Christmas Anger

Because anger never came easy to me, or because I’d never seen it expressed by my mother and so I too learned to hold it in, I suddenly find myself attuned to it, in all its subtleties, and as such, it’s blossomed, especially after Menopause, which deftly set it (and other such vicissitudes of nice, sweet & pretty) free.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard,” I’ve heard said, or: “Fear is the root of all anger,” but doesn’t that imply that anger has no value in and of itself?

I recall the beauty of a pure encounter. I was 37, with a new infant, a dead mother, a physically present but otherwise absent spouse, and a dilapidated farmhouse atop a mountain filled with in-laws.

The anger arose spontaneously (following a grievous transgression) was almost blissful, uncontaminated as it was by thought which is not to say that it was expressed mindlessly, like outrage, but instead, it burned clean, and was received, and something else, just as potent—it was released—without the festering of anger swallowed or anger dealt cuttingly on the sly.

“Choose discomfort over resentment.”

This is from Brené Brown best said with her Texas twang.
It was my motto last year, and it is also the intention I hold in relationship to my grown children.

“Parenting without resentment may be too ambitious a goal,” my therapist cautions.

In recent years, as the onslaught of hormones rocked me further and further from the shore of self-containment, I began to notice the very moment anger appeared.

Turns out it comes a lot at Christmastime, that time of year when I’m supposed to be all cookies and aprons and good cheer.

Tired is a huge trigger for me, and is a very close friend to overextended. Sick is another trigger, especially once I’m on the mend.

“If you don’t meet your expectations, lower them.”

A teacher of mine, Megha Nancy Buttenheim, spoke these words, and I suppose I’ve been at this lowering for the better half of my life while spending the first half (and apparently previous lifetimes) unconsciously driven.

Like any recovery, it’s one day at a time.

I am so ANGRY.
I am glad no one is home.

At 55 (wow, that’s such a huge number all of the sudden), anger is compounded by the awareness and understanding that arises with age and awakening (and with the election of a misogynist and the electrification of the #metoo movement, so very necessary and centuries too late.)

Nowhere is the gender differential experienced more acutely than during the holidays as our invisible work–caring for homes and families and communities and corporations–is exponentially magnified by the season of giving.

I love giving. I truly do. I enjoy the exchange of energy that gifts bring. That baking provides. That volunteering offers.

“Whenever we reach within and ask how we can delight each other physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, we are on Holy ground,” wrote my friend Michele Morgan Doucette.

But I am so angry. I am so tired. Not just angry and tired in this moment (recovering from the effects of a particularly protracted recovery), but angry for all the ways my mother was tired—she, who would bake cookies for every floor of the hospital (cut-out cookies and fudge and almond bark) while continuing to do the books for my dad’s practice, and caring for our home, and their six children, while Christmas shopping for all of us, including her 7 younger siblings and their families, and my father’s four younger siblings and their families, not to mention neighbors and friends and my father’s colleagues, along with hand-written (and addressed) Christmas cards sent far and wide to all the places we’d lived before.

My dark-haired, dark-eyed mother would arrive on Christmas Day, totally spent, a shell of herself, an absence glaringly magnified by the fact that it was her birthday.

WHERE ARE YOU? I wanted to scream.

Instead, I learned how to make a turkey dinner with all the fixings, her favorite. I bought her flowers, not just on her birthday, but year round. And breakfast in bed too. Eggs Benedict was her favorite. I wrote her cards–from every place I traveled, brought her presents. On Christmas Eve, I would stop by after Midnight Mass to be the first to wish her a Happy Birthday, catching her at that sacred hour when all the kids (and my father) were asleep, and she was most alive, on her knes in the livingroom wrappin.

Sometimes, I stayed on to help. Once, I let her continue alone after my boyfriend and I finished putting together the multi-storied Barbie Dream House at 2 am.

The Magic of Christmas.

I judged my mother for everything. For her vacancy. For not speaking up to my father. For not demanding help. For not claiming some time for indulgence on her own fucking birthday. For not taking time to at least buy something nice for herself. For being so disorganized that she’d save wrapping for Christmas Eve. For disappearing. For being tired. For drinking so much coffee and eating so much sugar. For never reaching her dreams. For never wanting anything.

I judged her and I carried her, and even though I did it all differently, her burdens became mine.

(Here come the tears.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard.”)

On our very last Christmas together before our family imploded (and reconfigured), and just afater I finished exams, I took my father’s credit card and squeezed in a shopping spree so that my mother might have new things on Christmas Day, too. That silk blouse. Those velours pants. The hair clip. The gold chain. Right down to the stockings and boots.

It wasn’t enough. Or it was too late. Or it was too much and my claiming awakened her own.

