Holiday Hilarity: It Makes For Great Storytelling
Smack in the middle of the holiday season, it’s a struggle to maintain any sense of equanimity in the face of rising tumult. Everywhere I go, holiday music blares. Every person with whom I interact asks the requisite question of the hour, “How’re your holidays going? Is your Christmas shopping done?” I reply in kind, “Fine. Almost.” It’s a dance of spurious interest fueled by the spirit of the season.
The same spirit whipping people into such a frenzy they’re cutting you off in the parking lot and neglecting to slow down as you walk through the crosswalk. The contradiction of it all threatens to disturb my composure. At least I have the fodder for good storytelling.
In the not helping category falls the three or four phone calls a day from my mother. I decided to preserve my serenity this year and lay out distinct boundaries around the holiday. I escaped the guilt trip surrounding Native American Decimation Day with their trip to L.A. to visit my grandmother. We enjoyed the company of friends and amazing, bountiful food without the side dish of backhanded commentary typical of my mother. Of course, the side effects became evident immediately.
“So…we’d really like to see you for Christmas.” My mother suggests in the key of Holidays are for family and we never get to see you.
“Well Mom, the dotter, and boyfriend are going to Portland for the holiday while the boys will probably spend the holiday with their bio-dad. Our days of Christmasy Christmas are fading.”
Her tone rises to shrill. “Why is the dotter going to Portland? She shouldn’t miss the holiday with family.”
I take a breath. “Mom, boyfriend’s sister is having a baby and they’re going to check the city out.”
“It’s not like they’re married. He could go alone.” She sniffs.
“They’re going to Portland for the holiday,” I repeat firmly and as gently as I’m able. “Why don’t I see if there’s a weekend I can round everyone up and we’ll have a family dinner, but understand it won’t be on Christmas.”
“We could come and spend it with you and The Beard. You’ll be alone on Christmas.” She counters.
Shoot me now. A weekend, sure to turn into four or five days by my mother’s counting, alone with my folks at my house. I’m a terrible person. I admit it but understand self-preservation is a powerful force. “We might not stay home. Without the crowd, it’s a perfect time to take a weekend away. How about we round everyone up on a different weekend for a family dinner?” Repetition is a sturdy tool in my bag.
She sighs, a three-year-old out maneuvered. “Oh, all right.”
Please note, I’m sure I’ve had several enjoyable holidays. I can’t think of a one without some kind of scene or family nonsense. Also note, my mother loves to be the center of attention and compulsively, strangely competes with me. This manifests in embarrassing and hilarious ways. My mother always suggests eating out. She does this under the guise of saving me the time and energy of cooking. She’s trying to avoid the invariable moment my father says, “Wow, this is great. You could make this Kathleen.” I’m not sure if he does it to goad her, he enjoys prodding her. I do know it drives her batty with the thought I’m a better cook.
My mother loves to be the expert on anything anyone else achieves. Dotter played volleyball. Suddenly my mother played volleyball in high school. I neglected to point out volleyball wasn’t a school sport at the time. Dotter acts and sings. My mother asserts her stardom in her glee club. That one could be true. Son 1 played basketball. My mother played basketball. She’s 5’1”. Enough said. I’m surprised she didn’t claim to have published a novel.
Don’t take me the wrong way, oh hell, take me any way you’d like. Here’s the thing, my mother is a talented artist. I wish she’d discovered this in my childhood. It would’ve offered her a more productive way to draw attention. Her current passion, more than painting, is a medical crisis.
She’s recovering from surgery as I write. I think I’ve mentioned she’s changed doctors because the doctor who took over for her favorite declared her completely healthy. She called me in tears after the appointment to lament his ineptitude certain he’d missed her terminal cancer.
I managed to engage all of the children for the weekend before Christmas. I’d like to point out, even I don’t see my kids regularly. Dotter lives an hour plus away and works two jobs. She’s busy. The teenagers live with us, for crying out loud. If they come home for dinner, it’s a minor revelation. To find a date they all can converge took some wrangling. I’ve planned a rustic, Mexican meal. No muss, no fuss. Until the phone calls amped up.
“What do you need me to bring?” My mother asked.
“Six dozen tortillas de harina.” They have a bomb tortilleria in Pueblo.
Disappointment filled her voice, “That’s all?”
“Yep, that’s all.” I assert.
My mother loves the Dollar Store. Let me clarify, she loves anything with a mark down sticker. This leads to ungainly, unnecessary gifts having no real purpose or connection to the intended recipient. Many of the things she brings end up in the thrift store box. I know, I know, terrible person. I’m okay with it. I recently saved the dotter from a crop top purchase. Now that’s a mother! The phone rings again.
“I’m at Hobby Lobby getting plates and forks.” She crows. “Poinsettias or holly?” My mother adores paper plates and plastic flatware. The Beard hates using them.
“Put the plates down and walk away.” I direct. “I’m pretty sure I have plates and forks.”
