My first fall in college was spent, besides attending classes and doodling my boyfriend's name in the margin of my notebook, working retail at Bath and Body Works. This was long ago, before online shopping and Super Target. (And in my case now, living in a metroplex in which there are at least 4 back-up Super Targets within spitting distance.) In the one-horse town of my youth, the arrival of BBW was akin to the release of a new iProduct. Very Big Deal. I was so excited to be employed by a Real Corporation. I had an employee number(545) that I used to clock-in for my shift. I wore a gingham apron and learned the finer points of milk and silk proteins, and why they should be in your bath gel. During September and October, we sold lotion and fall-themed gifts, but as the sun set on October 31, the ginghamed Christmas decorations and gingerbread men and Holiday Jelly Jar Scents were wheeled out, and off we zoomed into a Very Retail Christmas. By November 21, I was up to my eyeballs in my own bah-humbug, and dreaded another whole month of all of the commercialism nonsense. I hung on, though, for my 30% discount and elevated position in the mall food-chain, topped only by those hussies at Victoria's Secret.
Anyhow, ask any mall employee and they will testify that there are certain Christmas songs that trigger retail flashback, because really there are only so many Christmas songs, and no matter how they have been creatively rotated, you generally hate "Christmas By Myself This Year" by December 1. For me, though, there was one exception. A Harry Connick, Jr. version of "This Christmas"**. That stopped me in my tracks every time I heard it. I forgot all about grouchy shoppers, or checkout lines as far as the eye could see. Because when Harry sang to me about what Christmas would be like, my goodness he was pretty convincing. It would be the most wonderful Christmas. And that was the narrative I played in my head. College years and Christmas were all about the exact right person and curling up by the fireplace and hanging garland. It's in every Lifetime Christmas movie, you know. The montage of TRUE LOVE and falling in love by the Christmas Tree. Celebrating Christmas TOGETHER. Like Harry said. Imagine my disappointment, if you will, when that exact scene never played out for me. That first Christmas, when I was surrounded by Bath and Body Works cheer and visions of sugarplums tied up in a nice gift basket with travel-sized shower cream, my boyfriend went 2,000 miles away to his home, and forgot to call me the entire break. Humbug. The next Christmas, same boy, but miles apart again. I was starting to resent Harry a little. Year three of college, and a different boy broke up with me a week before Christmas. By the next year, I had met Larry, and there was HOPE. But to make a long story short, he was a poor college student being paid in coaching stipends, and to earn extra money he spent the entire break selling fireworks in Mississippi. By this point, I had given up all hope, and resigned myself to to a life of holiday spinsterdom, while the rest of the word was Christmasing without me.
Eventually we got married, and I'm sure there were some nice moments by the fire or something, but for those first few years he worked in the newspaper business and I worked at a television station, and the news doesn't take a break for starry-eyed girls to gaze into the firelight.
When kids entered the picture, it was definitely fun, and I exploited every opportunity to convince them to ask for toys that I never got when I was little. Still, not exactly the scene I had conjured up in my dreams. For the past several years, honestly the vision of Christmas has been the end game. Getting to the finish line, with a pictureesque tree, the perfect gifts, and full documentation for all to see. (and yes, it is very apparent that in this story, I haven't even brought up the Birth of Christ.) So many times, this has resulted in a crabby sprint towards the 24th in a flurry of wrapping paper and bows, ending with me frantically cookie baking and gift wrapping late into the night on Christmas Eve, and collapsing into bed, only to be awakened at 5 am. I didn't enjoy it. I had survived another season, though. Merry January.
But this year. I'm not sure if you put my name on a prayer list or something, or maybe it is just because Christmas Break started unusually early. Perhaps it was the message at church a few weeks ago about intentionality of the season. No matter how it came to be, but all of the shopping was done before break. Presents wrapped. A hall closet that had been crammed with the leftovers from the move two years ago was cleaned out and turned into a proper place to hang winter coats. My own place of storage for clothing, which is what the normal people would call a walk-in closet, had turned into a Mount Rushmore of Cardigans and Jeans I Didn't Want to Wear or Hang Up. I worked up a sweat last week searching for a shoe. But just two days ago, it was transformed into a respectable home for clothing again. I even weeded things out to pass along to the 7th grader, who was pretty pleased to get my "vintage" clothing. ugh.
We've hosted a Christmas Party(Tea) for 7th grade girls. We spent several hours at Six Flags earlier this week, freezing our eyebrows off. No lines, because Texans are afraid of cold. There are friends coming over, and Gingerbread Houses to be made, and the Annual Christmas Eve Bowling Grudge Match has been scheduled.
I'm not trying to impress you with my level of togetherness, because honestly, this wasn't me. I am usually phoning it in by now, and hiding under the couch because I just can't even. I don't know what is different. But This Christmas, so far, has been different. A time to catch my breath. To remember why we like each other as a family.
Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of squabbles, and a few show-downs with junior high hormones and thirty-something hormones and people are still LOOKING at each other weird and yelling about it. I guess this is just a jumbled way to say that from 1995 and Harry Connick, Jr, to now....it's been a long time coming, but I'm finally glad for This Christmas.
* This post is not about the birth of Christ, which is the true meaning of Christmas, but instead of my neurosis and how commercialism has invaded my heart and soul and don't worry about me. Besides realizing that I love run-on sentences and forgetting to capitalize my "i", I have also realized the true meaning and have spent lots of time pondering it. Just not writing about it. The end.
**In the 90s, our store music was supplied by an outside source, a company that sent tapes to be played in the store, arriving in actual boxes. They were special tapes, that were not individually labeled and did not contain artist, track, or album information anywhere on the packaging. Additionally, they only worked in our special store player. Which meant that in 1995, if you liked "Lucas with the Lid Off" or the aforementioned Harry Connick, Jr. song, there was really no way of knowing how to find it in real life. When the internet came into it's own, I finally tracked down the song, which was not on a normal Christmas Album like one would have thought, but on this compilation: