Tag Archives: Christmas

Liminal Grey

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This liminal time between the overhyped Christmas and the resumption of workaday life is always a gentle grey. Fluffy, like fog, but warmer. Enclosing.

In amongst the vaguely smothering feelings caused by way too much chocolate and loneliness, I’m struggling to pull myself forward, knowing full well the sun will come out and life will resume in all its busyness and glory, laughter and foolishness.

But for now, I wallow, in full goblin-mode, hair unwashed, teeth brushed but without my usual enthusiasm, waiting to feel the rumblings of my self restarting. I do things that are restful to the little grey cells (as Poirot would have called them), watching movies and stitching, saving my creativity for another time, when the rootlets I am feeling stirring push their way towards the light.

Because I can feel them. Much like the lengthening of the days past midwinter, I can feel creative things returning to bright. They are nascent as yet, tender, at risk of being flattened by too much enthusiasm. Baby steps, I tell myself. They need gentle encouragement. Any more and I will frighten them away.

Even now, thinking about things, I find myself wondering what it’s all FOR, really. Why bother to write, to try new things, to care? Who will even notice?

This way darkness lies. Bad darkness, the kind with gnashing teeth and despair. I’ve spent some time there and I DON’T LIKE IT. In truth, we all live with the deception that what we do matters. It’s the only way we can get up in the morning and go on. To do this we need to mend the little rips that occur, when we are let down, when we fail, when we are alone. Stitch them over with colourful threads, make any injuries part of the pattern, livening it up with each hurt. So I pull at the rough edges of my self, bring out the bright coloured ribbons, weave myself together. We can all do this. But slowly, gently. We have to fool ourselves into it, turn the mirrors to the wall while we reassemble, stop judging every movement.

I start slowly, planning, holding myself to my magic of ten minute increments. I learned years ago that the only way I can make myself do anything is to tell myself I will only promise to do it for ten minutes. I don’t frighten away the creative gods if I tell them I won’t ask them for much, not this time. Let’s just play for a moment, I tell them. And they agree.

Gradually, the grey recedes, a bird sings, a song on the radio speaks to me, my feet remember how to dance. And my fingers find the keyboard and words fly about. Most of them will need honing, adjusting, but for now, I let them blow by, rejoicing in their return.

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Christmas Work

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In my family, we always thought of Christmas as my dad’s day. It’s not clear why, and after having squeezed the life into a few family Christmases myself, I can empathize with the repressed rage my mum must have experienced over this.

She’d spend weeks, months even, baking, cleaning, getting us new clothes, preparing us and the house for big parties with neighbours and friends. When family visited from far away, she sorted out beds and meals and church and every bit of the framework. And then my dad would step forward and lead the festivities. He’d gather us at the piano, and we’d all sing or play along on whatever instrument we were torturing at the time. He’d dominate the jigsaw table, hiding pieces from us, only to tap them in place with a braggart’s finger, triumph on his face. Just him and us. Mum wasn’t a part. She was in the kitchen.

We’d be honoured to accompany him as co-conspirators when he asked us to dash about with him at the last minute, seeking just that perfect present, running in and out of shops before the final closing on Christmas Eve. We’d be forcibly marched out of Lechmere, a shop filled with all sorts of cool technology, the clerks glaring at us as the overhead blared that, “The store is now closed. Please make your way to a cashier now.” He was either extremely lucky or had spent more time thinking about things than it seemed. He’d always find the perfect gift for my mother– a soft green velour pantsuit that highlighted her gorgeous eyes was one I remember. I don’t remember many others, focused as I was at the time on my own goodies, but I do remember her cries of delight.

Mum never got the same reaction. She’s have spent weeks in agonies over what to get him, and whether he’d like it, only to get a lukewarm reaction from him. Her gift somehow was always the wrong size or not wanted and dad’s disappointment would show.

Tension inevitably grew as the day passed. At the time I was unsympathetic, but back then I didn’t know the Christmas fatigue that overwhelms mothers, or whoever else gets the task of making the day happen. Now I do.

Dad had fun, though –the clown at the party, he came on stage and managed the presents (most bought by mum). My older brother, an acquisitive lad with some Smaug-like tendencies, was forced to exchange one of his past items for the coveted new one while Dad looked on with glee. My brother collected cameras, so my dad would gift my younger brother a piece of the new camera my older brother wanted. He would have to sacrifice one of his treasured older cameras to get the piece he wanted, and he visibly hated that thought. Both boys would eventually be happy, my father could economize, but we always knew his real joy lay in watching the reluctant exchange.

