Every December when I was a child my mother would announce in a sepulcher tone of voice that “This year will be a small Christmas.” This was said with deep regret and seriousness, as if the previous year the Rockettes stopped by to serenade us, before we jetted off to Capri with Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. Hah.
Every Christmas was a “small Christmas” in my childhood, thus creating lasting psychological damage. During middle school, I would be the one to go get the Christmas boxes from the basement, lug them upstairs and decorate the house. I would lobby for the tree and I would be the one to play, over and over, Readers Digest 4-album collection of “The Worlds’ Best Christmas Carols.”
We had a fire place, but (brace yourself) no Christmas stocking. I mean, no filled stockings. They could have at least told us not to hang them up, but no. Up they went and down I came on Christmas morning to find my stocking hanging limp and forlorn. Except for the evil year my parents had an evil idea. I came down that year and saw my sticking was full, stuffed, bulging. Oh the joy in my little heart! Oh the happiness! Oh the sheer bliss, delight, glee and ecstasy – my dream came true! Until I walked closer and saw that it was full of puzzle pieces. They had bought a 1,000 puzzle and filled all three of our stockings with the pieces. Evil. And their excuse? It wasn’t about the money. They just didn’t like to shop, besides they were busy with community service projects. And (are you sitting down?) They didn’t think children needed more than three or four Christmas presents. I think everyone should get three or four presents because it is Wednesday.
Yes, by some unbelievable unpleasant trick of fate, me, Little Miss Let’s Go Shopping, Little Miss Over-Decoration, Little Miss Let’s All Dress Up and Eat Brunch at a Nice Hotel, Little Miss High Tea on Fine China got born into a family of Walk Gently on the Earth types. It was Let’s Watch TV vs. Let’s Go Bird-Watching my whole childhood – and guess who won.
My mother’s idea of joy is 5 cubit yards of mulch, a shovel and a free afternoon. My sister’s idea of joy is biking around Mt. Rainer. My sister’s other idea of joy is 16 straight hours of dropping off and picking up kids in between watching kids play soccer, play piano, play fiddle, play guitar, build robots, sing, dance, act, shoot skeet, balance binomial equations, ski and run races. So you see why I need to sit quietly and eat lots of chocolates to keep the balance of the universe – it’s a duty and a sacred responsibility.
My mother sneaks into other people’s gardens and weeds for them. She volunteers for various charity organizations; she is the president of her church. My sister is a PTA mainstay. They are never bitter, never sarcastic. If they are hungry, they grab a piece of fruit. They never know any of the top ten songs or movies. They like classical music. They don’t watch TV. They are alien life forms.
People who meet them say “Oh! They are so nice.” Well, yes, they are very nice. They are nicer than me; they are sweet, funny and kind. That’s not the point – the point is how did I get related to them? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to around people who don’t nurse grudges, don’t resort to irony, who are honest and kind to strangers? Utterly exhausting.
When one of the nephews came to visit he found a pack of cigarettes in my car. “You smoke?” he asked, horrified. The truth is I don’t (a friend had left them), but there was something in his tone of voice. What could I do? “Yes,” I said, “It relaxes me.” I could sense my sister tense up, preparing a sweet-tempered ten-minute lecture about ‘different people make different choices’ as soon as I was out of earshot.
My nephews and nieces have grown up surrounded by good people. They eat healthy, home-cooked nutritious food. They share. They are environmentally-correct; they play sports and do good deeds. They are nice. But at some point in this life those latent genes which are floating around the family, collected in me but I am sure dispersed somewhere in their veins as well, may assert themselves. One of them may get snarky. One might feel jealous or unsettled; caustic and acerbic words might creep into someone’s vocabulary. And I don’t want him or her to feel surprised or worried. Cynicism is part of their birth-right. And if it ever manifests, here I am – bad example auntie, ready to ease the transition into la vie sardonic.