I loved Christmas.
JoeyAndyDad used to tease me about starting up the holiday movies in August. I collect versions of A Christmas Carol. I spend hours making garlands of glass ornaments over the doorways of our house, wiring each ornament individually, each year, to glistening perfection.
When I was young, my folks put up a ten-foot field pine in our livingroom. Dad would take a whole day just getting it up and the lights on. Two more days to decorate it, with Dad doing the very top on the ladder. I remember the first year I did the top, the pride and feeling of being grown-up and competent to go up that ladder and get the topmost branch glittering. The table under the tree held half a dozen paper house villages, plus an array of rubber and lead animals, arranged as farms and fields and aluminum pond with swans. The train had real smoke, puffing as you pushed the transformer lever forward, and watched it turn endlessly through the Christmas wonderland.
I remember the first time I crept out, so happy to have a stocking for my mom to put out. I had been distressed that my mom never got a stocking. A neighbor helped me gather up all the little treasures, and I wrapped each one. I crept out into the moonlight, not using a single light, because I didn't want to ruin the morning surprise. The wooden villages were in every sill of the bow window, the bare branches of the woods dappling the moonlight that shown behind them.
I put those villages out for my mom every year until I went to grad school. As soon as Thanksgiving was done, they could come out. One year, my brother took all the extra wooden trees and made a great woodland for the manor house. I always put it that way every year after, in his honor. Even after he stopped speaking to us.
Every year, I would try one more thing, try something new and beautiful, a new display, a new corner decorated and sparkling. The shelf in my kitchen became my Christmas garden, full of paper houses and all sorts of Christmas trees, the wilder the better. I even have bright glittering pink ones with fruit stuck in them. The mantel also became a garden, though it used to alternate with my Christmas dolls, more in the tradition of an old nativity creche- all the different people coming to celebrate. I have a display of angels, for atop the bookshelf. The buffet was a three kings display until we let the buffet go. I have a scene of a Christmas ball, with figures that move and music that plays. I have one of those penguin toys where they march up the hill and slide down.
The week of Christmas, I make the greens arrangements, the live ones, to go all over the house. I have now been making them for thirty years. Layering in the textures of the greenery, the selection of the highlighting picks, the structure of the line, the bow, handmade by me, as many loops as I can get from the bolt. I even found a little glitter spray does wonders, without harming the greens. There should be one for every flat furniture surface- every table should have one, every side nook.
Mom would make the most beautiful trees from a styrofoam cone and a special kind of weed, one that when dried seemed to be tufts of little stars. Sprayed gold, tucked with old fashioned glass balls and beads, it was the star of the display. I have made a couple, but nothing like what mom could do.
Christmas made the world glitter, brought in the joy and reflected it back like Indra's net, each facet glittering in all the others. Everything was beautiful.Everyone was happily busy, with decorations and cookies and songs.
I loved Christmas.
Every year, now, when the first of the ornaments appear, Joey goes bananas. So much change. Familiar things become unfamiliar, like stepping through the looking glass. School lets out, destroyed familiar structure. There are many things that are only done, seen, said, smelled this time of year, keeping them all new and strange, and only to be whisked away as soon as they become familiar.
He's a ball of anxious mess.
And I find more and more, I just want it to be over. The magic of it gets lost in the screaming. The joy is drained by the meltdowns. Instead of being wonderful, it is overwhelming, terrifying. Too much noise, too much new, too much, too much, too much, all amplified by glitter and glass. Nothing is ever just fun and right. Every outing that should be a delight is instead a carefully orchestrated balancing act, and all too often, I fail at balancing. The smallest thing, unlooked-for, sends everyone over the precipice and into the spiraling abyss.
And I look at the boxes of glass, and wonder why I do this to him, year in, year out, tearing up his world. It isn't that Joey doesn't like the decorations and the whole Christmas thing, but navigating it remains beyond his grasp. And lately, it has been getting worse, not better. Even familiar events have become too much, the outings and activities he loved are minefields. Instead of enjoying the glitter, I find myself constantly poised for fight or flight.
His fight or flight.
I wonder how long he will last. What I will do to help calm him, keep him safe. Wear shoes to run in, in case I screw up and he bolts. Try to get those around me to understand, when it is time to go, it can't wait, not even just one more minute.
I start wondering what and who I am doing this for.
I loved Christmas.