You Better Not Pout

Christmas 2013

I’ve got absolutely nothing to say. I think that’s why I haven’t been writing- a heavy combination of fear and shame is the main contributor, but then there is of course the boring realization that I don’t actually know anything. Or know enough of anything to warrant writing about it.

Must be why I used to write so much when I was younger, when I was smart and new.

Things look so much neater when you’re young and seeing them for the first time. The layers of life haven’t yet presented themselves to you. The way it’s supposed to go, you shed your childhood slowly and with great support and care. A well adjusted adult should emerge. What I never realized is that ‘well adjusted’ implies- requires- a common experience or understanding to which adults must adjust.

Raising children we are constantly reminded to care for the adult that our tiny person will one day become. We need to give them the tools to cope with disappointment, the self assurance to make their own decisions, the resilience to try again when they fail. The examples in the parenting books are usually about something stupid like a cookie. Stay firm if your kid wants a cookie after you’ve told him no. This will teach him…something. Or stay firm when your kid is grounded but wants to go out somewhere with his friends. This will teach him…something.

Is it the collection of these mini-lessons that are supposed to prepare children for being well-adjusted adults? Human beings well prepared in advance for the boring, monotonous, disappointing grind that is every day life? Give them a taste of how shitty things really are, but still protect them for the most part, and hopefully if you do your job right they’re going to be adults who are ready for the onslaught of HARD SHIT for the rest of their lives. “Surprise!” you’ll get to say once they reach maturity, “Life is terrible! Surprise! Welcome to adulthood!”

Christmas really knocked me on my ass this year. I’m twenty seven years old and this is the first Christmas I remember as entirely without magic. Maybe it was just the perfect combination of circumstances, but it wasn’t just a shitty Christmas. It wasn’t just that we have no money and our kids were driving us fucking crazy for the weeks and days and hours leading up to the big reveal. It wasn’t that we’re tired and stressed out and under/over medicated depending on the time of day, disconnected, unsure of our future, hiding secrets from each other. It wasn’t just that I’ve been unemployed for 6 months and have possibly started the decline into senility a little early. It wasn’t just that the shadow of depression feeds itself with the cold, blank days of the winter months and gets a little stronger each morning before I peel my eyes open.

I don’t know what it was, really. Maybe if I did I’d be able to find a way to prevent it from happening next year, but I think this was one of those shitty adult experiences where a layer of life reveals itself to you and you can’t ever go back no matter how hard your try. Every day it seems I learn a little bit more about how little I know of life.

The myth of Santa Claus feels empty and strange to me; I don’t like pretending for my kids. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of that lie when they get older and figure it out. I never believed in Santa when I was a kid so I don’t know about the great disappointment of finding out he doesn’t exist. I imagine its a lot like finding out god doesn’t exist. I don’t like the idea of threatening lumps of coal or reminding kids to behave because ‘Santa is watching’. How about you behave because your mother is watching? You better not cry, you better not pout… because I make your meals and sing you to sleep and decide whether you can have Berry Berry Kix so you better recognize my power here. FUCK SANTA. Let’s not forget the fact that your parents are the ones buying and wrapping all your gifts anyway. We’re the pupeteers. And we somehow orchestrated that shit so that we extend the most effort, get none of the recognition, and then abdicate our role as Decider of Who is Naughty and Nice to a MADE UP CHARACTER whose influence on our kids’ year lasts for ONE morning out of their entire year.

Does Santa stab himself with meat scissors trying to pry the zip tie labrynth off of a Spiderman toy? Does Santa have to pull idiot children with no understanding of physics out of a fake tree from Target before it topples on them? Does Santa have to ball up the wrapping paper and pop an Ativan to keep from having a panic attack about landfills after the bloodbath is over?

No, that’s the realm of the puppeteers. What a curious and noble task we have. We pretend everything for them, rush around throwing tinsel in their paths so they’ll be well adjusted when they reach adulthood. Well adjusted enough, at least, to continue pretending for their own children without having a mental breakdown over it.

 

I have no religious connection to the holiday, half my family doesn’t celebrate it, the other half is a family that I am barely a part of. I thought I already knew that but the gift of adulthood just keeps giving, and every year I gain a little more wisdom about my place in this world and my meaning to the people around me. I was so acutely aware of it this year. I wasn’t a child, so forget the magic. I wasn’t a teenager, so forget the eye-rolling and secret excitement over giftcards, I wasn’t a mother of a newborn so forget the singular focus of my attention and lack of awareness.

No, suddenly I was just a regular adult at the family holiday party, experiencing it as if for the frst time. My kids are big enough to only barely need me in a situation like this. I’m expected to talk and be friendly and ask thoughtful questions and all those things that ladies do. I found myself at the kitchen island and felt so much discomfort I nearly cried. I would have welcomed the burning awkwardness of being a teenager at that moment, I would have loved to be gawky and weird and coltish, for an aunt or uncle to put their arm around me and ask me about how school was doing, tell me how big I was getting. Anything but this…blankness.

A secret club I found myself in,standing around a platter of appetizers. Each of us sighing and smiling in the same forced way whenever a kid whizzed by. “So cute” someone would say, and we’d nod, and then get back to sort of staring at our hands. We don’t know each other. Or rather, I don’t know them. It’s ok when you’re a kid, you’re blameless for how often your see your family. But now that I’m an adult it’s my fault that I don’t know any of them? I’m like some kind of monster for not knowing what anyone does for a living and for never having visited my Grammie at her new apartment in the assisted living place.

I kind of don’t want to make it better. I kind of don’t care. I mean I care, of course, but I’m just being realistic about it- it’s too late to forge some lasting bond with all these aunts and uncles that I grew up having but not knowing- I can’t fabricate a history and closeness that was never there. It just…it is what it is.

And what it is is fucking sad. So I had to get the hell out of there.

And Christmas as a whole is just like that I realized. It’s not something real and tangible. It’s not that I’m too old now to feel the “Christmas magic”, it’s that there was never any magic to begin with, and now I’m expected to pretend along with all the other grown ups that we’re all so happy and excited and the kids should be, too.

Being unemployed, I first felt so disappointed and confused about what I was supposed to be doing. My main concern was figuring out what sort of career I should get myself into, since my first go at office life didn’t pan out. I was sort of enthusiastic about figuring it out, if I am remembering correctly, but that feels really embarassing so I don’t want to believe that I was. Sort of like remembering myself believing in Santa. The more time went by the more the layers fell away and the bleakness revealed itself. It doesn’t actually matter what ‘career’ I go with, or what I think is going to make me happy. There isn’t even really a ‘happy’ but more of an adequate distraction of sorts that we shoot for to keep ourselves from realizing how deep the nothingness of our minds can really stretch.

How there is no amount of small disappointments our well meaning parents can expose us to; no cold, dark lake they can carefully observe us dipping our excitedly wiggling toes into that will prepare us for the adjustment of being totally submerged in an instant. In the same instant we’re realizing that we now have to trick our own children along with us, smiling calmly and reassuring them that everything is going to be OK, beckoning for them to follow and trying our desperate best to swim without flailing or fumbling or getting winded so they don’t get scared. And if we fail it can never be undone- if we pull them in too fast they can’t ever go back, and if we desert them in their childhood while we drown it sets off a chain of mal-adjusted people falling off a cliff after us as if shackled by their own DNA. Like they’re following a trail of Christmas cookie crumbs and SAT scores and low interest rates while we cackle and weep from above trying to pull the strings just right so they only drown a little bit when they fall.

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