Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Which I Complain About My Petty First World Problems

When Z and I were first dating the holidays were my favorite time of year.  Though I am not a person of faith, I have always reveled in the secular parts of Christmas.  I love giving gifts.  I love getting gifts.  I love to eat, especially cookies.  What's not great about this Christmas thing?  Z, on the other hand, was a humungous scrooge.  He feels resentful about any situation that forces him to be cheerful on a timeline and he’d rather give gifts when the spirit hits him instead of an arbitrary date in December.  The fact that my birthday is exactly one week before Christmas only makes things worse for him.  During our first holiday season Z combined my birthday and Christmas and gave me one gift, and let’s just say I didn’t handle it with a lot of grace. 

In those first few years I had to beg and stomp my feet (I was a delight) to convince Z we should have a Christmas tree.  I’d make a huge deal of the holidays and he’d be grumpily dragging his feet behind me.  I think he soon realized my love for the holidays had an upside.  He no longer had to think about what to get his family for Christmas, I’d just take care of it and whisper to him what people were getting as they’d unwrap the gifts.  And finally he stared to come around.  There was a year that I was working crazy hours at the bakery and I just didn’t have time to go get a tree.  My sister was visiting and she and Z got one to surprise me.  We were in Brooklyn at the time, so they went to one of the many places that pop up on street corners at the holidays.  The kind gentleman who sold the trees thought that they were a couple and gave them a very sweet Lovebirds ornament free of charge.   They just couldn’t tell him they were siblings-in-law, so they awkwardly put their arms around each other and thanked him.  Z and my sister are both wonderful people and they are great friends, but they are also about as mismatched at it is possible to be and for that reason this little story almost made me pee myself when they told me.

I turned 30 a few months after we moved to Providence.  I’ve never had big parties because my birthday is so close to Christmas, but I was particularly bummed because I was still conflicted about moving away from the city and our friends.  All I wanted was to be in Brooklyn for such a big milestone, but I’d recently started working at Whole Foods and the night before the 18th I needed to work inventory.  I was at the store until about 1am and I needed to be back at 7am on my birthday.  When I got home from work in the early hours of my birthday Z had decorated our whole house with 30th birthday stuff and he had made me the Christmas tree cake my mom always made me growing up.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I think it was the nicest birthday I’ve ever had.

That was the first year I was working retail.  And retail throttled the Christmas spirit right out of me.  By the time I left Whole Foods I just couldn’t get excited about the holidays anymore.  The holidays can bring out the best in people, but they often bring out the worst, especially in retail establishments.  In one particularly lovely moment of my first holiday season, a customer told me that Whole Foods and I were RUINING her Thanksgiving because we were out of that well known holiday staple, Spelt Bread.  It was the first time in my life someone had accused me of ruining her holiday.  There was the haughty new Assistant Manager of another department who obviously didn’t know I was the manager of the bakery and asked if I knew who she was when she had to wait a few minutes for her order like everyone else. Um, yes.  I know who you are.  You work at a grocery store.  Don’t get me wrong, I do, too.  But please excuse me for not being impressed.   It’s not like you are the Queen.  I was actually sort of grateful for that interaction.  I’ve learned to judge people by how they treat those below them in the food chain, and from then on I had her number.  I learned a lot about what kind of parent I didn’t want to be during November and December.  I watched a mother instruct a fellow team member to tell her children Santa wouldn’t bring them presents if they couldn’t behave themselves.  Again, WF employees are great with customers, but they are not paid to discipline your children.  When it was time to write the schedule there were always team members who seemed to forget they chose to work for a retail operation that made a large chunk of its money during the holidays and who would act shocked and cry when they couldn’t get time off.  So clearly I wasn't dealing with the worst stuff ever.  Just constant pettiness and annoyances that made me dread the end of the year and that slowly eroded my holiday spirit.

