Monday, November 1, 2010

Loving Dysfunction a Christmas Story

As I pulled up to what I consider an enormous home (3 floors, 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 1 unfinished basement) I take a deep breath in. I remind myself that its only one night and the people on the other side of the two story high door are my family and I love them. I am about to enter into what I can only describe as loving dysfunction. I have come to understand mine is not the only family that has their quirks. Tonight is the Jarvis Family Christmas party. It is a roller coaster ride of Christmas Carols, screaming children, laughing adults and just a hint of good old fashion guilt. The guilt is more of a feeling that is probably exclusive to me. Before I talk myself out of going inside I push open my car door. The cold December air hits my flushed face and I am grateful for its cooling effects. I gather my food assignment, white elephant gift and make my way to door.

Before I can even knock, one of the gaggle of my adorable girl great-cousins opens the door. I immediately hear the sound of high pitch giggling and feel about ten sets of arms wrapped around my waist and my legs. I realize that I am on of the high pitched gigglers and I feel slightly more at ease. I trudge inside with the little octopus arms entangling me. Another guest arrives behind me and they unleash their tentacles and go after new prey.

I am struck by how warm the house is. Not physically warm, but more of a homey warm. It gives me a sense of security that I cherish. The familiar smells of pumpkin spice candles and homemade rolls waft over me. It’s practically intoxicating and I can’t help but smile. I walk into the kitchen encountering at least 5 of my 20 some odd girl cousins and at least two of my five aunts. As always they are chirping away. “Can I help? Let me help? Don’t you need help?” the choir of nagging voices is directed at my Aunt Lori the hostess. I don’t join in this chorus because I have learned if she wants help she will ask for it. I put the rich marshmallow brownies I made on the counter and give my Aunt Lori soft smack on the butt, smile and I wink at her. This is my way of saying “Hey I am here and nice to see you.” As I make my way out of the kitchen I hug the chicks, make quick small talk with all them and I hastily escape the hen house seeking more serene pastures.

My family are dedicated, giving, loving people with a strong Mormon background. Mormon’s believe families are eternal. Every member of my very large extended family has extraordinary family values. They also believe in the sanctity of marriage and the importance of having babies. Here is where my neurotic guilt shifts into high gear. I attend family events and I watch them interact as small family units and then as the extended family unit. I feel inadequate because I am thirty and divorced. I feel a little empty because I don’t have kids. I feel really guilty that I don’t think I want kids. I feel ridiculous for envying the cute husbands and wives that I am surrounded by. I long for the companionship that they appear to have. I feel self indulgent that in my head (and sometimes out loud) I am making snide comments about some of the more aggravating members of my family.

I have reached the solitude I was searching for. I am curled up in a corner of an over sized black leather couch in the spacious living room next my wonderful cousin Candace. Next to my sister, she is my rock. What I love about Candace is that she doesn’t say anything unless it’s worth saying. We are sitting quietly listening to the sounds of children screaming echo off the vaulted ceilings. When by the grace of all that is holy my Uncle Glenn (the host) calls everybody’s attention to him. My nerves are going to get a break. He welcomes everyone to his home. There are at least 50 of my relatives packed into the living room. The only lights in the room are coming from the adjoining kitchen and the eight foot tall Christmas tree in the corner. The white lights from the tree are providing angelic glows to my family members closest to the tree. I survey the masses. In one room I find it remarkable that there are four generations of people. My uncle mentions the same thing I have just observed. All the adults are crying now. It confuses the children. We all understand that this could be the last year we are all together. My Grandparents are getting old. Uncle Glenn offers a blessing on the food. Its more than a blessing, it’s a prayer of gratitude for the last year of life, safety and blessings that our entire family has experienced. Once he says amen the atmosphere changes from reverent to raucous.

A serve yourself buffet has been laid out for everyone. If a person comes away hungry from this spread it’s because their jaw is wired shut. There is ham, cheesy potatoes, crock pots full of little sausages and pork and beans, salads of every sort ranging from run of the mill iceberg lettuce to, Top Ramen salad to Jello Salad. There are veggie trays and fruit trays. We admittedly are a family that loves their sweets, pies, cookies, brownies, cake and at least three different kinds of ice cream await us for dessert. Everyone gorges themselves to the point of moaning in regret of our glutinous consumptions.

Now that we have all entered into a relaxing food coma we all gather into the same room again to start the family traditions. The room is hushed as my Grandfather now in his mid eighties begins to read the Christmas Story from the King James Bible. The great grandchildren are restless; most of the grandkids (our ages ranging from three years to thirty nine years old) are quiet and respectful; the children are in tears. They are tears of appreciation for their parents. Then my Grandmother reads The Night Before Christmas. Her face lights up as she sees the enthusiastic attentive face of the sweet great grandchildren and their uncommon focus on the story and colorful illustrations; the grandchildren are practically asleep and the children are still tearing up. The stories are over and we sing Silver Bells and a variety of other Christmas Carols. The joyful singing has revived us from the sleepy state we were being lulled into by the familiarity of the voices around us and the heat of the living room.

The night has past so quickly. The little ones exchange their gifts. There is excitement and disappointment. There is even fighting because one child didn’t get what the other did. Then it’s the adults turn. My Aunt Lori tries to make a game of it, but we all are starting to feel worn out. We stage a coup and exchange the gifts quickly. Parents wrangle their grumpy, sleepy kids. They chase the children, make stern demands to gather their belongings and give hugs. Finally the children are bundled up in their puffy warm winter coats and hauled off to their cars fighting sleep and their parents.

I gather my empty brownie pan and white elephant gift (a useless object that I will throw away in the morning). I say my goodbyes. There are so many hugs and come visits and empty promises of see you soon. I lean down and kiss my sweet Grandmothers forehead and try to hold back my tears. It is so difficult to watch someone I once thought to be the pillar of strength age into a frail ghost of who she used to be. I gather my thoughts and tell her I love her. I make my way to the door and holler one last so long to the few remaining guests.

The heavy door closes behind me and the cold air hits my face again. I breathe in the fresh air a welcome change from the stuffy house I just left. As I get in my car and adjust my review mirror and watch the lights of the house fade away. I reflect on the evening. It is one more Christmas party behind me. I made it through. I kept to myself most of the night, guarded and dodging the questions that would make me feel defensive and more insecure about my current single childless status. I am grateful I attended and I store every moment that made me smile in my soul for safe keeping. However I am happy that I have one more year to mentally prepare for this night.

Authors Note: I wrote this narrative for an English Composition Class that I am currently taking.