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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

ELEANOR’S CHRISTMAS LETTER TO FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND BLOG FANS

Do you know what I’ve discovered?  No matter how hard I try, I don’t have anything original to say about Christmas.  I’ve almost worried myself into a heart attack this week trying to come up with something pithy to say in my 2011 Christmas letter.  I got nothing—bupkis!   It’s all been done.  After days of fretting, the only thing I can say is that my three favorite Christmas stories are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation by John Hughes, and The Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd.  Put those three stories together (which I watch every year) and you’ll get my humorous take on all things Christmas.

I will tell you that in my 63 years of existence, my Christmases have been touched by horror and by deep pain, but they have also been graced with weird wonderment and joy, while being tangled up in multiple cords of three-twined commercialism, with massive bows of:  if the family portrait of what you think Christmas is supposed to be can go wrong, it will go wrong.  My first Christmas was my first memory in life (three years old), and it found me trying to rescue my one and only toy off the top of a frozen eviction pile heaped high outside a padlocked house in The Cleve, while my mother dissolved into her first wave of schizophrenia right before my eyes.  But that is the opening to my memoir (When Monsters Come Out to Play), so that Christmas story can’t be told here but hopefully will have the good fortune of being published next year.  Are you listening, Santa, Baby?

You can imagine since I met my husband (White and Wonderful) thirty-eight years ago, that I have tried to “live the Christmas dream” I never had when it came to creating a wonderful holiday for my children.  I always thought that if Christmas was great for the kids, then it would translate to our children all was right with the world.  Sometimes I hit the target right in the bull’s-eye, and sometimes I missed it by a mile.  Because as a family, you’ll never know who or what’s going to show up (or not show up) on any given Christmas, given the fine print on every family Christmas photo that says, “Have a Merry Christmas, but don’t forget when it comes to humans—all kinds of shit can hit the fan.”

Google Image

All of us have the illusion that the “heart” of our family Christmases should look like an 1800’s postcard which shows an adoring family, grateful for their modest gifts (no brats screaming in protest about the presents they didn’t get), wise and caring grandparents (not grumpy or cranky at all), and contentment with our lot in life, because we’ve only known good bounty from the hand of a loving God.  Even I have this Christmas illusion which is pretty pathetic because there are never any black people to be found in these “perfect” portraits.  Have you ever noticed that?

Google Image

If I were putting paint on canvas, my portrayal of Christmas would always be with warm colors, cordial people (including black and brown people all over the painting), loving smiles full of laughter and joy, and lots of good food and drink.  No one would ever get sick—no one would ever be short-tempered.  No family member would ever get Alzheimer’s, and no women would get breast cancer.  No planes would ever be late traveling home for Christmas, no toilets would ever overflow, no parents would ever argue, no teenagers would ever run away, no one would die on or near Christmas, no parent would lose his/her job, and no home would be foreclosed upon.  But the problem we all live with is that we all have weird relatives (and we’re just a little bit crazy ourselves), patchy histories, economic downturns, latent jealousies, death in our midst, and unresolved hurts.  So when we gather together for the holidays we sit down before the Christmas tree with a powder-keg of the crazies in a Griswold moose glass for our family Christmas toast.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation “Eggnog Moose Glass”/Google Image

Addams Family/Google Image

Some of us share Christmas with parents who love each other in a weird sort of way, but the kids are bat-shit crazy and borderline psychotic.  Of course, upon closer analysis of the extended family (uncle, grandmamma, and the butler), we see why the kids never had a chance to be sane and in reality should never be left alone with the uncle, grandmamma, or (god-forbid) Lurch, the butler.

The Griswolds (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)/Google Image

Before the economic downturn, many of us had slightly upper middle-class families where the husband worked at some ball-crushing job just living for his year-end bonus that he managed to lose just before Christmas.  That bonus would have made everything “perfect” for his family—from award-winning holiday lights and tree—to the perfect roast, perfect gifts, and ultimate Christmas family portrait.  The only problem is that neither he nor his family is perfect, and no matter how upper-middle class you and I become, we’ll always have the type of relatives who join us for the holidays because we have money and they don’t, who proudly announce:  “Shitters full!”  They belong to us for a reason—they are God’s gift to keep us humble.

 

The Gallaghers in “Shameless”/Google Image

There are a few of us (maybe a lot more now since the emergence of the 99%) who grew up with the Gallaghers (of Showtime fame) as a family, and we are a mess as a family unit—“every six ways from Sunday.”  This was more my type of family base as a kid—only instead of alcohol being the co-parent, schizophrenia was.

