This article was originally published in GoOff: News and Views, December 15-21, 2002. I am revisiting it one decade later, at another time in my life. My boys are now grown, age 23 and 19.
The holidays have just ended and I am taking a moment to reflect in awe on what I accomplished. As usual, I did all the stuff that defines our holiday season. I carried the torch of what we “always do”; I made the magic happen for the people I love most in the world.
I bought all the gifts and wrapped all the gifts and shipped all the gifts that had to be shipped. I didn’t do this in any careless, hasty way; I spent time holding each recipient in my heart, choosing something that would be resonant and validating of how special each person is in our lives. I lay awake a bit at night or early in the morning strategizing about how to create the magic of Christmas for my family. I was Santa – and when my youngest lost a tooth on December 23, I also doubled as the Tooth Fairy for one night.
I struggled a bit over our holiday cards, worrying whether the picture reflected well how we each look at this point in our life process. I put the photos on the cards and updated our mailing list and printed labels and bought stamps and set up an assembly line with my kids to get them all ready for the mail. I wrote personal notes when it was important to honor a connection.
I attended our neighborhood cookie exchange, bringing my nine dozen cookies (all one kind, baked at 6 a.m. one morning, along with a copy of the recipe to be put in a little recipe book by the equally creative hostess) and laughed with friends and drank coffee and sampled a few of the cookies and returned home with nine dozen assorted cookies. We “always” have to have cookies for the holiday.
I selected and decorated the Christmas tree with my kids, hung the stockings, made sure the outside lights and decorations all worked. These are the things we “always do”, the kind of reliable and consistent foundation that is so important to my kids – or any kids for that matter. It is what makes them feel safe in a crazy world; they know there are certain things we will “always do”.
I attended all of my children’s musical concerts, recitals and sporting events, as I do every week of the year. I took the teenager to movies with his friends. I made sure they attended all their guitar and piano lessons and did their practicing; I made sure one son took his antibiotics every day so that his ear infection would clear up and the specialist would quit threatening to put tubes in his ears. The dog developed some bumps under her chin and needed to visit the vet to assure us this was not a reoccurrence of a previous melanoma. At some point we realized (as we do every year) that the boys’ dress slacks no longer fit either of them and we had to face the holiday shopping hoards again in order to find black slacks for that chorus concert. I used the time alone with each of them in the car to check in with them about how they were doing, to connect with some real conversation.
I worked at my office, seeing clients in my psychotherapy practice. The holidays are particularly stressful times for people, on many levels, and my practice always gets active between Thanksgiving and New Years as people revisit old family dynamics and other relational struggles. There is something about the contrast between the hype and the reality that brings up lots of truth for many of us during this month, and I often see a number of my old clients return for a few visits as they cycle through another important layer of their process. I consider it a sacred honor to participate with these people on their amazing journeys.
I hosted a family who visited from out of state; I took a group of eight to Disneyland for ten hours and a group of six up to the mountains for a few days of snowboarding. I cooked dinner for nine one night, thirteen the next night, and nine the night after that. I picked up endlessly behind kids who left a trail of dirty paper plates, candy wrappers, half–emptied drink containers and plastic wrappers as they opened all of the things they had gotten for Christmas. I had great conversations with my sister. I also listened as my kids laughed with their cousins, shared stories about life as it is unfolding for each of them, negotiated conflicts and differences.
There were moments in all of this when I complained, when I screamed at the car ahead of me in parking lot and when I snuck off to a quiet corner to have a little cry because I needed to. I was not necessarily sad or angry or afraid or overwhelmed; I just needed to let off a little emotional steam to make room for all the incoming experiences and feelings during this complex relational time with people I love.
I did what women do, what they have done for generations. I held the needs of others in my heart and did my best to honor them. I listened and mirrored what others were saying. I created the space for them to experience love and connection. I planned ahead and anticipated and multi-tasked and intuited and remained as flexible as I could so that I could bend with the flow of events and not break. I showed up for the people around me on a physical, an intellectual and an emotional level. I carried forward the traditions, the safety of what we “always do”, for the members of my family so that they can each relax somewhere deep inside and more fully express their own unique human potential.