Relatives blamed me, blamed her for listening to me.

“Tell Dad you need time for yourself,” I demanded as I watched her disappear.

She left my father in the New Year, but not directly. She went out the side door. With another man. Barely a man. 20. The best friend of my boyfriend. (I expect she wanted the youth she never had. The youth I had.)

Later she left all of us with the bottle.

Finally, after ten years sober, her departure was final. Cancer. Just 2 years older than I am now. Her body riddled with guilt and regret.

My mother was a kind, gentle soul caught in the crossfire of what it is to be female, to grow up poor, to want more but not know how to claim it, to never know that you are deserving/worthy, just as you are.

I appreciated my mother and always told her so. But now I’d like to tell her something else. I’d like to gather her in my arms and say:

None of this was your fault.

~

(Note: For the longest time, I loved this photo, holding onto it and “the way we were,” and then one Christmas, I dropped it, and the glass shattered, and I realized then that I’d hated it, hated it for the way it made me feel sad.

Just now, I’m beginning to see it differently, something new creeping around the edges, two women, one 18, the other 39, saying, however imperfectly:

We’re here too.)

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dirty laundry…

laundry-pile

It’s time for me to go on an expedition. A laundry expedition, into my past, to uncover why it is that laundry presents such an undue challenge in my life.

This despite the fact that I know that it is a gift it to have a washer and a dryer right in my very home. Right next to my bedroom, in fact, conveniently tucked inside the upstairs bathroom.

And despite the luxury of so many outfits to wear when my own mother went through high school with a single dress.

And despite the fact that some people, like Cheryl Strayed in Wild have to wear the same dirty clothes day in and day out, even after a shower.

Where is my perspective?

I try to be “one” with the laundry, you know, hang the clothes while I hang the clothes.

I say to myself:

Just this. Just this.

I listen to something pleasant, like classical music or an audio book, while putting socks away.

I press the “easy” button when I’m finished.

Nothing changes.

Dread. Resistance. Suffering.

Flash back: Our laundry room when I was a teenager. In the basement. Piles of dirty clothes belonging to a family of 8, and later (after the fall) to a family of 10.

My mother once offered to buy my girlfriends and I a magnum of Rose in exchange for doing a day’s worth of it. Otherwise, she did it all herself. Day after day. Night after night. Month after month. Year after year after year. Until she couldn’t any more. And my father finally noticed her, and woke me at 6 am on the first day of summer, proclaiming that it was time to help.

I had been helping with the kids, his kids, all of my life, and I told him that none of the laundry piling up on the cellar floor belonged to me. That I’d started taking mine to the laundromat a year earlier. I was losing too many socks down there.

He insisted that I get out of bed and help: “Now.”

I explained: “I can’t this morning because I had to be at work.” (At his office.) Then I asked him why he never helped.

He fired me.

Fast forward to the chair of my hairdresser. 1990. Both of us recently married. Discussing vacations. She complaining about packing for her husband. I reply that I couldn’t imagine it that I don’t even know where his socks and underwear are stashed.

Her hands freeze, scissors suspended, and she asks: “Who does his laundry, then?” (As if it was inconceivable that someone with a penis do his own laundry.)

Both of my sons did their own, by the age of 5.

So now you know.
All this resistance to laundry each week and I only do my own.
One load. A week.
And still, I suffer.

Maybe if I had helped out with the laundry at home, my mother wouldn’t drink.
Maybe my father wouldn’t fire me. (I really liked that job with him.)
Maybe my family wouldn’t have fallen apart.

What about the fire when I was a kid?
When a sash from the freshly laundered matching Christmas dresses dipped into the furnace on the night after we all went to church together for the first time?

What about the time my husband and I were forced to approach strangers on the street outside a Laundromat in Interlaken, asking for change in a language we didn’t speak.

What about…

There is nothing really. Nothing to explain the suffering, and nothing to release the unbearable hold that laundry has on me.

It must be that I’m just lazy, spoiled and ungrateful. I write these things and then go searching for an image for this post, only to discover that each pile of another’s neglected laundry creates a weight of shame inside of me. (Even while my own laundry sits tidily inside baskets.)

And then I hear what I couldn’t tell my father, and didn’t know myself:

I can’ face all that laundry.
I can’t bear the pain and loneliness that it represents inside my mother.
I can’ set foot into that cellar.
I don’t dare see the underbelly of all that is going wrong beneath us; all that has carelessly ignored for too long.

There in the dank, dark crevices of our lives, one might lose not only a sock, but a family, forever.

~

(addendum: the next morning i faced the laundry on the line; and only later realized that had i put it all away without an ounce of suffering.)