A Hallmark Holiday; A Cynical Look at December

Last Saturday night, my family sat down and watched videos from our past holidays. It was so sweet to watch the expressions on my children’s faces as they giggled at the film from Christmas morning 2005. There were American Girl Dolls, Care Bears, stationery sets and ice skates. I have to admit that I got pretty misty-eyed looking at that screen and hearing little voices chirping “Santa IS real”.

Fast forward to 2013. The sweet angelic voices have turned into shrill yapping noisy debates about who stole who’s iPhone charger. This is not our greatest Norman Rockwell moment.

Even so, I love the holiday season. We celebrate everything from Hanukkah to Kwanza. I believe our children should be exposed to all cultures in an effort to help them understand, appreciate and respect all people. In our home, you will find several homemade menorahs, five Christmas trees, African-American art and Kwanza lights as well as a butt-load of Department 56 villages. It’s a freaking winter wonderland of diversity up in here. Even though it sounds magical, it is in no way a Hallmark Holiday Season.

Like yours, this is a dysfunctional family. We run the gamut from “can’t wait to see you” to “don’t even invite them unless you plan on posting some bail”. I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as described on a Hallmark Card, so you can relax now. I will also add a sigh of relief since everyone I know would want to straight up murder that fake Hallmark family.

What is it about this season that makes rational people turn in to maniacs? I am so irritated when I see folks sleeping in tents in front of Best Buy and Kmart. There is absolutely nothing in there that requires that kind of senseless time commitment (however, I did see an advertisement for a 50” TV at Wal-Mart for $288, but I digress). Last year, I had a friend phone me from Toys R Us. She was standing in line for a toy but didn’t know what the toy was. It was just a line full of excited people, so she got in it. This, mind you, is an educated woman.
It’s re-goddamn-diculous. You can’t make it to a PTO meeting, but you are out at 1am, playing a sinister game of parking lot musical chairs, to get a deal on more stuff you probably don’t need. The holiday hypocrisy knows no bounds (except for that 50” TV deal. Wait. It’s probably not HD, so never mind).

The holiday season also has this creepy penchant for attempting to bring families together who don’t speak to each other 364 days of the year. I am here to tell you that it is perfectly acceptable for you to excuse yourself from this gathering. The Thanksgiving anxiety of either cooking for a small army or sitting in the home of a virtual stranger for 6 hours is more than any of us should have to bear. I can’t think of a worse punishment (for yourself or for others that will have to endure your presence) than to be thrust into an uncomfortable intimate situation such as a holiday dinner.
Here’s my advice to you. If you don’t see these people during the rest of the year because you don’t have anything in common besides DNA, Thanksgiving is not the time to play catch up. Try spending some time when the stakes aren’t so high. Really, you don’t want your annual get together to be remembered by your hockey puck rolls and dry-as-dirt stuffing. This is most certainly accompanied by monotonous conversation about the weather and your surprise at how the kids have grown since you last saw them. Take a look over at the Kid’s Table. They aren’t happy with you either.

If you do have to sit at the awkward table and manage to expand the conversation, please try to stay away from religion and politics, unless you are like me and prefer to liven up dinner by bringing up these wonderful topics. I also enjoy ranking on my in-laws’ signature Buddig Beef cheese pimento ball thing that everyone raves over. I hate it, and I like making choking noises when anyone takes a cracker full. I also like to announce that I have bit down on an egg-shell in my deviled egg and perhaps cracked a tooth.

Personally, I would much rather have Thanksgiving with the people who mean the most to me. I like to actually look around the table and be thankful for those I see. I will save the days in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for quick visits to extended family and friends. I like to call these visits the “Holiday Hit and Run”. You’re in, you’re out and it’s virtually painless.

Many people will tell you that life is short, but I believe that life is long. Try watching the clock this Thanksgiving at your third Cousin Betty’s house and tell me if that is not the truth.

I know you will not take my advice, and neither will I. Many of you will be picking through bins of junk at Wal-Mart like seagulls at an unattended beach picnic, while others suffer through dry turkey, cheap wine and bad conversation. I will, once again, rail on the freaky chipped beef appetizer while pretending to be astounded that children do get bigger in a year’s time.

Jesus Christ, what a season…

The Earl of Sandwich

Two and one half years ago, my mother passed away after a brief illness. It was devastating for my father and me. I don’t think either of us ever thought we would be forced to get along without her. She was our rock, the go-to person for everyone, related or not. She passed away in NY and was laid to rest at Saratoga National Cemetery. Incidentally, she is directly across the road from Uncle Dick and Aunt Roberta (you remember her from the mini-van story) and two rows behind my college friends’ dad. I like to think there is comfort in having them so close.

This leaves me and dad. Dad and me. It’s foreign sounding and not a statement either of us are quite used to saying. Mom taught me to be independent. Him, not so much. We have been thrust into a relationship neither of us were prepared to begin. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but most of the time, he and I were buffered by mom. He has attended every birthday, orchestra, symphonic band, marching band, show choir, graduation, marriage (haha, shut up) and birth of my children, but sat quietly and never overly cheered for me or went out of his way to compliment my performance. Apparently, that was Mom’s job. Now that we are together, we are getting to know one another and it’s not always pretty.

You see, there are a couple of ways to view your parents in this stage of life. You can either have Convenience Parents or Everyday Parents. Convenience Parents are parents you have on holidays and when it’s convenient for you to call or visit. You care, but your life is busy and you make time when you can. After all, they can take care of themselves or someone else already has the honor. Perhaps they get on your nerves as well. Everyday Parents are the parents you care for daily. These are the parents that you are on a first name basis with their physicians, know their medications, speak to at least once a day and manage to fit all this into your own schedule, even when it doesn’t fit. I have an Everyday Parent.

I consider myself in what I affectionately call “The Earl Sandwich”. On one side, I have my beautiful 8-year old autistic son, Earl, who requires special attention. On the other, I have 92-year old Patriarch dad, Earl, who also requires special attention (mostly because he’s stubborn). I also have some lovely condiments in the form of 2 daughters, a husband and 2 doggies. Of course, I am the meat of this sandwich (I prefer to be a lean corned beef). The Earl Sandwich is held together by the meat, even when the meat is expired, tired or hasn’t showered.

This Family Sandwich has landed in Indiana for the winter. I have managed to convince the old piece of bread to visit with us for the winter months. Notice I said “visit” and not “live”. According to him, “live” would be bad. Call me crazy, but my stress level elevates to F4 when he is on the 500 acre farm alone. The Sheriff’s department has been very patient with my “wellness checks” when he doesn’t answer the phone for more than 8 hours and my extended family and closest neighbors have been more than cooperative when asked to swing by just to check in. Let’s face it; Everyday Parents are much like children. As much as we don’t want to admit that our roles have switched, they have.

While sitting in the audience at one of my daughter’s performances, I looked around at the sea other smiling parents. I wondered how many of these seemingly stress-free people were also Elder- Proofing their homes. You know, elevated toilet seats, handle grips in the walk in shower, night lights that make your hallway to the bathroom resemble an airport landing strip, electric blankets on top of regular blankets, a pill basket that is kept on top of the fridge and the thermostat set at a toasty 75 degrees (which is working wonders for my hot flashes). Do these caregivers of Everyday Parents know that their kind walk among them in silence? I wonder. So, I decided to ask.
It turns out that many of my friends are having or have had similar stories and are more than happy to share. More important, their elders need to speak about it as well. Today, one veteran at my dad’s VA meeting told me that his grandkids didn’t like to speak to him because they have to repeat everything twice. Well, he’s just as frustrated as they are. His point of view about aging and increasing dependency on others was quite eye-opening. I wonder if children of Everyday Parents take that into consideration.

I joke around a lot about my dad. Yes, I call him Captain Cataract and kid him about the war by doing my stand up routine in my best Hitler voice, “Zat pesky Earl Morrow. Ve vill catch him if it is ze last zing ve do”. However, this family sandwich keeps in mind that every part of the sandwich has feelings that need to be acknowledged and respected.
So, Happy Holidays to all my readers who have Everyday Parents. I know you’re tired and I know it’s tough, but this isn’t a job for the meek. Be proud of yourselves and think maybe, just maybe, your kids are watching and won’t toss you into an old folks’ home somewhere down by the river.