When I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my grandmother; she was not what I would call a devout Catholic, but she required me to pray on my knees every night, attend Catechism classes and go to church with her occasionally. She had a huge cross with Jesus stretched across it hung over her bed.
Before going to sleep, we would kneel side by side, hands clasped, head bent, and we would pray together. I would pray aloud for my mom, dad, brother, and sisters, I would include the neighbors, my grandmother and her husband, and all of our relatives, and then I would pray for my dog, Woodstock and my donkey, Cinnamon. When we were finished saying our spoken prayers, I would always look up, towards the ceiling, and I would silently pray to God for him to make my family get better; I would ask for my parents to stop fighting. I wanted there to be peace in my home when I returned from my summer break.
Each year my prayers went unanswered and life in our house became more troubled; every time my mom went to the hospital or my father went to jail, I started to believe less. I started to think prayers were like wishes; either they were only fulfilled for “good” children, and I wasn’t one, or there was no such thing as God.
As life wore on, I stopped believing; I became afraid to believe because I was tired of being disappointed.
When I was in elementary school and middle school, I used to play “school” often; I would line up all of my stuffed animals, my favorite toys and pretend they were all my students. My two donkeys would always sit in the front, they were the best students.
Sometimes, I would recruit my younger brother and sister to play as well; I would create math problems and sentences for them to copy, they bored easily of the game, though, and weren’t the straight-A students my animals were. If anybody had ever asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, a favorite question of adults, I would answer I wanted to be a teacher.
As a high school student, I had the opportunity to spend my junior and senior years working at an elementary school for one of my classes. It was a true eye-opener as to what the experience would be like if I followed my heart. I fell in love with so many of the students; I worked at one of the schools with the lowest income levels in town, so many students lived in the weekly motels.
One particular student would come to school with various bruises, bumps, bandages, and sometimes casts. He wore the same clothing day after day, not a crime, but a sign his family needed help. One day I asked him about his broken arm, one “kid” to another; when he confided to me his dad had broken it but he wasn’t supposed to tell, I told the teacher I was working with.
Her response was apathetic at best, she had explained how it happened all the time in the area and there wasn’t much she could do. Times were different in those days; but, I was crushed, I understood some of what he was experiencing. A few weeks later, the boy was pulled from the school and he was gone. I never saw him again.
I finished my work experience, but I changed my mind about wanting to be a teacher; I realized I would fall in love and there was nothing I could do to save all of those children. It was around the same time I started to adopt my theory that I did not want to be a mother, either, that I would be a horrible mother, not able to protect my children from everything.
Throughout the rest of my life, those words have haunted me; my family always reminds me and my children that I “never wanted kids”. The fact is, I was so afraid of loving them too much and of having them ripped away from me; or of never being good enough.
Despite the fact that my family was a shade less than perfect, my mom did her best to make the holidays magical. Our house was decorated throughout from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after New Year’s, including the yard. We had homemade goodies galore, Christmas music wafted through the house, and presents practically covered our tree.
Still, no matter how much tinsel she used or how many lights there were, the magic wasn’t enough to keep the police at bay. It turns out it just wasn’t a family holiday if somebody wasn’t drunk, in jail, in the hospital, or threatening somebody; that’s just the way it was. Though, she tried.
When I became an adult, I did everything I could to make my children’s holidays as special as I could. But, I felt just as cursed as my parents had been; there was never enough money in the first few years. Though, when children are very young, they don’t notice the one foot tall Charlie Brown tree with two or three gifts scattered underneath and the paper fireplace.
Then, when my first husband left on New Year’s Eve when my girls were young, the event put a bit of a pall over holidays; especially since he made a habit of calling four times a year after that, my birthday, his birthday, our anniversary, and New Year’s Eve. We eventually forgot about him and opted to move on with our new family, the three of us and the girls’ adopted dad.
However, their new dad could not have cared less about Christmas; no matter how special I tried to make it, he was not interested. One year, we didn’t even have a tree; something the girls and I looked forward to as soon as Halloween came knocking on the door.
As each year passed, my enthusiasm for Christmas began to wane, his dislike for the holiday and my traditions made me feel small and sad. I wanted to give my girls not just physical gifts, but the traditions I had enjoyed the most; the Christmas Eve traditions of new pajamas, board games, fondue and snacks for dinner; the morning traditions of eating breakfast from the stockings, making a huge Christmas dinner, and all of the other traditions.
The last Christmas we spent together, I served his dinner to him at his desk upstairs while the girls and I ate together downstairs. The girls and I went alone to go look at the Christmas lights, typically a family event.
After that, I was afraid to love Christmas; the more I love something, the further it seems to slip away from me. I am certain the logic does not make any sense, but in my fractured mind, it protects me from getting hurt.