Bowling Ball Ballerinas and Christmas Expectations

When I left the cabin a few hours ago it was getting dark. The reindeer were finally synchronized so they all jumped in the same direction at the same time- no easy feat with six different plugs to coordinate.

Inside the soft glow of the fire and the twinkle lights made saying goodbye even harder.

But it's Sunday night and time to go.

Still, I think I feel like the redbird in my kitchen Christmas tree...

My Sister Flea called as I was driving back.

"It's all your fault!" she cried. No "Hello, how're you doing?" No "Hey!" Just "It's all your fault!"

I think she said this four times before she explained herself. "Last year...the way you decorated the house," she sputtered. "And Dad...And it was all so...Well, I caught the fever, your fever!"

This is code for- It's all my fault she did something because last year she came to my house for Christmas because we were dreading it- because we had just lost Dad at the end of September and we couldn't imagine a holiday, let alone life, without him.

"What did you do?" I asked her.

"Remember? All the way back to New Bern I shopped for Christmas decorations! Now I have 2 closets full and I can't even remember what they were! And I'm going to have to put them all up! AND so I had to go buy a tree. I finally found a seven foot tall, pre-lit tree for $59 at Lowes."

"Wow, Bec, that's great!" I say, wedging this complement in-between her 90 mile and hour, rapid-fire report.

"Oh, yeah?" she says. "Well then today I needed rubber cement, so I went to Walmart."

I smell trouble now. What, their trees were less?

"I remember how you used to have a tree in every room. And there was this white tree. White! With multi-colored lights. For 49 bucks! So now I've got a white tree and rubber cement. Where am I going to put a second tree? I live in a condo!"

She goes on but I am thinking about Dad and why he somehow spurs this passion for Christmas decorating and celebrating when I don't remember him ever being that into it. So I ask the Flea why this is.

"Well," she says, pausing to don her therapist cap. "Christmas was always hell for Dad. You know all those church services he had to do and then trying to do the family thing at the same time. I guess we do Christmas because that's what we want- the real, exciting thing- like other families had."

This makes sense to me. And if my sister who converted to Judaism and her ex-Jewish daughter, now turned Wicca, can celebrate Christmas with this much enthusiasm, I guess Flea must be right. We want the Folgers commercial kind of Christmas. We want the magic, the sense of hopefulness, and most of all- the family togetherness.

Christmas at our house when we were little was often nightmarish, but sometimes the magic broke through. Always, though, no matter how crazy or dysfunctional things got, we did always have the family togetherness with Dad. It might've started late or ended too soon- but we did carve out a bit of magic with him every year.

I think of my sister and brother now and realize we are all three living the same Christmas's of our youth as adults. It's like we're trapped and cycling through the season with emotionally labile families who don't love the idea of Christmas the way we do.

I suspect this is the way life is for lots of other families. There's a lot of pressure surrounding the holidays- pressure to be more and better than you really are; pressure to be what others want us to be; pressure to be together and happy- "Say cheese!"

My Sister Flea wants to come up to the cabin to see the magic, but I also suspect she wants to make sure I'm okay with her being home with her family instead of up here with mine on "The" day. I tell her we will be fine and how neat it will be for her to have her kids home with her- how much fun they'll have with the new decorations.

"Oh, I know we will!" she cries. "If I can ever get done with this stupid art class so I can enjoy myself." The Flea is in an art class with her daughter and has taken to telling the teacher exactly what she thinks of her- which is apparently not much.

"Okay," the Flea says. "This is how hard she is to please. She looks like a bowling ball and she does ballet for exercise! How's that for a perfectionist with impossible standards!"

I laugh at the image of Flea's bowling ball in a pink tutu trying to sink gracefully into a pliƩ. Then I think, but aren't we all perfectionists with impossible standards?

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