Monday, December 6, 2010

Losing it in Holy Places

I want to enjoy the holidays, I really do, but despite my best efforts to avoid commercialism, take extra Vitamin D (there is no light in Maine this time of year) and focus on the spiritual, I still manage to wind up being a completely stressed-out-woman-of-a-certain-age. Which is not attractive.

I know serene women (two) and I want to be one of them. They always greet me with these calm, centered smiles, usually as I’m blasting through the grocery store in a caffeine-fueled frenzy. They seem to float above the fray, yet accomplish all the important things. Their children adore them … I once bumped into the son of a Serene Woman, out buying a single red rose for his mother because he had just driven home from college and wanted to surprise her (take note, Dude) … and their husbands worship at their altars. Thank you, thank you! their actions imply, for being kind and steady and serene!

This is so not me, especially this time of year. And I know it’s my own fault.

Fact: I don’t keep it simple. For example, I string real cranberries and popcorn to decorate the tree every year. Yup. A couple dozen yards worth. It’s our Annual Torture Tradition, and leads to family conflict. “Inept” would be a good word to describe the spouse’s skills with a needle and thread, and the obscenities which fly as he tries to spear popcorn without crumbling it into bits are … not in keeping with the spirit of the season. The Dude has notoriously bad fine motor skills, so he’s only good for a couple feet of cranberries. Luckily, the daughter is a stringing machine, so she helps me get it done.

She’s also a cookie-baking machine, which is good because I bake way too many cookies. We like to give cookies as gifts, and one of my favorite things to do each season is have a pack of women over for wine, high-fat snacks, and platters of cookies, but for some reason I’ve got 10 recipes I love and absolutely have to make every one of them. One year I simply couldn’t face the labor-intensive spritz Christmas wreath cookie recipe I got from Martha Stewart Living (each wreath has its own “ribbon” sliced from candied cherries) and when I put out the nine varieties I’d made the family sniffed, “Where are the wreaths?” I should have hung up my spurs as Santa’s Little Baker right then and there, but instead I anguished, “I know! I know! Something’s missing!”

Here’s my theme melody for Christmas. Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” What you deserve, what you deserve, you get what you deserve …

One year, things got particularly bad. And it wasn’t even Christmas. It was pre-Christmas, the run up to the season and the holiday shopping ads were already airing on television: late October. Halloween, my daughter’s birthday, and All Saint’s Day at our church all coincided that year to create a perfect storm.

My young children each required three costume changes that weekend. They needed Halloween costumes, then they needed pirate’s costumes (for a Halloween event at the Maine Maritime Museum; don’t ask …) then they needed Saint Suits. For All Saint’s Day, each child was to choose a saint and dress like him/her for mass. Our son (yet to become The Dude) chose to be St. Anthony, so I found myself madly stitching together a burlap tunic for him.

When I dropped him off early at church we saw all the other kids arriving in their saint outfits, which looked a lot like hasty riffs on the previous evening’s Halloween costumes. There were a few “Marys” with headdresses and princess gowns. Some “Josephs” in black Ninja suits wielding Sears Craftsmen hammers (you will recall that Joseph was a carpenter) and then … two boys strutting in carrying light sabers. My son’s face fell; my blood pressure rose. An intervention was looming, and I didn’t have time for an intervention because we were hosting a birthday party after mass.

“Luke Skywalker was not a saint,” I remarked. He hung his head.

“I look like a dork,” he said. I kept walking quickly into the building, leading him by the hand.

“You look like a third century hermit,” I replied. “Trust me; St. Anthony wore burlap.” He shook his head.

“I want to go home,” he said. We were in the building at this point. I needed to drop him off and race home to accomplish a few more things before racing back to actually attend the service.

“You have to stay here. You have to be St. Anthony. By the way, steer clear of Tom Riley over there. I don’t like what he’s doing with that hammer ….” He shook his head again and started walking back toward the parking lot.

“My outfit is dumb,” he mumbled. I held him by the shoulders. I bent down and spoke into his face. In retrospect I realize I should’ve just driven him home and abandoned this crazy scene, but instead, I snapped.

“Son,” I said, “Shut the F *** up.” His eyes widened.

Yes, reader, I said it. The “F” word, right there in the narthex of the Catholic Church. Oh, so far from serenity at that moment, I lost it in a holy place with my cute boy. I didn’t raise my voice, but the word, dropped in that moment, made it perfectly clear to Little St. Anthony that he needed to buck up and join the crew in the all-purpose room or his mother would spontaneously combust.

I didn’t want to be that woman, but, there it was. Crazed, over-the-top madness, trying to do the right thing but getting it all so wrong. Granted, we laugh about it now, and it all turned out fine at the time (the kids were pretty cute, filing into church singing “When the Saints Go Marching In”) but as I gear up for yet another happy holiday season, that weekend and that moment remain a cautionary tale.

Serenity, where art thou? Not, I suspect, within the pages of Martha Stewart Living. Nor at the bottom of three bags of cranberries. But I’m looking for you, so I suppose that’s a start … ?

1 comment:

  1. This is the first year we aren’t decorating. Instead of hosting Xmas as usual, we are going to visit family in NYC. I miss the tree but not the hassle. My bigger regret is missing your cookie party. It is worth your effort. I bet even the Serene woman has her less savory moments. Hang in there with the mistletoe.