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Sometimes when people hear me refer to journaling, they have no clue what I’m talking about. For me it’s not just a list of things I did that day or whether I’m happy or upset. In some ways the first words I write end up working like a writing prompt (which I was under the mistaken idea I could actually DO, thus this blog) and before I know it I’ve written a whole piece.

In looking back to last year I ran across this entry in my journal. It brought back a lot of memories. So for those folks who have asked about it, this is what a journal entry often looks like for me. Oh, and it’s not edited so be very forgiving.

***

It never even made it onto my white-board calendar on the front of the refrigerator. I was out of cleaner and November (which had been a “bucket list” month for me) was refusing to wipe off clean. For days I determined to stop by the office supply store to pick up some cleaner. Those days turned into weeks, and it never happened at all. So December never made it to our calendar.

This has been the most half-assed December we’ve had in the 41 years we’ve been married. The most chaotic, the most manic-depressive, the most out-of-control. It didn’t help that I had just spent the entire month of November attempting to actually write a book-length story. (And for all those family and friends of mine who have always told me what a wonderful writer I am and I should just sit down and write a book – screw you! You have NO idea what the hell you’re talking about. It isn’t that easy.)

Though I was absolutely thrilled with my accomplishment of 68,959 words (the equivalent of a 197-page paperback) and could now cross “writing a book” off my bucket list, I was exhausted by the end of the month. I finished it on Saturday the 30th which left me the weekend to recoup and then two days to get ready to leave on Wednesday the 4th to fly to College Park, Maryland to spend a week with our daughter and her family. There was NOT enough time for said recouping…

The trip was stressful. Don’t get me wrong. I love the kids to death. But there was a lot of emotional tug-of-war going on between wanting to please our daughter by being with her family 24/7, and wanting to please our son, who had gone with us for the first time, by taking him all over to see the sights. Plus, we live so far away from them that we’re not accustomed any more to the turmoil that surrounds having a very young family (1 month, nearly 2, and nearly 4 years of age). If we’re lucky we get to see them twice a year. It doesn’t exactly build up your resistance. Thank God for Xanax! Add to that some pretty crappy weather, and I just plain couldn’t wait to get home.

We met them all for breakfast the morning we left and the 2-year-old sat between my husband and me. He is just so precious (not that they aren’t all preciouos, but it appears I have a soft spot in my heart for this one…). He’d take a bite of breakfast then give Grandpa a hug. Then he’d take another bite and give Grandma (me) a hug. On and on through the meal. It made it so hard to leave. We have missed all of their “firsts” and sometimes feel cheated out of a part of our life, the part of being Grandparents, that we will never know. (But then we still have our MARRIED 35-year-old son living with us – though not his wife, they’re apparently separated – and we feel cheated out of the whole empty-nest thing altogether.) So the push me/pull me syndrome kicked in that morning.

Got to the airport on time, but the plane was 40 minutes late leaving as it needed to be de-iced first. Thusly, we got to our gate in Minneapolis/St. Paul at 2:15 and our connecting flight – in a totally different concourse a mile or more away – left at 2:22. I honestly didn’t know that three fat people could cover that much ground in seven minutes! But we made the plane. And on all three flights I was stuck in the middle of these two big dudes who claim to be my husband and son. I now have a new understanding of claustrophobic.

When we finally got back to Salt Lake City, I nearly dropped and kissed the ground. We were all three sliding under the weather as all of our grandsons were sick and wanted so much to send a little something home with us. So by the next morning I was right down in bed. The other two dropped like flies over the next couple days. Here it is January 3rd and my husband is STILL trying to find his voice from the bronchitis. Joy!

So when we got home, I dragged my arse through the motions of creating some Christmas spirit. I wasn’t very successful. It took a week to get the artificial tree out and up. Two more days to add a few other Christmas touches to the house. My mind wasn’t working, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how the hell I had attached the Christmas stockings to the bannister last year. Spent the better part of two hours staring at this green velcro stuff that was with them thinking it must SURELY have something to do with it. Finally my husband came home and figured it out. The whole decorating thing is a chore for me anyway. I didn’t get THAT gene. My sister did.

I realized very quickly that once you’ve lost a week of December (let alone an entire month), there’s no getting it back. The whole missing December affair was complicated by the fact that Thanksgiving was so late this year there was one LESS week between then and Christmas. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed every morning to face another day. I know what people mean now when they say they have a monkey on their back. But for me it was a plastic elf! With a recorded message, I might add. It was a constant loop of Jingle Bells, Here Comes Santa Claus, Jingle Bell Rock, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I don’t know why there weren’t any traditional spiritual songs on there like “Silent Night.” At lease they would have slowed me down some. But no, that damn elf was singing those annoying songs in my ears EVERYWHERE we went.

I knew if I didn’t try to slow down, calm down, find some grounding I’d never make it through the season with any kind of good will at all. I was already going around greeting people with “Ho, ho, ho, Holy Crap!”

