I suppose I should have written and posted this yesterday (on the 21st) but for some reason, I had it in my mind that I started this blog on November 22nd. Call me Derpina (but don’t call me Maybe). Any-who, I have nothing profound to say other than that I think I’m going to give myself a gold star for keeping up with something for a year. It doesn’t happen often. Yes, I’ve been slacking on posting of late but there have been some extenuating circumstances, life events, and brain farts that have pushed and shoved their way to the front of the line in my brain/life and have demanded more of my attention over the last few months.
If you have been following me from the beginning, thank you. If you started following me halfway through, thank you. If you follow me at all, thank you. If you’ve laughed with me, thank you. If you’ve cried with me, thank you. If you holla’d out to tha heavens saying, “Yo! Dis bitch needs Jesus!”…thank you? If you’ve ever read a single word I’ve written, thank you. If you’ve shared my page, thank you. If you read this, thank you.
I sigh heavily as I sit down to write this. I miss my dad…a lot. I’m sure, in this chaotic mess that is my blog, I have mentioned that my dad is no longer with me. I don’t know that I’ve ever said how or when…he died from stage four lymphoma in 2005…I was 21. He was never diagnosed as terminal (or if he was, he never told anyone) so his death was sudden and unexpected. That story (his death and what happened before and after) is a different story for a different day and it being Father’s Day, I don’t want to focus on all the bad feelings and the bitterness I have about that time in my life; it’s not pleasant. But suffice it to say that death does indeed bring out the worst in people.
Unlike the post Things My Mother Taught Me…daddy was a better teacher and taught me better life lessons. My dad was an introvert (like yours truly) and wasn’t overly affectionate or verbose as a general rule. He may not have said, “I love you” out loud or very often, but when he did say it, I knew he meant it and even if he didn’t say it, he showed it…or, at the very least, he tried to. My family is/was a “yours, mine and ours” kind of family. My dad was married once before he married my mom and he had two daughters from that marriage (that I did not grow up with or see often). My mom had my brother out of wedlock and then my mom and dad married and I came along three years later. There’s a huge age gap between me and my siblings…so much so that I grew up as pretty much an only child and I was treated as such. I grew up with my brother but he moved out the minute he turned eighteen and from then on, it was just me, mom and dad. It wasn’t a bad thing at all. Every birth order “type” (oldest, youngest, middle, only, etc.) has its own set of pro’s and con’s. I like to think I grew up pretty well rounded. I got a lot of attention, I never wanted for anything and I occasionally reaped the benefits of having siblings while also reaping the benefits of solitude. Best of all worlds, I think.
I could probably write forever about my dad. I try not to talk about him around my mom because she likes to focus on all the bad things he did or all of the reasons why she didn’t like him and ended up divorcing him just shy of their 25th wedding anniversary. I’m not here to bash anyone and I want this to be a “good” post…maybe not a “happy” one by definition as my mood is somewhat somber…but what I’m about to share means more to me than my Mother’s Day post did. My mom thinks I idolize my dad now that he’s gone…that I’ve put him on a pedestal and see him for someone he wasn’t. What actually happened is that I am actively choosing to remember the good parts about him and not the bad. My dad wasn’t perfect and I will never say he was…but he tried…and he was my dad…I am his little girl…and I always will be. Everyone that sees my mom and I together always says we look alike…that I am definitely her daughter. I personally don’t see that. I may have gotten my nose or my general body shape from her but color-wise and everything else, I look and act nothing like my mom. And that’s one thing we actually both agree on (shocking, huh?). We look at each other after someone comments on how much we look alike and we’re all, “WTF?” Neither of us sees it. What I see when I look at me is my dad. I have his hair color, his eye color, his skin color. I don’t mind looking like my mom but I think sometimes people forget about my dad (or they never met him) and don’t take him into consideration when trying to figure out which parent I resemble the most. It probably doesn’t help that I want to put as much space as possible between my mom and me and when people say we look alike, that’s not helping me do that. “I look like my dad!” I want to shout. But no one sees that…or they don’t remember. Now if people were to compare whose personality and habits I most emulate, I guarantee that most people would say I take after my dad. Dad and I share a lot of the same personality traits and here’s where you can insert the nature versus nurture debate. Obviously, my mom was the primary caregiver and probably the one I spent most of my time with…yet somehow I take after my dad more than her. In exasperation and frustration, my mom often, to this day, blurts out, “You are so much your father’s child!” She may have meant it in a negative way but I actually take it as a compliment and further push her grumpy button by saying, “Thank you.” If I had had any choice in the matter, I’d much rather take after my dad than my mom any day…even knowing what I know now…probably more so knowing what I know now. Being stubborn is probably one of the more obvious traits that my dad and I share. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation. It can be a good thing, for example, in trying to accomplish something and being so stubborn, you refuse to give up until you get it right or get the desired result. And it can be a bad thing, for example, when it comes to being stuck in your ways/habits and refusing to change them and/or refusing to try. Sometimes I wonder if I am being overly sentimental when it comes to my dad because it seems as if no one else remembers or talks about him anymore. And I know that just because they don’t say anything doesn’t mean they don’t remember…it’s just that no one talks about him anymore (unless it’s bad stuff, like my mom will point out/talk about…”Your father used to do that and I hated it.”). For me, I don’t want to forget. Do I like being reminded that he’s not here? No. But I like remembering that he used to be.
