I’ve decided to act like a grownup for Christmas this year. I should have done this long before age 39, but you must understand that I didn’t realize I’ve been acting like a child until some time in the mid morning of today.
When you’re a kid, your parents make holidays- from scratch out of love, and special parent magic. When you leave the house, you transition through stages: holidays with friend’s families, holidays with just friends, one horrible New Years Eve spent alone, several happily solitary Thanksgivings. And you enjoy the freedom, thinking that one year, not long from now, you will begin your own family; you will start your own traditions. You will tap into the parent magic for yourself and start building holidays as a gift to your own children. Your heart will be made of chocolate and your spouse will know just where (and how) to hang the stockings.
That is, unless you remain (mostly) single and (mostly) childless. If this happens, you will one day get an email from your boss asking you to work more in December, you may briefly compare yourself to Lucy Eleanor Moderatz from While You Were Sleeping, and then start sobbing in the middle of some house you are cleaning in Bellevue… because you are really fucking alone in the world, and your boss has no idea he’s asking you to have less days off so you can clean more houses of people with happy lives (or at least flawless decorations and sparkling family portraits) and then go home to your drafty, patchwork motorhome alone at night and consider the mold on your window panes, and the upside of tequila.
It’s not that you don’t have friends! You have so many good friends. Those friends have families, children, spouses, who all love you. They would love to have you over for the holiday because everyone loves you, and your dark sense of humor. People really love you, and this really counts for something, but for some reason you haven’t gotten over the fact that your mom moved to Idaho in 2002, and took Christmas with her. You haven’t been given the magical keys to your own adulthood, and so even though everyone thinks you’re some joyously free grownup, who can go wherever you want, who doesn’t have to scrape up money for American Girl dolls for Rebecca, and cheaply made hand held gaming systems for little Matthew. You can just watch tv, or eat marshmallows for dinner if you want on any given night, and still have a snuggly cat to come home to (actually, they would be right about the general joy of such freedoms, but these freedoms turn into bullies who throw rocks at you when Christmas comes to town).
Because who are you, all alone at Christmas time? Hanging off the edge of other people’s family photos (except you’re not in any family photos on Christmas cards because though everyone loves you, no one claims you)? Who are you? You are the aging child, standing in a long tunnel with the ghosts of Christmas future all wagging their arthritic freckled fingers at you. Those ghosts remember well the unbearably kind 92 year old lady you met in Colorado who had 5 adult children, but still managed to spend Christmas alone. And you, too will die alone just after making some obscure joke to the nursing home orderly who doesn’t get the joke, but thinks your very dear, and tries not to think much about you because you remind her of her own mortality.
Are you still reading? I indulge this horribly graphic self pity in order to purge it wholly. This morning while cleaning someone’s hard wood floor in Wallingford, I suddenly realized that I don’t have to wait for magical adulthood to seize me. I do have to get over what is not, and not only accept what is, but figure out how to love it, and make it lovable. If no one is going to claim me, I am going to claim myself, and I’m going to make this family of one responsible for showing love to others, and receiving the real love that is already there.
Even at Christmas!
Most of the year, I am already (mostly) doing this, but somehow Christmas has been trapped in that stage of grief which isn’t ready to stop feeling miserable.
But I think I may be ready now. So- Merry Christmas, beloved. May you have the grace to let go of what is not, and to embrace, and enjoy what is.