by Julia Buckley
When I was in my twenties I think I took a lot of stock in those phony images. I wanted to be those people on tv because, let's face it, it looked good. But eventually real life chipped away at my illusions and made me see that the holidays are no different from any other days in the sense that messy life will intrude, and that sometimes it becomes messier than ever before. The stress of the holidays can ratchet up the normal tensions simmering under our benign countenances and cause us to blow at inopportune moments.
It started with events like the one pictured above, when my poor son realized that he didn't like the concept of Santa Claus--that image that parents so carefully cultivate for their children's pleasure. And once my children got old enough to fight with one another and talk back to their parents, I developed a complaint which has to be pulled out several times each season: "Must you two save your most repulsive behavior for the holidays?"
In their defense, though, they are deprived of the mental stimulation of school, the society of friends, the exercise of walking back and forth to the dear old school building. Instead they are subjected to a frightening sociological experiment in which they are placed in a small, warm, super-decorated house with two fairly grouchy parents who are prone to saying "Do you realize how much we do for you kids?"
Let the eye rolling begin.
It's not that the holidays don't bring joy: of course they do. But the trick is recognizing joy when it comes close, and it has nothing to do with pretty visuals (thank goodness). I think I'm getting better at recognizing the joy. Like those moments, after a day of yelling "shut up" at each other at top volume, my sons suddenly become best friends and lie in their beds with a flashlight and books, giggling together at cartoons.
Or those days when, let's face it, I feel I might die from being taken for granted--after doing all the shopping, all the wrapping, all the cleaning, much of the cooking, only to find that no one is thanking me--and someone, a boy, a husband, some family ambassador of good will--brings me eggnog or tea and says that I deserve some relaxation. (This one might still be closer to fantasy, but hey, it's happened).
Or, sometimes, it can be a nice e-mail from someone in the mystery world, like my fellow Poe daughters, that can bring me a moment of happiness.
And those are the moments that can happen any time in life. The trick to enjoying the holidays is to give much, expect little, and then enjoy everything that exceeds your expectations.
But if someone hands me one of those gold packages with a gold bow, I'm taking it.