Then, just like the Grinch after his heart growth, dad would preside over the dinner table to carve the Roast Beast. Ever the perfect host, he’d regale the table with stories and jokes, puzzles and games (and far too many puns). Meanwhile my mum would carry in the meal she’d prepared, serve it, clear away the dishes, and tidy up the mess. We kids would all flee the table and follow him like imprinted ducklings into the living room to play with our new treats, abandoning mum to the kitchen tasks.

We were heartless.

Still, at Christmas, I always think of my dad, of his smiles, his music, his obvious love for us shining forth. Meanwhile, the softer, more hidden love that showed in all the backbreaking labour my mum did keeps getting forgotten.

My dad even died on Christmas Eve, taking his light away on the day we most associated with him, ensuring we’d always think of him first at that magical time. I’m sure he’s laughing about that even now. Somewhere.

My mother is probably laughing, too. She died on Mother’s Day a few years later, a final kick at the ‘who’s more important’ can. So she has her own spot where we can never forget her.

I wish she’d been around longer, long enough for me to let her know how much I enjoyed her efforts, understood her holiday fatigue, was so grateful for all of it. I don’t think I ever did.

Christmas (or any holiday) magic takes time, effort, hard work. Cheers to all who manage to create it for those you love.

I still believe in Santa

pollyanna-5I read recently of a idea for parents where, when your child is starting to wonder about “things”, you take them out for a special time all by themselves and tell them Santa is about giving and now that they were grown up enough, they could be part of the giving, be a part of Santa. Then help them pick out a present for someone  (a neighbour or a sibling’s friend or whatever) and help them give it to that person.

I like the idea. I wish I’d thought of it. Somehow my kids have all figured out that the joy is in the giving, not necessarily the receiving (years of lame presents (socks, underwear) help this learning), but we didn’t have a tradition about it.

And I’m still wearing the blame for lying to them about Santa and the Easter Bunny and tooth fairies and so forth.

images-2I’m not hugely religious anymore – more spiritual, I’d say, with weird blobs of belief in various directions. But somehow (though it’s getting harder these days), I’ve always believed in the innate goodness of people, that somewhere in the depths of the most ignorant reprobate (#realDonaldTrump) there is a tiny flickering candle of goodness or kindness or hope.

I feel like a Pollyanna when I say it, but I can’t help but cling to that belief. Otherwise, where would we be?

Well, probably right where we are now…(sigh), but I have hope still that people will figure out a way to do good, to help each other, to choose the unselfish route. To favour giving over receiving.

Like Santa.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this giving more times than I can count, and I feel so fortunate to have friends around who care about me. It’s lovely. I try to pass on their goodness to others, to share it around. I’m not always good at it, but it’s one of those things I am always trying.

So I know we’re all overspent and overfed and all that, but maybe we could take time to give to someone else, someone we don’t know, that cold guy out on the street, the food banks, the shelters. I’d give for Syria, but I have honestly no idea who to trust to be the giver for me. I’ll be making my donation to Feed Nova Scotia. They share the goodness all over the province, and I know they’ll be low after providing Christmas meals to everyone.


As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, every one!”, or as I prefer, “We help each other, every one!”

Happy Christmas and Merry Hanukkah and Blessed New Year (with no mistakes in it, as Anne of Green Gables would say)! Let’s channel our internal Pollyannas and dig in for the oncoming trials.

Being hopeful doesn’t mean you have to give up fighting for others…

Christmas Star

15442297_10154249676151491_841160323482067397_nI have a brass star that sits on the top of my Christmas tree. No matter the size or state of the tree, the star is there. It matches the star that lived on the top of my family Christmas tree; the one made by my father the second year he and my mother were married.

Polishing the family star with Brasso was one of the key Christmas traditions. A designated child would take the star reverently into the kitchen, dig out the smelly Brasso, and polish the star until it shone. It had to be done quickly because it was the first thing put on the tree.

When I got married and moved away from home, I begged my dad to make me a star for my new family. He was living with cancer at that time, not up for travelling or finding brass – but it turned out there was still brass left over from when he made the first star, and he worked it into a beautiful five-pointed star and wrote a message on it, blessing it with his hopes for happy times. My children followed the same polishing ritual at our Christmases, when I’d let them.

My father didn’t live long after he made me the star. I never got to spend another Christmas with him, and he passed away on Christmas Eve, while both of his stars shone down – one on my mother and siblings in Boston, and the other on my little family, living far away in Germany.

