While I am not in an especially festive Christmas spirit this year, I always enjoy the holidays. I love the displays – the magical lights and sounds of the season (because I do not work at Toys R Us and have not been in Jingle Hell since August) – and however low- or high-key the planned celebrations we have planned I am looking forward to it all the same.

This year we are hosting two friends from the east coast for a few days, plus celebrating Christmas the day after with a dinner out with K’s mother, sister, and future brother-in-law. It will be low-key this year, and I am fine with that. M and I still do not have our tree up or the house decorated. We do have our outdoor lights up and twinkling, which is important for me.

Growing up, holidays were rather forced affairs. Many years we had the trappings of Christmas – tree, gifts, dinners with family friends – but after awhile we did not. It’s likely why I have been less of a traditionalist as an adult. I have no real regrets about it, but we did not have a tree or anything decorations each season. On our years with the kids, we’d have piles of presents on Christmas morning and on years without the kids we still had piles of presents on Christmas morning. Our years M and I would take them sledding in the hills and then out for dinner somewhere, because I neither of us were at the time very big on cooking. We both worked full-time, had the kids and all their extracurricular activities much of the week, and were just busy, exhausted parents.

I believe my own relationships, or lack thereof, with my parents have molded my parenting style. My parents were secretive and manipulative (mom) and drunk (dad). Their lack of presence in my life made me want to be a much more involved parent, and I did not miss a single open house, parent-teacher conference, school concert or performance, and even very few sporting events. My oldest played basketball – did not miss a single game. C played softball for several seasons, and with games twice per week I made the vast majority of them through flexible scheduling with my jobs. G was in cross country and track junior high through high school and I never missed a meet. I drove all over the state to watch him leave the starting line, somewhere way off in the distance, and then cross the finish line. All told, maybe 20 minutes of running to observe, after 2 and 3 hours of driving one way. Same with band concerts and marching band competitions, dance recitals, drama productions, etc.

This was my vision of a present parent. While ours were not Norman Rockwell holidays, the rest of our lives as a family are good. To this day I have good relationships with my kids. We talk frequently and just about our days and lives as well as the bigger events like weddings and jobs and plans for eventual home buying. Our tiny little family is a wonderful thing.

One of the sadder aspects of my life as a parent is that my young adult children grew up to recognize and dislike my folks. Growing up in an alcoholic home, as an adult I learned to recognize the signs of a codependent relationship. My mom was controlling and could never accept that the kids grew up and were not toddlers who needed their meat cut anymore. For younger children, she was a good grandmother. For tweens and teens, she became a controlling and manipulative force in their lives. Her inability to listen or to accept that they grew up into independent people turned her into something I clearly recognize and learned to despise. I frequently wonder if my disdain was passed down to my children or if they just recognized her manipulations as grew weary of them as well.

I appreciated plain-speaking. I have always been pretty direct about what I think and how I feel, and if you interact with me long enough, frequently enough, and are insightful enough  you learn to read my expressions like a book.

But I think that requires a degree of care and consideration.

I never experienced that with my parents. I get that there were issues in their own lives that made being a present parent difficult. Mostly I forgive them now, because whatever personal issues they each possessed it was not me and my stuff that made them poor parents.

There are other things I remain incapable of understanding, much less forgiving. And it feels like something that poisons my soul a little more each year.

It’s a lot of what keeps me on the straight and narrow. There is a part of me that wants to be really, Really, REALLY angry and destructive in all aspects of life. The man, the people, who ruined childhood and tainted my life are dead and gone now, so what is the point of destroying myself in the process?

Anger on my behalf troubles me. I, who try to stay strong and be a good person, do not want anyone else’s anger or destructive emotions on my conscience. I’m trying to wean myself on complaining and snarkiness … the battle continues, every single day.

The spirits of anger and hatred always war within me during the holiday season. I want to love more and be kinder, nicer, better. And it’s hard. But I think about my kids and how the lovely people they are becoming makes life so much better and rewarding for me. M is a good man and a good person, the imperfect guy who is perfect for me. And I feel so lucky and so blessed, feelings that can coexist and even overcome my sense of self-hatred.

It’s good to have a (mostly) peaceful heart.