1. Cars: I’m a girl. I don’t know much about cars nor do I have an interest in learning more. But my dad pretty much taught me all I needed to know. He taught me how to check the oil level and told me that it was safe to touch anything under my hood that had a yellow cap on it. He taught me when and where to go to get my oil changed and stressed its importance to the life of my car. He taught me how to check the air pressure in my tires and also taught me how to correctly apply a license plate registration tab (it’s not as simple as just sticking it on there, people!). But one of the most valuable car lessons I learned was the lesson on gas. I was definitely not one of those ditsy teenagers that didn’t know how to put gas in my car when I started driving. One of the first rules my dad taught me about driving/my car was to always have at least 1/4 of a tank of gas in your car, especially during winter. To this day, when I get down to about 1/4 of a tank, that’s when I go fill up. And in 15+ years of driving, I have never once run out of gas. (Thanks, dad.)
2. Money: My dad was the one who helped me open my first checking and savings account. He taught me how to write checks and balance a checkbook and the importance of saving money and paying bills on time. I was always amazed that I could do this in high school and my friends could not (there are some people that still don’t know how to do this, especially in today’s electronic world). My dad was a tad on the anal side (like yours truly) and every single transaction was written down and accounted for in the checkbook and savings register…down to the penny. I followed suit. This was even before debit cards became popular…and once I was comfortable using a debit card, I accounted for every single debit card transaction as well. Naturally, I have an app for that now but it’s still something I do with every deposit and withdrawal I make. (Thanks, dad.)
3. Math: Given the age difference between myself and my parents and siblings, I didn’t get a lot of help with my homework because everything my parents knew was “old school” and was the long way to do things, especially math problems. Granted, I didn’t need much homework help but I wasn’t perfect and there were still some things I needed help with at times. I don’t know why this sticks out for me so much, but I remember learning my times tables in elementary school. For the life of me, I could not remember what 8 x 7 was. My dad taught me a mnemonic: eight times seven is fifty-six, my dog Fido can do tricks. I shit you not people, when I have to figure out what 8 x 7 is now, I say that little rhyme in my head every single time despite knowing the answer immediately. (Thanks, dad.)
4. The importance of being neat: I definitely got my OCD/anal gene from my dad…hands down, no doubt about it. Everything had a place in my house (at least everything my dad had control/say over). I will never forget going through the house after he passed and going through his desk and pulling out operating/owner’s manuals for shit we didn’t even own anymore…an old 80’s boombox (a Christmas gift for my brother), the original GameBoy (both mine and my brother’s), miscellaneous electronics manuals, and even the manual for my Cabbage Patch baby doll carrier/car seat that had been donated to Goodwill over a decade prior to his passing. My dad would often be accused of being a neat freak but I personally don’t (and never did) see anything wrong with it as it didn’t get in the way/hinder anything. He just always knew where everything was, everything had a place and there was literally a method to his madness. I double-dog dare my Teddy Ruxpin to go berserk on me now (yes, I still have him) because I still have the owner’s manual. (Thanks, dad.)
5. Reading: My daddy loved to read. Even if I had only gotten one dollar for every book I had to sell/give away after he passed, I probably would have gotten close to a thousand dollars. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I haven’t read as much in the last two years as I would like and I don’t know if that’s from me just having so much shit going on inside my head that I can’t concentrate or if I seriously did some legit damage to myself in the process of trying to end my life on multiple occasions. I miss reading and Lord knows I try. I’ve always loved to read…from my first Berenstain Bears book to the latest James Patterson novel. My dad stuck to mystery/crime novels and I sometimes wonder now if that’s where my fascination with crime came from. I love to read true crime (fiction too) and you can almost always find my TV on the Investigation Discovery channel. I don’t have any memories of anyone reading to me, but I have lots of memories of the three of us (or just me and dad) sitting in the same room with our noses all in a book. If we traveled or went on vacation, you could be sure that there was always extra room made for books. As an only child, I often had to find ways to entertain myself and this was never a problem for me because there was always a book for me to read, be it one of my own or one of my dad’s. (Thanks, dad.)
6. Pool: My daddy loved to play pool. Loved loved loved. He didn’t have many passions in life or things that brought him great joy…but playing pool was one of them. And imagine the delight on his face when his daughter asked him to teach her how to play. After I moved out, I would meet dad about once a week at Wendy’s for dinner (he would always have a baked potato, chili and milk) and then we’d go to a bar or pool hall of our choice depending on the night. I don’t watch many sports on TV and neither did my dad, but you could find us watching pool together (especially the trick shot tournaments). Sometimes now, for pure sentimental reasons, I will watch a pool tournament just for fun. The only thing that makes me sad here (well, there’s two things) is that he never finished teaching me how to play. I’m not sure he would have ever been done teaching me but I was only just beginning to get good at it before he died. The second thing that makes me sad is…remember when I said earlier that death brings out the worst in people? My dad’s oldest daughter stole his and my pool cue’s and cases out of his truck the day after he died and I never got them back. I haven’t touched a pool cue in almost eight years but if I ever do, I hope that he would help me line up my shot and kick ass. (Thanks, dad.)
