The Dark Side of the Holidays – Or the Best Season that Money Can’t Buy!

Some of us go into this season dreading it….

We have a sense of impending doom, when we think of the long to-do lists that loom, when we consider all the decorating, cooking, buying, giving and planning that goes into the season.

Some find that the financial situation is so tight that being able to live up to the perceived expectations means going into debt for the coming “happy” New Year. The resentment follows like a holiday hang-over when the presents are unwrapped. Presents that effectively will need to be paid for with uncertainty and fear in the coming months.

At this time of year, glossy portrayals of family bliss, adored children with wrapping paper piles, tons of presents, old and dear traditions, lights and lovingly prepared family meals are everywhere.

And for many of us this is far from reality.

For some money is not the problem, but they are not looking forward to the emotional toll of having family members bicker and fight over the turkey. Or they dread the disrespect that their children, their spouses or their relatives show them, even as they try to give everyone a pleasant time.

This is a time of heartache and suffering for many of us. Even the ones among us who are not looking like we are on the surface. It can be a time of  pretending as we put on a happy face and allow the merriment of the season to wash over us, at least in public!

If you or someone you know is in this situation, there are a few things we can do to create a more joyous Holiday experience. First a quick internal assessment:

  • What would you really like to experience this Holiday Season? Try to back up and focus on internal aspects. So, for instance translate “I would like to be able to afford this or that” to the feeling that is below that wish. How would it make you or someone else feel?

If the “home is where the heart is” – then what is truly in your heart?

Sometimes we discover that our focus on how to set the table, what we would like to give, etc. is a cover-up for what we really want: A feeling of love, kindness, togetherness, meaningful relationships, a way to matter to others or simply absence of pain, despair and loneliness.

  • Identify what might be holding you back from having this experience that you would like to have

Is it money? No family? Not enough time? Or is it a perception that this is what others expect? Is it the sense that you by sacrificing yourself for others at this time makes you feel important?

  • Find out how you can step out of habit thinking, and find a way to create the experience you would like by thinking about it in a new way that includes what you have and not what you wish you had.

Can you show your love for your family without having to stretch yourself thin? How can you prepare them (and yourself) for this in a way that allows a new sense of anticipation?

If you are alone, how can you plan a meaningful time for celebrating you – or where can you look to find others who are in the same situation and help create a great experience for them as well as yourself?

If you family is bickering – how can you create new rituals with them that will further a spirit of togetherness and not the same old same old?

  • What components are needed to make this new way of doing things work?

As part of the preparation we can ask family and friends for input as they help us create new traditions.  The mad dash we normally engage in is largely self-imposed. And many of our relatives actually appreciate a less stressful season with more emphasis on togetherness and less on keeping up appearances.

Convention is a town in our own head!

And it is possible that all that we need to change our “have to’s,” is to just have the conversation – first internally, and then with others. You might be surprised at what you find when you lift the veil of convention.

Happy Holidays. To coin a phrase: Have it YOUR way!


Beepers, Bleep’ers and Blinkers

So we are in Paris a few summers ago and about to leave our quaint hotel in Montmartre to drive down to the French Riviera. I have rented a car and need to pull over in the tiny side street where there is no room to park – no room to pull over so we can load our luggage into the trunk. I call Walter, my darling husband, and tell him to bring our three boys, the luggage and himself down into the lobby – and I will just pull over and we can throw the luggage in and go. He states that he has scoped out a place for me to pull over though – and this will allow us more time to organize the trunk… Fine…

      I drive up the little one-way street – and husband is standing there directing me into this space between two metal poles and a giant dumpster. I am not exactly the queen of parallel parking… so I attempt it by going “head first” into the space. And the result is that the back of the car sticks out, blocking the road and the traffic behind me. Hubby runs to my rescue. We already have a line of cars behind me… And not only are they behind me – they are ALL the way up behind me. Hubby jumps in – I have turned on the emergency blinkers and he tells me he will handle it. Well, he finds a French stick shift Renault (that had seen better days) – and nothing is intuitive or where you’d expect with regards to the controls. Especially not where reverse might be on this stick. He yells to me: “How do I get this piece of sh.. into reverse?” I explain it the best I know how – and lo and behold – he manages to get it into reverse. Ready to back up- but… he finds he is completely blocked in by the cars that are now beeping – incessantly – deafening behind him… He cannot back up – he is stuck…. At this point the kids and I disappear into the lobby of the hotel – petrified…. Peeking out behind the lace curtains I overhear the father of my children as he is getting out of the car gesticulating wildly: “I GOTTA BACK UP” (New Jersey accent always finds a happy return to Walter’s language, when he is under stress – as does the wild gestures…). The drivers in the cars behind him are revving their engines and beeping even louder. I seem to become instantly psychic as I think I hear the inner dialogue in the French cars:”américains stupides…” However, it seems lost on them that my husband cannot move out of their way as long as they keep fencing him in. His Jersey logic about needing to back up…  was lost on the Parisians…. I guess in Paris you have gear that allows levitation? So they beep ever louder… At this point the kids and I are practically hiding – trying to stay completely invisible, as the clerk behind the desk is starting to find the scene outside entertaining and is curiously watching….
     Walter finally snaps… he leaves our car completely and runs up to the first car that has planted its headlights right at the beatup back bumper of of our pale yellow rental Renault…. he walks to the driver’s side of the first car, and screams at the heavyhanded beeping driver with sweeping hand gestures letting it be known that this is meant for all in the line who are beeping: “Well, F… YOU!!!” The kids and I in the lobby look at each other, and in one terrifying moment we see the headlines from the next morning’s paper flashing before our eyes: “American loud-mouth lynched in Paris!” And then our oldest son starts laughing uncontrolably…. Our youngest chimes in – and soon all four of us are laughing out of control… The absurdity of the situation combined with the absolute fear of death – laughter seems to be the only way to deal….
     And much to our surprise – suddenly the beeping in the street outside stops – the cars collectively back up just enough to allow Walter to get out and the lynching is averted! Walter is last seen turning the corner with the “tail” of Parisian cars at a respectful distance behind him. And then there is silence…. The kids and I have tears coming down our cheeks from laughter – but after 10 minutes have passed – we start to worry. Where is our beat up pale yellow Renault, with the steaming New Jerseyite in it? Where is the love of my life…?? He was supposed to just circle around the little system of one-way streets and end up coming back to our hotel… At this point new headlines start to appear in my consciousness: “Lonely and Lost American Crashes into the Eiffel Tower”.
     After about 15 minutes we see him turn the corner of our little street and come up towards us. The emergency blinkers are still going – and he also accidentally has turned on the windshield wipers in his fogged up state – and unable to know what he had done – they are going at warp speed. Or maybe it is his attempt at levitating the car?
     Anyway, as he pulls up – we throw our suitcases in, the kids jump in and away we go with me reading simultaneously from maps of Paris as well as the manual of the car to figure out how to turn all of this blinking and wiping off – it is a clear, sunny day after all…

     In all of its chaotic frenzy – it is one of our favorite memories as a family. We still laugh heartily when we think of it. And it is a standing joke among us when we have to back up out of parking spaces – “I GOTTA BACK UP”  

     I guess in vacations as in life you plan and try to make everything go smooth. And then something completely unexpected happens that throws all plans away and scares you! And sometimes this very unexpected and terrifying event becomes the best memory of all, as you handled it, managed to survive and find your way through the one-way road system –  beepers, bleep’ers, blinkers, wipers  and all!