Monday, December 18, 2017

Happy Conscious Holiday!

Tis the season, they say, for good will and peace on earth. Though it doesn’t always appear those
sentiments are carried out in some corners of the world, you and I can be the ones who follow through. We can wish each other “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” and really mean it. We can sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and BE the peace we wish to see. It’s easy. That is if we vow to remain conscious during the holidays and all the rest of the year.

How do you remain conscious? At the holiday dinner, maybe a family member says something that sets the hair on the back of your neck to prickling. Maybe a friend forgets an important date. Maybe, just maybe, things don’t go the way you’d hoped and your holiday doesn’t look Norman Rockwell perfect, not even close. Your family members and friends begin, in your estimation, to resemble Jacob Marley or the Abominable Snow Monster. When those touchy, ticklish moments show up and you’re tempted to react to someone in a not-so jolly way, recognize the source of your discomfort which is usually very old, unresolved hurts from your childhood.

The source of your prickling, your sudden Grinchy mood, is most often a sensitive spot that settled into place in your psyche a very long time ago. Perhaps your cousin has just pushed your hot button asking you to lower your voice and that makes you feel embarrassed. Your embarrassment originated when a clumsy parent yelled at you for your three-year-old exuberant loudness in a restaurant. You were just being like most three-year-old children, innocent and joyful mirth cut short by an embarrassed adult. Here in the present you overreact and are suddenly spitting out venom toward your cousin. Not the warm, fuzzy atmosphere you hoped to feel at the end of your sleigh ride to Grandma’s house.

There is another way to handle it. Recognize the feeling when it comes up. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your cousin probably had good reason for her request – the baby is sleeping, she has a headache, she is rattled and can’t focus when too many people are talking at once. Whatever the reason, you can maintain your inner peace by becoming aware of the things that upset you. Here are a couple of examples of UN-conscious scenes from my long-ago holidays…

Once upon a time I traveled seven hours with my, then, husband to visit family in Buffalo, NY for a week between each Christmas and New Year’s. From the time we married we always left the day after Christmas reserving Christmas Day for our own exchange of gifts and a relaxing afternoon before the tiring drive. Our tenth year together we broke tradition last minute and surprised our families by calling to say we had decided to drive up on Christmas Eve. We arrived at my mother’s house after midnight, flopped into bed, and visions of sugar plums dissolved quickly into blissful sleep.

The plan had been laid out over the phone the day before: Christmas morning and lunch at my mom’s. Christmas late afternoon and dinner at his parents. Bright and early Christmas morning, my mother was already pushing the start of “lunch” into the latter hours and speaking as though we would be there all day. When I reiterated the plan she turned on the guilt and soon tears were flying around her living room. She tried to manipulate with suggestions that I stay and he go on to his parent’s house without me.

“Mom, I’m married now. I need to divide my time. We’re here for a week and we’ll see each other a lot,” I soothed.

“BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS!” she whined, wiping away the flood gushing from her wide-open ducts.

“Mom, the WHOLE WEEK is Christmas!” I pleaded, “Until yesterday you weren’t expecting us until tomorrow.” Things degenerated from there faster than Dasher racing Dancer across the Milky Way. Before you know it, we were opening gifts with red eyes, fake smiles, and an atmosphere far from holly jolly. It all could have been avoided if my mother had been able to pull herself out of her emotional stupor. In her mind I’m sure she dreamed of the postcard holiday she never had as a child, but I couldn’t fill that void or change her past. The gaping hole of her want was so huge that it negated logic and any sense of how her tantrum affected me and my husband. There was no room, in the midst of her troubled need, to think how his family would feel if I neglected them or to consider that I wanted to be with my husband’s family too. It wasn’t enough that we had divided the day into equal halves down to the minute in hopes that she would enjoy the time we did have with peace and grace. It wasn’t enough for her to know I’d be back to sleep there and eat breakfast there and have several excursions with her and my stepfather during the week. She’d gone into an emotional trance and our holiday time was tense for the rest of our stay.

On another occasion I poured out my heart in a letter to my hometown girlfriend. The trips back home were exhausting I said, not only from the long drive, but everyone we knew planned lunches and dinners and gift exchanges and activities that my husband and I wanted to attend. Every day we ran from activity to activity with no time to just relax and chill out on our “vacation.”