7. Being on time: My dad did not like to be late for anything and you could set your watch based on his morning routine. I’m the same way. I hate being late. I am always early or on time for any appointment/meeting/what have you. I don’t even like being late to movies. I’m flexible if it’s not a crowded movie and I’ve only missed the previews but if I miss just one minute of the actual movie, I won’t watch it because I want to watch it from beginning to end…literally. This can be debilitating (or at the very least, frustrating) at times (for me and/or the people that deal with/put up with me) because if I’m late, I’d rather ax the whole appointment or whatever it is I’m late for than show up late. This doesn’t go for everything…like if I agree to meet you 5 PM for a casual dinner and I get there at 5:05…okay whatever…I can deal with that, it’s dinner. But it goes both ways. People make appointments to see me/schedule time to be with me/carve out time to see me at specific times and I make the effort to be there on time (early, more often than not) and I feel that others should make the same effort. I understand things happen but don’t ever use the traffic excuse on me. I’m rarely, if ever, late because of traffic. Why? Because I allow for it. This isn’t absolute of course and there are always exceptions. But I feel that it’s a sign of respect to be on time (especially to appointments), knowing someone has carved out time specifically for me…be you a doctor, friend, potential employer…and I expect the same respect in return. It’s a courtesy thing. And contrary to popular belief, I like being courteous. A little respect and courtesy goes a long way. (Thanks, dad.)
8. Penmanship: Oh daddy…you were one of those rare men that had legible, albeit, beautiful handwriting. People always made comments on my dad’s penmanship. It’s rare to see nice handwriting and it’s even more rare to see it coming from a man. I have a few things left that have my dad’s handwriting on them and one of them is a cassette tape. Do you remember those, kids? It was one you could record on…side A and side B. And in my dad’s very identifiable script, the tape reads “The Jazz Singer soundtrack – Neil Diamond”. I remember working on my handwriting a lot growing up but it wasn’t ever something I had to force myself to do…writing neatly came naturally to me and is, quite possibly, something I picked up from my father. (To be fair, my mother has nice handwriting also.) I get many comments/compliments on my handwriting. (Thanks, dad.)
9. Work ethic: My dad was the type of person who never missed a day of work, even if he was legitimately sick. He took work so seriously that he rarely even took vacation time and ended up losing a lot of it. I understood his reasons (nothing got done if he was gone; he was a one-man show) but it was still hard to see your dad go into work with a chemo port in his chest. He worked as much and as best he could right up until the day he died. He taught me the importance of doing a good job and doing it right the first time. He also taught me about customer service. When he died, he had customers that didn’t know what to do with themselves or their companies because they had been loyal customers of my dad’s for over 20 years. I definitely don’t let my vacation time go to waste, but you will find yourself telling me to go home after I’ve already come to work sick more often than you will find yourself on the other end of the phone listening to me call in sick. I may not like customer service, but I know how to do it and I know how to do it well. (Thanks, dad.)
10. Humor: One of the things I miss most about my dad is his silly sense of humor and his laugh. You knew you were getting a genuine smile and laugh when you got one from my dad. He was definitely not a faker. He had a silly sense of humor too…the type that makes you roll your eyes as a teenager…the type that you laugh at when you become an adult…the type you miss when you can no longer hear it. He was sometimes corny and could also sometimes hit you with a real zinger that you would laugh at for days. He knew how to laugh…and he taught me. (Thanks, dad.)
11. SpaghettiO’s: My mom and dad separated for a brief period of time when I was about seven years old. My mom continued to live in the family home with me and my brother while my dad moved into an apartment a couple cities away. I saw him every weekend and I thought it was the greatest thing EVER…because my dad made me SpaghettiO’s for dinner and his apartment complex had a pool (have I mentioned that I’m an Aquarius?). I still love me some SpaghettiO’s and you will always find a can of it in the pantry. (Thanks, dad.)
12. Music: My daddy LOVED his music. Queen, BeeGee’s, Pink Floyd, Neil Diamond…those are just some of his favorites. And because he loved it and played it all the time, I learned to love it too. For anyone that follows me on any sort of regular basis, you know I’m a music whore but what a lot of people don’t know is that my collection and likes are vast and varying. I’ve had people say, “Dafuq do you know about The Gap Band?” “Were you even cooking in your momma’s belly when Saturday Night Fever Came out?” I love it all with some exceptions and if I can get into it, it goes in my library…I don’t care who sang it or what “genre” it’s in. One song that always makes me smile is “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen because that was my dad’s favorite song, hands down. (I later learned that he requested this to be played at his and my mom’s wedding reception…and played it was…insert appropriate giggles here.) I cannot hear that song without thinking about my dad and his bad ass Saturday Night Fever dance moves. I had an appointment to get my hair done two days after my dad died. I made it months before he passed and when I wanted to cancel, I was encouraged to keep it. So I did. The gal that does my hair has done my hair for over 20 years and she also used to cut my dad’s hair. Two days after my dad passed, I was sitting in her salon getting my hair done and that song came on. I smiled and lost it. (Thanks, dad.)
13. Sighing: My dad was the king of the heavy “imirritatedohmygodgoawaywillyoujustshutthehellupalready” sigh. My mom hated it then and God help us if I or her boyfriend does it now. My dad didn’t even have to say a single word…that sigh said it all whether or not you wanted to hear it. And I’m daddy’s little girl, right? I have that sigh DOWN. (Thanks, dad.)
14. Solitude: I said earlier that my dad was an introvert and I am too. My dad taught me that being quiet and alone was not a bad thing. He taught me to embrace it, to enjoy it (especially when it was rare), and what to do during that time…like reading. I grew up being chastised for being an introvert and having no problem whatsoever with having to entertain myself and find things to do and it’s only been recently that I’ve been told (and have accepted) that it’s not a bad thing and the world would do well to learn and appreciate that. Without introverts, there are many books, ideas, theories, math and science formulas, etc. that we would not know today because a lot of those came from people who were introverts and/or their ideas were the result of periods of solitude, reflection and time to think. I embrace and enjoy solitude and quiet. (Thanks, dad.)
15. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone: The last thing my dad taught me is something he taught me after he died. He taught me that you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I don’t want to think I ever took my dad for granted, even knowing that he was sick. But had I known he was going to leave this world and leave me, there are things I think I would have done differently, more time I would have spent with him, and definitely more things I would have said. Nowadays, I don’t like leaving things unsaid. Even if I leave my therapist’s office and I forgot to say something or thank her for something, I will call her on my way home and tell her, even if I have to leave a voicemail…at least I said it. I have a million things to say to my dad and a million questions to ask that I never got the chance to…or never took the opportunity to. To be fair, some of these came after he passed…but I think often…hope often…that he knew/knows I loved him and that I said and showed it enough. I don’t follow a religion and I have no clear idea or belief in what, if anything, happens when we die. I don’t know if my dad still pokes his head in on me. There are “weird” things that happen that naturally make me think twice and say, “Is that you, Daddy?” Moments where I’m sure that no one is with me but him or moments where he makes his presence known. But with no beliefs, it’s only speculation on my part…and probably a lot of wishful thinking. Even though I didn’t get to say everything I wanted, I at least know now to never take someone for granted and to never leave anything unsaid.
Thanks, dad. For everything.
Your Brown Eyed Girl
This has always been my song for as long as I can remember. It’s the one my dad always played and dedicated to me and the one that makes me stop, listen and think of my dad every time I hear it.
I haven’t even really started writing this post and I already don’t know what to say. I usually have a small outline of what I want to write/say in my Notes app on my iPhone but all I had written down for this post was the idea/title. And I only have the title because I have already decided to do a Father’s Day post with the same title…except that one, even though it’s a month away, has practically already written itself. We’ll see how this Mother’s Day post goes…
I’ve made it no secret that my mom and I do not have the best relationship and I don’t want you to think that I just completely hate and despise her because I really don’t…but she does make it difficult for me to like and love her at times. I am grateful for what she’s done for me…letting me live back at home, etc. But while most people view that as “rent free” because I don’t give her any money (because I don’t have any to give), I have pretty much had to sell my soul to live here…not even sell it, I just had to give it up. THAT is the price I pay to live here. “Why don’t you just move out?” Good question and the answer is: I’m working on it. Baby steps, people. I JUST started “working” again for the first time in two years but $30/week isn’t going to get me far…but it’s a start. I deposit that money in an account I affectionately call my “GTFO Fund” (GTFO = Get The Fuck Out). M (my therapist) and I have decided/agreed that no matter how crazy I was/am, I would have done/do a lot a better if I were living on my own. It’s not gonna happen tomorrow…but we’re working on it.
So now, the nitty gritty…things my mother taught me…
1. Communication: My mother has taught me how to not communicate effectively. She is the type of person who says and does things that force people to ask her what’s wrong and nothing gets under my skin faster than a huge sigh or whine coming from the corner of the couch. She has also taught me what happens when you are not honest with your partner or your kids. She constantly expects her boyfriend (and even her children) to read her mind and…NEWS FLASH: we are not mind-readers. If you want something or need us to know how you’re feeling, ask and/or talk to us…don’t make us guess because chances are, we’ll get it wrong and then she just gets mad at us for not picking up on her “subtle” hints. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
2. Finances: My mother has taught me that I don’t want to be an impulse shopper or spend money I don’t have. My mother is the queen of the impulse buy, especially from QVC. She will later feel guilty about it and return it or is too lazy to return it and waits too long to where the store will not accept the return. I understand why people do that but it’s dug my mom a pretty big financial hole that she is now kicking herself for. She takes her anger out on those around her and in doing so, has taught me to think twice before I purchase anything, no matter the price or reason…be it a want or necessity.
3. Love: My mother has taught me about the things I don’t want to do regarding love and relationships. She sees what happened with my dad one way and I see it another so we just agree to disagree and I disagree with what she did and how she handled that situation. So she taught me that I don’t ever want to do that to someone, be they my husband or not. I believe it was wrong. As for her current boyfriend, there’s a lot of things she’s taught me about that relationship too…again, mostly about what not to do.
(I think it’s kind of sad that I had to pull those three things out of my ass and I’m desperately trying to think of more things she has “taught” me. We might be here a while…)
4. Makeup: My mother taught me that less is more. She refuses to leave the house without makeup on or hair done…so she’s also taught me that I don’t want to be that kind of woman. I am proud to be one of those women who can easily waltz out of the house with no makeup and not be mortified. When I do wear makeup, it’s minimal and looks natural.
(Seriously y’all…I am looking around my room grasping for topics. I should have given this post more thought before I sat down to write. Maybe I should have called this “Things My Mother Didn’t Teach Me”…that might have been easier to write…)
5. Parenting: My mother has taught me about the kind of mother I don’t want to be. I am not a mother myself but I do take notes and think about the kind of mother I want to be should that time ever come. This is a pretty big “lesson” but suffice it to say that there are several things I will never do or say to any future children I may have and I want to give any future children I may have all the things I was never given. This is not about material things such as, “I will give my child a pony because I never had one.” No. I want to love on and hug my children often, always tell them I love them and always kiss them goodnight. I want my children to know I support them no matter what path in life they choose and I want them to trust me and feel comfortable talking to me about anything, no matter the subject.
6. Laundry: My mother taught me how to do laundry…how to separate your colors and your whites, how to fold clothes and she taught me how to fold that blasted fitted sheet of death. She also taught me how to iron…always a useful skill. I still can’t sew a button back on to save my life.
7. Manicures and Pedicures: My mother taught me to enjoy being pampered and that little things, such as having your nails and toes painted, can make you feel good.
8. Lotions & Potions: My mother taught me the joys of lotions and perfumes and the importance of smelling good without going overboard. Although I may have taken this one a bit far because I think I’m a lotion hoarder…
9. Cooking: My mother taught me to use a pinch of salt and oil when boiling pasta so the noodles don’t stick together.
10. Logic: My mother taught me how to just accept, “Because I said so, that’s why.”
11. Life: My mother taught me that she brought me into this world and she can take me out. Sometimes I wish she would.
12. Bones: My mother taught me to grow a backbone as well as a funny bone because she lacks both…no bones about that.
Okay, that’s 12 things. Can I be done now? Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother’s out there…especially the ones who have stepped in and care(d) for me even though “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!”
Yay for early morning epiphanies that wake you up and you have to write down/express them so you can go back to sleep! (…said no one ever…)
I ponder this every year. I mentioned somewhere in the chaos of my Thanksgiving posts that I really don’t like the holidays anymore. I don’t like them for a variety of reasons, most of which I think I covered already. But now it’s time for Christmas. It’s “crunch time” as they call it. Time to finish decking those halls and time to speed from store to store and spend obscene amounts of money (that most of us don’t even have to spend) on presents and gas and then time to run on fumes until you pass out on top of all the wrapping paper with pieces of Scotch tape stuck to your forehead and butt.
Christmas’s in my home were always spent doing the same thing with the same people and engaging in the same traditions every year for 21 years. I always knew what to expect. The year my dad died (right before Thanksgiving 2005), my whole world changed…including the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas 2005 were the first holidays I celebrated with a family that wasn’t my own. And every year since then, it’s been different. I never know what to expect anymore. I can usually expect some drama and I can usually count on someone getting their feelings hurt at some point between Thanksgiving and New Years and be so upset about it that they ruin everyone else’s mood…and the obvious one to point your finger at would be me but 99% of the time, it’s not (it’s usually my mom, to be honest). I used to love Christmas with every ounce of my being…until the year my dad died. I turned into a Grinch that year. Tidings of comfort and joy could have kissed my lily white ass that year because I was not being comforted and I sure as hell wasn’t in any mood to be joyful. That first year, I chalked my feelings up to grief…but seven years later, I still don’t enjoy the holidays…Christmas especially. Now I wonder if it’s a tiny bit of grief mixed in with the fact that I’m just getting older. There’s no magic anymore. I don’t know if it’s normal for Christmas to stop being magical once you hit a certain age. Of course, if you have kids, you get to mooch off their magic (and their reactions and behavior on Christmas morning are absolutely precious…that will go on my “pros” list as to whether or not I want children).
I remember getting so freakin’ excited to pick out a Christmas tree and decorate it. I loved stringing Christmas lights up all over my room, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs and putting out all my own personal decorations and stuffed animals and getting to wear those Christmas jammies that I only get to wear a couple times each year. The house I grew up in had a HUGE formal living room with cathedral ceilings so we always had a MASSIVE (9 foot minimum) pine tree. I would get to decorate the middle and bottom of the tree (because I was/am short) and my mom, dad and brother would handle the stuff up top. My cat “helped decorate” the bottom by promptly removing the ornaments placed there and hiding them for us to find once we took all the Christmas decorations down sometime in January. (I miss my cat…even if she did eat my ornaments…) And it was so beautiful. The smell was amazing. I took out each ornament and carefully selected a special place for it on the tree while reflecting on the memories each ornament held. All of my “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments were officially handed down to me when I moved out and purchased my very first Christmas tree. My memories move me to tears now just thinking about them because they were all so special. And I suppose they are still special…it just makes me sad because they are now just memories instead of the traditions that they used to be.
I’m sitting here trying to remember the last time I decorated my own room for Christmas (I’ve been home for just over 5 years now)…and I can’t come up with an answer…I don’t remember. My mom is pretty much in charge of the household decorating since most of the decorations are hers and she is a decoration Nazi. You can “help” her decorate by lifting an item out of a box but she will tell you where to put it and don’t you dare suggest another place for it or try to move it when she’s not home. It’s true what they say about moms…they have eyes in the back of their heads. I think my mom has 8 eyes…like spiders. As I look around my Bat Cave right now, I see one set of Grinch pajamas (a tradition in our family, that is thankfully still done, is that all the kids get new pajamas on Christmas Eve and we wear those to bed that night and open presents while wearing them on Christmas morning). I don’t know how long I’ve had those pajamas…just a t-shirt and flannel bottoms with pictures of a little green Dr. Seuss Grinch all over them. Mom usually asks us if there is some particular type or character we want on our pajamas. I asked for the Grinch ones after I saw them in Target one year. (I know I reference “The Grinch” a lot…I’m sorry…but my reasons for doing so are because I truly love the real Dr. Seuss story…the meaning…that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, it means more…and also because I feel horrible for being such a Grinch myself. Maybe I wear it as a label…a warning. I don’t want to take other people’s Christmas away from them…I’m just such a cynical bitch about Christmas now that I can’t think of a better name for myself other than The Grinch-Bitch.) I see one Christmas t-shirt that was purchased for me a couple years ago that says “Oh snap!” with a picture of a gingerbread man on the front with one of his arms snapped off. (I say “Oh snap!” a lot so it’s totally fitting.) I see one unopened box of Christmas cards that I have every intention of preparing this weekend so I can send them out on Monday. That even surprises me because I can’t remember the last time I sent out Christmas cards. For a few years, I made my own damn Christmas cards by hand and went all artsy-fartsy. Fuck that now. Consider yourself lucky if you get a piece of cardstock from me at all. And if you don’t like that piece of cardstock, you won’t get another piece again…and that’s not a threat, that’s a promise. If you knew how much effort it is taking for me to be willing to even entertain the idea of sending out cards this year, you would appreciate the time I put into picking them out, writing a little a note, slapping a stamp on the front and mailing it. Just because it’s “short and sweet” doesn’t mean it isn’t sent out with love and the best of intentions. I’m not doing it because I feel obligated to do it because it’s just what people do, I’m doing it because I want to. If you knew me, you would know that I am not one to follow the crowd. I like to be that proverbial “sore thumb”…I may not be pretty to look at, but you’re looking at me and that means that even if you don’t like what you see, you still notice me. (And as a side note, I think if you do things because you feel obligated to and you do it when your heart’s not in it, whatever it is you’re doing doesn’t mean shit. To me, it’s like giving someone an empty bag. Don’t do it if your heart’s not in it.) The last Christmas item I see in my room is, surprisingly, a new edition…as in it’s only been living here for about a week. But it’s one item that I am quite fond of and is something that makes me giggle. It is a piece of wood, painted white, and in red, sparkly letters says “DON’T GET YOUR TINSEL IN A TANGLE” LOVE IT! But that’s about as much hall decking as I’ve done this year and I really don’t plan on doing any more. (If you’re curious about when I will purchase gifts for people, stop being curious because I am an unemployed suicidal-depressed-overly-anxious-neurotic…ergo, I don’t have any money to buy people presents.) I don’t really care about the rest of the house because it’s not my domain and I’m just really not into it this year. My mom and her boyfriend, after having a huge fight, purchased a Christmas tree last weekend. It sat in the garage for a few days to dry because we live in the Pacific Northwest and you can’t just drag a pine tree into your home without letting it dry off a little first. Because my mom was so mad at her boyfriend last weekend, she dove into her own Christmas collection and has set out some decorations that I once considered staples in our home during this season and things I have not seen in over 8 years. I still wanted nothing to do with the decorating, but I felt some warm fuzzies seeing some of those things. No one puts lights on the outside of the house. I don’t really know why, to be honest. My dad always put up lights on our old house but this house, the one my mom and her boyfriend own, has never played host to outside Christmas lights.
Name a kid who celebrates Christmas, knows some strange dude in a red suit is sticking his ass down your chimney (even if you don’t have a fireplace!) and leaves you some really awesome shit under a half dried out pine tree and doesn’t explode with excitement. I was one of those kids once. My how those presents sparkled underneath that beautiful tree I helped decorate. (I’m serious kids, our living room could have been on the front of a Hallmark card.) I don’t remember, but I have been told that I used to sleep through Christmas Eve and had to be woken up on Christmas morning in order to participate in the festivities. BUT…I have a half-brother who is 8 and a half years older than I am. He needed a partner in crime so he drafted his cute little sister and started waking her up after mom and dad went to bed. (Yes kids, it was mom and dad who left you your toys under the tree. I’m sorry if you are just now realizing this and please feel free to send your therapy bills to me at email@example.com). We were (and still are) allowed to open our stockings before anyone else wakes up and before we start opening presents. Stockings are free game in our house and the only thing we are allowed to touch until everyone else is up. The minute mom and dad went to bed after carefully setting out our gifts from “Santa,” my brother waited about five minutes before getting my cute princess butt out of bed and dragging me downstairs to see our haul. As we got older (and I got wiser), I didn’t need his help to sneak out to the front room. Most of the time, he was already halfway through his stocking by the time I tip-toed into the living room. As HE got older, his feet started to snap, crackle and pop like Rice Krispies when he tried to “sneak” downstairs. When the house was dead quiet at 3 in the morning, he sounded like those Pop-Its you threw on the ground on the Fourth of July. AND my brother’s stocking (handmade by my grandmother) had JINGLE BELLS on it. Oh my word people…if I had a YouTube video of my brother’s adventures in trying to silence those damn bells while rifling through his stocking at 3 AM so he wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad…you would be suffocating yourself with a pillow so you wouldn’t wake up the people in your own house with your laughter. I don’t remember who, but someone cut those bells off some 15 years ago just so my brother would not wake everyone up. I giggle now as I think about this because, as I said before, my brother is almost 9 years older than me and if you’ve been taking notes (or just have a really good memory), that makes him almost 40. (Yes, he acts like a 15-year-old but that’s another post for another late night.) But I’ll be damned if that boy still doesn’t get excited about Christmas morning. If he’s not living at home when Christmas comes (which is rare), he sleeps over on Christmas Eve. He STILL gets up around 3 AM and goes for his stocking and if I didn’t know better, I would swear that boy was gay based on his performance Christmas morning. It makes me laugh and smile…but then it makes me stop and cry. He’s older than me…but he still loves Christmas no matter what financial or legal hardship he’s dealing with. He still gets so fucking excited about it that I daresay I’m almost mad about that. But I’m not really mad…I’m jealous. What went wrong? What did I lose? What changed? I said earlier that for the first Christmas after my dad died, I let myself have a “get out of jail free” card. But what about the last 6 years? I love giving and receiving gifts as much as the next person, but if I wake up in 10 days from now and there is not a single box wrapped in string under that tree with my name on it, I won’t care…and that is the honest to God truth. I would rather wake up on the 25th of December and receive a huge hug, a REAL hug…a real “I love you and I’m so glad you are still here on this earth.”…I would much rather have those things than any iPod, computer or Beats headphones (and seriously, that’s saying something if you know me at all; please refer to my posts in the Music category).
