictures and everything after the Big Day), and I started out really strong. But now, I’m down to the wire, and I still have quite a few to do, and I’m feeling totally stressed and pressured.
Also, we’re trying to coordinate with our friends to GIVE the the cookies we spent all the time baking for them, and well, it’s just not super slick. Everybody’s got in-laws and outlaws and ex-laws, and baby’s daddies, and other countries, counties, states, or prisons… It’s rough!
I find myself asking, “Is all this worth it for the 4 or 5 hours we spend with people we don’t see often? Why not this: Let’s all make new year’s resolutions to stop being such utter wank jobs and connect with the people we care about more often than once a year. Let’s all decide to ONLY buy presents for our IMMEDIATE families (that means, married children only buy for their partners and children, empty nesters only buy for each other, and everybody buys a box of bon bons, an enema, and a pair of slipper socks for anybody they know in a nursing home).
Let’s visit each other’s living rooms, announced or unannounced, and not feel pressured to cook for our friends and family. Let’s pass around a loaf of wonder bread and a jar of peanut butter. Or if we LIKE to bake, we bake. Otherwise, we just enjoy the company.
Secret Santa? I mean really. Why? Just a thing for a thing’s sake? More junk we don’t need?
I’ve never had a terrific time at a company holiday party. Well, maybe once, but it was a fluke. And I kind of regret it.
So help me understand this, people. What is the big deal? And don’t give me that shit about the Son of God. First of all, this whole celebration is historically inaccurate, and I’m pretty sure Jesus (if that was his real name) would not pepper spray people over toys, send out an extra super huge pile of spam all season long, nor would he be pleased to know that we are all torturing one another for a full month each year.
Say the average life span is 60 years, so we waste 1,350 days if we start working retail or stressing over xmas around age 15. We lose 3.7 years of our lives.
Look, I’m trying to fight my inner Scrooge. I really am. It’d be the best thing for my kid. But I just can’t get all lathered up over this nuttiness. Tell me. What do you love about xmas?
Let’s acknowledge something, shall we? From Thanksgiving to January 2, everybody in America’s life gets appropriated by these festivities. It doesn’t really matter what religion you practice, or if you don’t practice one.
Every retail establishment is bonkers, it takes twice as long to buy shampoo or toilet paper if you are unlucky enough to have to face the discount big box of your choice.
There are an endless number of social obligations, the gift-buying, giving, and obsessing.
And the decorating.
Last night, we brought our fake tree up from the basement. After child went to bed, Fella and I listened to Xmas music on LastFM on the Xbox (that’s such a handy little machine) while we put it together and wished we had some spiked eggnog or hot buttered rum.
This morning, we feasted retail. We went to Target (I’m one of those douches who calls it Tar-gjay) and looked for more red, wooden-beaded garland and a star that wouldn’t render our seven-foot, plastic tree off kilter. We have exactly the right number of white lights, and my mom gives everyone in her family an ornament every year. This year, I have at least 38, one for each of my Christmases, and one for each of Child’s, too, plus two for the years I’ve had Fella at Xmas (and he’s been on the gift-giving list), and some colored glass balls and tiny silver ones, too.
We went and looked at real trees and fought our scruples about killing trees for a reason other than books, magazines, newspapers, or other printed media. We decided to stick with plastic this year, and maybe next year we’ll kill one. Maybe.
This afternoon, we’re making red sauce and we talked briefly about holiday plans–whose house we’ll visit and when, what cookies we’ll make. We are big bakers and give our friends boxes of homemade treats for Xmas. Ask anybody, we make boss cookies. Last year, we made a cookie narrative, too.
Those of you who know me know that I’ve been pretty overwhelmed. Working retail sales jobs, yearning for my sweet, intellectual life, and being a single mom has wasted a lot of my space for sentimentality since 2005.
But this year, I’m self-employed, so this mess is on my terms, and I am in a well-working domestic partnership with a guy who couldn’t be a better match for me if I’d made him myself.
I have time to reflect and to be thankful.
I’m remembering Xmas from my childhood and what a wonderful, warm, people-filled season it was.
Today, I want to share two, food-related memories.
First, homemade molasses taffy.
This is the second season without Grammie Joyce. My mom’s mom. My mom is still walking around looking lost without her mom. Grammie J was a hardworking protestant if there ever was one, and she loved this. All of it.
She went to church a million extra times, decorated with at least a half dozen crêches, and had a beautiful, real tree every year. She put those big-bulbed lights on it and a whole mess of wonderful, glass ornaments from the 60s.
She died in August 2010, so last season was too soon to reflect without the jadedness of grief glasses.
At Xmas, she’d have all her kids and their spouses and my cousins over to make taffy.
She’d boil the molasses (King Syrup), sugar, salt, and water to softball, which she tested without a thermometer in a tiny aluminum pie plate filled with a quarter inch of cold water, and would pour the goop into greased, larger aluminum pie plates and they’d rest outside till it was cool enough to handle.
We’d get our hands all buttered up, and we’d all–even my dad and uncles–pull taffy. The kids would get fed up before long, and we’d hand our greasy taffies off to the men who’d keep pulling till the stuff was white-tan while the women did dishes and cleaned. Yes, gender stereotypes are alive and well in my extended family.
We’d all take some home, and it was delicious.
But what I remember more than the taffy is the way we all wore sweaters–it was the 80s and early 90s, so the sweaters were awful–and how everyone participated. The adults would talk about their lives while the cousins bonded over toys and Atari, later 16-bit Nintendo, and ran around outside regardless of the chill. Everybody was happy and the parents didn’t get angry or impatient, and they were teatotallers!
Later, there would be homemade ice cream.
It might have been hours later or days, but the men would go outside and babysit this thing:
They’d dump rock salt & ice they made in milk cartons into that bucket, and listen to it whir, and test it, and shoot the old torro-poo-poo.
It occurs to me that I know nothing about the men in my family, just that they exist. But if they have inner lives, I imagine they came out over the ice cream machine.
Before Poppy died (when I was 8), he’d go, too.
Then the ice cream–usually two flavors, icy vanilla and very, very light chocolate made with Hershey’s syrup (what else? We were in PA, after all, 20 minutes or so from Hershey)–would roll into Grammie Joyce’s too-warm kitchen and we’d all have little, red bowlsful with pretzel sticks or Kay & Ray or Middleswarth‘s potato chips.
Kay & Rays were, at that time, made about 10 minutes from where I lived with real pig lard, and Middleswarth’s is another PA brand.
So for all the hating on this commercially insane season of pure waste since I became a mom, I’m finding that this year, it’s kind of nice. I’ll be in my own home for Xmas eve and morning for the first time as an adult, and–as much as I hate to admit it–I’m having a good time so far.
I have no spare money, so I’m making all my gifts, and snuggling on the couch between bursts of decorating, crocheting, and Child corralling is, well, lovely.
So is planning how I’ll personalize my gifts, how I’ll ship them, and thinking about making the perfectly sized boxes for them.
Maybe next year I won’t dread this all starting in July, and we’ll make more traditions and memories and Child, Fella, and I will become more of a family.
Maybe I’ll resurrect the taffy tradition this year. That would be swell, wouldn’t it?