I shared in my letter that for several years I tried to keep up the pace. I had usually set aside an afternoon or two to do something with this girlfriend, just the two of us, and consequently added to my hectic schedule, but also missed time with other people I loved. I wrote my letter with a loving plea for understanding that something had to change so I could enjoy my time in Buffalo instead of dreading all the running around. I said how much I wanted to see her and how much I valued our friendship. I asked if she would consider coming to the place where we were staying, at either my mom’s or his parent’s. She could visit and stay as long as she wanted. Other people might be there too and we could steal some time in a quiet room if she wanted to. This would save me the strain of trying to coordinate with my husband’s schedule to see who needed the car when, and it allowed me to stay in one place to catch my breath. My mother even agreed to attend a few meals at my in-laws during the visits when it was their turn to host us.

My girlfriend flat-out refused the compromise. “I miss you. I want you all to myself.” If our time together couldn’t be us alone at her place, then it wouldn’t happen. Then she too tried to manipulate, her voice colored with gloom, “Well, maybe you can come to my family party this summer.” So, in reality it wasn’t that she wanted me there with no other people around, but rather that she wanted things her way to ease some long ago emptiness. I knew the family history: her siblings were favored over her. I had given her my undivided attention for many years and she didn’t want to give that up. Again, I could no longer fill that void and stay sane. In spite of my sincere explanation of how torn in pieces I felt having to divide myself among so many loved ones, she wanted things to be the way they once were. It became more about the picture in her mind of how she envisioned us together and much less about the fact that we could still see each other on slightly different terms. I could no longer trust that she cared about my physical and mental well-being.

My mother and my friend could not access enough consciousness to realize we had a wonderful opportunity to celebrate together albeit in a different form. Instead emotions got in the way and what could have been a chance to make more beautiful memories together turned into a hurtful stain on our history. Though my mom was my mom and we managed to limp through our trials, my husband and I never risked Christmas Day in Buffalo again. My friend and I drifted apart. If she couldn’t have me the way she wanted me, she wouldn’t have me at all and a twenty-year relationship turned to dust, a very sad and unnecessary ending.  

This holiday and anytime for that matter, when you feel that certain annoyance that sometimes comes with relationships, please take a deep breath, step back, and hold your reaction in check. When you can be alone see if you can trace the annoyed feelings to an earlier time where you felt abandoned, humiliated, ignored, unloved, or any other negative feeling. Chances are you have felt those feelings again and again throughout your life depending on who you feel annoyed with at the moment.

Now realize that most people don’t stay up nights thinking of ways to hurt you. Your friends and family may have really good reasons for doing and saying what they do and say. Also, you have no idea how someone may be struggling inside and most are doing the best they can. Maybe they are in their own trance of unconsciousness. Whatever is going on is not worth ruining a relationship over at holiday time or ever. Always keep in mind that the person you love and are tempted to aim your anger at could be at any moment swept from this life forever. If you can genuinely identify that the person is deliberately choosing to say hurtful things or disrespect you, then, by all means, ask to speak to them about it in private when you are both calm and in a mindset where you can really hear what the other is saying. Remember that hearts are tender. Speak with love and not with intention to manipulate, seek revenge, or punish.

From the bottom of my heart I wish you the gifts of conscious living; love without unreasonable conditions, charitable conversations, open-minded compromise, lots of hugs, smiles, and all the warmth that gathering with family and friends can bring this holiday season and the whole year through.

Much Love,

(Photo by Pixabay)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

For the Love of Santa

My mother had her share of lucid moments here and there during the thirteen years of her illness. While the rest of the year she remained confined to bed, at holiday time she did her best to rally for a day or two to show me the beautiful woman beneath all the surface strife.

One of her shining moments was the day she told me the truth about Santa Claus. We were in the
living room at 16 Wilbury Place in Buffalo, New York. The stockings still hung over the brick fireplace and a Douglas Fir tree glistened in the front alcove with too many strands of silver tinsel tossed in random fashion by my own ambitious hands. The tree proudly displayed our old handed down glass ornaments that glowed in the light of an old-fashioned string of screw-in colored light bulbs. Douglas Firs were the cheapest tree at that time, but boy did they smell good!

A handful of my friends considered themselves on the cusp of adulthood, too grown up to deal in childish ways of years past while I still maintained a relationship with my dear conspirator in the occupation of love, Santa Claus. I’d captured him in my heart and he would have to be wrangled away or remain there forever.

Several of those so-called friends elevated themselves by making fun of the fact that I had written to the Man in Red, asked for and received yet another doll from the Jolly Old Elf at the vulnerable age of thirteen. Well aimed hits on my personhood, such as “Only babies ask Santa for dolls,” plagued my sense of self-esteem and I did not appreciate the accusations. Peyton Place had nothing over the scandal on Wilbury Place.

