I wonder why we always look forward to Christmas Vacation?
I mean sure, work is stressful - but as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to stress nothing beats holiday shopping. Give me fifty essays and two sets of tests to grade over a trip to the mall any day!
Then, there's the question of in-laws visiting, which means that the comfortable semi-squalor in which you have become accustomed to living - perhaps even become quite fond of, actually; I mean, isn't the dust kind of artistic, in a Neo-Bohemian kind of way? - must be banished in its entirety, leaving sparkly kitchen countertops and a big dent in your wallet caused by the new curtains you put up to "finish the room." God forbid you give them anything to point at as being viable proof of your ineptitude as a Wife and Mother.
Everyone else seems to be going out of town for the holidays, which means that YOU are the designated dog-sitter, mail-picker-upper, and turn-on-the-lights-at-nighter for the week.
In short - doesn't anyone else find that the holidays create more work and stress than work itself ever does?
We live in a small town in southside Virginia. By "small town" I mean that the only place in town where the prices aren't marked up for visiting antiques fanatics and wealthy, old-money tobacco farm families is Wal Mart; which naturally means that if you don't want to give the same presents to your friends that they are giving to you, you have to travel at least forty-five minutes from home, assuming that you (like me) have waited until the last minute to complete your holiday shopping and don't trust Internet websites to get things to you in three days or less.
Have you driven on Virginia highways lately? I had to stop at a hair salon on my way to the mall to get a touch-up for the new grays that instantly sprang to my head after the drive to Danville, the veritable Metropolis nearest my sweet home.
It seems as though everyone else in southside Virginia drives an eighteen-wheeler, a truck or an SUV(they're not just for suburban soccer moms anymore!) Really, I feel humbled (not to mention scared to death) to be sharing the road with them
in my little Toyota Corolla.
Rather like me, my car shakes and shivers with the effort whenever it is asked to go beyond a
certain speed, generally anything over 70 MPH(my personal "certain speed" is significantly lower, but I won't go into that now.) You would think that since the posted speed limit on the highways of my state is 65 MPH at its highest this would pose no problems; but you would be dead wrong, my friend. I don't know why, but even in the "slow" right-hand lane, the posted speed limit doesn't match up with the actual speed of the cars on the road.
You can be going exactly 60 MPH, the needle straight and unwavering on the number, and feel as though you are the slow-motion instant replay as every other car on the road shoots past you in "real time," generally accompanied with a loud blast from the horn or a finger in the air as the driver shoots you a "Die, Loser!" glare on his way past you. (I might point out here that you generally run into those cars again, stopped at the stoplight in town, where the drivers thump on their steering wheels in frustration and look as though they might lose it entirely if the light doesn't turn green in about a second.) I wonder about these people. We moved to the country because we wanted a slower
lifestyle. Where are they in such a hurry to get to? I've been to Danville; trust me, there's nothing there that merits this kind of demonic speed.
(A digression: I always wonder why it is that people can drive 80-90 MPH on the highways in $50-60,000.00 vehicles with impunity, but if I drive 35 MPH in town in my $16,000.00 car there's a cop right there ready to drain my already-meagre bank account just in time for the holidays.)
What's disconcerting about all of this (aside from the need for last-minute braking to accomodate the heating oil tanker that cut into your lane directly in front of you without notice to avoid the Ford pickup that slammed on its brakes in the left-hand lane to avoid the deer that casually waltzed onto the highway; we do, after all, live in the country and drive on country highways!) is that, since it is Christmastime, you are more than likely to meet up with a large number of these people again in the mall. And if you think they drive like entitled, self-important asses, you should see them shop.
Maybe you've noticed them. They're the ones who will walk headlong right into you rather than swerve from their own
paths to avoid unnecessary bumping, then look you right in the eye waiting for an apology for your rudeness in refusing to acknowledge their right to be wherever they are unencumbered. (We had a Persian cat once who had perfected that "I can't believe you are in my way" stare, so I always see fur and whiskers on these people.) They are the ones who knock things out of your arms on their way to the sales aisle, then refuse to stop and help you collect your scattered items - after all, you are the idiot who bought so much. They are the ones who bump your shopping cart with their shopping cart and never excuse themselves -or, alternately, who refuse to move their cart when you happen to meet them, forcing you to back away and accomodate them. (They drive shopping carts like they do their cars.)
They are the ones who let their children run screaming past you, knocking you over as you bend to see what's on the bottom shelf, and then do not deign to apologize for the behavior of their offspring(and you are heartily thankful that, as you are seeing them forty-five miles away from your hometown, their children and your own are probably not going to be in the same class at school.) They are the ones in the checkout line who shift their weight from one foot to another and heave out great sighs of impatience at the incompetence of the cashier. Or, alternately, they believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion of the cashier's ineptitude.
They are the ones talking away blithely on their cellphones as they unload their items onto the checkout counter- so that, after waiting for half an hour in an inevitably long, last-minute shopping line, you are now forced to wait another fifteen minutes as they scream "Omigod!" and "Nuh-UH, get out!" into their Motorolas. They are the ones who try to pay with a gift cardthat doesn't scan, and then leave in a huff, all of their items still on the counter.
Take a half a Xanax, it gets better.
They are the ones who block the entire parking lot in their mad scramble to get the best possible parking space. They are the ones who left the huge dent in your fender, the scratch in your door, the light knocked out of the front bumper of your car, because they are in such a hurry(and talking away on their cellphones) in their big trucks and SUVs that they never heard the crunching noise your little car made as they hit it. Inevitably, even if they do notice that your car now sports a side-dent, they do not leave a note on your windshield; you, my friend, will have to explain this to your insurance company all by yourself. But they are also the ones who watch you like a hawk as you open your own door if you happen to be parked next to them; God love you if they even imagine you have touched their precious car with some portion of your own. (I have taken to parking at the very, very far end of the parking lot expressly for this reason; then again, this also means that my car can be an easy target for those of them that feel that lanes in parking lots are merely a suggestion as to where to drive.)
