The holidays are seductive in their nostalgia. As soon as the cooler weather arrives (or perhaps the warmer weather in the Southern hemisphere?), I begin to think about what’s on the way. I used to think of the forthcoming onslaught. The frenzied shopping, the familial demands, and that Xanax prescription hidden in the back of my closet, tucked away for just the right moment. No more.
I cleaned things up around here. No more mean relatives for Thanksgiving or Christmas. No more obligatory holiday parties with family members we haven’t seen in five years “just because” it’s what we’re supposed to do. I know too many people who hate the holidays because of the stress, and I didn’t want to be one of those people anymore. I thought I had done a pretty good job of a seeking out and eradicating the holiday awfulness until…
The girls had an extended Thanksgiving Holiday break. This translated into three days home during the week and the following weekend. Five days. Doireann is almost 17 now. She sort of skipped being a typical teenaged girl and went straight to 65 year-old curmudgeon. She’s the embodiment of Crankshaft from the comic strip.
Eadaoin, on the other hand, is the embodiment of a 15 year-old girl but amplified 100 times due to her mood and anxiety disorders. On one day, she might be relatively stable. The next day she’s crying and moody. The day after, she might be awake at 3 AM eating marshmallows in the living room while watching cartoons. She is prone to panic attacks and crying in public at the drop of a hat. Due to her mood lability, she can be quite rude and self-centered.
Grace is herself. She tries to do well every day. Currently, she tries to deal with Eadaoin who is wrapped up in her own world much like Grace was a year ago.
And then there is Milly, the 10 year-old Aspie who just wishes her sisters would get their shit together. Typically, Aspies are about two years behind developmentally so Milly is about 8 years-old emotionally. She is beginning to play with toys and games appropriate for a girl who is in the second grade. She is also trying out new behaviors that I’d really like her to forsake, but all children do this. They watch other children essentially act like assholes, and then they come home and give it a whirl. “Hey, I just saw a kid throw a granola bar at his mom’s face. I wonder what would happen if I did that? Hmmm…that kid is throwing himself to the ground and yelling at his mom. What would happen if I did that? That kid just flipped his mom off with his attitude. I wonder what would happen if I did that?” Some kids do it only once and get a clue. Some kids are tenacious and must experiment many times before they form a proper hypothesis, gather enough evidence, and come to a conclusion. Milly seems to be the latter.
So, what do you get when you put all four of these children together for five days during two major holidays–Thanksgiving and Hanukkah? Mayhem. You get mayhem. The first night of Hanukkah was peaceful, but there was an argument about lighting the candle. Grace was fearful about a fire starting, and Doireann had to say something snarky. Enter the Powder Keg. I had to stay up late to finish all the pie baking for Thanksgiving so I woke up on Thanksgiving Day with a migraine. No matter. Drugs and coffee took care of that. The Powder Keg sat in the room with everyone waiting to be lit. The bickering began. Like hens clucking and pecking, the girls were at each other all day long. We made it through the Thanksgiving Feast for which I was grateful. The next day it was tense. More fighting. More problem solving. Eadaoin was instigating. Milly was antagonizing. Grace was pacing. Doireann was avoiding. My husband was reacting. I was protecting the Powder Keg. Saturday arrived. The day we buy the Christmas Tree. Yes, yes, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. We’re one of those families. Tensions were running high. Everyone demanded that the tree meet certain specifications.
“It must be fluffy like a wedding dress!”
“It should be tall!”
“It should be majestic.”
“Come on, you guys, it needs to fit into the living room!”
Then Eadaoin got lost in the nursery, and everyone panicked. I sent my husband to find her. He found her by the koi…of course. Decorating the tree was like herding feral cats. It wasn’t fun at all. It was an exercise in torture. By the time I got into bed an argument broke out between Eadaoin and Grace. How could they still have energy to argue at midnight? Why are they still awake? Why do I have children? Will the Powder Keg explode?
Sunday arrived, and I was dragging. My husband was hiding in the bedroom, and the children were looking sheepish. I wanted to run away to the art museum alone which was my plan. I had mediated numerous arguments, dealt with one too many bad attitudes, and not enjoyed the holiday break at all. I just wanted some peace and beauty, but I had to wear the chauffeur hat and take Eadaoin to a tea party. My husband and I decided to use our time last night to visit the museum and grab a bite to eat. Finally, a moment of peace. No children fighting. No bipolar moodiness. No schizophrenic sadness or lability. No autistic rigidity. Just the two of us. A little holiday festivity and no children to spoil it (I do love them, you know).
When we arrived at our domicile, we were smacked in the face with an atmosphere of both contrition and defiance. Doireann had cleaned the kitchen and was folding laundry. I have never seen her fold anyone’s laundry but her own. She had a repentant look upon her face. She shrugged and said, “Yeah, we’ve been jerks all weekend. I figured I could do something to help out around here.” Words failed me which Milly was more than happy to make up for with her larger than life attitude. “I want a tent in my room! But someone won’t buy me a tent so I made a fort in the living room! And, no, I don’t want to clean it up now because I’m playing with it.” I had just about had enough of her over-the-top attitude, and I could hear my husband draw in a deep breath; I figured he was ready to take her out as well. Bill Cosby once said, “You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, I’ll make another one look just like you.” I thought of him last night as Milly squared her shoulders and stood her ground, protecting her fort. I searched myself for self-control. I really just wanted to cry. That Powder Keg just might go off, and it might go off inside me! I was spending all this money on Christmas gifts…why? I faced off with my daughter and said, “Your fort has twenty minutes to live. Enjoy it. Then, it will be put away. You will then get ready for bed. That’s the deal. And, you will also think very hard about your tone of voice and attitude. Understand?” She gave me a defiant look.
I proceeded to the dining room wherein I unpacked one final ornament. The “funny” ornament. Every tree needs one. Ours isn’t unusual. It just makes me laugh.
Yes, it is the infamous major award “leg lamp” from the American Christmas film “A Christmas Story”. If you haven’t seen the film, this very tacky and gauche lamp was won by Ralphie’s father. It arrived one night during a cold December, and Ralphie’s father adored it. He displayed it in the front window of their home, and Ralphie’s mother loathed it.
Electric sex gleaming in the window indeed!
Just like Ralphie’s father, I was going to hang the Leg Lamp ornament on our tree; it was my final act of attempting to celebrate the holiday–my children’s bad behavior be damned! Milly insisted with a mix of childishness and defiance, however, that she hang the Leg Lamp ornament on the tree. I acquiesced. Life has a way of imitating art sometimes, and just a few seconds later I heard the sound of glass shattering.
Like Ralphie’s father, I ran into the living room and looked at my daughter. “What happened?” Her bottom lip was quivering. Tears were streaming down her face. “I didn’t mean to break it! I’m sorry, Mama!” The Leg Lamp ornament was broken. The girls had gathered. My husband just stood there. “Well, isn’t that just typical,” he said. Grace pointed out,”Well, that’s sort of funny that the Leg Lamp ornament broke. It’s just like the movie.” In the moment, I didn’t think it was funny at all. I had reached the end of myself. I saw the irony. I could say nothing. Actually, I could say a lot of things which is why I chose to make myself go to my room. I just turned around and exited the scene. I could hear Milly wailing. I let my husband handle it. I sat in my room and cried for about five minutes. Then, I came out. I hung up the broken Leg Lamp ornament. It’s a testament to our Thanksgiving holiday. We made it through five days of being together and survived.
The Leg Lamp didn’t. It’s a good thing humans aren’t fragEEElay like Leg Lamps.