Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Dear friends from the adoption world, I don't post much about adoption anymore.  Life has changed, and what used to be front and center, is now a little more peripheral.  Life with my and adopted both, is now just life.  It is hectic and hard, wonderful and wearing.  Issues related to adoption still impact us tremendously, but they are less obvious.  Like a mammoth underwater structure that everything must flow around, it influences the currents of our lives, though it may not be visible at the surface.

In light of this, I have struggled recently with the thoughts in my head, uncertain where to put them.  I have questioned the wisdom of putting them here.  I have tried to steer this blog along a course that is gentle and positive.  For the most part, life is just that.  But Christmas is approaching and with it comes a flood of raw emotion that is hard to ignore.

I have always loved Christmas.  As a small child I delighted in every single part of the holiday season.  I loved the cheesy store displays, the music and decorations.  I loved the special foods, and church services, and school programs.  As soon as I was old enough to craft and create, I was busily making gifts for everyone I knew.

When I got married, I devoted huge amounts of time and energy to the Christmas season.  I cooked and baked elaborate feasts and platters of baked goods.  I decorated every nook and cranny.  I played Christmas music day and night, and never grew tired of it.  I sewed matching Christmas outfits for the children, and had them photographed.  We caroled, and sang in cantatas, and dressed up as angels and wise men.  Gifts were made and purchased, and carefully wrapped and adorned.  To me, it truly was "the most wonderful time of the year".

And now I dread Christmas.  At best, the thought of it wearies me.  At worst, it causes a sense of anxiety and panic to rise.

I have lots of friends in the adoption world, and there is something they have named a traumaversary.  Which is to say, that even if we don't mark it on the calendar, trauma marks itself on the "calendar" of us.  The mind and body somehow know that special time of year when they were thrown into chaos, and they will let us know, even if we don't register it on a cognitive level.

Several years ago, four little girls came to live with us, five days before Christmas.  It seemed so right, to get them home before the holiday, and so we pushed so hard it hurt, and we made it happen.  I still remember that first Christmas morning.  I felt shell shocked.  I had barely slept for a week, juggling the unfathomable needs of the six children and trying to prepare for a most special Christmas.

We sat together in the living room, and the contrast was stark.  Four little girls screamed and squealed as they mowed through piles of gifts, often trampling one gift to get to the next.  But so many people had lovingly contributed to making this time special for them.  There was something so magical about four little girls finding their home at Christmas.  At the same time, two little boys sat quietly and watched.  Almost no one had remembered that they were the exact same ages as the little girls, and enjoyed presents as well.

That same day I remember feeling a foreshadowing of what was to be.  As the children swam through masses of gifts, I felt the disapproval of visiting relatives watching the proceeding.  Unspoken words hung in the air, and they said, "What sort of savages are these?  They will require firm discipline."  At the same time, dozens of absent gift givers also crowded the room.  They had strong opinions as well, and mouthed the words, "If only you love them enough, they will be just fine."

For the next year we dangled from that wildly swinging pendulum of strong discipline and strong love, and like every other year, at the end of it, the holiday season came round again.  This  second Christmas came with one less little girl, and a deep deep sense of failure.  The house was scarcely decorated, with just a lighted creche in the fireplace and stockings lining the mantle.  Dinner was plain shepherd's pie made with gifted venison.  There were no visitors.  The pile of gifts surrounding the fireplace was modest.

Every child exclaimed over the perfectness of their gifts, the deliciousness of the meal, the beauty of the creche when the lights were low.  But over the quiet voices of the children, I could still hear the voices of the uninvited guests in that room.  Voices that said I had not been consistent enough in discipline, committed enough in love.  And I found that although the chaos had quieted, I still felt shell shocked.  Because the days leading up to that very special day had been fraught with every sort of crazy-making I could imagine, with the efforts of my children to destroy the very thing they so longed for and looked forward to.

The following year we finalized adoptions just before the holidays...sealed with a once in a lifetime family trip.  And so my children set about trying to destroy something even bigger than the holiday season.  They determined to destroy the bonds of family.  In an attempt to prove that nothing was forever, and most especially a family's love, they ramped up the crazy-making to unimaginable levels.  Shell shocked was the order of the day...and of the entire holiday season, and of many months to follow.

And somehow in my mind, the backdrop for all of this is sparkling lights and decked halls.  In my mind, the soundtrack for all of this is carols and Christmas movies.  The smells of ginger cookies and roasting turkey make my anxiety rise.  The thought of getting everyone dressed in holiday best and loaded into the car for the drive to Christmas Eve service, makes me want to crawl into my bed and pull the covers over my head.

Years have come and gone.  Christmas isn't the crazy-making time it once was.  It's actually pretty peaceful and pleasant for the most part.  The family has expectations of comfort and joy, and I work hard to deliver.  We all do.  But the holidays are not the same as they once were, and neither are any of us.  Life is, most days, gentle and positive, but there is still that mammoth beneath the surface, and at certain seasons it can cause ripples if one knows where and when to look.

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