She whines. “That you’ll have to wash.”
“I have a wonderful contraption called a dishwasher. It’s great, I load it with dirty dishes, press a button and voíla! Clean dishes. Put the plates down and walk away.” I repeat. “Tortillas. Remember, you’re bringing tortillas.”
I can hear the Christmas muzak above her lament. “Oh, all right.”
It’s this moment I realize I’m not interested in dealing one on one with my mother, even for a non-Christmas dinner. I opened up the invitation to a few friends. People who make me laugh. People who will appreciate the lunacy and won’t hold my mother’s gaffs against me. People to whom I’m comfortable exposing a raw nerve. I feel giddy relief thinking about having a crowd for the non-holiday. The phone rings.
“You want us to come on Thursday, right? Dad wants to know.” I can hear my father murmur in the background. I know they’ve been arguing about the date.
I speak in my dealing with a three-year-old tone. “Saturday. You’re welcome to come anytime on Saturday. I’ve covered my yoga classes and we’ll all be home.”
“And then we’ll leave on Sunday.” I can hear her wheels turning.
“Yes. I told you, the week is a crazy one. You could come Friday, but The Beard and I are going to his company party and I doubt any teenagers will be home. It’d just be you guys and the animals. Sunday evening we have another event.”
“Okay,” she turns and relays to my father. “We’ll come Saturday. Can I bring something?”
“Tortillas. Six dozen tortillas de harina.” I remind her.
“Dad wants to make shortbreads.” She offers.
“Shortbreads will be wonderful.” I concede. My dad is a great baker and those shortbreads are worth the price I’ll pay after eating wheat and sugar.
“Okay, it’s going so fast!” She exclaims.
Not with you calling me four times a day. “Yep, just a couple of weeks. Love you. Bye.”
I’ve neglected to tell my mother I’ve invited people over. My therapist, while laughing, suggests this is something of an ambush. Me, meh. I’m twitterpated with excitement to see my friends because we’ll have a wonderful time.
I’ve spent this week fielding phone calls with questions about all manner of things. What she should get the boyfriend? Does the Beard wear an extra large? Are you sure we should give the boys money? These Santa plates are on sale. Do you wear an extra large? Are you sure you don’t want anything? Does the dotter wear an extra large? Only six dozen tortillas and shortbreads? When would you like us to come? This extra large thing would be insulting if it wasn’t comedic.
Friday evening my phone rings. “Hello madre.”
The Beard chuckles.
“When your grandmother calls tell her she can’t come.” My mother pouts.
“Excuse me?” This is a change of tack.
“Grandma wants to fly in on Saturday so she can have a family dinner with us. Tell her she can’t come.” My mother demands growing hysterical.
“Mom, I’m not going to tell her she can’t come. She’s 93 and lonely. I will tell her it would be a challenge. She’d have to stay in a hotel because we don’t have a guest room. I’m already booting Son 1 out of his room FOR ONE NIGHT for you and Dad.” I remain calm and firm.
The Beard snorts into his wine. I’m tempted to kick him under the table, but there’s a dog in the way.
My mother sighs. “I told her all of that and she just got nasty. I hung up on her.”
Now I’m tamping down a snort. “Mom, she’s 93. She’s alone in L.A. for the most part and she really would like to spend an evening with all of us together.”
“But she wants to stay through New Year’s. We have plans and I don’t want her to come.” She whines. Even the Beard hears her.
I take a deep breath. “Madre, tell her about your plans and make it clear she’d have to leave beforehand.”
“She doesn’t listen to anything I say. She’ll come and refuse to leave. Tell her she can’t come.” My mother says totally lacking self-awareness.
The Beard, hearing her wail, starts coughing dramatically. This is a woman who showed up at our out of town wedding without reservations. The Beard and I took a cabin for the kids and we explicitly explained she’d need her own place to stay.
“I’m not going to tell her she can’t come. If she would like to fly in Saturday and stay in a hotel for a few days, I’ll pick her up and take her back.” I repeat keeping my calm. “You’ll have to explain calmly about your plans and reinforce the limit on her visit.”
The Beard has to get up and leave the room. He takes his wine.
My mom settles down. “Okay, if it comes up again I’ll explain. You’re sure you won’t tell her she can’t come?”
“Okay, so when do you want us to come up?” She asks.
“Saturday. You are welcome to come Saturday.” I enunciate. If I throw the phone, I’ll regret it.
I hear the Beard from the bedroom. “HA!”
My mother responds. “Okay, we’ll head up Saturday. What can I bring?”
After reiterating the tortillas and the shortbreads and refusing paper plates and plastic forks, I hang up.
I joined the Beard in the bedroom.
“So when are they coming?” He asks.
I throw my hands up. “Could be Thursday, Friday or Saturday.”
“With paper plates and plastic forks, no doubt.” He added, “It makes for good storytelling.”