I just don’t know what happened to Christmas. It’s missing in my world. Last year was the first year someone had to come in my room and actually wake me up so I could partake in the ritual gift exchange and breakfast. In my (almost) 29 years of existence, I have NEVER had to be woken up on Christmas morning and chances were, I had already been up for hours before you even decided to get up and go to the bathroom. I can understand and even accept that age probably has a lot to do with it; that transition from truly believing there was an old man who flew through the world in one night and dropped off some of the things we wanted more than anything…to realizing that it was really our parents who did that for us…to now doing it for our own children and getting joy out of seeing the look on their precious faces as they find that doll they have begged you to buy for them for months. (I’m not quite that far yet…I don’t have children…but based on my age, it’s likely I would be doing just that if things had gone the way I had planned for them to. *KNOCK KNOCK!* BRB angel faces…radical acceptance is knocking at my door…)
It’s just not fun anymore. It’s not pretty anymore. I don’t look forward to it anymore. And I don’t know why. Am I just at that age? Am I too exhausted from the other 364 days of the year to give a rats ass about Christmas? Is it because I don’t deal well with changes in traditions? I don’t know. And I probably won’t come up with an answer within the next 10 days. But that’s okay. I’m not going to squash the joy out of anyone else and I’m not going to be a Grinch-bitch (on the outside). It’s just going to be another day for me because truly…that’s all it is…just another day. But you will probably still find me looking under my car, out my bedroom window, behind the sofa, in the mail box…looking everywhere…and asking, “Where are you, Christmas?”
Where are you Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter you used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?
My world is changing.
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
Where are you Christmas?
I’m not the same one.
See what the time’s done?
Is that why you have let me go?
Do you remember?
The girl you used to know?
You and I were so carefree.
Now nothing’s easy.
Did Christmas change?
Or just me?
(I know there is an ending to a version of this song that involves finding Christmas again, but I haven’t found it yet…so I choose to stop the song here.)
I used to love the holidays. I still do…sort of. But they’ve lost their magic for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve gotten older and more cynical or if it’s because the holidays are huge stress magnets. I can tell you when I stopped loving the holidays. The day my father passed away…right before Thanksgiving in 2005. I think another part of why I dislike the holidays so much is because it seems that nowadays, Christmas immediately follows Halloween and it pisses me off. I didn’t used to be such a Grinch-bitch, but as I’ve gotten older, I refuse to utter the word Christmas until after we carve the Turkey. I boycott anything and everything Christmas until after we eat the bird. I had coffee with some of the “groupies” from my therapy group a couple weeks ago and sighed heavily when I walked into Starbucks only to be met with Christmas lights and a tree. I had to go to the Hallmark store after coffee and I clenched my jaw as I desperately tried to find a “thank you” card amid the three aisles of Christmas cards, all while listening to Celine Dion sing “So This Is Christmas.” A local easy listening radio station now starts playing non-stop Christmas music the minute Halloween ends. It pisses me off because there is a day of thanks that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated IN BETWEEN Halloween and Christmas. So before we say “gimme gimme gimme”…can we say “thank you”? Our holidays have been turned into retail races and the whole reason for the season seems to be lost on most people. (The only store that gets any credit from me is Nordstrom, who refuses to “deck their halls” until after Thanksgiving.) Saying thank you is something I do often, holiday or not. I never miss an opportunity to thank someone for a gift or to thank them for their time or something special they did. I often thank people just for being themselves because some people are so wonderful to have around. The Three Kings of Orient DID bring gifts, but the holiday wasn’t declared for the sole purpose of exchanging gifts. And for me personally, not being really religious, it’s not even so much about Christ…it’s about love and family and being together. Instead, we come together to eat and exchange gifts. Who goes over to someone else’s house on Christmas or Thanksgiving just to spend time with another person? No one. They go to eat or to exchange gifts. And I think that’s sad. I would give up every turkey and any monetary gift just to have a nice conversation and a genuine smile or hug from someone. That means more to me than any pair of Dr. Dre Beats headphones would (and that’s saying something if you know what a music whore I am). So before you trim up the Christmas tree with bingle balls and woofoo fluff, don’t forget to say thank you.
I grew up in an environment where the holidays were always the same. Not boringly the same, but traditionally the same. I always knew what and who to expect every year because for 21 years, it never changed. We had the exact same Thanksgiving dinner every 365 days. We had the exact same Christmas traditions every 365 days. In 2005, that stopped. I lost my dad in the beginning of November that year. That was the first Thanksgiving I spent away from my family and celebrated with another family. Christmas that year was also spent, for the first time, with another family and not my own. Ever since then, every year and every holiday has been different. I never know what to expect. Well…I can expect a few things…stress, anxiety and ambivalence. For the past 7 years, I have shut down beginning in early November and I refused to start up again until February. I have to shut down so I don’t have a nervous breakdown. It is a survival mechanism. I have to shut down to get through the anniversary of my dad’s passing, Thanksgiving with a family I don’t particularly care for, a Christmas I couldn’t care less about, my dad’s birthday in January and mine shortly after. Boom boom boom boom boom…each significant day a small explosion of emotion.
