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wrapped gifts under tree

Have a Real Merry Christmas

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: jimmiehomeschoolmom

Friends are God’s apology for relations.

— Hugh Kingsmill

This is the time of year that is supposed to be about getting together with family and friends.  I don’t know how it is for other families, but in my family, Christmas is like a fairy tale.  Good children get everything they want.  There are no bad children.  There are unlimited funds.  Everyone loves everyone.  And we all live happily ever after – just as soon as we get away from the Christmas “event”.

I presume that everyone (except the kids) in the family realizes that it’s all put on, but maybe I’m wrong.  My part in the charade has been to shop for my nieces.  This started when they were toddlers.  To help out my sister, we would “dress” the kids for winter.  My friend Jan, who had only boys, would accompany me to Mervyn’s and we’d choose outfits for each of the kids.  Because I was shopping for gifts from Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle John and myself, this was a lot of clothes.  It was a lot of work, but over the years, as the girls got older, I seemed to do alright in choosing stuff and I enjoyed picking cool stuff.

Yet, while this was going on, we had multiple family schisms.  Every year, there was something that was difficult – Mom in the Alzheimers facility; Dad not talking to my sister and brother-in-law; or my sister furious at me for not agreeing to put up 12 people in my little three bedroom home.  Disagreement was always papered over.  Smile.  Hug, hug; kiss, kiss.  Happily ever after consisted of getting away without a major blow-up.

An Unending Cycle

Progress is made in baby steps.  My sister believes that “families are hell” – all of them, without exception.  She has never seen anything different.

I’ve seen different possibilities.  Friends invite me for the holidays and although I may be the odd person out, I am welcomed.  It isn’t about the gift exchange.  It’s about the good times we have around the table, playing silly games and enjoying each other’s company.  Because of all these experiences, I aspire to a different model.  I want a pleasant day with friends who care.

Living a fairy tale is denying reality.  The next generation grows up thinking that somewhere out there is the Norman Rockwell Christmas – that what we pretend to be, exists.  It is what they expect and therefore, when the experience they create in their own families is make believe, they are disappointed.  Their lives aren’t perfect.

Perfect people don’t need to grow.  They just keep doing what they’ve always done – and the cycle of pretend continues.

A Way Forward

Life is difficult sometimes.  None of us have all the answers.  And if we once thought that we did, life soon taught us otherwise.

Like many of you, I am a proud person.  When I was a kid, Father Daly always gave the same sermon on Mothers’ Day.  “Mothers,” he would say, “be proud of that gray hair.  It shows how hard you’ve worked on raising those kids.”  In other words, be proud of the hard work that you’ve done.

I’m proud of starting with nothing.  I’m proud of:

  • putting myself through college
  • getting a job in Corporate America
  • feeling my way through succeeding in Corporate America
  • leaving Corporate America and starting a business
  • facing financial extinction and
  • coming through to the other side – with a lot of help from my friends.

You might say that I’m like the Velveteen Rabbit.  I’m not perfect, but I am real.

Fairy tales are great when we’re children and we need to have a happy ending for the story before we go to sleep each night.  But they aren’t real.  In the end, the make believe ends and we return to our real lives.  What matters isn’t that we seemed to have a perfect holiday.  What matters is that we pull together to heal the disputes and fix the problems.  What matters is that we left the celebration as a stronger family.

My wish for you is that you have a Real Merry Christmas.

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Cup o’ Inspiration

cup with steam swirl

Take a short break and consider the following:

“The thing about family disasters is that you never have to wait long before the next one puts the previous one into perspective.”

Robert Brault

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