 

Huxtable TV Family/Google Image

Most of us would like to be the Huxtable family—smart and beautiful—with a lawyer and doctor for parents who are just perfect with children.  The children are smart, respectful, and never, ever do drugs or walk on the wild side.  All their family crises can be solved in 30 minutes.  This is the exact type of family I tried to recreate with my own children once I became an adult (with an uber-Christian patina), given my ignoble beginnings (minus two of the kids and recasting Bill Cosby as a white man to match WW, of course).  But unlike the TV sitcom where the events are controlled by writers, “shit happens,” and reality really messes with the Huxtable image in a way no sitcom script could ever convey and still remain funny.

I am discovering that we all have the ability to have a couple of perfect Christmases, but “perfect” is not always our due.  With the DNA of our families, the sins we’ve committed against each other, and the devastation of living on Earth and what it can do to us, all we can do is dip ourselves in love and hope for the best when we cross the same threshold.  This year our family will come together in its total configuration, for the first time in a long time, and we are beyond ecstatic about this holiday because we know more than life itself, it is about us all being together—laughing, eating too much, cuddling, watching movies, cooking together, and sharing portions of the scary stories of our journeys that have made us the resilient family that we are.  But before anybody steps foot in my house (family, friend, or fan), I’m making all my guests read and observe the following Christmas vacation rules:

Leave your egos at the door

Come together with a servant’s heart willing to help each other

Share (just like in kindergarten)

Let go of your anger

Embrace each other with love and forgiveness

Repent for the wrongs you’ve done to one another

Flush the memories of the hurts done to you down the toilet

Don’t rehash the past (what is done is done and it can’t be undone)

Appreciate everything you receive as a present, even if you don’t wear hats or listen to country music

Listen (really listen with every fiber of your being) to each other’s stories, because they carry multiple secrets about our joys, our pain, our hopes, and our dreams

For the uber-religious in our midst—turn down the volume and listen (don’t, I say, DON’T go ballistic like you did that time over an Obama for President button pinned to a wig-head stand [to tell you the truth, I had forgotten it was there], assuming you knew what I was thinking).  Remember, “When you assume, you make an ass. . .”

No disparaging gay jokes or racial humor!

  Bring genuine hugs and kisses because that works for all genders and races. 

For the “I don’t believe in God”—unplug your ears and listen, you may learn something.

Say “I love you” in a sincere manner at least once to every family member and friend before you leave.

No politics allowed!

We all know what you feel about everything—we’ve seen your Facebook pages, remember.  We’re just going to come together as “family” and our only political platform is love.

Actually, I didn’t quite get it right at the beginning of this Christmas letter.  My favorite Christmas story which infuses all Christmas stories is the original one—the birth of my Messiah, whose name they called “Immanuel.”   Immanuel means, “God with us,” and it means to me the hope and healing needed to survive our families and the other families of man that don’t quite get it right when it comes to cherishing our hearts and our existence, our bodies, and our dreams.

Merry Christmas to you and to us all

And

May the love of God be with you and yours, today and everyday!

In any case, if you need me or want to get in touch, I’ll be home for Christmas.  Love, Eleanor

The Author

“A scientist said, making a plea for exchange scholarships between nations, ‘The very best way to send an idea is to wrap it up in a person.’ That was what happened at Christmas. The idea of divine love was wrapped up in a Person.” – Halford E. Luccock

All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011 , except where otherwise noted.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Yo’ Momma Don’t Have to Know!

Do you know what I’ve discoveredMost of the current groups of parents who are rearing children from the age of zero to eighteen are missing the boat and the point, and they don’t even know it.  That’s because, in our country, it takes more effort and education to get a driver’s license, buy a house, or become an American citizen than it does to get pregnant and have a child.  A child “gettin’ over” on his or her parents today could be the leader of a great country in the future or the head of a terrorist organization tomorrow and how a parent handles the situation might affect the outcome.  When I see a defiant, two-year-old stubbornly stomping her foot while screaming loudly enough to bring the dead back to life, and the mother tearfully negotiating with her potential
terrorist with “listen, Honey, if you’ll just stop screaming, Mommy will buy you a present when we’re finished,” I’m
torn between slapping the parent upside her head for being such a spineless idiot, or letting her in on a little secret about childrearing.