For 30+ years we’ve done an Advent Wreath at Christmas where you light a candle every night and read a devotion. It’s been our escape from all the commercialism of the season. By Christmas Eve you’ve lit three purple candles and one pink and added a white one to the center of the wreath on Christmas Eve to symbolize the birth of Jesus. We didn’t start our wreath the first week of Advent since we were leaving on the 4th for Maryland. We figured it wouldn’t matter if we missed it one year. That, I decided, was part of my mistake. We missed it, needed that reminder that Chrristmas wasn’t really about all the rushing around and baking and wrapping presents. It was about something a lot quieter. So we decided we’d get the stuff out and catch up. That meant a LOT of reading. Three weeks worth at a time. But we did it. By week four we were on track and I was feeling a bit more settled. Sometimes I underestimate the stabilizing influence of coming together with family at the end of the day and focusing on what’s really important about this season – the birth of Love Incarnate. I had sorely missed doing those devotions every night.

We all continued to drag ourselves through the days, content to just be sick and crabby with each other because we couldn’t do any shopping for Christmas. We had to wait until my husband’s boss decided whether he was going to shed himself of the Grinch mentality long enough to give out Christmas bonuses this year. He did. On Friday. Four days before Christmas. So the next four days were a nightmare of shopping. Still sick, we stratigized this year to get as much of it done in one day as possible. We did pretty well. I had one gift left to pick up on the 23rd and bags to put together for our neighbors. Then on Christmas Eve I spent the entire day baking pies and wrapping the damn presents. Even my own…

By this time I was plainly manic-depressive. We usually watch our favorite Christmas movies the few days before the big day. White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooge… That sort of helps to ground me, too. Takes me back to growing up when we had wonderful Christmases. Helps me remember my folks and my own kids’ growing up years. We only made it through Scrooge this year, but I knew the “magic” hadn’t taken when I walked into the bedroom afterward and my nightgown, which I’d pulled off that morning and thrown on the bed, still unmade at 10:30 at night, was all twisted in a knot and looked just like the bed clothes wrapped around Scrooge’s neck after the visit from the Ghost of Christmas future. That did not bode well for my frame of mind. It felt like a bloomin’ omen.

And yet on Christmas Eve when I delivered the neighbors’ presents, I slipped back in time to Hollywood in the 1930’s. I’d dropped a gift off to one neighbor we don’t know well. Her daughter took it in the house, and I was running – yes, literally running, I did a lot of that this year – down the icey street to the next house when her mom came to the door and waved frantically shouting “Merry Christmas!” I waved back and hollered in kind, and for just a split second I was running with George Bailey down the decorated street in It’s a Wonderful Life after the angel, Clarence, convinced him he really HAD had quite an amazing life. It only lasted a second or two, but it was so surreal. Like George, I figured I was finally “off my nut.”

Push me/pull me, yin and yang… I couldn’t find the balance.

We were looking forward to the candlelight service at church and planned to stop for a leisurely meal at a steak house on the way. Unfortunately, so did every other nincompoop in town. We called ahead for seating at 6:50 and STILL had to wait for 45 minutes to get a table. Then they brought our salads and the steaks didn’t show up for ANOTHER 45 minutes. (I KNOW they were busy…and we WERE very nice to the waitress.) The trouble was, we got the steaks at 7:45, and the service started at 8:00. I’ve never snorted steak before. It was an interesting experience. If you try it, just know that you bypass your taste buds so you have no clue what the hell you’ve just eaten. And be sure to have someone check your nose hairs. Little bits of the accompanying mashed potatoes had caked themselves to mine.

When we got to church – 13 minutes later – we found the first service was still clearing out. It was like being smacked in the face to realize we would have had time to at least TASTE the bloody steaks. Be that as it may, we finally got situated. The service was long, which was probably better for us as it took us ANOTHER 45 minutes just to calm down. By the time we got to the candle lighting part at the end and the quiet singing of Silent Night, I was starting to chill. I NEEDED that dark space. My hands were still shaking a bit, and I dripped candle wax on my coat. (I see a visit to Hoffman Cleaners in the near future.) But I figured maybe I’d found December at last.

At home for the evening, there were all the little last minute things to do. My husband made fudge. The guys still had a few presents to wrap. I made a long-distance call to Australia (my gift to myself) to wish my dearest friend a Merry Christmas. The best present I got. And finally we deposited our weary bones on the couch to do the last Christmas devotion and light the Christ candle.

We just sat there and stared at it for a long time when we were done. It truly is our spiritual oasis in the middle of all the Christmas chaos every year. I don’t know how people manage Christmas without a sense of God or spirituality of some kind in it. Without that, it all seems like insanity to me. A futile rat race. Truth is I used to enjoy Thanksgiving more than Christmas. No presents to worry about, just food, family, and great gossip. Then about five years ago a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Back Friday in the midst of the chaos. I can’t enjoy Thanksgiving anymore without thinking of that poor man’s family and the greedy merchants who encourage that kind of gladitorial entertainment called shopping. That’s why I need the season of Advent so desperately. It’s the counterweight I need to offset the craziness that grips this country in December. Even missing ones.

I found December that night. By Christmas Day I had settled down. My blood pressure had normalized and I wasn’t shoving candy in my mouth to medicate my feelings of panic anymore. My white-board remained blank and I figured that was ok. January was going to bring changes for me for the next three or four months as I went back to work part time. I didn’t think anyone in my family would miss those last few days if I didn’t put them up there. In fact, I doubt anyone but me missed the damn calendar at all!

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