COLUMN BY MIRANDA CIPKOWSKI
There once was a time I actually looked forward to Christmas. I basked in the glow of colorfully lit trees and Christmas Eves were restless affairs, as I battled anticipation-induced insomnia, waiting for just a glimpse of the “Big Guy.” As difficult as it is to imagine, that was a quarter century ago, a virtual lifetime, and much has happened between then and now.
“What’s not to like about Christmas?” one may ask. “Nothing” I say. “Christmas is a perfectly lovely time of year.” I do not despise December 25th in the way of Ebenezer Scrooge. My ambivalence toward the holiday season, rather, resembles a George Bailey-esque type of dread. There is something about being orphaned during Christmas in such a sudden and tragic way that will do that to a girl. While I understand I write of being a parentless child a great deal, that singular event changed the trajectory of my mere existence, and like an aging sweater, unraveled the loosely woven fabric from which I came. The memory of sitting in a hospital waiting room as Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song” filtered through cheap speakers while trying to stop my entire body from shaking is a scene I will never forget. To forget would be a relief. Walking around with that image and dozens more just like it dancing around in my head while I attempt to be an emotionally healthy adult – that’s the hard part.
Even after we had laid both my parents to rest, I feverishly believed in Santa Claus. To me, he epitomized everything that was still right with the world in the face of evidence that circumstances had gone so terribly wrong. Santa Claus, after all, is the symbol of charity and goodwill far and wide. Surely he, of all people, could find a bit of goodwill in his heart for me. For the next three years, I prayed that my mother and daddy would find a way home to me for Christmas. It had all been a very bad dream, a misunderstanding – SOMETHING! Heck! Bobby Ewing stayed gone for an entire season on “Dallas;” then, as nothing had ever happened, mysteriously appeared from thin air. Shoot, I figured if that scenario was good enough for Victoria Principal, it was good enough for me. By Christmas 1987, I found myself brokering backroom deals with good St. Nick. I prayed that one parent could come home; I wasn’t picky. I refused to accept that I was indeed an orphan. Bad things happened to orphans. Generally speaking, I believed people viewed orphans as pitiful little things, and wasn’t about to take anyone’s pity. I finally accepted a harsh reality: In all likelihood, a Christmas miracle wasn’t going to bring the people I loved the most in the world back to me. Santa and I were on the outs for quite a while after that.
As a teenager, I somehow muddled through; constantly busying myself with a book, and privately, rather grateful for the freedom that being no one’s child afforded me. I would later come to understand I had been in the purgatory of denial for 10 years. Only when I was in a mall picking out a prom dress alone, did a white-hot surge of rage overcome me. The very sight of a mother and daughter giggling together, or arguing for that matter, became almost unbearable. I morphed into one of the angriest, most self-destructive freshmen in the history of college students. There was a series of Christmas mornings spent alone. Of course, I did this solely by choice; I was far too angry to accept any of the pitiful invitations extended me. Instead of waiting for a jolly elf to make an appearance, I waited for Mr. Right Now that promised to show up but didn’t. I can’t blame him; I wouldn’t want to spend any time with that girl, either.
Once I married and children came along, the anger gave way to numbness. Even I know better than to ruin any kid’s Christmas, so I politely went through the motions of decorating a tree, hanging stockings, and eating way too many cookies (OK…. that part I thoroughly enjoyed). I watched holiday-themed movies with my kids, and laughed a bit too loudly than necessary. One year, I not so discreetly, proceeded to have an emotional faux pas as I stared at an Easy Bake Oven; all the while, Ole Blue Eyes belted out “I’ll be Home for Christmas” from some mysterious source overhead. I am almost ashamed to make this admission, but there have been a handful of occasions I gazed at the whimsical look on my children’s faces on Christmas morning and thought to myself, “I wish I could feel that way again.”
The fact that my parents aren’t around for me, or as the years pass, my children realize they are down one set of grandparents, isn’t the entire reason for my lack of yuletide enthusiasm. The fact of the matter is this: Life is hard. Life is hard on the body and the spirit. By the time December rolls around, I am running near empty. I have adopted angels and fed the hungry. I sincerely believe it is better to give than to receive. The idea that I am able to provide joy to someone else provides tremendous solace, even though I rarely have those moments myself.
With the autumn leaves changing vibrant colors, I longed to recapture the unbridled joy of childhood. I wanted to face the holiday season with a renewed perspective instead of dread and obligation. What better way to get reacquainted with my inner child but to visit the happiest place on Earth. Ready or not, Disney World, here we come!