I don’t want to imply here that I hate my family. Hate is a very strong word and just because you dislike someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. You can love someone but you don’t have to like them all the time. My family “shrunk” after my dad passed away. Many extended family members cut ties and communication. I won’t get into the details of why because it doesn’t really matter…it is what it is. So for the most part, my “family” consists of myself, my mother, my half-brother (my mother’s son from a previous relationship), his girlfriend and my mom’s boyfriend. Five people. That usually works out fine for me because I don’t like big groups of people, no matter how close of a relationship I have with them. I’m very introverted and for the most part, I don’t enjoy just chatting amicably with groups of people, family or not. Plus, I don’t like being fake. I don’t like hurting on the inside yet forced to slap a fake smile on my face just to please those around me and not make them uncomfortable. I would prefer, instead, to just take myself out of the whole situation thus relieving my anxiety and so I don’t force people to walk on eggshells around me. I may be a “gloomy gus” at times, but I don’t enjoy raining on other people’s parade. I would prefer, instead, to be alone and have the rain fall on just me rather than on everyone around me.
As November approached this year, I felt myself starting to shut down so I could prepare for this year’s war. I mourned my father’s passing alone, spending my day talking to him, telling him how much I missed him and how I hoped that he was still here with me and that he wasn’t disappointed in me for the decisions I have made and the things I have done. My father was cremated and I have his ashes. My family went so completely ape shit when he died that no one could agree on (or pay for) a permanent home for him…so there is no where I can go to mourn him or put out fresh flowers for him. Although I wish I had a place for him sometimes, I suppose I am secretly glad that if anything, he’s here with me, quite literally. I don’t intentionally try to “keep” him from anyone else…but not once since his death has anyone asked me about his ashes. So it can’t be too much of a big deal to anyone else but myself…and that suits me just fine. Death is said to bring out the worst in people…and it is absolutely 100% true.
This year, as I felt myself start to shut down more and more with each passing day, I stopped myself for the first time in 7 years and said, “Instead of getting all wound up about all the things and feelings that MIGHT happen…know that they’re going to happen no matter what and make an escape plan.” So that is exactly what I did. I had 7 years of experience that told me that the same thing happens every year…stress, anxiety and invalidation. So I made a pretty good assumption that the same thing would happen this year…and instead of worrying about it, I expected and planned for it.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of DBT-focused therapy, but there is a module on Interpersonal Effectiveness. It centers around respect for yourself, respect for those you communicate with and how to communicate effectively without harming yourself or anyone else in the process. This module teaches you how to stay true to yourself and your values and feelings while letting others know where you stand. One big key component of DBT therapy is that you cannot ever control what another person thinks, does, or says. But that’s where the self respect comes in. Make your feelings known and stand your ground no matter what other people do or say. If you’ve communicated the best way you can and people still don’t respect your stance, that’s it. End of story. You did what you needed to do, the ball is in the other person’s court and they can choose to hit it back and engage with you or they can let it hit them in the face. This is easier said than done, of course. I’m still working on it but I’ve gotten better about stating my wishes and remaining firm on where I stand no matter how much another person tries to manipulate me or get me to change. I can walk into a room or event, state that this is how I feel, this is what I’m going to do (don’t confuse assertiveness with arrogance) and you can understand/empathize/work with me, but I refuse to “cave in” and do what you want me to do or feel how you want me to feel.
A big thing, for me, is a feeling of obligation. These people are my family and thus, I am obligated to love them and be happy about spending time with them. When I don’t, I often feel guilty and beat myself up about it. I’m working on trying not to do that. I do love my family, but I don’t like them all the time…or even most of the time. They make outings and holidays very stressful and miserable. My mom could really care less that I don’t feel like smiling or socializing on Thanksgiving; she will tell me to slap a smile on my tear-stained face and get my ass out to the dining room and socialize with the people who make up my family. Not this year, mom. Another part of interpersonal effectiveness is negotiation/compromise. Okay mom, I will come out and have dinner and join you all for a couple hours, but that is my limit. After that, I am retreating to my Bat Cave (my bedroom/laboratory) and putting my headphones in and turning the music up. To my great surprise (and relief), it worked this year. I spent a majority of the day in my room, watching TV, listening to music, snuggling and self-soothing. I spent a little over an hour with my family for dinner and conversation and after I was told to shut up after telling them that the blue whale is the largest animal in the world, even bigger than the dinosaurs were and their tongues can weigh as much as an elephant (I love learning new things and discovering mind-blowing WTF facts), I retreated to my Bat Cave, reinserted my headphones and sat down to write…my therapy away from therapy. My therapist once asked, after I started sharing some things I had written with her, if I was writing for her or for myself. I told her it was 100% for me but that I was sharing them with her because I found that writing allowed me the time to think more about my feelings and allowed me to express myself more accurately and with more clarification than when I am just sitting in my therapist’s office pulling stuff out of my ass. Not only did the writing turn out to be a great thing for me, my therapy away from therapy, it also allowed my therapist to better understand me. (Fifty minutes a week is just not enough sometimes.) Two birds with one stone. I don’t walk into her office each week with a dissertation, but she loves it when I do.
I suppose now that Thanksgiving is over, Christmas has officially begun and I said earlier that anything and everything Christmas goes after we carve the turkey. So Celine Dion, sing your heart out to “Ave Maria,” trim up the tree with Christmas stuff like bingle balls and woofoo fluff, trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums…trim every blessed window and trim every blessed door…hang up wooboohoo bricks then run out and get some more! Hang pantookas on the ceilings, pile pankunas on the floor…trim every blessed needle on the blessed Christmas tree. I will cease to be a Grinch (until next year). But even after you open your gifts this year, say thank you again…not only for the gifts you received, but for the people who are in your life and for the love you receive, no matter if it’s from your family or your therapist…because Christmas doesn’t come from a store…Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.