Every Christmas I reverently take my star out of its special box. I no longer share my Christmas with the man whose name is inscribed with mine on the back. I wonder how my father would have viewed my divorce; I grieve how he never got to know my children. I think of all of his Christmas craziness, about us all singing around the family piano, of his flambeed desserts and chocolate covered bugs, of his perfect understanding of us and his forgiveness of what we were.

free-elf-clipart-1And I think of my mother, the more silent Christmas celebrant – the one who didn’t join us in singing, who sat out much of the foolishness, who seemed absent – but who was in reality racing around making hot chocolate, cooking the dinner, baking the goodies, tidying and sorting and making Christmas happen. For her, I put out her little elf, not the “elf on the Shelf” spy, but one from well before that time. It has a striped hat and is dressed in green. It was her ornament in our family setup, the one she made sure was out and front and centre. (You can see him in the bottom left of the photo above…)

So appropriate. My dad was always the star of Christmas. My mum was the engine, the busy elf acting in the background. She reminds me of the Brownie Pledge:

“Twist me and turn me,
And show me the elf-­
I looked in the mirror and there saw myself.”

The star shines on. The elf finally gets to take a rest and just hang out. Though my parents are long gone, their icons are still with me, filling me with memories of Christmases past.



The most magical night of the year…

It’s silly, I know it. I mean, I’m a grown up, Santa Claus is very busy with the young ones and can’t be expected to come my way, me, a round grey-haired weary parent of three grown children.
And yet, some part of me clings to the belief in a Santa Claus, not the jolly red-suited Coca Cola one, but the innate spirit of goodness that springs from somewhere.
I believed in the red-suited guy for way longer than most kids, thanks to an acutely accurate dream of him in our living room. I can still conjure up that dream (and another less sweet one of being chased along the kitchen cabinets by giant robots, but never mind), and I held onto it until my older brother in a fit of cruel to be kindness demonstrated that my violet doll was actually in the laundry room well before the day. It stopped the mockery at school, anyway.
But it didn’t stop my belief in goodness. The surprise goodness of strangers, the more familiar yet still delightful goodness of friends.
The source of that goodness, whether a deity or the part of ourselves that craves the lift that doing good brings, I don’t know.
But in a corner of my heart, I have a belief in angels I can’t square with my scientific mind.
Many years ago, when I was in university, I came home to the notice that my mother had urgently been trying to reach me – when I contacted the university authorities, they told me my father was in the ICU, not expected to live. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment and was overwhelmed with infection.
I panicked, arranged to take the night bus through Montreal where I would meet my brother and travel through the wee hours to Boston and Mass General. I was glad he’d be travelling with me because I was terrified at the thought of losing my dad, and didn’t want to spend eight nighttime hours obsessing over things. I knew I’d be needed once I got home.
But when I arrived in Montreal, it turned out my brother was on duty and couldn’t get free til the next day, so I boarded the greyhound alone.
I plopped into a seat near the window so I could look out and hide my tears and pulled out a book so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Meanwhile I watched the others boarding the bus, hoping no one would sit near me.
A man wearing a patch cap and aged hippie vest and coat stepped onto the bus. He has a drooping moustache and looked like a talker. I dropped my head, urgently praying, “Not him! Not him!”
But sure enough, he sat down beside me. And started to talk.
And he talked and we talked and we talked.
I don’t remember the conversation, except that anytime it turned toward my dad, he steered it away. He never let me say why I was going to Boston or anything about my family at all. I don’t remember him shutting me down, or being rude. He merely redirected.
At White River Junction, he bought me a coffee and that simple kindness was almost my undoing.
We re boarded the bus and the conversation continued. He was never inappropriate or flirtatious, was kind without being solicitous, funny without being bawdy. We talked the night through.
Finally we arrived at Haymarket station just as the sun was rising. I stood up and gathered my things, realizing that I didn’t feel at all tired, that my mood was light, that I was ready to greet the day and all it could hold. As I stepped off the bus, I looked for my companion to thank him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The bus station was almost empty at that time. I should have been able to spot him.
My family picked me up and we raced to Mass General, where I saw my father, on a ventilator and scarily pale. He was both happy and alarmed to see me. I stepped into my family persona, swallowed my tears, and joked with him. He laughed, as well as he could on a ventilator. The mood lightened, as it was meant to do. He drew me back little jokes on a scratch pad. Because I was able to laugh, so was everyone else.
And I was only able to laugh thanks to the kindness of my bus companion, whoever/whatever he was.
My dad survived that scare. I went on to become a nurse. I try to pay back some of the good that was done for me and my family that awful day.
And always I am on the lookout for an oddly dressed man with a patched cap, and always believe in that spirit of goodness. Red suit or no.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Be grateful.

