Tag Archives: holidays

Happy Holidays?!

by Ann Millett-Gallant

Ah, Christmas.  ‘Tis the season, deck the halls, joy to the world, and all that stuff.

Christmas Tree, 2013

Christmas Tree, 2013

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, celebrations often come with obligations and complications.  Christmas, for those of us that partake in it, has multiple, and sometimes conflicting meanings.  For some, Christmas is a religious observance.  Although I respect the Christian origins of the holiday, I don’t follow any particular religion, have been to church only a handful of times, and associate Christmas more with elves than I do wise men.  Christmas is primarily a commercial event for many people, and although I do enjoy giving and receiving, I appreciate the thought put into a gift more so than the dollar amount.  Finally, Christmas, for many, surrounds family traditions.  For me, the term “family” is as diverse as the specific activities that I enjoy with different family members. “Families” can be groups you are born or adopted into, ones your divorced parents marry you into, ones you yourself marry into, and ones that accumulate throughout your life from circles of friends and colleagues.  I enjoy spending time with all these individuals, but I value more personal time with smaller groups than large gatherings where I exchange small talk with a variety of people. I also appreciate private time during the holidays, in which I have more time to paint, write, read, and watch movies. I believe the notion of “celebrating” should not be limited to one set of activities on one specific day.  My rituals aren’t always traditional, but they are genuine and specific to me. So far this season, my mom has come to NC from Ohio to visit me, and we did a lot of Christmas shopping.  I gave her one of my watercolor paintings, and she showered me and my husband with gifts.  Giving to her children and grandchildren throughout the year and especially at Christmas is a great joy to her.  And I certainly benefit and appreciate that joy!  It was fun shopping with her for me, as well as for other members of the family.

Ann with Shark

Ann with the Shark

Here is a photograph of me at the mall, holding a giant, stuffed shark she bought for her grandson (my nephew).  I smiled as I traveled through the mall carrying the shark and people smiled back at me.  I wish I had thought to photo-bomb the Christmas Santa, but it gives me a new activity for next year. The week before Christmas, I went to a matinee of American Hustle with friends who also had free time.  My friend Jay picked me up, and my friend Julie drove me home and helped my dye my hair a festive red.  In appreciation, I made a small painting for her of her favorite flower, the hibiscus.  These kinds of activities may not directly relate to Christmas, but they contribute to my seasonal cheer.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus, 2013

My husband and I have a non-traditional Christmas palm tree he usually puts up, but this year, I wanted to contribute more, so I made a collage of a tree with acrylic paint and images from magazines.  For me, it represents how we design our own, unique Christmas rituals.  I bought him a smoker as an early Christmas present, so he could smoke us a Thanksgiving turkey.  It was delicious, and I am looking forward to the Christmas turkey!  He enjoys cooking, and I enjoy eating everything he prepares, according to my tastes.  It makes him happy when I am happy.  On Dec. 25, as he prepares our meal, I will wear my Christmas-themed pajamas, binge-watch Modern Family on DVD, and indulge in an afternoon glass of wine.

After Christmas day, my dad and step-mom will come from Ohio to Durham to visit me, my step-sister, and our families.  There will be dinners, movies, and possible cookie decorating with my 5 year old niece, as we try not to wake up her 6 month old brother.  Every year, my dad jokes about how I used to behave during Christmas as a child.  When I was young, Christmas was primarily about the presents, although I reveled in all the Christmas activities: making and decorating cookies; hanging all the ornaments, garland, and lights, inside and outside the house; sitting on Santa’s lap; and caroling.  My dad chuckles as he recalls how I would be awake almost all night on Christmas Eve in anticipation.  I loved opening presents and then throughout the day, despite my sleep deprivation, playing with new toys with my cousins from out of town, or playing board games with my grandparents.  I also adored eating a Christmas dinner that I “helped” my mom prepare and falling asleep early in front of the Christmas tree.  Then in a few days, after New Year’s was over, the tree came down, I went back to school, and I crashed.  Teachers would call my parents to express concern about my melancholy.  I attribute this now somewhat with it being winter in Ohio, but I know it was largely due to just letdown and exhaustion.  I would cheer up over time.

