'Tis the season

A dusting of snow here last night!
I wrote something a while ago, when my kids were younger, and thought of it yesterday because I was at the Athenian with one of my favorite people, and the waitress who, I have to say, my first thought when I saw her was, is she still using heroin, or is she in recovery?  But anyway, she came by with the menus and asked if we wanted anything to drink besides water.

"Um, I'm not sure.  Nothing just yet," said D. 

A few minutes later, we ordered our food, and I said, "I think I'll have coffee too.  D., do you want some coffee?"

She nodded.  This is where it first got a little weird, because the waitress turned to me and said, "Right, so when you ask her, she says yes?  Fine.   I already asked her, but I guess that didn't matter."  The way she said it wasn't jokey at all, it was more like Waitress had invited her to go ice skating and she said no, but when I invited her she said yes.  I know!  It was weird, like some little jealous rivalry or something.  

She went away, and we started waiting and waiting.  After about 15 minutes, D. walked over to the  waitress station where the coffee pots live, and asked the guy standing there if it would be okay if she grabbed a couple cups of coffee.

"No, that's not okay.  Your waitress will bring it."  So waitress walks by, and there's a little huddle between the man and waitress, and she brings the coffee over right away but she's just looking down, and won't make eye contact, and she looks like she might cry.  With the coffee, she brings a small soup bowl that has two plastic creamers, and we realize we're sort of being punished, because any waitress knows that two creamers is not going to be enough.  It feels like her little way of reminding us who's in charge, and she also looks so hurt, like our relationship is really complicated and involves way more than just the food transaction that we thought it would be.

If the waitress' ex-boyfriend had brought his new girlfriend into the restaurant, and she had to wait on them, that's exactly how she was behaving.  As if she wanted to simultaneously convey how hurt and sad she was while still being remote and in charge.  In fact, it made me look around to see if that scenario was actually happening at a nearby table, but no.  The other table was occupied by a young woman sitting by herself, photographing the menu, her food, and so on with a nice camera. 

It reminded me of the book I'm reading, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is about a girl who can taste the emotions of whomever cooks the food she eats.  I was glad I didn't have that ability/disability, because I'm pretty sure food from our waitress would taste like pure sorrow.  Our food would be the taste of someone in the fetal position, sobbing.

When she brings our food, I apologize.  "Sorry if we got you in trouble.  We meant no harm."

"It's too late.  You already got me in trouble, and I asked at the beginning if you wanted anything to drink, and you guys said no, and then you said yes and that's just wrong.  If you do it that way, you're going to have to wait."  She went on like this for a bit, and she looked a lot like she was going to cry, and still seemed strangely upset about how when I asked about the coffee, D. said yes.  

It  reminded me of exactly how tender everyone seems to be at this time of year.  I don't know if it's the lack of sunlight, or the whole holiday thing, or what, but I thought I'd post this.


All of the mothers I know are on the edge today, the week before Christmas. There is still a mountain of chores to do. It's time to take a breath and enjoy the season, but instead of a breath, it's a sharp inhale, a sob. 

It's with these women that I've had the most fun, talking, crying, laughing, admitting the toll of the season.  This, I've discovered, is what matters.

Yesterday, I cracked.  I snapped at my kids, went into a giant tirade about how they should help me more, be more considerate, how Christmas isn't fun at all for me.  I was in a huge rage that I couldn't squelch.  it started slowly, over several days.  By yesterday afternoon, I said, hey, I need a nap.  I'm at the edge of my rope.  I'm going to lie down for an hour.  But as soon as I began to doze off, loud metal  music started to blare through the house at top volume.  I laid there for a few minutes, hoping there had been a mistake, they didn't mean to make it quite so loud, hoping that someone would correct this.  But it continued.  I got up, realizing that my tiny window for a nap had just disappeared.

That's when I cracked, started on the tirade that began like this:

"Children, would it be considerate, or inconsiderate to blare music when someone who has just claimed to be at the edge of her rope is trying to sleep?"  I was sobbing as I said it, though, an emotional wad of angel hair pasta -- fragile and tangled in such a way that unravelling things would definitely involved breaking strands.

I don't know if my kids would call this my most memorable losing it moment.  I think if we held an election, they'd probably vote for the time that we were back-to-school shopping in Target on a gorgeous August day, and I suddenly just got so repulsed by us walking around in that horrible store throwing plastic things in our cart amidst that smell of food and people in polyester sweating, not good sweat but that nervous indoor sweat, and that garish fluorescent lighting.  I felt like we were in the fast consumer part of Koyaanisqatsi, and it was urgent that we get out of there right away.  I felt a ridiculous urgency, as if survival of the species depended on me, right then, putting a stop to all of this shopping.  We abandoned our half full cart, and just left, to my kids' dismay.  We drove home with nothing, wasting half a day, and I made us all go swimming in the lake.  I think they'd vote for that, and I'd be outnumbered, but I'd still vote for the pre-Christmas nap sobbing incident.

Fortunately, the story doesn't end there.  I pulled myself together, we all apologized, blah blah blah.   But the damage was done, and I was embarrassed and sorry that I allowed myself to get to such a place.

But I take perverse comfort in this:  all of the other mothers are also losing it.  I get a phone call from a friend, crying.  She's upset at the same things that are bugging me.  Another friend stops by, starts to cry as she thinks about how little help she's received in preparing for the holiday.  As another mother drops her son off to play with mine, I see her tear-stained face, and she asks, "are you always calm, or do you yell at your kids around the holidays?"

At any rate, I don't feel so frazzled around this time of year anymore, but I think there is some collective tenderness out there, especially in these northern dark places.  Be good to yourselves, my friends.  Enjoy your people.


  1. Betsy ... I don't know what Christmas was like for you when you were growing up, but, in my childhood home it was a HUGE deal. My mom and dad put up a decent outdoor light display ... nothing too elaborate. My dad had a plastic scene of 3 carolers ... and he would put his stereo speakers in our front room windows and play Christmas carols (reminder: this is in the day of LPs & turntables!!).

    We would go to an already-cut tree lot and pick out a tree. My mom had a precise way of decorating the tree - large ornaments on the bottom branches segueing to medium sizes in the middle and very small ones near the top. A large lighted angel sat on top of the tree. Wires were tied betw the tree and our windows' valances so the tree would be straight.

    OK, I could go on and on about Christmas in the Walker household during the 60s.

    My point here is that, for me, Christmas has been this hugely over-sized annual expectation, full of child-like anticipation, like a 6 year-old waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. And, as an adult, Christmas can never live up to my childish expectations.

    The last time I cried at Christmas was several years ago when my husband was reluctant to help me hang the outdoor lights. His family never did stuff like that. He didn't get any enjoyment out of it. Tearfully I explained what I wanted out of Christmas and it most definitely included outdoor lights (although no carolers with stereo speakers blaring Christmas music). Lucky for him (and for me) he immediately understood where I was coming from and has enthusiastically helped hang the lights every year since then.

    I think lack of sunlight contributes to our close-to-the-surface edginess. And it doesn't help if we're trying to re-create the "night before Christmas" excitement of our childhoods.

  2. Thankfully it hasn't been that kind of holiday for me this year (but I've had plenty and grew up with far too many). I think your message is a great reminder though...and I also think that waitress needs a Happy Light. :)

    Thanks Betsy!

  3. As a neurotic I always take waitresses attitudes personally. I was out last week- had a mean waitress and said; "Do you think the waitress hates us?" My friend said; "She is just probably having a bad day. Why would you take it personally?" Your waitress was beyond the bad day category- she needs to find something she can do for a living without leaving her parent's basement!


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