The Secret:  These delightful little bundles of joy that we can’t help but fall in love with when they are born have a hidden agenda and an insatiable thirst to take over the world.  You, Mommy, are their first conquest!

I’ve discovered that all children enter stage right or left in Earth’s comedy/drama with two weapons in their arsenal for taking their parents hostage:

  • an irrevocable certificate guaranteeing children “free will” from their creator
  • an underground handbook entitled: “Yo’ Momma Don’t Have to Know” (YMDHTK) by The Devil, otherwise known as the knowledge of good and evil

The day I learned about the YMDHTK Handbook, I was almost ten years into the process of rearing children and had managed to appear omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent to both my children.  In other words, I scared the shit out of them.  I was ghetto mom dressed up in Christian suburban clothing married to their white father, but they knew not to mess with me.  (Let’s just say, no kid ever threw a hissy fit on me in the mall on my
watch.)  I was also naïve as hell because I thought children were vacant little sponges just waiting to absorb all of my wonderful wisdom and knowledge while I formed them into mini-mes.

After school one day a little roly-poly boy around the age of ten, who I suspect had been studying the YMKDTK Handbook since he was born, introduced my older daughter (Boo) to the concept that perhaps her parents weren’t as smart as we had led her to believe.  When he invited her to play hooky from school and she responded that she could never do that because her mother would kill her, roly-poly boy promptly informed Boo:  “Yo Momma don’t have to know!”  As it is with every child when they discover that information can be withheld from their godlike parents, this was a revelation to Boo.  My daughter came home and shared her newfound knowledge with her little sister, Baby-girl, and before I knew it, I was queen of a kingdom that was under siege.

GOOGLE IMAGE

A mother’s curse:  I should have seen the revelation of the YMDHTK Handbook coming when I caught the urchins in their first bald-faced lie.  Do you know that child psychologists say that children tell their first lie between the ages of three and five?  God help us!  Did you also know that Wikipedia has twenty-one categories for lying, including such obscurities as the Butler Lie (Question from the police: “Who killed the maid?” Answer from the murderer:  “The butler did it!”), and the Jocuse Lie (“I caught a fish that was forty-feet long with just my homemade fishing rod and dental floss!”).  Ask a two year old holding a red crayon who it was that wrote on your freshly painted White Linen #42 walls with red crayon, and they will triumphantly announce:  “Me
did!”  Ask a three to five year old who did the dastardly deed and they will say (without blinking an eye):  “The
butler did it!” 

Although I haven’t been able to get ahold of that YMDHTK Handbook to corroborate my suspicions, I think there must be several chapters devoted to lying and how to “get over” on one’s parents at the earliest age possible.  The first time I caught one of my kids in a hands down, blatant, bare-faced lie (Wikipedia lie # 3) was the day I took them on an errand with me to someone’s office and there was a bowl of grape Jolly Ranchers sitting on the secretary’s desk.  Baby-girl, whose “raison d’etre” was candy at that age, had been grounded from eating any candy for a couple of weeks because of some infraction she had committed (probably eating too much
candy).  She was about five years old at the time and she still thought I walked on water.  As we drove home from our errand, both Boo and Baby-girl were in the backseat, and as I began to ask them about their day
at school, I noticed only Boo was answering.

“Hey, Baby-girl, what’s going on back there?  Did the cat get your tongue?”

“Nuffling,” said my younger daughter, who sounded like someone had stuffed her mouth with
cotton.

“Baby, what do you have in your mouth?” I asked, trying not to take my eyes off the road.

“Nuffling (slurp); absonutely nuffling, Momma (sluuuuurp),” said my younger daughter.

Mooooom, how come the car smells like a grape soda bath?” asked Boo, the enforcer (according to that great sage, Bill Cosby, the oldest child is always “the enforcer” and the youngest “the squealer” when it comes to helping parents unearth lies).  “And how come Baby-girl has grape blood pouring out the corners of her mouth like a vampire, Mom?”

When I pulled over to the side of the road to investigate, Baby-girl was still denying she had anything in her mouth as I pried it open and made her spit out what looked like twenty grape Jolly Ranchers (some still in their plastic wrappings).  How she managed to grab so many Jolly Ranchers from the office candy dish and when she managed to unwrap and stuff them into her mouth I will never know.  All I know is that it took me several days to get the stain off her little vanilla cheeks and it never came out of her white blouse – evidence of a bare-faced lie of a five-year-old gone awry.