Oh Holy Night

It’s half past midnight on Christmas Eve, and I am awash in contentment, despite the somewhat sinister flowing scent of cooking fish in the apartment.

My boys are here with me, and one boy’s sweet girlfriend, and we’ve just had the screamingly funniest night watching a horrendously awful rendition of the Jungle Book at the Neptune Theatre – so bad we will, I’m sure, be quoting from it all week. “My friends are my friends from the jungle…”

And then youngest son and I went to 11 pm church, and sang our guts out at the carol parts and were asked to light the advent wreath and got more hugs from everyone in the church at the handshake of peace than you could shake a stick at.

It’s been fabulous already, and Christmas has just begun. I am so lucky to have these wonderful kids here, to know that I have friends and family here and there and that I live in  a place where I am safe and warm and have food and a comfy bed.

I’m sending my thoughts out to those who are struggling, who wish for the hugs and laughter I’ve had, who are working away from family or sailing the seas or in conflict zones and just wishing they could be home for Christmas or Hanukkah or just home just because, for that part of the 99% who could use just a little bit more. I vow I will do more for them, somehow, whether by writing or donating or helping or even just smiling.

God knows I owe her something.

And as for that daughter of mine, wherever she is tonight – for you I wish peace and love and harmony within yourself and without. I hope you come to realize that it isn’t important who you are, but what you do. You owe God, too. Whatever he or she may be. Life is meant for the giving.

Sending much love to all who give so very much to me, every day. And Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Joyous Solstice and more to you all. My heart is full to bursting.

the ins and outs of the post-modern Christmas

Well, I can’t tell you just exactly how much I am looking forward to this next week. Back when I was a kidlet, Christmas was so fun – I knew I’d get more than I received, I could laze about and be provided yummy food, and I was pretty well guaranteed I could curl up with a good book for hours.  Then there was church, which was both banal and beautiful – I love singing the carols, and usually found the sermon tiresomely boring, but sympathized with your average minister who must try and find something clever each year for the same holiday. And everyone wore perfume, which clashed with the incense and was both irritating and entrancing, as the different perfumes passed by.

But that was in the past, along with those Christmases with young kids whose eyes sparkled wide open at their stockings and such stuff and who made the whole day worthwhile. We had real Christmas trees that smelled lovely, as versus my current “tree of broken hopes” as my son calls it – an artificial $15 WalMart special made of asbestos and lead exported from China.

Now it’s just me, and my post-modern holiday, which involves a fairly deadly combo of driving, teenage sons (who I adore but who always have to argue in loud voices over the state of the world), a daughter who is missed but still isn’t speaking to me, and a wonderful family of ex-in-laws who insist that I’m still a member of the family and invite me along to share their gaity and song and dance (and really excellent meals) with them and with my ex and his new wife. Well, not so new, as they’ve been married for some months now. So I guess you could call her a slightly used wife. But probably shouldn’t.

It wouldn’t be so bad save for the fact that I have a true Sagittarian mouth, given to saying things out of turn and that don’t come out quite the way I want them to.  Add to my MS brain (a convenient excuse, I agree) and some wine, and the things that come out of my mouth – egad. Dear Mrs. Ex is quite civilized and all, but we originate on two completely different planets and we don’t speak the same language and when I try to speak to her my voice comes out either very sharp (a.k.a. bitch goddess) or in a tone of salt-dry sarcasm.

I try to be friendly but it doesn’t read true even to me.  I mean, let’s be reasonable.  How friendly am I supposed to be with my replacement? How am I to respond to tales of them reading in bed together and doing cooking classes together and all those things he would never have been seen doing with me?  I’m glad he has improved his relationship skills and all, and I’m so happy for Mrs. E that she got the new, trained up version of my ex, but I can’t help feel a bit miffed as they detail the delights of their lives together – the delights that were not offered to me.

But be that as it may, I’ve gotta buck up and smile girl smile because I want to encourage the kids to be pleasant to their dad’s new sweetie, just as I expect them to be so to mine. Life does move on, and there’s no reason why we should live alone for the rest of our lives. It’s nice to love and be loved in return – in fact, it is really the only thing that matters.

But in the midst of the turkey and the wine and the gravy and the wine and the wine, I may forget my resolution to try and be sweet. I’ve never been good at resolutions. Or in being sweet.  And my kids have never really been that sweet to ME, so I’m not sure how I’d feel if they fell in love with Mrs. Ex and started wanting to spend more time with her than with me.