They are the ones who spend about twenty minutes in the dressing room(again, talking on their cellphones) while there's a line of ten people waiting to try on clothes. They are the ones who grab the only sales rep on the floor and send her into the back room to look for ten items that are inevitably not in stock, then send the poor creature fleeing back to the back room in tears after they deliver a diatribe about how much the store (and, by association, the sales rep) sucks not to have everything they want readily available. They are the ones who complain loudly and bitterly about how much everything
costs, then plunk down five hundred dollars' worth of merchandise at the checkout lane and ask to fill out a form for a store credit card(and you should always, always hope that they are approved, because if they are not, then you will be in that line much longer as they insist upon speaking to everyone in Creation about why they were declined.)
I don't know about you, but grading papers safely in my bed with a cup of tea, my daughter watching Little Einstein's next to me, and a warm, snuggly, purring cat just seems so much more appealing to me than going through Mall Hell, even if it means I have to go to work to return those papers the next day.
After you have completed the Mall run, wrapped the gifts, and placed them under the tree, you might feel entitled to a nice, relaxing afternoon off. Or, if you're like me, you get a phonecall from your in-laws, who have decided that they want to come to Christmas at your house after all(they weren't sure they would make it until a few days before the 24th.)
I recently had a phone conversation with a girlfriend of mine about the in-laws thing. She was upset because she felt so uncomfortable and ill-at-ease when she was around them; she wasn't sure they liked or approved of her, after ten years of marriage and three kids. She was sure that they were always judging and evaluating her, and that she came up short about 90% of the time. The prospect of spending the holidays with them was enough to send her running to the phone to call me. I have to admit that I wasn't much help to her, although I commiserated heartily. I'm beginning to think that all of us have this in-laws complex; we like them, and we think they like us, but we can never really be sure, and so we end up feeling decidedly un-festive in their presence.
My in-laws, for example, are wonderful, wonderful people. I like them exceedingly. But they always seem to manage to make me feel as though I am not living up to my end of the bargain. It's little comments, like, "Oh, don't worry about cleaning the house, we know you're really busy" and, "Oh, we'll just stay at a hotel" that send me running for the vacuum and every cleaning product known to Mankind. The implication, at least in my head, is clear: I am an incompetent housekeeper, and not only are they positive that I am raising their darling grandchild and forcing their darling son to live in unhygenic conditions, but they will not deign to spend the night for fear of sleeping in germ-infested quarters. I know that they are simply trying "not to impose" - but you know, they're coming to our house for Christmas already, so the "imposition" in question is already there; at the very least they could now agree to sleep in our guestroom and validate my housekeeping! I am, obviously, going to have gone to vast efforts to create a sparkling-clean environment whether they sleep in our house or not, and I wonder why they feel that, after having gone to so much trouble, I would prefer that they not sleep over. (Maybe the just have a thing for hotels?)
Then, of course, there's the inevitable argument over holiday traditions. My husband and I are, to put it as my students do, "in a fight" over when to open gifts. In his family, they always opened everything on Christmas day. In my family, we opened family and friend gifts on Christmas Eve and then Santa came on Christmas morning, which to my way of thinking makes perfect sense, as it separates out the family gifts from the Santa gifts and prolongs the festivities for the kids; they still get the anticipation of Santa to look forward to, but they also appreciate what was given by good old Mom and Dad. Since his parents were coming,and expressed an interest in coming on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve, DH thought we should just open everything on Christmas Day. I put my foot down: they said they didn't want to impose, so I took them at their word: we were opening family gifts on Christmas Eve, and that was final. The in-laws reluctantly agreed to come on Christmas Eve, but I'm pretty sure everyone else feels I am being unreasonable. My thinking on this at this point is: I'm the Mother, and since on a regular basis in terms of everything else I have to decide what and when amd how, so in this instance as well my way goes.
Having cleaned the house top-to-bottom, it will inevitably be completely trashed by the time I get Christmas Dinner on the table(I am not famous for my ability to clean-as-I-go when I cook; I'm not famous for my cooking, either, for that matter.) My in-laws will insist upon helping to clean. They will do the dishes by hand, despite the fact that we have a dishwasher, and will be deaf to my protests that they are guests in my home and don't have to clean. I will feel like a total slob and an incompetent housekeeper as they dry and put away the last dish, having taken the time to straighten the cabinets while they were putting the dishes away. They will then be very disappointed because their granddaughter will in the meantime have gone down for her nap, and "they need to get on the road." Despite the fact that nothing they do or say is (as far as I know!) intended as a slight or a put-down, I will inevitably feel the compulsion to ring my friend's therapist to schedule a session to deal with my feelings of inadequacy following their visit.
Work may be stressful - but I usually don't want a Valium at the end of the workday, either!
Then, after surviving the Mall and the In-laws, there's the Being-a-good-neighbor schtick. In my case, it means that, having sworn I am not going anywhere for the holidays because I want to stay home in my house and rest and relax, I am fair game to my neighborhood friends and acquaintances as a housesitter. So, instead of sleeping in on the 26th, I will be schlekking about, collecting mail, turning on lights at night to keep prowlers at bay, and walking dogs. I like doing this - I really do. But let's be honest, here - how many times during the year do
your friends and neighbors ask you to house and dogsit for them? It's always during the Christmas Vacation.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to January 2nd, when all I will have to deal with is sixty teenagers and six lesson plans a day. After writing this, I am still sitting here at a loss: why do we look forward to Christmas Vacation every year?