Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year--Well, It Could Be

What a wise grandmother might be able to do to help her grandchildren get through a dysfunctional Christmas...

Imagine a household on Christmas Day. The fire burns brightly and lights twinkle on the tree. Everyone is dressed nicely, cashmere and pearls, slacks and argyles. Adults drink champagne as they prepare the meal and watch the game. Then someone does something someone else doesn’t like. The sniping begins, quiet and measured at first, until all hell breaks loose. The children are hushed up, sent off to play, turned outside.

More alcohol flows. Now the adults sit purposefully with their backs to one another in a classic pose: “Did you see what she did to me/hear what she said to me? I’m ignoring her. She doesn’t exist.” They say things to each other that are so mean a child would be sent to detention for less. Worse, they say things about each other, behind each other’s backs.

And the children sit by and watch.

They can’t stop the chaos. They can’t drive away and go somewhere else. They are stuck. They are one big throbbing ache as It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year plays menacingly in the background of this cruel family ritual called Christmas. Their memories of this day will be a mélange of anxiety, grief, embarrassment, anger, hurt—but right now, they don’t even have the words to use to tell themselves what they think or feel. They go numb. It’s what they always do to get by.

Then Grandma arrives.

She just missed the latest spate of name-calling and finger-pointing, but she can feel the tension that still hangs in the air well after she has removed her coat and set her pumpkin pies on the counter in the kitchen.

Grandma has choices.

She can pretend she doesn’t notice. The advantages here lie in the fact that it is a pretty safe bet that as long as she is present, things will not explode again. Once she leaves, she can only imagine the chaos that will re-enter the household, but for now, at least, a semblance of peace will prevail.

She can say something to her daughter or her son. And what might she say? And is this the time, Christmas Day, to be bringing up such an enormous issue? Wouldn’t things only escalate? Wouldn’t she just be drawing the battle lines?

Or, she can resolve to bring this up later, another day, after the flames have died down and the embers have temporarily cooled once again.

Meanwhile, there is something she can do right now, today, that might be the most important gift she could ever give: she can offer herself to her grandchildren. I don’t mean she should sit them down and have a heart-to-heart. The kids don’t want to talk about it when they’re in the middle of the worst day of their young lives. What they do need is a sense that somewhere in this chaos there is a loving adult who recognizes their presence in their otherwise thankless existence at the periphery of the adult drama ratcheting up around them.

Tell them, one by one, privately, how much you love them. Ask them about their lives. Listen to what they say, and ask them questions related to things they bring up, not to things you’d like to talk about. Make your presence all about them. This is the loving support they don’t have when they are growing up in chaos.

By doing this, you are holding up a mirror to your grandchildren, and in this mirror they see that the ground is not moving, that they are solid and real, and that they matter, or you wouldn’t be sitting there.

It’s not much, perhaps, but it’s a start. You may not be able to stop the war, but you can protect the innocent from being trampled to death by blinded warriors.

No comments:

Post a Comment