Every store we've been to lately has had some sort of Christmas display up. And I hate it.. not because I think they're starting too early, not because I am out to complain against the commercialism of Christmas or anything like that... Just because Christmastime is very hard for me. It reminds me of feelings I'd like to be over by now, but just can't seem to let go.
I can't remember any specific presents I got on any specific years. I can't remember anything especially funny happening or any really great meals we had... I only remember how strained it was between everyone in my family. Being the baby, everyone tried to shelter me. I had no idea why everybody had such a hard time getting along because no one would say anything to me. But they didn't have to. I wasn't stupid, I could tell things were wrong, words or no words.
The older I got, the more I was able to see for myself. I got better at eavesdropping on people's conversations, filling in gaps with my own logic. Eventually, certain family members just stopped showing up to family functions. And I still didn't know why. I just figured they didn't care. In a way, I figured they didn't care about me, the only one left at home. I never even learned why until I was getting ready to leave the house myself.
I used to look forward to a break from school, but that was it. Once we were home, I was stuck. My parents were stressed. Constant, forced togetherness made us argue. Christmas shopping and wrapping needed to be done and everyone had to bend over backwards not to upset the precarious balance. Were all of the presents "even" and "fair" between all children? Did I say something wrong that so-and-so isn't speaking to me?
It was a hard place to be for me. Instead of looking forward to opening presents by the fireplace, I was bracing myself for the storm.
But now, things are different. I am on my own. I can host events myself, and I can invite everyone. Show up or not show up, everyone is always welcome to my home and everyone can get along for a few hours if they choose to come. If they choose not to come, I'll see them another time. That's it. That is my rule. Their decades-old issues between each other do not concern me, they do not define the individual relationship I have with either party. Truthfully, I may not even want to spend time with some of my family sometimes, but they are my family and I am capable of setting differences aside for a few days. Shouldn't everyone be able to do that?
And even though I know things are different now, it is hard to forget how it was. It has been hard for me not to instinctively put on my grinch face and just try to get through it all as fast as I can.
Oliver has no memories of Christmas at all. He just knows that he likes the lit displays in department stores. He points out Christmas lights on our drives around town. He talks about Christmas trees and ornaments and Santa and presents. He has no idea that Christmas would be anything but pretty lights, food, and presents. That's all I've told him.
And for him, that's all it should be. A time to be with people you love and enjoy a nice day together. I just have to be careful not to poison it for him. I don't want to say anything negative. I don't want to get all stressed. I just want to show up to wherever the festivities are and watch him open presents and have a good time together.
How is that so hard for me? Even if I do manage to exchange my dark memories for future excitement and hope... how do I explain the family gaps to Oliver? The last thing I want to do is tell him nothing, to leave him in the dark to feel like he did something wrong.
I want to be transparent with him. I want him to know how things are in his world, whether or not the situation lies in his control. I don't want issues to come out of nowhere and blindside him. I want him to see that everyone has problems and he isn't in charge of fixing them all. It is best just to have that honesty and openness for everyone involved. I do believe I can teach that to him and I do believe I can demonstrate that for him. But it is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done. If it means that Oliver will have great memories of Christmas, it will be worth every day of the struggle.