Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Roast Duck

I don't know if it's just the holidays, or Covid itself that has got people acting out lately, but frankly, while I think we could all do with a little less grilling, roasting, and searing right now, there are always going to be people who like to watch, if not the entire world, at least the Christmas Dinner burn.  Let this be your friendly reminder that you don't owe your time, energy, or unpaid emotional labor to anyone devoted to wreaking holly-jolly-havoc this year.  So, with that in mind, if someone's riding your beak, here are a few highlights from my own Christmases past to let you know you're not alone!

My high school boyfriend's mother and sister thought "Christmas Cheer" just magically appeared once the stringed lights were plugged in.  They would build up the holidays, in their own minds, to such an incredible degree that it was impossible to achieve The Perfect Christmas™ in the first place, but then would put no actual effort into making the time the family spent together special.  Sure, the stockings were hung by the fire with care, but the snide sniping, and crabby antics never ceased until they'd essentially alienate themselves from the rest of the family and whichever friends dared to come by throughout the season.  Each year as the season progressed, and their dance-cards dried up, and people wanted to spend less and less time with them (mainly because everyone was too busy digging eggshells out of their own feet) it would give them the excuse they needed to scoff at any of the good things that somehow still managed to occur, or deride the happiness anyone else experienced or made come to life in spite of their sabotage.  Any attempt to make the holidays enjoyable was instantly, and meticulously thwarted.  They'd decided Christmas had been ruined, and were going to make sure it stayed that way.  There was no limit to the amount of effort a person could put forth trying to salvage the season that would ever come close to being enough to reach the Made-for-TV, Hallmark-esque movie expectations that danced like visions of sugar plums through their imaginations.  Can you imagine being a little kid in that environment, and what the build-up of stress must have been like?  I'd think you'd learn real quick not to get excited, or be happy about anything (ever) because the rug was always only moments away from being snatched out from under you ... Without fail.  The real Christmas Miracle is how anyone made it out of that house even remotely emotionally intact!

The first time I personally ruined Christmas for them was when I mistakenly invited my fella to my Step-Mother's Christmas Eve party.  

The one thing that really worked out during my parents' divorce was that we'd always been a Christmas morning bunch, while her family had always done things together the night before, so that was a pretty seamless transition for me that I was always thankful for until it came down to the year of the dueling Christmas Eves ... You see, my guy was the first born, which meant he was the first to be invited away from home on a major holiday.  I'm the youngest of five, so things were a little different for me ... If you're the runt of a litter too, then you know what I'm talking about!  Anyway, on the way home from my shindig I found out that their family had a pretty cute tradition of reading stories to each other under the Christmas tree, and because I'd invited my boyfriend to my family's party I had disrupted a years-long cycle (it was HIS turn to read, after all) the news of which, caused a rather intense emotional flare-up resulting in an eruption of tears from the other children - I guess if they were all trauma-bonded from always having their holidays wrecked, losing one of their own on a special night was a bigger deal than it would've been in other homes - and I was branded Public Enemy No. 1 who was tearing their family apart.  None of which was true, of course.  I was absolutely gutted to learn what had happened, I've never wanted any kid to feel terrible on any day, let alone a holiday that's special to them.  I couldn't understand why my invitation hadn't just been declined, the parents could've said "no" at any time without the slightest push-back from me, or they could've done a better job explaining everything to the littles, or I could've been told so both plans could have been accommodated; we could've left for the party later in the evening, or we could've left the party itself earlier to make it in time for Marley's Ghost to rattle some chains before bedtime.  It was such a simple fix, and let's be honest Santa's not the only one who knows how to be ALL the places in one night!  But that was never the point; I had walked right into an invisible trap - I hadn't yet been introduced to how they were always looking for new, and creative ways to be miserable.  I should've also learned from the timing of the revelation, and seen it for the warning sign that it was, shining brighter than Rudolph's Red Nose, and casting a pall over an otherwise lovely evening my dad's wife had ensured for all of her guests ... It wouldn't be the last time I'd leave a happy event just to wind up sad by the end of the driveway.  Vive le hindsight!

