A Christmas Story
What a wild ride 2020 has been. I learned that when faced with emergency situations the first thing Americans do is hoard toilet paper, and then start baking. I also realized that we all want to laugh, and my God did twitter come through. I also know more than ever that the loss of physical contact is devastating and will never take a big for granted again. During a particularly hard moment this last fall; when my heart was splitting open, a friend broke quarantine rules and hugged me tight for a short second; I don’t think I have ever been more in need of simple human contact, and what a lesson in compassion it was.
So many lessons this year. The greatest ones coming from Mama Maria as she continues her war on aging and the loss of her memory and freedom. She has fought hard, bringing her formidable tools into play. The lying, as I call it, has become epic, and the ability to lie quickly, convincingly with supporting detail, is crazy making, the finest gaslighting imaginable. My mom would not call it lying, she would call it describing the situation as it needs to be seen, and believes everything she says, fluid facts of you will. It’s a gift of some proportion, and I will share a story of a long ago Christmas where this gift was mighty handy.
Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, when parents were less involved in every waking moment of a child’s life, most of us spent Saturday mornings in front of cartoons, eating sugar cereal until our parents woke up. This started at a very young age. I remember I had a little black speckled mug that I would fill and refill with Alpha Bits. Incredible little sugar bombs shaped like letters, watching bugs bunny and the truly strange morning line up. These cartons were laden with commercials and the thing I was obsessed with was Baby Tender Love. Oh how I wanted that doll. My oldest friend Jeanine did too, and it was the number one request on the Santa Letter. I was six and I am sure I drove my parents crazy asking and wondering about her. By the time Christmas Eve came I was beside myself with anticipation and anxiety, had I been good enough to deserve the epic Baby Tender Love?
Christmas Eve, 1969, cookies made, my sister and I in matching pjs, finally in bed, but sleep was fitful and I was hearing voices, so I got up to investigate. What I found were my grandmother and mom laughing together putting gifts under the tree; oh so many gifts; so many in fact I couldn’t tell if one was Baby Tender Love. But what I did see was NO Santa in sight, but cookies and milk been eaten. Total suspicion.
With all the righteous indignation of a wronged child, I asked where Santa was and why his cookies were gone. I remember now my grandmother looking guilty, but not Maria. She thought of a lie and she thought it up quick :).
Santa is taking a bathroom break because your
cookies were so delicious he had to drink a lot of milk to quench his thirst. And Tita (what we called my grandma) and I are helping out because you were so good this year, there was just too many presents for Santa to take care of on his own, and you know it’s always best to help others, even Santa. (Epic detail for a worried little do gooder like young Liz). Now, go to bed, so Santa can get back to work and fly to the next house. This all made sense, except one detail, Santa was supposed to come when everyone was sleeping, so why was mom still awake. Oh, my mom said so smooth and easy, you know we don’t have a fireplace, so Santa asked if I would stay awake and let him in the front door... of course he could have snuck in the window, but with all the gifts in his sack for you, the front door was so much easier. As always, a good lie has supporting details; details so perfect we miss the lie.
With that I went to sleep, finally satisfied, and woke up to piles of gifts under the tree.
I tore through everything as kids do, and don’t remember anything except no Baby Tender Love . And then.... Lizzita (little Lizzy) you missed one behind the tree. A big box, kind of heavy for a five year old. I can still feel the anticipation; also the fear, last box, what if it wasn’t my baby. I knew I had to be grateful, there were starving children in Africa, and I got so many presents. I slowly opened the last gift, all eyes on me, and under the paper was a trunk, white and shiny with pink edges. I unbuckled the golden latch and there she was, Baby Tender Love. Cradled in one side of the doll case in her blanket, soft just like the commercials promised. The other side of the trunk held some clothes hanging on a little bar with enchanting tiny hangers and a little drawer for accessories. My Christmas wishes fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. Magical.
So I am keeping this memory at the forefront, as I struggle with my mom these days. The guilt I feel about her solitude during this pandemic is almost unbearable, even knowing she doesn’t want to be here. As always, my guilt can turn to anger that she won’t let me help, and what does the anger serve, nothing... so I will savor all the good she has done, and look at her battle with me now as an offshoot of the Baby Tender Love perfection. The extra unexpected and fantastical doll trunk and the perfect presentation made that Christmas unforgettable. That same energy is what she is bringing to her last days, so I will substitute admiration and ditch the anger. In doing this I will also try to bring this love and compassion to all during these last days before Christmas when tempers get short, and patience is paper thin. We are all doing our best. We all have good intentions. Perhaps our greatest gift to each other can be the gift of loving acceptance and hearts of love instead of judgement.
Happy Holidays to all. May your hearts be filled with joy, and may you all find peace and joy in your stockings, and love in a little trunk behind the tree.