These activities may be familiar some of my readers and foreign to others, raising the question: What is the true meaning of Christmas? I think there are many answers.  Perhaps the more important question to ask is how to take the elements of joy we feel at Christmas and spread them throughout the year.  I would say to everyone, regardless of the season: bake, if you enjoy it; sing if you feel compelled; decorate your surroundings with color; relish time with loved ones; be generous and thoughtful; and have a piece of red velvet cake with ice cream and savor every bite.

Luminaries on UNCG Campus

Holiday Luminaries on UNCG Campus

What’s In a Visit?

by Deborah Seabrooke

Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas isn’t far behind. Some of us don’t relish going home.

I never wanted to go home when I was in college. Things are different now. The trend is for your parents to best your best friends. I’ll bet most of my students can’t wait to get home.

Deborah Seabrooke and her daughter in D.C.

Deborah Seabrooke and her daughter in D.C.

My parents were not my friends. That’s a foreign concept to me. I have a married daughter in her 30s who says I am her best friend. I’m glad she likes me so much, but I feel squirmy. I should be elated, but something’s out of whack.

My father is 92. He is not my friend, he’s my father. My mother died three years ago at 89. She wasn’t my friend either. They moved to Greensboro when my children were in preschool to be near them, at least they said so at first. But the night before they arrived, my mother phoned me and very seriously told me to make no mistake—she and my father were not moving to Greensboro so that they would be available as babysitters whenever I needed them. They had lives of their own to lead.

I admit that I was taken aback that she called just to make that clear. But it took me only seconds to recover and answer, “Sure, Mom. I understand.”

My mother was right. She was drawing her boundaries, even though there was no reason that they were moving to Greensboro other than to be near me and the kids. They weren’t coming for the weather. They had already pre-retired to Florida. But fences make good neighbors when we’re talking about family. At least my family. Maybe not yours. Maybe you are reading this in horror.

I found myself remembering the boundaries my mother drew when my daughter recently asked me if I would take care of her child while she was at work. This was purely theoretical because I also work –in Greensboro—and she lives six hours away and there is no grandchild in sight yet. So I said, “Uhhh…”

“What do you mean, Uhhh?”

“Well…”

We eventually talked reasonably about it. I told her I would of course baby sit now and then. For sure if she ever felt like she was going to kill the kid.

I did not say that her question made me feel in the grip of a python. Actually, I probably felt just like my own mother felt the night before she and my father moved to Greensboro.

I am in late middle age, like my mother was when she and my father moved to here. I want to hold onto who I am for a while longer. Who I am is the person I see in the mirror, smile back at, put mascara on, and take a walk with. Early in the morning when I walk, I like the long-legged singular shadow I make on the bike trail.

Photo11181330(edit)I want to hold onto myself just as hard as my 92 year old father grips his own life. We go slowly as I walk beside him. He creaks along the halls of his retirement home holding onto his walker. When the elevator comes, he touches my back guiding me to enter first as if this were the 1940s.

We ride the elevator in golden silence. It’s OK not to talk if one doesn’t have anything important to say. Check back with me when I am 92, but what sounds bad is constant chatter, music coming from hidden speakers, the chimes of a cell phone going off in my pocketbook.

When I was home alone with small children it was, to put it nicely, a mixed blessing. I was truly under siege. Ears ringing when they screamed as I wiped up blood. Going for walks with little hands in mine, such talky walks. Helping with (doing) their school projects.

And now that my kids are grown up and have homes of their own, I am alone most of the day. My husband is at work while I type this. I think I will make a cup of tea. This is heaven.

Which brings me now to the real conclusion. It may seem wildly contrary to what I have just said. Cherish your visit home to your parents and your family. Love them and all their flaws and sit close to the crumbling bodies of the old ones. Talk with everyone.

Because you know what? You can walk out their door in a few days. You can be by yourself thinking about what people said, how they looked. You can feel all the things family makes you feel: a sense of belonging, joy, and yes, despair. If you can be alone in the car on the ride back to your apartment, you’ve lucked out. But if you can’t be by yourself until hours later when you finally shut the door of your own room, just breathe. You’ll get there. It’s important to find the place where you can love your family, but hold onto yourself.

—–

Deborah Seabrooke teaches BLS 326 “Telling Stories: The Art of the Memoir” and BLS 323 “Contemporary Short Stories.” She has taught with the BLS program and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program since 2005, and at UNCG since 1978. She earned her MFA in creative writing from UNCG in 1975.