Monday, December 15, 2008

Mom's Recipe for a Traditional Holiday Meltdown

As kids, we never doubted there was a Santa. We did, however, worry that he might not make it past our parents. For some reason they were both out to get the chubby guy in the weird suit.

Dad created the lovely tradition of a Christmas Eve Bonfire for Santa. Right before bedtime he'd build the most glorious blaze in the fireplace, flames leaping and licking the top of the firepit. "Let's make it nice and warm for the fat man," he'd chuckle as he brought in more firewood, his eyes glowing red by the light of the inferno. Helpless to intervene in Santa's roasting, we kids would gloomily head off to bed, hoping against hope that Saint Nick's suit was fireproof.

But compared to our mom's traditions, Dad's meddling was child's play. In the month before Christmas, as the big day approached, Mom's temper would get shorter and shorter, and the vein on the side of her forehead would get bigger and bigger, like some sort of bizarre Advent calendar. Day by day, her desperate grip on sanity would tighten into a deadly stranglehold. She would bark orders quicker than ever, her sharp, practiced tongue clipping the ends of her words off almost before they left her mouth. I would stare, transfixed, at the vein as it popped and bobbled in time to her protestations. That may explain why I didn't hear much of what she said. The coronary traffic jam on her temple was much more interesting.

Sometimes she got so mad at us she couldn't even tell us what we did wrong. The anger would boil up in her face to the point she was speechless, and we’d stare, blinking and clueless. If we ran, we’d be cut down in our tracks. Stay and we risked mental annihilation. It was almost amusing, seeing her so mad that she nearly forgot why. But we dared not smirk, lest we found ourselves assigned to some hideous task like cleaning the chicken house, or scrubbing toilets, or the worst – scrubbing the chickens’ toilets.

Suddenly she’d remember what had piqued her anger, catch her breath, and launch into a tirade, sparks spitting from her mouth. Dogs would dive for cover, birds would make a beeline south, and we kids would scramble for an alibi or excuse or dark corner, all desperately seeking safe haven from the storm.

I figured the thought of a chubby, cheery guy dropping in uninvited, tramping soot and reindeer poo through her living room, and probably raiding the fridge must have really made Mom nuts. After all, she already had Dad for that.

About a week before the big day, as the four of us kids re-enacted our traditional holiday squabbling, she would finally come unglued. "That’s it! Santa’s NOT coming to this house this year!!!" At first we were terrified. Santa always brought the best toys. Without him, all we had were bunny-suit pajamas from Nana and educational tedium from Mom and Dad. We would do everything in our power to placate Mom, petrified that the big guy would pass us by.

Then one year we figured it out. My brother had recently given the cat a bb-gun enema. We thought for sure he'd get coal or worse. Instead, Santa brought him more ammunition. My sister had spent the entire fall semester staring oddly at classmates just to creep them out, and when Christmas rolled around, she got twenty-three dollies with stares just as creepy as hers.
I called a sibling meeting and shared my suspicions. We graphed our naughty vs. nice annuities, and compared it to our gift receivables. The truth was out – good or bad, you could set your watch by the fat man. Mom must have simply been jealous that Santa gave us cooler toys, and she was conniving enough to garner a couple weeks of household peace by pretending she could stop him from coming. The knowledge that she was bluffing was kid gold.

Still, it was scary to defy her. The first year after we knew, we at least pretended to be good. But we no longer quivered in our beds, sweating the daily errors of our ways. To be on the safe side, we carried on the family ritual of superficial fear and cordiality. When Mom raised the traditional holiday roof, we struggled to look scared, but we had found an inner peace knowing Santa didn’t listen to her. Her bombastic tirades were now merely a harmless holiday habit, much like fruitcake, only louder.

Santa made it every year without fail. Even Dad’s attempts to roast him didn’t shake us anymore. We knew the big guy would never let us down, except once, when my little brother asked for new parents. But that was probably because he forgot to say 'please.'


random thunking said...

snork out loud @ bb gun enema.

I think mrs. Thunking must be cut from same cloth as your sainted mother-dearest. Her annual holiday cerebral hemorrage started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and now she at her peak (my parents are coming in three days). Yesterday she said, ISIANMTU, "Can't you keep the f***ing kids out of the f***ing kitchen for two seconds? Can't you see I am trying to make f***ing Christmas cookies?"

A small part of me wanted to laugh, but a much larger part of me knows better.

Annie said...

Weird how the craziest things become part of holiday traditions. If she didn't launch her rants, you'd miss them. Kinda sick, but you'd still miss them.