I have a habit of trying to busy my way past stress. If the to-dos are heafty enough, surely there will not be any time for feeling sadness, or so I like to tell myself. A holiday is a perfect situation for engaging this strategy.
This year, our family felt like one of those broken-families for the first time in 14 years since my divorce. We have managed to live in such a way that relative peace surrounds our family and most life-events are shared. That is not the case this year. We have been adjusting to a new rythm with clear division of space and time between my ex and myself. It is not comfortable. It is painful. It is stressful. To complicate an already tender time, the plans, traditions, expectations of a holiday season ramp everything up and invite the worst kind of entitlement. My Christmas should be fantastic, of course. My traditions should be upheld at all cost. My gifts will be the best. My events will be the most fun. My, my, my….
I am primed to engage my strategy to mitigate all of the risks of feeling any negative emotions. Lists are written. Guests are invited. Decorations are hung. Gifts are made/bought. Meals are planned. Good-deeds are scheduled. Every nook and cranny that could house any sadness is filled with something to do or someone to do something for or somewhere to be. It serves me so very well….until it doesn’t.
Our kids met us at Macy’s for our anual tradition of taking a picture with Santa. They came with the feelings that they carried from leaving their father on Christmas Eve. Heavy stuff. All of us tried to move through this event as if it was the same as it had been for the past 14 years. You park, walk through women’s shoes, take the elevator to the 8th floor, walk through the Santaland Display, snag a spot in line to be hearded into the velvet-draped room where we fight about which kid sits on Santa’s knee, then out to select this year’s ornament and home again home again, jiggety jog. Done.
We get home, have a snack, get back into the car, go to Christmas Eve service, come home, take down all of the Advent decorations, put up the Christmas decor, hang the stockings….that is when it happened…that is when we crashed into the wall of this-year-is-not-like-the-other-years-and-that-really-sucks. If memory serves, 5 of the 7 of us cried (child #1 is overseas so she missed out on being one of the criers). We each had our own take on why we were sad and our own complaints, dissapointments, resentments, and feelings of entitlement that bubbled out of us and at one another in angry tones and through stinging tears. I felt all the sads from what our family was going through on top of the dissapointment that my to-do lists had not innoculated myself, nor my kids, nor my husband from ugly-cries on Christmas Eve when everything is supposed to be perfect!
The funny thing about this sort of moment is how much better we all feel after having it. Our bodies are not being fooled by the distractions that we dangle in front of them. The tears need to happen. The feelings need to be acknowleded. That phrase ‘to have a good cry’ is just so, so true.
Apologies were said for the ugly words that bubbled up during our collective-melt-downs. Dinner was eaten at about 1:30 am and then we began our sweet, lovely, quiet, unplanned, unmanaged, gift-exchange with laughter and that peace that we all longed for. It was perfect.
None of our holidays will ever feel quite the same again…. Part of that is because of the new dynamics. Part of that is because really none of them ever were the same…there is always something that is different. Last year, children 1 and 2 were in Spain and we were in New Orleans…that was different. Every year life provides the grace of change and growth that moves us into newness, deviation from norms, adustments, natural ends and beginnings. That is the norm. That always has been the norm. That will always be the norm.
I am so thankful for the big-cry-of-Christmas-Eve-2016.