The sun sets on a grey November day. Rain held out, but the air was wet with the want of a downpour. It’s cold now, and the days are so short and scant, I grasp on to sunlight as if I will never see it again, like an old, close friend who is about to move far away. The ground, soggy, and thick with mud, has a faint putrid scent of decay. The lady downstairs from me is already playing Christmas music on loop, and stores have begun to drag out their artificial trees, tacky green and red socks, and send out glossy flyers in the mail. I once read an article that stated more people commit suicide during the holidays than any other time of the year. I can relate. Not about the suicide part. Since I’m lucky to be blessed with two adorable sons, have a great set of knockers, and have never been to Exuma, I would never hurl myself off a building, or swallow a handful of diazepam, but I can sympathize with the feelings of depression and weariness.
It used to not be this way. When I was a kid I loved the holidays. The bustle of people, decked out in their finest wool, dropping over the house to drink rich, creamy eggnog and eat my mother’s homemade pies was fun. My father’s bus company would hold it’s annual Christmas party, complete with a hot dog cart, Italian subs, and a buttercream sheet cake done in NJ Transit’s iconic blue, orange, and magenta colors. My sister and I, dressed ridiculously as elves, would aid Santa in handing out gifts to the children, then we would commence our yearly hot dog eating contest, stuffing ourselves with garlicy Sabrett’s, then complain to our mother about our stomach aches. Santa was real, family was plentiful, and money was one of those things only adults had to worry about. It was a magical time.
Fast forward to my forties, and things don’t look so cheery anymore. Although I truly am a twelve-year-old girl deep inside, I’m the one worrying about money, and shopping, and preparing, and figuring out how the hell I’m going to cover the cost of a holiday ham, Star wars battlefront games, and pay the gas bill. I want the festively decorated house, the Pottery Barn wrapped gifts, the from scratch cookies, but as a single mother, I barely have the energy to slice up one of those lazy person cookie logs, let alone make the peppermint spiral cookies I used to churn out years ago.
But I want it to be magical for my kids. I don’t want them to get the slightest glimpse of sheer panic when I tear open the Amazon bill, or sense my forlornness when my parents can’t make it up from North Carolina one year. I don’t want them to catch my eyerolls as I see another Every Kiss Begins With Kay jewelry commercial. So I fake it, as much as a wear my heart on mine sleeve kinda girl can fake it. I paint on red lacquered smile and try to pass off boxed mashed potatoes as the real thing. At least they don’t have lumps. Real mashed potatoes have lumps…and so do real mothers. We may vow to get our shit together this year, but chances are, we will lose it somewhere around late November, on a dank evening, right after Thanksgiving. And in my case, on my birthday. We will lose it, because all is not perfect, and magical, and people fight too much, park to crappy, and the tree looks crooked, and the wrapping paper is too expensive. It’s ALL too much.
But then a little person, with flushed cheeks, a smooth forehead, and your eyes, wanders barefooted into the messy living room where you are catching up on season 6 of The Walking Dead. They sidle up next to, tuck their toes in the crack of the cushions, and rest their head on your arm. They teeter on the edge of little kid and big kid, looking at you with concerned eyes when an older kid with a stupid hair cut asks them if they still believe in Santa. That’s when we mothers still see the magic. We realize, there is magic.
Then this little person passes gas and says, “My butt just said hello.”
And suddenly everything is right in the world.