Let's see ... there was the sister who would throw her boyfriend out of the house every Christmas.  

Every.  Christmas.  

And not just the old sleep on a friend's couch kind of "throw out," like, go sign-a-new-lease-on-an-apartment kind of "throw out," until the year he called her bluff and told her he wasn't leaving.  At a certain point, a guy's gotta get tired of being put on the streets during the most wonderful time of the year.  Not to be deterred, she packed enormous black lawn debris bags with her own belongings, maneuvered them to the car like a disgruntled elf taking defective toys back to the sleigh, and disappeared for three months.

The year of the great Knitting Needle Debacle where a visit to my brother's house devolved into a screaming match over misplaced crafting supplies is always a gem.  Don't get too excited, Reader, I am not telling on myself!  I know I'm a knitter, and you might be connecting the dots here, but I assure you, I always know where my needles are.  When it was all said screamed and done, and the last RV was packed up, and headed down the highway I asked my brother why he bothered hosting people who were determined to have raging family fights every single holiday?  When he and his wife replied, "So the kids can have memories..." I burst out laughing before I knew what I was doing, or saying.  Memories of what?!  Indigestion, and bleeding ulcers???  

Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Merry Christmas, and a Hypertensive New Year!!!

My point is, not everyone or every family acts like this, and I think it's really easy to forget that when you're being manipulated, or someone is hurling abuse, and lashing out.  It's hard to navigate this time of year when you're expected to be around, and spend time with people who intentionally hurt others.  Granted, I'm not talking about lively, boisterous folks who get into passionate exchanges at family gatherings, or simply disagree about something, and I certainly don't believe when we gather together everyone needs to sit with their noses in a corner, and not make a peep to disturb the peace.  I'm always down for rockin' around the Christmas tree!  No.  This is about people who design a problem that then affords them the opportunity to throw the most amazing, blow out, end-of-year, pay-no-interest-'til-2035 tantrums that deprives others of joy.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that folks aren't allowed to experience the entire spectrum of emotions just because of a specific day on the calendar, or that we need to bottle them all up, paste on a fake smile, and white-knuckle through it.  Not at all.  You can have your Blue Christmas, or feel whatever you need to feel!  I'm just saying, don't be surprised when people are repelled if a person devises a scenario out of thin air so that they can ultimately behave as badly as they want to, and dump all over everyone else's memory-making.  No one is under any obligation to spend their time with anyone so cunning, and cruel.  

During this time of lock downs, shut downs, or social isolation (depending on where you are in the world) some people are lamenting the time lost with loved ones while others are just happy to finally have an excuse that gets them out of a trauma-packed, holiday hostage situation.  Not everyone has a yippee-ki-yay mother— (erm, you get the idea) attitude, and it's hard for them to get out of family commitments, so this year I'm raising a glass and toasting to you; all the people out there breathing a sigh of relief because you can just stay home this year.  This doesn't mean your boundaries aren't going to be tested, however!  Just because you can't be confronted in person, doesn't mean your inbox is magically immune to messy folks with an axe to grind, but having some distance between yourself and the Grinches in your life makes it a lot easier to say, "You know what?  This just doesn't work for me anymore," and move on.  And for all of the people out there who are trapped in close quarters with their abusers, at least this year you have fewer opportunities to "make mistakes" in public settings that you will be tormented, and tortured over.  I know it's very little consolation if that means being further removed from what contact you are allowed to have with people who genuinely love you, but hang in there.  The current situation is not going to last forever.  Focus on laying low, avoiding triggers, and staying safe.  Use what time you do manage to eek out for yourself to envision how you want your life to be, feel, and look going forward, and start making your plans -- even if they can only exist in the deepest recesses of your mind for right now, remember that all seeds are planted in darkness.

If 2020 can teach us anything, I think it's to go where the love is.  

That might be a little difficult for a lot of us to physically pull off right now, but when you can't to turn to another warm body in person, turn inward, and embrace yourself in your own heart, be kind to yourself, and love on yourself.  Love is not just a feeling.  Love is action.  Do things that bring the love you deserve to yourself because you're a human, and you're alive, and you are worth it.