******

“Have you any idea how many kids it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen?

  Three.

  It takes one to say, ‘What light?’ and two
more to say, “I didn’t turn it on.’”

Erma Bombeck

******

A father’s blind side:  Fathers are even more clueless to this grand conspiracy of free will/YMDHTK philosophy, especially when it comes to girls.  I think there must be some type of magic spell in the book that girls can make and sprinkle into the eyes of their daddies from their first encounter in the delivery room, because little girls can pull the wool over their fathers’ eyes for a very, very long time.

I first noticed this phenomenon one day when our girls were five and four.  I left the babies with my husband (WW) while I went down to a recording studio to do a couple of voice overs for some radio commercials.  When I left, Boo had two braids and puffy, curly bangs; Baby-girl had two puff balls the size of Ping-Pong balls
(mini-pigtails) and a smaller set of puffy, curly bangs.  When I returned approximately four hours later, all three of them were in the garage.  WW was working on the lawn mower and the girls were riding their tricycles in and out of the double garage and cycling around their dad as if he were a traffic circle.  The minute I laid eyes on them, I was completely horrified.  WW glanced up at my apoplectic gesturing and gave me one of those
puzzled looks that only husbands can do when they can’t figure out what the hell you’re getting so upset about.

“THE GIRLS’ HAIR – WHAT HAPPENED TO THEIR HAIR?” I screamed.

“Nothing happened to their hair,” said WW.  They were in the house playing dolls and dress up while I was paying bills, and then when I moved out into the garage to repair the lawn mower, they came outside with me to ride their bikes.  They have been perfect little angels, haven’t you girls?”

“Yes, Daddy,” said the Barbers of Seville in perfect, innocent unison.

Part of playing with their dolls during dress-up must have been a trip to the barber shop when WW wasn’t looking, because one of Boo’s braids and half her bangs were gone.  One of Baby-girl’s puff-ball pigtails was missing and she had a little close-cropped Afro where the ball of hair had been.  Where her bangs used to be was a layer of peach fuzz. Once I pointed out the missing hair on the lopsided twins, WW saw it, but he swears to this day that he has no idea when the urchins set up their barber shop and when they performed the great scalping act on each other.  Daddy pixie dust!

GOOGLE IMAGE

I am sure there must be endless instructions to kids on how to get over on their parents in the YMDHTK Handbook, if I could just find a copy to peruse.  But until I do, I’ll just have to guess at what it must contain.  I know there must be a section on learning how to argue like a first rate lawyer, because after years of me wishing they could form intelligent sentences and carry on a conversation when they were little, they soon got to a place where they could argue a bear out of his coat of fur in the middle of winter.  There were times in their teens when all I wanted to do was fly away and return to a time when all they did was coo.

Taking on the world:  It is a revelation when concepts or people start getting on your children’s nerves when you thought they lived in a sweet world of simplicity where they loved anyone who loved them.  It makes me wonder if there is a chapter in the YMDHTK Handbook that gives lessons in childhood cynicism.  I’ll never forget when Baby-girl watched Kermit the Frog on TV.  She was only five when the 20th anniversary celebration of the song, “Bein’ Green” was being heralded as a great Sesame Street treatment about race.  One day when Baby-girl and I were having a little “mommy and me” cuddling time after morning kindergarten, Kermit started singing, “It’s not easy being green…” about the ordinariness of being green and how all the other colors of the spectrum had a better go of it in the world.  About halfway through the song, I heard my biracial baby utter a huge sigh and mumble a bitter lament as she absent-mindedly twirled her baby doll’s hair:  “Seriously, Frog?  You must
be kidding me…it isn’t easy being light brown, either!”

When all is said and done:  I am discovering that a person can have all kinds of ideas about how they think children should be raised, but until you are actually a parent, none of it is worth the paper it is written on.  A person can have ten kids and each kid will be different from the other requiring a more nuanced skill set from the parents for each one.  And then there’s that teeny-weeny empowerment thing called “free will.”  When it comes to raising kids, free will is a bitch!   Because of it, the worst of parents can sometimes produce a president, and the best of parents can sometimes produce a felon.  It’s really quite a mystery, but it would help all parents if we could just locate that goddamn “Yo’ Momma Don’t  Have to Know” Handbook.  To the grandmothers across the world, if you’ve found this handbook, let me know!

“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.”  John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)||Poet

All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk copyrighted © 2011 except where otherwise noted.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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