The best of times and the worst of times.
You bet your holiday ass.
The older I get and the more holidays I experience, the more I realize that they wind up boiling down to expectations. Chasing an ideal of what you think a special day should look like. Or worse, chasing a memory of a perfect one that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I have been part of too many recent unhappy holiday conversations about unmet expectations.
- A dear friend is coming home for the first time in a long time. She has spent many precious hours and much energy preparing herself for the fact that the visit will not and could never live up to the picture in her head. She has come to expect much less and as a result, has happier times. Smart. Realistic. But kinda sad.
- My family can’t get this holiday thing managed. Our people are older and our numbers the gathering size is shrinking. One member, not naming names, is pissed. Not okay with this development. At all. She doesn’t want a perfect holiday. She just wants our old ones back. Sadly, that ain’t never happening. The place where those bright and truly fun holiday dinners were had has long been sold. Pillar members of our immediate core are gone. We couldn’t recreate Christmas 1988 if we wanted too. And some folks are having a really hard time with that. Understandable. Also kinda sad.
- And some people are just a challenge. to holiday with. Presents given are wrong or, in the best of cases, come up pathetically short. I know my gift attempt was a fail. But I appreciate the sentiment and attempt at muffled, convivial gratitude. I felt badly because the earrings I received in return were really lovely. There’s more to it than exchanged jewelry. Not so much sad, as much as questioning melancholy.
Holidays are hard kids.
Seems like there are just monumental expectations. For everything from food and gift transactions and general human availability. It makes you want to run away to a hotel in Vermont to happily drink and get delightfully tongue- barbed by Mary Wickes. Sounds like snow-laced, boozy heaven.
Look, holidays, whatever your culture and traditions, will never live up to the magic. Maybe that’s just my depression and anxiety or stark pragmatics and sense talking.
Did I expect as I enjoyed fantastic holidays as kid that my further celebration would be so wildly, bizarrely different? No. Did I ever entertain for a moment that a future Christmas Eve would include me playing Santa alone and dropping presents under the tree by myself, as a divorced parent? No. Did I ever expect for a heartbeat that before my future solo Santa mission that I would be hosting my ex and his new fiancé in my home for the night? That’s a sleigh-sized no.
No one gets the holiday we expect. Unless you’re like my rad friend who aims low and cherishes Noel victories when things succeed just by being ‘not awful’. Do we then get the holiday that we deserve? Maybe. If I have a surly, selfish, pouty kid on my hands, maybe that’s not him but instead a gaping rent of a flaw in my parenting. Or maybe it’s just a sugar decompression.
I hope that in twenty years, I can manage to…well, manage my own expectations. That I can peacefully enjoy my kid celebrating his own holiday wherever he pleases with whatever family he has brought into him life. That I can love nostalgia and tradition but always make room for new people and places and times. And maybe that I can learn to buy a better gift. And make cookies.
Because of my life situation, I’d be surprised if I don’t have some unusual, maybe sad, holidays ahead of me. Likely some of those could be alone. Very likely that might be me by four o’clock today. And that’s okay. Because today was good. I got to fall asleep and wake-up ( at 4:45 AM dear, sweet baby Juno) under the same roof as my son. Many, many, oh so many aren’t nearly as lucky. I had the means to put presents under a tree for him, even if I had to put them there myself. Don’t care. That alone surpasses any great expectation.
Yes. Expectations are great. They push and drive us to make and do better. Nothing spectacular comes from a mediocre intention or imagining. I, wrongly, set low bars for my writing and acting and I’ll bet that’s why my returns are limited in number and scope of success on those fronts. Something for me to remember. And to make the casserole from the stuff stashed in my drawer for later today. I keep forgetting.
And if I do forget? Might be for the best. I think Christmas will survive.
Have a wonderful day, with whomever and wherever brings you joy. At least smile, if you can, in the times and with the people that bring you something less.
Expect the happy that you can create.
Expect that there will be problems.
Expect that pretty lights can still shine on dark nights, if you look for them. And if they don’t, remember when they did.
Expect that if you look again, and maybe again, and maybe once more last-time again, they will.