On the other side, my sweetie has an ex who is probably feeling much the same way as I do.  And, like that old shampoo commercial said, “and so on and so on and so on”. As our marriages break up we recombine in uncomfortable new relationships that have prickles. The poor kids have to tumble along the best they can as new people stumble into their family.  Of course, we have to as well, as the kids meet new loves. But that seems easier, somehow.

So, mum’s the word as I go a holidaying. Perhaps I will develop a convenient laryngitis and just refuse to talk at all. Nah – I’d only end up making hand motions, and those?  Those could be much worse.

Ho ho ho and best wishes to all as we wander through holidays, po-mo style.


God’s Call of Duty

It’s Christmas time and one expects to see a bunch of unusual people out at the places you regularly visit – all the people who hate shopping and are only there because they feel they have to spend some serious dollars on their family and friends or else be shunned.  Me, I’m spending on myself this year. I’ve gone a while without things, trying to cope on a small income, and I’m tired of working with broken equipment and wearing old clothes just because I am too poor to purchase new ones.

In any case, I was wandering through Best Buy today to pick up some accesssories for my new little mac Mini when who should I see, transfixed, standing beside a chubby young man trying out the new motion activated exercise programs (more power to him) but a grey-bearded older man with a serious look and a mean hand with the weaponry with whatever shooter game was up. The young lad kept bouncing around to the endless counting “5,6,7,8” – I have no idea where 1,2,3,and 4 went and it was getting pretty irritating so I suppose that explained God’s blasting at everything with huge weapons that resulted in lots of fake people parts being left lying all over the place. At one point, a Best Buy Guy came by and tried to speak to the figure, but there was no response, only more aggressive killing.

Now I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy that God takes a day off now and then and pops down to check on us, see how we’re treating each other, maybe do a little skeet shooting a la Dogma.  It does two things, this fantasy – it humanizes a big scary cloud-like thing, and it makes me behave. If you don’t know where God might be hanging out, you don’t really dare skim the waitress or yell at a clumsy grocery store stocker (oh, my life sounds SO exciting).  You figure you should be nice to everyone, JUST IN CASE.  After all, that could be the final tipping point for the decision for the slide downwards or the “deluxe apartment in the sky….” Far better to be safe than sorry.

But this God-figure killing things with so much enthusiasm on the screen was far too Old Testament for me. I prefer the kinder, gentler God of the New Testament, filled with all that loving your neighbor and stuff.  The smiting, not so much.  It sounds uncomfortable. This guy was definitely into smiting.

I couldn’t help it, and crept closer.  The guy was muttering to himself. “And that’s for Darfur…,” he muttered, blowing up a weapons repository.  Animated characters screamed in low GI Joe voices. “And Pakistan.” More shouts. “And not neutering your animals – geez, you think you’d learned nothing!  All those poor pussycats freezing in the cold…” He blammed away, pausing only briefly to glare at the young lad intermittently bouncing to the 5,6,7,8.

God was breaking into a sweat and I was a little worried that the game might become too real, if you know what I mean.  I was worried about the kid, who kept bumping into God by accident. It didn’t look like God was in a forgiving mood.

I wandered closer, thinking I could maybe pull the kid to safety if needed. Hell, I’m old.  The kid had lots of being irritating left in him.  I’m getting tired of it. Fortunately, kid’s mom came by and dragged him away, glaring at God as she did so. He didn’t notice. He was too busy blowing up a tank or something.  This time the screams were higher pitched.  I looked at the screen.  He was using a flame thrower now.  And laughing.

I’d had enough. “Merry Christmas!” I said, loudly, to the air. There was a pause in the killing, the merest pause. “Are you buying that for your kids?” I asked God, smiling brightly and a bit as if I was some deluded den mother who would be clued-out enough to think a game where you can choose “extra chunky” for body bits to be appropriate for any age child.

“No,” grunted God.  “They already have this one. They play it all the time.”

“Maybe they’d like the Sims? It’s so much fun to raise little families and send the kids off to military school and…”

God sighed, and slowly put the game controller in its holder. “They play that one, too,” he sighed. “But they seem to like this one better. The other day I was online and I couldn’t believe how many adults were playing.  Doesn’t anyone work any more?”

He looked at me. “What did you say before?”

“Merry Christmas!”

“Humph.” God turned and headed off, but I could swear there was a tiny smile under his beard. Nah. He was still in smiting mode and I was just damn glad I had parked in front of a different store.  I wouldn’t want to be in the way when he backed out.