Over time buying presents felt like a chore, and frankly going to another retail establishment during my precious time off was unpalatable.  I’d just watch the customers being mean to the employees and be infuriated.  I couldn’t travel for the holidays because of work and we didn’t have family nearby. I didn’t even care if we had a tree.  The last year in Providence  Z was the one pushing for it.  I was hoping the grinchyness would evaporate once I’d left retail, but it didn’t.  T was 4 months for his first Christmas and we travelled south to be with my family.  And it was really nice.  But that super excitement and happiness that would pulse in my chest and send tingles out to my fingertips was gone.  Historically that excitement didn’t have to do with the stuff I was getting, it was the togetherness, the stuff I was excited about giving, the traditions being played out that gave me such satisfaction.   It was the best part of family distilled into a short period of time.  This year we are with Z’s family for the big day.  Last night I spent hours wrapping gifts.  And it felt like a chore rather than a delight.  I wish I could snap out of it.  Particularly because it is appallingly spoiled to not revel in the holidays particularly when we have it so good. 

Z, on the other hand, had developed an appreciation for the holidays.  He was the one who insisted we get a miniature tree at home both last year and this year.  He loves the family time and the holiday spirit and he has that sense of excitement.  He doesn't care if I haven't made the candy and cookies I wanted to.  He's just happy to celebrate togetherness.  I could learn a thing or two from him.  And next year T will have some comprehension of what is going on during the holidays.  We can start to tell him about Santa.  We will develop our own family traditions.  T brings so much joy to my life that I am hopeful that watching him discover the wonder of the holidays will help bring back my Christmas spirit.  

Z and T reading on my birthday.
Adorable T on the drive down south.  He bucked tradition and did a fantastic job in the car.  Z and I were braced for 11 hours of tears, so it was a really pleasant surprise.   

Little man playing at Grandma and Grandpa's.


  1. I just wrote you a comment but it didn't post... the gist being that it's harder to have all that Christmas magic, for me at least, as a Grown Up who has to *make* a lot of that magic. Sometimes I just want my parents back to make it all for me. On the plus side, the magic we *are* making is extra special because it's so *ours*.

    Also, this post is wonderful and I had to read several parts out loud; so well written and entertaining. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. OK, so I have worked Whole Foods retail since 1991...yeah, the unbelievable behavior of customers at this time of year has sucked the joy out of it...this year, with Jeremy at 16 and Alex at 12 years of age, I decided I wasn't going to put up a single decoration...the kids pulled some out of the basement to surprise me. I told them they can shop WITH me for one nice gift for them. Jeremy wants to save his choice until January and Alex's present was sold out so I ordered it online - maybe not delivered by Christmas...this morning in the car, I asked Jeremy if I was a bad mother because we don't even have Christmas dinner. He said no. He likes to sleep late and we get anything we want all year. I told him he will appreciate it when his wife (someday) wants to go to HER family's house for the holidays and I won't mind. He said "yeah, my wife will ask if I want to go see MY family and I'll say Why? To cuddle up to a ceramic tree and eat peanut butter sandwiches?" Hee hee...see, I'm a year round parent that hates the horrible and greedy and stress in the holidays - but we went to see Rockettes Christmas at PPAC and A Christmas Carol at Trinity and rode around looking for decorated houses and sang Christmas Carols really loud in the car...unconventional and joyous and I don't have to yell at clerks in a store because I have no deadline on my celebration...

  3. Laura-I just read your comment to Z and he said, "Amen!"

    And I miss you. And part of me misses the excitement at the store during Christmas. Not the music, though...And I only miss it because I don't have to do it. I'll be thinking of all you guys today. At least you close early! Yesterday I was in a WFM down here, and this is embarrassing, but every time I walk in the lobby and smell that Whole Foods smell tears prick in my eyes. It really is a great place to work. Filled with terrific people. Give yourself and my girl Amy and the rest of the gang hugs from me today.

    And holy shit! Do you guys have the pie carrier better bags up there? They ROCK!

    M-I think you are right about the magic. And when we are making it for T I think I'll be much more excited. And thanks for your very kind words. We are getting updates on you ladies from Ellie and Kelsey. I love to hear how you guys are doing!