When I was a kid, we were poor. Kristin says that she used to think that she was poor as a kid, and then she got with me. The sad thing is that though we were poor poor poor, there are people who were poorer. We were never homeless, for example (unless you count my senior year of high school when my parents had sold their home and were building a new one, but couldn't afford temporary housing and just had a tiny camping trailer on the building lot, in the middle of the worst winter in decades... but that's still more than a lot of people had, so that doesn't really count) because my father could always build us a house. Sweat equity as down payment. And we always had at least one, if not two vehicles, because my father could repair a car. I guess there's a reason that now one brother works in construction and the other brother is a mechanic.
When I was growing up my father always had 2 if not 3 jobs. He worked during the day as a kitchen cabinet installer, and then he always had one to two side construction projects that he worked on nights and weekends. There's another post coming in the future when I talk about Dad's side jobs, but for right now just suffice it to know that we rarely saw our father: he was gone most mornings before we woke up, and he came home after, or just as, we went to bed. Sundays he would take off working to... work on our house. What with my mother's depression and my father's absences (and his resentment over having to work so hard all the time) it would be fair to say that our daily existence was rather grim. Not that an outsider would know. Family problems stay in the family, and admitting that you're unhappy is like exposing the dark underbelly of the family's existence. All of us (parents and siblings) can be more than a bit dual-sided: shiny and dark, shiny and dark.
But Christmas... the week between Christmas and New Year's my Dad always took off work. Part of it is just the nature of his work: people don't like their houses torn apart during Christmas, they want it all done and impressive for their in-laws. So it was easy for him to cram installs in before Christmas and clear that week out. But that doesn't discount the fact that for that one week our dad spent time with us: we spent time doing fun things as a family. We would play games, visit family, go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant like Sizzler, and go see a first run movie. We would sort through our old toys and deep-clean our rooms. And when my Dad was in charge of overseeing our room cleaning he didn't just accept a clearing of the center of the floor. No, if you told him that your room was clean he would go in and sweep everything loose on the floor up (even from the closets and under the bed) into a big pile and tell you that if you were really done putting everything important away then you wouldn't mind if he threw all this trash in the garbage. And you, stubborn child that you were, would agree that you really were done while you tried to pick out Barbie shoes and game pieces from the pile with your shoe without him noticing. Come to think of it, that wasn't so much fun. But still, he was there and he was paying attention to us. That week was a magical week that was separated from the rest of the year by my father's presence in our lives.
I didn't realize how formative this had been for me.
Julia was completely spoiled by my parents and siblings this year. Her large presents were: a ginormous car, a mini futon (just like this one, only Julia's is red and has Lightning McQueen from the Cars movie on it), another ride-on toy, a play stove, some dishes and pots, a set of tables and chairs, a big tongue drum that Grandpa made her (very much like this one, only Julia's is made of purpleheart wood -- stunningly beautiful, I should take a picture...) an activity cube, And the Smartville Alphabet Train Station. All that on top of a bunch of books and puzzles and art supplies.
Yeah. Most of that didn't come from us. We're a little overwhelmed. Our elegantly arranged and decorated living room (well, we think it's elegant) has been overrun with toys. And downstairs is a lovely large area that we could turn into a playroom... if we only had the time. And here am I, chafing at the fact that I have to be here at work this week (I'm here because 1 I have no leave left, and 2 because someone needs to answer the phones, of course there's only one other person here and so if the phone rings I have no one to tranfer the calls to, not that anyone's calling as everyone we work with are primarily lawyers and lawyers don't work on the day after Christmas, even Govt lawyers).
I realized last night that it's not just that I want to be home with Julia and Kristin, and it's not just that I want to set that playroom up. It's that it doesn't feel like Christmas if this week isn't set aside to be home with my family and friends. Up until last Christmas I had always managed to either take the week between Christmas and New Year's off entirely, or work drastically reduced hours. This year I have a kid to play with and no time to take off to play with her. But this is how it is most days, and though most days I'm not happy about this situation (after all, we had planned that I'd be a work from home mom) today it feels worse. It feels like the Grinch just pissed all over my Christmas tree.
Don't get me wrong. This is a very petty thing to be complaining about. I know this. I have a beautiful home. I have a loving partner. My family spoiled us and Julia rotten. We had a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas Day filled with family and friends. I am blessed. I know this. I know this.
But isn't it funny how childhood patterns, both the good and the bad, can just whup you right upside the head?