Wise woman to her core, Mom felt my rising angst on the topic of Santa and she knew I would no sooner give up dolls than say goodbye to the benevolent elf of the North Pole. Dolls were my family, my only siblings, and my practice children and I loved them dearly. Looking forward to my correspondence with Santa each year got me through the long days of my mother’s illness. In spite of her condition, Mom desperately wanted to relieve the pain of my transition from child to pre-adult, no easy task and she wasn't about to take Santa away from me.

I imagine she intuited that I was dealing with Santa’s existence in my own way, that I already knew in my heart of hearts that our chimney would never see one black boot or red velvet suit or beard white as snow. Mom prevailed. She sat down in the rocker nearest the tree where I sat on the floor studying the disarray of unwrapped gifts displayed at its base a few days after Christmas.

“Robin, you know what your friend’s say about babies being the only ones to ask Santa for dolls?” she asked.

“Yes.” I answered, half expecting her to say the day had come for me to grow up.

“Well, first of all if they’re referring to YOU, they’re wrong. You are NOT a baby!”

My ears were open.

“You are my beautiful daughter and I’m so proud of you and everything you do.  And…I know how much you love your dolls.”

Her words pricked holes in my tear ducts with the knowledge that she felt guilty for not having produced a sibling for me to grow up with.

“You know who Santa is don’t you?”

I sat frozen in silence, staring down at the new Penny Brite doll among Christmas boxes of shirts, slippers, and games, my gaze blurred with tears.

“Santa isn’t a person,” she said. “Santa is the Spirit of Christmas. He represents generosity. He is everything good and kind and loving that lives inside of you and all who open their hearts to know him. Santa is something you can believe in for the rest of your life and I hope you do.”

A couple of tears escaped and I scrambled up to wrap my arms around her, my sensitive, thoughtful Santa Mom.

“One more thing,” she said. Mom got up and disappeared around the corner to my Dad’s study for a few seconds. She returned with a shoebox-sized box wrapped in candy-stripe paper topped with a big red bow and handed it to me. “I know Christmas was a few days ago but this is special from me to you.”

True to the little perfectionist I was fast becoming, I unwrapped the package as if lightening would strike if I tore one tiny corner of the paper. My chest swelled with sunshine when I saw the sweet baby doll swaddled in a white lacy “Christening” dress, matching bonnet, and booties.

“I picked this one because she’s soft and looks like a real baby. I wish I could give you a brother or sister but it’s not happening. For now, she can be your baby sister.”

The doll was more than special. Yes, she had the soft look of a just born infant and she smelled delicious like all new dolls just out of the box, but much more astonishing was the fact that my mother had gotten out of bed and had gone to a store to pick out the doll herself. Mom hadn’t done trips to stores for anything in years.

“I love her Mom. I’ll take good care of her.  And I love you!”

The baby doll wore the proper sacramental attire, but I’d been the one baptized into a new phase of life by someone whose wisdom was never fully recognized. Mom’s Santa bore little resemblance to the Santa of magazine advertisements and department stores. Her adaptation might have held a vague shadow of similarity to the early St. Nicholas or Thomas Nast’s Santa, the saint’s namesake, but in truth this spirit was my mother’s construct born out of her love for me.

As a rookie teen I could have been angry about the whole charade; the milk and cookies for the big guy and carrots for Rudolph, the trips to department store Santas, the letters “To Santa,” the elves, flying reindeer, and presents “From Santa,” the collusion with other Santa espousing parents. But I wasn’t angry. It was impossible. I loved the ritual that began every year with an advent calendar on December first.

By telling me her version of Santa, Mom trusted I would sort through the whole thing and sort I did. What would I do without a long string that stretches back in time and connects me to my childhood wonder - wonder that is palpable in the children’s stories I write and the fascination I have with Nature? Where would I be without a jolly “Ho, ho, ho” once in a while far beyond the season of Santa? Where would any of us be without Santa’s good humor? Imagination. No one can tap into imagination if you don’t carry an image in your mind of reindeer that can fly and elves that build millions of toys by hand, on request, in less than a year. Imagination will fail you if men in red suits with bellies like bowls of jelly can’t slip easily down slender chimneys or drive a sleigh through the starlit sky and deliver those millions of elf-built toys to children around the world in one night in all kinds of weather.

Mom knew I would need all of what I gained from the childhood fantasy that is Santa Claus as I entered the oftentimes too serious journey toward what we call adult. She knew I would need the hope and the laughter that Santa provides so I could endure the days when things don’t go the way I want them to. She knew the importance of embodying wonder, the miracles, and suspension of disbelief that Santa’s spirit offers. For all Mom’s wisdom and the beauty she rendered by asking me to BELIEVE as a tiny tot and a budding adult, I am grateful.

From a heart that still holds tight to the magic of Santa, may you capture your own Spirit of Christmas and never ever let it go. Merry Christmas!