“Have you been stressed?” my chiropractor asks me. I’m getting a full exam instead of just a regular adjustment. It’s a super exciting way to ring in 2020. She informs me that I’m tight from the base of skull down to the curve of my ass cheeks.
I pause to consider if I’ve been stressed, somehow forgetting that I just recently escaped the abomination that is the Holiday Season.
“Well, I fucking hate December and everything that comes with it,” I give as an answer.
It seems my back and neck are still clinging to the after effects of the holidays. My muscles are suffering from a Christmas hangover. I was wondering where I was hiding that anxiety, glad to have found it.
The fact that I was born in December doesn’t seem to save the month from my yearly aversion. I have also grown to detest the yearly reminder of my march towards oblivion.
My chiropractor briefly agrees with me regarding the awfulness of the holidays. This comes as a relief. Often when the secret of my grinchiness gets out, people pry. People seem to expect me to present a burden of proof to justify my hatred of the holidays.
The thing is, I don’t hate your holidays. I hate MY holidays.
I’m a fairly open person. Ok, if I’m being an honest, I’m a recovering over-sharer. Boundaries and personal space were hard lessons I eventually learned in my mid to late twenties.
I learned these lessons partly because I married a very private person and I respect my husband enough not share on his behalf.
Also because in the last 8 years I’ve morphed into a woman whose mom is slowly dying from a wretched disease AND who suffers from infertility and the resulting childlessness. It’s a heavy combo and it doesn’t always make for the greatest small talk. Therefore, I avoid talking about these things with new people. Or I introduce these gems of my life by making jokes about them. I’ve found out, not everyone appreciates dark humor.
If I let my holiday hatred spew out, people are certain to press me for more information. I’m sure it blows many a mind that a vocal Christian and church goer like myself does not want to get all tinseled up to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Listen, I love Jesus, and I’m grateful for Him every day. I just hate His birthday. I mean, I hate mine too.
This year there has been an interesting change. My mom died in February. Therefore when people are trying to figure out my reason for the bahhumbugs they get this really pitiful look on their face and say something like, “Ohhh, the first year without a loved one is really hard.”
To which I tend to blurt out, “But she hasn’t actually been a part of our holiday festivities for like, 8 years. She’s been in a nursing home and hasn’t spoken. So, it’s not the first year without her.” Yea, I say that- obviously I enjoy adding an extra dose of awkward to the situation.
This exchange tends to make people pretty uncomfortable which tends to work in my favor. Everyone wants to tell me what grieving my mom is supposed to look like and that’s a great distraction so I don’t have to ruin their Christmas joy and get into the real reasons I hate the holidays.
Truthfully, at first it really was about my mom. Those first few years post-diagnosis I created so many expectations for myself to attempt to fill the gaping hole that my mom’s deteriorating brain had left.
By the time the 23rd of 24th of December rolled around I was ball of nerves yelling at those I loved or crying about pie crust or monster cookies. I had to let go of that stuff and allow new traditions and new expectations (or no expectations) replace the years of healthy mom holidays.
After she moved into a nursing home I started wishing December had a fast forward button I could push and somehow safely land in January avoiding holiday-induced crying jags on the living room floor.
But still the worst of my grinchiness hadn’t set in yet.
The real killer of good tidings of comfort and joy is infertility.
Showing up to holiday gatherings with pie and prime rib instead of youngsters makes me want to find a place in the world to hide from all the tinsel and twinkly lights. Watching my nieces and nephews experience Christmas magic as they grow each year, is truly a privilege I revel in — but it also reminds me of the many years we’ve been waiting to put extra presents under our own tree.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to just not put up a tree.
We don’t need the extra pangs of a tree with no gifts under it while also trying to avoid Hallmark movies and questions about if we’re “ready for Christmas”.
I try not to think about how I think things should have worked out. If conception and full term pregnancies were easy we’d probably have a 6 year old, a 4 year old, and definitely a 2 year old to buy gifts for.
I’d probably also know what the hell an LOL doll is.
When I bake pies I can’t help but imagine baking extra crust with sugar and cinnamon for my kiddos, just like my mom did for me.
I can’t help but long for the exasperation of decorating cookies with multiple sets of tiny hands, instead of being exasperated by the heaviness of being childless over the Holidays.
Every little bit of holiday cheer is a challenge not to look at the past year through the lens of “what if?”
If I’m honest it’s the combination of losses that turned me into the grinchiest grinch.
Struggling to become a mom and losing my mom are 2 different strands of grief, but they are a tangled mess, tying themselves onto one another. If I pull long enough on one strand I will always come to the messy intersection of the other. I’ve never tried to untangle the mess, but I’ve often tried to ignore it, or suppress it.
Which is where my desire for that fast forward button comes from. I want to skip the holidays and skip the crying. But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t avoid an entire month, and December is never without tears.
There is a unique tension in living life after or during loss that not everyone understands or appreciates. You can move forward with joy and expectation, all the while carrying the pain and loss with you.
You can ache for something long hoped for, and yet be content with the current state of your life.
You can live with the tension of seemingly opposing realities.
As humans, our lives are not linear, nor are they one dimensional and uncomplicated. If you ever look at someone’s life and see an absence of problems, you’re not looking close enough.
And maybe that’s the real reason I hate the holidays. No one is looking close enough.
It is a season where as a culture, we want people to look at our lives. But not so close they can see the mess and pain.
We urge each other to post perfect pictures of Christmas trees and color coordinated décor.
We’re expected to only look at those around the table with gratitude and excitement and ignore those who are very much missing.
We pretend that we can wrap our lives in festive coverings and only live in the magical twinkling lights of the season and ignore the dimness that also comes with the night.
My brain and my soul are like one of those balls of lights that are tangled up. Each part of the strand is touching the other. Some lights are shining bright and bring giddy expectation, but even these lights illuminate the bulbs that have dimmed or gone out and remind me of the things that are missing or broken.
I’m ok with living in the in between. I’m ok with living a life full of And. Grief and Hope. Longing and Contentedness. Healing and Pain.
The holidays seem to want to dismiss the Ands. But I want to embrace them.
I guess that makes me a grinch.
What about you? Are you sad the holidays are over? Or are you like me, a holiday hater, relieved to finally find yourself comfortably in January?