It was Christmas in July! I finally found and read A Fashionably Dead Christmas by Robyn Peterman. And I laughed my ass off. These books tackle some serious issues with laugh-out-loud humor. Ms. Peterman has inspired posts about mothers from Hell, and also about how I want a fast fix for all my personality disorders. Today, she’s the inspiration for a blog about family holidays and all their imperfections. Astrid, the heroine of the Fashionably Dead series, is the granddaughter of Mother Nature and the niece of both God and Satan (who are brothers). Cousin Jesus is also in the picture, as are the cousins on her Uncle Satan’s side, the Seven Deadly Sins (who are not very nice girls, I might add). And I thought my family was bad.
Anyone who reads this blog is aware that my family of origin was not The Waltons. It was closer to the Bunkers and then some. My mother was a narcissistic mess and my father embodied the concept of “benign neglect,” which means that his kids rarely saw him. Both of them were significantly flawed and blithely unaware of how they were playing out all of their fears, insecurities and character defects on the tabula rasas of their children’s unformed psyches. Living through it was the source of nightmares.
My early childhood was in the 1970s, and I was enamored of my TV shows. I’ve written of my intense love for David Cassidy in all his Keith Partridge glory (I was ten, but my feelings were deep). I wished my parents would get divorced so I could live like the Brady Bunch. These families were having fun. Sure, they went through hard times (when Peter’s voice changed, for example, they needed to rearrange who they were and what they wanted to be). But they always made it look easy.
My family life was anything but easy. My mother and I fought incessantly. My brother and I fought incessantly (although we had an unusually strong bond as a result of our common maternal enemy). My father was MIA. None of my friends wanted to come over because they didn’t want to deal with my mother. If she answered the phone, they hung up. It was like living in an alcoholic environment without any of the good time.
Holidays were another circle of hell. Like Astrid, my mother wanted to make all of her holidays picture perfect. We celebrated Christmas (despite being Jewish—kind of weird, actually), and my mother had a gorgeous tree when I was little (I’ve written about the whole Christmas tree Gaslight situation), and she set the table with the best linen, china, silver and stemware. My mother had a talent for wrapping gifts, and the presents under the tree were so beautiful. On the surface, everything looked perfect. Underneath it all, well… not so much.
What I loved about A Fashionably Dead Christmas was that Robyn Peterman turned the whole perfect holiday trope on its head. You know, once Uncle Satan shows up and “enhances” the Christmas decorations, the whole thing went from a shit show to a clusterfuck. As Astrid contemplated her formerly lovely tree, and her gifts and all the trimmings, she was initially devastated. She quickly realized, however, that underneath the imperfections was a family whose warmth and love embodied the reason for the season.
In my family of origin, we had all the glitz and none of the gestalt. I knew that as soon as I opened my gifts, they would become something else to take away from me when I was punished, which was often. I knew that I would get chastised for eating too much of the beautiful food and getting too excited about all there was to be excited about.
And I remember how desperately I wanted our family to be “normal.” I wanted the Kennedy family photos of touch football in the yard on Thanksgiving. But I guess things didn’t work out so well for them, either. I wanted to be the Huxstables. Without the pervy dad, behind the curtain, of course. I wanted to live “One Day at a Time”, but with a dad (Ann Romano was divorced). So, as I go through this catalogue, I guess those TV families weren’t so perfect after all.
These days, we don’t need to watch TV to see perfection. The quintessential “Modern Family” is flawed. And other TV families are just “Shameless”. But we can visit Facebook where all families look Waltonian. All we’re missing is a voiceover of “Goodnight, John Boy. Goodnight Jimbob.”
So, while my childhood was far from perfect, Robyn Peterman assures us that, “Perfection is boring.” So perhaps I should be grateful for all of the imperfection in my early life. Hopefully, it’s made me more engaging – and a better parent. While the perfect parent doesn’t exist – to err is human after all – I’m hopefully giving my kids an interesting and (mostly) joyful upbringing. And I’ll remember to stop comparing my insides to others’ outsides. We can’t Photoshop our Christmas dinners let alone our internal landscape. Just the pics we post on Facebook.