As is true if most days, Christmas 2019 was full of highs and lows. We started the day gathered around the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts. Our son is another year older, he no longer talks of Santa, but he’s still excited by the morning. Not so excited that he’s up at 5:00, but excited enough to have some really great reactions to his gifts. I took great pleasure watching him open his gifts, taking note of which ones were most exciting. There were some surprises in there, for me, not for him. He was as excited about the new scooter as he was about his headphones, but the biggest reaction was to the tickets to see The Beach Boys in April!
After gifts, I went to make scones for breakfast not to find that we had no butter. This would be a problem since I was also on deck for some pies for desert at the families. My brain is still stuck in a small town in the 80s and so I worked myself up into a small fright about how I would be able to get butter for the cooking. Now, we live one of the most densely populated areas on the East coast and it’s 2019, so the fact was that even though it was Christmas Day, the grocery store was, in fact, open. But I was stressing about it, assuming that I might only be able to find butter at a convenience store if I was lucky. Lizard brain in action there.
At the checkout I felt myself getting emotional. No one should have to work on Christmas Day and here I was being part of the problem. I felt guilty that
I needed to buy butter on Christmas. I felt guilty that the workers at the store had to be there because I couldn’t get my shit together and buy butter beforehand. I thanked the woman at the register for being there. “Of course,” she said. And I felt more guilt.
While I was preparing the food for the day, Mrs. TKD was preparing gifts for the extended family despite the fact that we’d agreed to only give gifts to my nieces and nephew. She had made small gift bags with small items that had Mr. Grey’s artwork on them. This was generous and kind but as we were leaving I realized that this probably meant that I didn’t have gifts for the two newest members of the family, my cousin’s kids. I felt guilt again, and I lost my temper in the car.
I stopped to get gift cards, a suitable remedy for the situation by any standard, but I was angry and I drove up the road in a huff. Mrs. TKD and Mr. Grey tried to get me to smile and relax in the car but I was being obstinate. I finally cracked and shed my asshole skin after Mrs. TKD traced the outline of a smile on my face asking, “are you going to be angry all day?”
I was thinking about drinking the whole way up the road. The idea of a glass of bourbon to ease my internal pain was so very attractive. I wanted to drink — a feeling that doesn’t come very often anymore, but was there nonetheless. And I felt more guilt and shame. I thought about all the people that I’d be letting down if I took a drink. I thought about how my family would react if I took a drink on Christmas Day — how I’d ruin the day for everyone. And I resolved that I would stay sober again, just for the day. It is amazing how “just for today” works in times like this.
When we got to the family’s house I admitted to Mrs. TKD that I was having a hard time as we unpacked the car. I had tears in my eyes, but she couldn’t see them behind the sunglasses. I admitted that I didn’t know why, but I was just having a hard time.
Only today can I really identify what was bothering me. It was the holidays. All the expectation. All the pressure. All the anticipation. All the overt consumerism. It’s all a trap. All geared to get us to buy more shit that we don’t need. And it’s all ultimately a let down.
Yes, there is magic in the holidays for the little ones, and I enjoy watching that. But as I’ve gotten older, there is less and less magic in them for me.
The holidays are at odds with my values and more importantly they expose how I am not living in accordance with my supposed values. They expose a certain failure on my part, a certain dishonesty and I’m left with that sense of guilt.
I’ve long struggled with a sense of guilt about my success and privilege in life. I’ve been wildly successful in my career as well as extraordinarily lucky. I’ve written before about how this manifests in a certain imposter syndrome for me. I come from a family of largely working class people and yet I live a life of comfort and even luxury. There are times when I am fearful of losing what I have. There are times when I worry that my son won’t have the success that I’ve had. The statistic that I’m in the first generation in the US that knows that the next generation is unlikely to have the same standard of living as I do haunts me.
These are heavy thoughts for a post about Christmas Day.
To be fair, the day improved after I made a conscious choice to let go of my fear and accept that things would be how they would be. We had a nice time with the family. Mom knocked herself out with a fabulous dinner. We had ham and brisket with roasted onions, potatoes au gratin, green beans, brussels spouts, and roasted carrots — a feast! And then there were pies, and fudge, and ice cream. Good conversation and happy children. I enjoyed watching my cousin’s son run around the house with his stuffed dinosaur, roaring at us.
My uncle gave us a Buddhist prayer bowl, with the instructions to write down our prayers on small pieces of paper and place them in the bowl near a window. When the sun hits the prayers they are sent out to the universe. I love this image, and I’m learning that prayers don’t need to be directed to a deity. I couldn’t have said that four years ago.
We got home around 7:00 and I chilled out with the Dude for a bit before bed. Once again, he told me how he’d had a great Christmas and I knew it wasn’t all about the gifts. I know that part of what makes these days special for him is that I am predictable and dependable — and that’s because I’m sober.
Perhaps I am too hard on myself with all the guilt I carry around. That guilt is heavy. I am going to look for a place to set it down.