Here come the holidays, heading straight for us as sure as sure can be. This time of year is a hard one for many, especially those of us who know that our holidays are far from the ideal of the delightful sleigh ride in the snow, jingle bells jingling as we travel to grandmother's house bearing brightly wrapped gifts with love, laughter and warmth like a wool blanket protecting us from the frigid breath of winter. So here we are, holidays approaching like a train with us on the train tracks once again, hoping for the best.
Having grown up with a father who was an active alcoholic and a mother who was mentally ill, I have unpleasant memories of too many Christmases when there was drunken embarrassing behavior including verbal arguments and physical fights between my parents. My father drove while drunk. He would get physically ill. I remember too well the sounds from the bathroom as my father's stomach rebelled from his drinking so much. The next day there would be the hangover and the mood that goes with the hangover. I would be very very quiet so not to disturb anyone. When they weren't fighting, our house was very very quiet.
When I became an adult and was on my own with my daughter and her father, we always put up a tree and I would decorate with antiques including antique toys. We'd put out presents and visit his relatives which was fun. The dark spot in those Christmases past was the behavior of my mother and/or father when I would make time to see each of them (they were divorced then).
After I divorced, moved away, and remarried, I enjoyed putting up a tree for Christmas again
I like to keep Christmas very simple. Sometimes I put up a tree and decorate it with ornaments I've saved for years. For a few years now I haven't put up a tree. I feel sad when I don't put up a tree. Christmas deserves a tree. I deserve a tree. Sometimes I think that if I have a sufficiently plain Christmas then somewhere somehow my mother won't be mad at me. Because I think she is forever jealous that the rest of the world has a better Christmas than hers and maybe if I had a plain enough Christmas she'd stop being mad? And be happy? I know that isn't true. (She'd be unhappy no matter what.) But sometimes I wonder why I don't let myself have more fun with the holidays and maybe that is why.
I sometimes think of contacting my mother again. She might be addled. She might not remember me. She probably doesn't remember why I stopped talking to her. I feel sorry for her. I feel sad but also self protective. In my previous post I've told you some things about her illness.
The underpinnings of the current estrangement from her began a few days before Christmas 2001. I had been feeling full of sorrow for the people in New York who had lost relatives on September 11th. At the same time my mother had begun to behave very negatively again. I was having a hard time feeling sympathy for her complaints after the tragedy of September 11th.
I lost my patience when she called me a few days before Christmas. She was weeping because she said that her brother would not buy her a car. I won't go into all the details of why that was an absurd thing to be weeping over other than to say that it hadn't been that long before that she had sold her car after complaining about it and the expenses of driving and car maintenance. I responded with, "You are choosing to be miserable." And I hung up on her. Which ignited her fury. She left multiple nasty messages on my answering machine every day up to and including Christmas. On Christmas Day she left five messages, all horrible. I wanted to tape them all and save them to play for anyone who might not understand why I had had it with my mother. My husband talked me out of taping them.
I had so had it with not being able to have a nice holiday without my mother doing something awful. I wrote her a letter telling her she could not do that any more. I was so upset with the messages that I didn't even want to hear her voice. She said she was sorry. The apology was insufficient for me. I would only communicate through letters for months. She went back and forth between trying to be nice and then bordering on nasty, just barely restraining herself. In September 2002 she wrote a letter calling me dumb and stupid. That was the final straw for me. I wrote her to tell her that she could not do that and that I was no longer talking to her.
A cousin subsequently called me to talk to me about my mother but I wouldn't talk to her. I later felt terrible for refusing to talk to my cousin (who is about twenty years younger than me) but her call reminded me of calls that her own mother, my aunt, would make to me many years earlier to try to get me to do something to make my mother "happy". I didn't want to have to defend myself to my cousin too.
My mother called the local police to "check on me". After they contacted me several times to see if I was "okay" (or did my husband have me buried in the cellar?), I told the police that I was fifty-eight years old and old enough to decide not to talk to my mother. I suggested that they call her psychiatrist.
The holidays are a time when I try to get through the days with the least possible trauma. I just want quiet days. If I visit with friends, that is great! I love that when it happens. But I want no trauma on holidays, especially Christmas! I may or may not have a tree but I want no trauma! I want peace. Quietness and peace. No nasty messages on my answering machine. No phone calls from the police. No weeping over the inability to afford a car. No threats and insults. Just peace.
What do you hope for on your holidays?