Father, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Bubbles
Well, it’s finally over. The holiday chaos …the Christmas rush … the wrapping and unwrapping, the ooohing over the hideous sweater, the aaahing over Aunt Betty’s inedible gelatin salad (and, can I just ask -- jello, or salad? MAKE UP YOUR MIND!) The cookies are gone, the tree is a shadow of its former self, and you’re wishing Jimmy Stewart would just go ahead and jump off the bridge already. (And, of course, you’ve gained a little holiday weight and are now the size of a Toyota Highlander.)
At last, the traveling is over. You’re home, stretched on the couch, sipping the very last of the eggnog with the very last of the bourbon, huddled under a warm afghan, possibly watching Ohio State (woohoo!) crush -- well, you fill in the blank -- and beginning your post-holiday decompression. Because, this is the time when all grown “children” begin to question yet again how they could possibly have survived the family from which they sprouted.
Going “home” for the holidays is sort of like deep sea diving: sounds beautiful in theory, but the instant you enter the water -- or your parents’ house -- you will ask yourself, “Why am I doing this, when I could simply stick a ski pole through my head?”
As you sink into the depths, you’re surrounded by darkness; and, although you might get to see some interesting plankton (like your Aunt Julia’s new boyfriend, the priest; or your cousin Tony’s girlfriend who once modeled for Playboy; or, best of all, the moment when the priest is introduced to the model!) after a while it’s just too much, and the longer you stay “down” there, the more panicked you’ll become, until you’re clawing your way to the surface, and the safety of your own “boat.” You pay no attention to warnings against coming up too fast. You kick those feet as hard as you can -- or, maniacally heave your clothes into the suitcase and sprint for the car ... whatever. You forget that you need to decompress slowly. Otherwise, going home for the holidays -- followed by the feverish scheming to get the hell out of there -- can definitely cause the “bends”.
Now, being the kind of fun gal who can take a metaphor and beat it into a coma, I think of post-holiday “bends” as those pangs you get while driving through West Virginia on your way home. If there’s nothing but preaching and bluegrass on the radio, you will inevitably begin to have painful flashbacks that will stab your heart like a thousand teensy machetes: Your mom’s hearing is starting to go (stab!); your baby niece just graduated from college (stab!); your son is changing professions in probably the worst economy since someone invented the word “economy;” and your sister is looking … well, to be honest, middle-aged and tired…and she’s younger than you (stab! stab! stab!).
Yes, my friends, diving into family and resurfacing too quickly is a dangerous combination. Preventing serious injury requires the aforementioned eggnog, bourbon, afghan, and cozy couch (although the football game is non-specific). In the safety of this “decompression chamber” you can slowly replace those knife-like thoughts with others that, while a tad frightening, at least validate your choice to live far away from anyone who shares your DNA.
`Example #1: Mom’s hearing is not as good as it was, and that’s sad. Then again, when she asked me to set the table for Christmas dinner, and I was “moron” enough to fold the napkins instead of using the napkin rings! And then I wore that “appalling” blouse instead of the lovely turquoise snowflake-covered sweater she’d given me! Well, that little hearing deficit covered a few muttered -- and distinctly non-Christmas-like -- observations on my part.
Example #2: You can choke back tears remembering the Christmas Eve luncheon, a family tradition for 45 years, everyone from your 87-year-old dad to your 9-month-old great-nephew gathered together, laughing, hugging, exchanging gifts … or you can recall the toast your mother gave to all 33 of you seated at the long table:
“A good friend of ours just died a couple of weeks ago. She was fine one day, the next day she had a stroke, and the next day she died. She never had a chance to say goodbye and that’s so sad. So, just in case anything happens to Daddy or me – goodbye!” (Naturally, ever since that toast, we start every conversation with her by saying, “Goodbye, Mom!”)
And now, after a long holiday visit with relatives, you can finally sit back, take a good look at your family of origin, and pose that question we all eventually ask: Am I adopted?
Vicki Wentz is a local writer, teacher and speaker. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website, www.vickiwentz.com.