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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The Path of Women

Hodler (visipix.com)

There was an intriguing “prompt”on Twitter yesterday from the popular site, BlogHer.  It was linked to a featured post entitled, “Two Decades of Women”–but it was the tweet itself that inspired me:

“Which women have helped you find your own unique path?

The author of the post, Virginia DeBolt, chronicled her life in the days when men dominated film and literature–not to mention just about everything else.

“Men were supposed to rule the world,” she said, “And women were supposed to let them. I lived with a man who controlled and manipulated everything about my life. And I let him.

Then I stopped letting him.

After that, I wanted to think some new thoughts. I wanted to learn about feminism, which had passed me by. I wanted to read books by women, I wanted to see movies about women, hear songs sung by women, and see TV shows about women.”

Unlike Virginia, I was fortunate enough to be born at a time when there were at least a few women in starring roles to inspire young girls like me.  Characters like “Pippi Longstocking” and “Mary Ingalls” from Little House were some of my closest “friends.”

I turned my nose down on a collection of “Nancy Drew” books offered to me by my grandmother, but I couldn’t get enough of the sassy and smart, “Harriet the Spy.”

At the movies I was riveted by the “no nonsense” attidtude of the magical Mary Poppins who reminded me of my grandmother; and I was enamored by the pretty Doris Day who was more like my mother.

As I grew older, it was Marlo Thomas who intrigued me.   I wanted to be “That Girl”–walking down the street with the world in her hands (and I still do.)  Mary Tyler Moore was the next inspiration–an independent career woman with her own apartment!

Though television and school dominated much of my teen years, I did continue to read.  The books on Asia by Pearl S. Buck, particularly The Good Earth, captivated me–and helped me understand the plight of women in history and in other cultures.

I finally realized why the meek character of Ruth from the Bible had always appealed to me:  hers was one of only two books named for a woman.

In my twenties and thirties, I intentionally shifted to female practitioners for every health need I had–from my chiropractor to my doctor to my yoga teacher and therapist.

When I hear the question, “Which women have helped you find your own path?” I think of these healers who supported me through times of change and helped me align decisions around greater well being:

Michele Doucette, Mary Bove, Barbara LeVan, Ann Moureau, Deb Feiner, Carolyn Fish…

I think of the women’s circle that was created to offer more of the same.  I think of the women friends who spoke and listened and responded with wisdom and caring.

All of these women–my mother and grandmothers, my friends and healers, the characters from literature and film–have helped me find a path to call my own.

With gratitude,

Kelly Salasin, September 2010