The Dark Side of Christmas

I work for an organization that takes care of children in the “system”, foster care, juvenile probation…that system. These kids have had a difficult upbringing.

That’s putting it lightly.

What they have suffered, I choose not to imagine. Although sometimes in my job I have to describe it, I choose not to think about it and just see them as kids. Tough kids, but kids all the same.

Christmas is a rough time for them. Staff is on high alert to look for signs of extreme depression, signs of suicide or runaways. Kids miss their families at Christmas. Many of the same families that abused them, neglected them, left them feeling unloved and unvalued.

And yet they miss them. They long for them. Even though Christmas is reportedly a very dangerous time for children who live with abusers, abuse goes way up at the holidays. Stressed parents, lots of alcohol, families packed into houses together, children home from school. It’s a dangerous time for abused children.

Christmas is filled with memories, many of them painful.  But they still long for them. In spite of it all.

The world, the loving, caring, giving world wants to help.

At Christmas they want to have parties and give presents.

There are so many parties for the kids.

And it’s good and the kids love it. And the givers feel like they are doing something, some tiny thing, to heal the brokenness.

But the kids know it’s only for the month of December and the parties will stop.

The presents will stop.

And they will go back to being alone, abandoned, neglected, unwanted.

It’s sad.

Christmas doesn’t make it less or more sad.

It’s just a holiday. A date on a calendar.

But something about it feels exposing. Like we are simply trying to cure a disease by putting a band-aid on it. And it doesn’t help. The band-aid wears off. The disease remains.

Circle back now to me, Lady blogger sitting alone in her house at midnight, watching the clock, knowing the alarm is going to ring in just over 5 hours for the start of a busy workweek.

What am i doing awake?

I am sitting here, dreading Christmas. ‘

I am dreading Christmas.

Post divorce Christmas.

Three beautiful kids, who just want the old family back, the one they used to know, the one who had Christmas all together in one house. But now there are two houses, two trees, two stockings, two parents desperately wanting to make kids happy without the ability to give them what they really want.

The old life.

They are angry. They have a right to feel that way, to a certain extent, to be angry about their circumstances.

Although when I think about the kids who live within “the system” who would give anything for one stable household to live in, I get frustrated with my kids and their spoiled, ungrateful behavior.

But the pain my kids feel isn’t any less real to them. It’s valid and it matters.

I owe it to them to respect it and allow them to feel what they need to feel.

So I will.

Let them feel it.

It’s our disease, their anger and my guilt.

I will step back and try to have as lovely a Christmas as I can. I will remain cheerful and loving, with occasional glimpses of frustration…I am, after all, a regular human being.

We decorated the tree. I put up lights on the house.

I have put lots of energy into picking out a selection of fun and exciting presents for under the tree. I spent a little more than I should have but nothing obscene.

We will bake cookies on Christmas Eve, which I will likely burn cause I suck at baking.

The gingerbread man will look slightly deformed. That’s how I roll. And we will laugh about it.

But they will miss their dad and they will be slightly bitchy because of it.

I know that every year it will get better. This is the 3rd Christmas but the first year with a completely separate Christmas. It’s time.

My head knows that this is reality. And it’s real and it’s ours and it’s really not so bad. It’s good actually.

Pretty fucking great.

My head knows.


But my heart, it’s kind of dreading Christmas.

And I wonder, how many people feel this way?

For how many other people out there is Christmas a time of fighting off the darkness?

I bet it’s a lot.

I don’t have the answers.

Only questions.

How’s that for Christmas cheer?

Pass the eggnog…

(also, does anyone really like eggnog? I think it’s weird, a really weird drink)

The point.

“Isn’t that the point of it all?” She asked, with her crystal blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight.

“What? What’s the point?” I pondered, enjoying the age old question of the meaning of life, why we are here and what we are supposed to do with this thing called life.

“to love and be loved” she responded.

“I guess so. I want to do something with my life, and I guess that something is to love well, to make the people I love feel loved.” and then we both retreated into our thoughts as people tend to do in these deep philosophical meanderings.

My thoughts turned to what does it mean to love and is love the point?

I was thinking about it because I think to simply love and be loved isn’t quite it. 
It isn’t quite the meaning or the point of life.
There was a time in my life when I thought maybe the point was just to somehow survive it, to keep moving even when it felt impossible. And that came from trying to love unsuccessfully. To love my former husband, to love a partner, to love my children. And to fail.
I think giving everything you have to love and still coming up short is the most painful thing life has to offer.
Failing at love sucks. It sucks. In all it’s forms.
Is that the point?
To love and fail. And then get back up and try to love some more?
Well that’s depressing.
My life has taught me not to depend on anyone. I am sort of proud of that. This annoys people, because people like to be needed. There have been a few times i have depended on someone. And usually I have regretted it.  The universe once dropped a friend into my life when I was as weak as I have ever been.  She literally came out of no where. She saw through my tough exterior, saw that I was struggling, and she gave. She gave relentlessly. And I took. in spite of myself. Because I was truly desperate. I admit it, I was desperate. It’s hard for me to think of that time because I was genuinely so low, so horribly low that my guard was down. For me, my guard being down means allowing myself to need someone. She was the type of person who gave without being asked. She showed up at my house with a sandwich, because I had lost 5 pounds in a week. She showed up at my house to drive me to a place i dreaded going, just so I wouldn’t go alone. She didn’t ask me if I wanted her help, because I would have said no. I hate being dependent. I hate needing. She just gave. Until a little time had passed. And I got my head back on straight.
For her, I am eternally grateful. Her willingness to give saved me.
I think that’s the point of life:
To give and expect nothing in return.
And by giving, we receive. The more we give, the happier we are.
I think that’s it, the point. I really do.
I do non-profit for a living. I spend my days asking people to listen to the stories of the children my organization works with and to give us money, services, support, and goods so that we can serve more children and create programs to heal their brokenness. We get government support because we care for children who are in the “system” but it’s not enough, it’s not even sort of enough. So we ask the community to help us.
We ask them to give and expect nothing in return.
I am pleasantly surprised by how generous people are at the Holidays. It’s like some spark gets lit inside the human spirit at the holidays and people want more of that feeling, the giving feeling. We depend of that holiday spirit of giving because it sustains us for months afterwards.
But I also find myself asking he question, why now? Why give now?
We have to turn people away at Christmas because our kids can only have so many parties. It’s too much for them, these are seriously traumatized children and a party everyday, no matter how wonderful, is just more than they can handle.
And I wonder how I can convince people to come back and have that party in late January, or mid-March? I have actually said that to a group that wanted to do a party for the kids and I had to say no. Their response was that they really wanted to do something at Christmas.
I understand. I do.
But I genuinely believe that the point of life is to give and expect nothing in return.
I encourage humans to do that, give, all through the year, everyday, not just at Christmas.
It’s funny, the way the universe works…how it drops people into our lives at the right moment who are willing to give when we need it the most but are too full of pride to ask for help.
Or how you have a conversation about the meaning of life and then hours later, you turn the page in your book and this poem waits for you:

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I sit now, with my computer in my lap, on my porch, with my coffee, and my dogs. My children are silently sleeping inside. It’s a beautiful morning, way too warm for the last day of November. And I feel so grateful and full and content.

Today, I want to give and expect nothing in return. That’s what I want to do with this one wild and precious day.

That’s the point.

For me anyway.