Holidays are funny, aren’t they? We put so much pressure on them to live up to expectations that are often unrealistic. You can never tell when a holiday celebration will fall completely flat, or, surprisingly, exceed even your best hopes. But it seems like most fall somewhere in between, don’t they?
I spent my Thanksgiving with my girls this year, which automatically catapults it into the “Bound To Be Good” category. We baked a pumpkin pie from scratch (yes, even the crust!) and made my yummy mashed potatoes — my former mother-in-law likes to joke that the thing she grieved the most in our divorce was the potential loss of my holiday mashed potatoes. But she wasn’t grieving this year, because, through a series of small coincidences, the girls and I landed at her house for Thanksgiving this year. Yes, that’s right: I spent Thanksgiving with my former in-laws and two very nice ladies who work with my ex-MIL and were holiday orphans. I know some of you are scratching your heads, but it was actually quite lovely, and the culmination of a full-circle acceptance back into his family that began early this year with a Facebook friend request from one of my former sisters-in-law. To be honest, I am not sure that I would select all of these folks as my friends, but, by virtue of my children, they are family, and so I am thankful for their acceptance and forgiveness. And so very glad to be able to give my children the gift of family holidays.
But there were aspects of my holiday weekend that disappointed, as well. I am awaiting a decision on a job that I very much want and need, and my second interview on Monday did not go as I had hoped. So, I have been revisiting that hour all week long, torturing myself with better answers I could have given and imagining all sorts of possibilities on the part of my potential employers.
Then, on Friday, I succumbed to the stomach bug that both my daughters suffered through pre-Thanksgiving. It hit me hard and laid me flat for a little over 24 hours. This was not part of my carefully-constructed plans for the weekend, and I was highly annoyed at the bug’s appearance. But then I remembered that I am lucky to have a basically healthy constitution and a body that allows me to do the things I love. So I got over being pissy. But isn’t it funny how indignant we get when life doesn’t accommodate our Rockwellian holiday ideals?
I also couldn’t help but to reflect on my life last year at this time and remember how happy I was to be spending the holidays with James. But I also remembered the pressures of those first holidays together — wanting so much for them to be perfect and so worried that anything short of perfection might portend bad things for us as a couple. As it turned out, we had a picture-perfect holiday season — truly perfect! — only to spectacularly implode on New Year’s Eve. So there you go, I suppose.
There is something so intense about the holidays, and I think it’s about more than expectations. I think the heightened emotions of the holidays make us more raw and vulnerable to all sorts of feelings. The highs are higher and lows feel lower. I think those heightened emotions can offer us clarity and hope, even in the midst of fretting or feeling anxious. For me, really intense emotional times act as a crucible of sorts, clarifying and organizing my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes there is joy in that clarity, other times there is pain, but either way we can use it as something positive to gain insight or understanding.
This year, I resolved to be present in my holidays, not lost in the atmosphere of what if’s or why not’s or what’s missing or wrong. I want my holidays to be more than something to endure with a pasted smile and a fretful heart. I do not demand or expect perfection this year. I just want good enough.
And now, with the fire blazing and the Christmas carols filling the house, I must join my daughters to trim the tree.
What do you hope for your holidays this year? Are they different hopes from last year?
Whatever you wish for, I hope you find it in your own holiday traditions.