Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Not Ready for Christmas

As a child, I loved Christmas. For most American kids, it's the centerpiece of the year. But then kids see the year as a procession of big events-Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Fourth of July. There's a certain sweetness to having your world defined by celebrations.

When I was a child, I helped decorate. I tested light strings for loose bulbs, hung the ornaments and decorated the tree strand by strand with tinsel. Each present was carefully guarded and wrapped with elaborate bows and ribbons. The tree was a gaudy, homely riot of color reinforcing the happy chaos of the holiday. I remember endless trays of homemade cookies and candies shared on plates with neighbors and friends. I remember a house filled with family, chattering, telling jokes, sharing food. I remember happy. I know what it feels like. Which is why I know what is missing now.

Even as a young wife and mother, the joy was still there. I carefully spent money on things that would make my husband and children happy. We made gingerbread houses, decorated cookies, made angels with glitter and glue. I recall the "Bike Christmas" where all three kids got bikes. Not fancy bikes, not bikes with pedigrees and special accoutrement, but bikes with bells and streamers. Bikes meant for going, not for showing. I remember hiding toys in the closet. There were countless Christmas Eves spent assembling toys or wrapping gifts as "White Christmas" played in the background. There were friends and eggnog, cookies and laughter. There was still joy. I know what joy feels like, so I know what is missing now.

Now my children are young adults, with their own homes. They work as much as they can because even with a college degree there are no jobs that pay much. My son and daughter and her boyfriend actually share a house because they cannot make rent on their own. I despair that they are so desperate to survive. I don't remember feeling so desperate when I was their ages. I don't understand how things could go so wrong. I wish I could comfort them, make the path easier, because I don't remember it being so hard.

We did the right things. We paid our bills, paid our taxes. We saved for college for our kids, although when the time came they still had to work nearly full time to pay their way. We went to church, although the rules seem to be changing to make church more of a political arm than a spiritual release. We did what we were supposed to do, yet it seems that we are the ones who are being expected to surrender the most. In the past seven years it appears we are in a downward spiral. Perhaps part of it has to do with my Dad dying of a massive coronary on Christmas Day 2002. Perhaps it has to do with the increased responsibility that has been pushed on me by necessity. Perhaps it is because I am the main breadwinner and that my time is diminished and that I seem to be slowing disappearing. I am simply not the person I used to be. I look at old pictures and wonder where she's gone.

I go through the motions. I put up the tree. I put lights outside. I have even baked some cookies. But I am not ready. There's a dull aching emptiness inside. There's no hope, no joy, no happiness. I put on a mask of perky attitude hoping nobody will look too closely. I pick an angel from the Salvation Army tree at the mall, something I wish more people would do. I contribute food to the food bank, clothes to the community group and pet food to the local shelter. But it seems that in my quest to be Lady Bountiful, I am left behind. I know what Christmas feels like so I know what is missing. Please, how do I find my way back. I want to go home.

I am not ready for Christmas.

No comments: