I was looking forward to impressing all of you with a heartfelt blog about how I found my Christmas spirit this year. Grinch No More! Maria the Reformed Elf Welcomes her 40th Christmas with a Renewed Sense of Peace and Love for All Humanity! Ah, if only.
I don’t know what it will take to erase my memories of more than twenty past Christmas seasons working retail, watching thousands of people buying the same old, cheap, predictable crap with the same old coupons. Every year I feel superior to all the fools scrambling to get their hands on the latest hot toy or gadget, but I’m really no better than any of them. I waste a lot of money on crap my kids and husband don’t need, and I pretend to love it, because good moms are not allowed to hate Christmas. We’re supposed to look forward to dragging all the dusty decorations out of the basement and transforming our homes into shiny, twinkling holiday wonderlands, baking and decorating cookies and gingerbread men, sending out Christmas cards to all of our friends and family members (and making sure our cards have the cutest Christmas postage stamps on them, too), and picking out all the “right” gifts. Buying stuff is easy, but buying the “right” stuff is an agonizing task—one I haven’t enjoyed since my kids were about five years old.
I bought and gave away all the “perfect” gifts years ago, and the last time I enjoyed decorating a Christmas tree was the year 2000—the first Christmas after I was married. The tree, ornaments, bows, and garland were brand-new and all color-coordinated, and I was so excited for my first grown-up Christmas that I put the tree up in October.
I’ll never forget December 24-26, 2009, which we spent in Children’s Mercy Hospital in downtown Kansas City, snowbound, with my daughter, who was in the middle of cancer treatment at the time. Some of Santa’s finest elves brought her bags of gifts while we slept on Christmas Eve, and when we woke up, the delight on my daughter’s pale face was a true Christmas miracle. Santa himself visited her room on Christmas morning. I look back on that Christmas and look at my daughter now, and all I can do is shake my head in wonder and gratitude.
So, don’t get me wrong, I do know how to appreciate Christmas, but I feel like I’m faking it most of the time. Maybe everyone is. Every time I wear an outlandish “ugly Christmas” outfit (I have several, and add to my collection every year—again, spending money on crap I don’t need), I am merely burying my inner Scrooge under layers of bright, artificial holiday cheer. The real Maria is grumbling at the awful, tacky, inflatable decorations littering people’s yards, and pronouncing scathing judgment upon all the clashing, poorly executed Christmas light displays.
It really ticks me off when people “forget” (refuse?) to take their Christmas lights and decorations down. There is a house close to my daughter’s school that has had the same red-and-green “JOY” banner hanging on the door for over a year now. Are they really that full of year-round Christmas JOY, or merely lazy? Is the JOY banner attached to their door in such a way that it can’t be removed without damaging the door? Or perhaps the occupants of that house are, sadly, physically unable to lift their arms to remove the banner? They were able-bodied when they hung the JOY banner years ago, but now they literally can’t get out of bed, and I’m a total jerk for making fun of them. I should feel joyful, not crabby when I drive by their festive door next May, shouldn’t I? JOY doesn’t belong to the Christmas season alone.
I swear I’m doing my best to embrace JOY this year. Failing most of the time, but trying to look past the empty consumerism and sanctimony of this season to see what’s real and lasting about Christmas, determined to make the last few moments of 2017 special.
I recently had the opportunity to attend my very first formal holiday party at a luxurious hotel in Kansas City, adjacent to the dazzling Country Club Plaza—another perk of my new job and a perfect opportunity to make this Christmas special.
I found a navy lace-and-sequin dress at Macy’s for really cheap, bought some sparkly costume jewelry, and dug some navy tights (circa mid-’90s) out of my drawer. I discovered a lovely blue-and-black scarf hanging in a mess of scarves on the back of my bedroom door, perfect for draping around my shoulders, and remembered that my good friend had given me a black velvet wrap to go along with the bridesmaid’s dress I wore to her autumn wedding years ago—this was my chance to wear it again.
I got some exquisite red shoes at a thrift store, and I fixed my hair with the help of a YouTube tutorial, and went to the holiday party feeling like Cinderella with my handsome husband, who was dressed in a suit and Peanuts Christmas tie. We were one of the first couples to arrive. Everything was gorgeous, just the way I’d imagined it would be. We took some pictures, got our free drinks, found our assigned places at a sparkly, immaculately set table, and sat down as my social anxiety started creeping in. My husband asked if I wanted to “mingle.” Hell no, I did NOT want to mingle. I was prepared to sit in my assigned spot, tapping my foot to the live jazz music and eating whatever fancy food was brought to me (assuming they’d gotten my order for a non-red-meat, gluten-free option correct) for the next several hours straight. I was prepared to introduce myself to the other people seated at our table once they arrived, but I planned to remain invisible otherwise. As invisible as I could be in my glamorous new dress and shoes (and did I mention the new purse, which matched my red shoes?).
Dan took a picture of our name cards and place settings at the table, and when he scooted his chair in, he smacked his knee into one of the table’s legs. He later described the sensation as a sharp, overpowering “funny bone” pain. I rubbed his knee, he talked about how much it hurt, how he’d be sure to have a mark on his knee tomorrow, and I checked my phone to look at the picture of our table setting that he’d just shared on Facebook.
Dan had gotten very quiet, and I looked over to find him gray-faced, slumped chin-down in his chair, unconscious. I did all the usual, panicked-wife things. I grabbed him, called his name, realized that he was tipping backwards, and tried to stop him from falling over. Everyone standing close to us saw him hit the floor and let out a collective gasp, and one of the few people I recognized in the room, a security officer, ran over, prepared to perform CPR. He was soon joined by a nurse from the crowd, and in that moment, Dan and I became the center of attention in that huge ballroom.
Dan was unconscious and had no idea that someone was calling 9-1-1. “How old is he?” they asked me as I knelt next to him, rubbing his chest and arm. “Does he have a history of seizures?” “What did he eat?” “How much has he had to drink?” “Is he diabetic?” Is he dying???! What am I gonna tell the kids???! I thought in disbelief. Then Dan convulsed and came to and blinked at all of us. “Give him space!” someone yelled. “Loosen his tie!” “Do you know where you are?” Dan was asked. Yes, he knew. No, he had no idea what had happened, just that he’d hit his knee on the table. Yes, he’d had plenty to eat at lunchtime. No, he hadn’t had more than half of a beer to drink. Sorry, he mouthed to me.
The paramedics and firefighters arrived and examined him, and moved him onto a stretcher. The CEO of my company frowned at us as we left the ballroom, and a couple of women helped me find my black velvet wrap among the hundreds of black coats. A few firefighters were waiting for me in the elevator, along with my company’s vice president of human resources, who told me she couldn’t believe how calm I was (she doesn’t know my family’s medical history; honestly, I’ve been through scarier incidents with both of my kids and parents, which is not to say that I wasn’t concerned about Dan, just that I strongly suspected he had fainted from the pain of hitting his knee, and that nothing else was wrong with him). Dan had already been taken upstairs and loaded into the ambulance outside.
When I joined him, the paramedics were attaching sensors to his chest and asking him all the same questions all over again. They agreed that Stella Artois was “good beer,” and proceeded to check his vital signs and blood sugar. It was apparent that Dan wasn’t having a stroke or heart attack, and all of his vital signs were normal, apart from his understandably elevated blood pressure. We started reminiscing about his two other instances of fainting, once in a dermatologist’s office, once while giving blood, and I asked if his new cholesterol medication could have possibly caused this reaction. Dan was adamant that it all went back to hitting his knee on the table. Before he blacked out, he remembered telling himself “I’m okay! This isn’t a big deal!” Unfortunately, vasovagal syncope isn’t something you can talk yourself out of. The paramedics were very understanding and kind. We decided not to go to the hospital, and I drove Dan home in his new car, which I’m normally not allowed to drive, barefoot (because I couldn’t feel the pedals under my feet while wearing those red heels).
Was this the Christmas miracle I had dreamed of or just really bad luck? Well, the good news is, my husband is fine and has promised to take me out to the symphony, so I’ll have another chance to wear my new dress and shoes for longer than thirty minutes. And, yeah, sure, I have once again been reminded of what’s truly precious to me this Christmas. But I still haven’t wrapped my hubby’s or kids’ crappy gifts, none of which are as special as they are, and I still feel like shooting all of the lousy blow-up Christmas decorations in my neighborhood with Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun.
Thanks for reading. You know, all I really want for Christmas is a few hundred more blog followers.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Please be patient with your Grinchy loved ones! Happy New Year!
More Christmas humor by Maria Roth: