I haven't been a fan of Christmas since I graduated from college. It was just a day to me, really. When I was in college, Christmas was more fun because I had been away at school, studying for and taking finals and was returning home to a family that actually missed me. By the time college was over, I had returned (in hindsight, unwisely) back to Colorado and my family no longer missed me. I liked being missed by them, cause it made me feel important and wanted. I know that sounds horrible and desperate, but that's how I felt at the time (and, sometimes, do still feel).
As the oldest child of "perfect" parents, I worked very hard to prove myself. I was a horrible math student. I was a fantastic English and history student. By middle school, I had established myself as an A/B student who regularly received a C in math (didn't matter the type of math, I got a C in it). By the time I graduated from high school, I had a 3.4 GPA, which certainly isn't something to be ashamed of. At least, I didn't think it was anything to ashamed of. It was the kind of GPA that would aid me in getting into a good college and it showed that I was, if not a perfect student, at least a dedicated one who worked hard and turned in her homework assignments. Unfortunately, it's hard to be proud of your accomoplishments, when your parents make them out to be less than acceptible. My grades in math usually sparked a significant ass-chewing and I was either sent to my room to work on math problems with orders to "do them right or else" OR mathematic video games were purchased for me to play on our Nintendo and that's all I was allowed to play (while my younger sister was able/allowed to play the more fun games). Problem was, I just didn't get them; I didn't get mathematics. The point I'm getting at is that it didn't matter if I got As and Bs in history, English, Spanish, and science. The fact that I wasn't getting anything above a C in math made me a failure, which in turn made me feel like an extremely insignificant and unwanted member of our family. So, heading off to college, as the firstborn child, was an opportunity for me to feel somewhat important.
I did feel important too. I went out of state for college, to a small, private liberal arts college in the very green (and very wet compared to Colorado) Pacific Northwest. I went away for several reasons, that I don't think my parents have ever been able to understand or appreciate. I went away because I wanted to grow up and become an adult. If I stayed in-state, like my parents wanted, I would have come home every weekend and never truly experienced all that is COLLEGE. I went away because I hated my parents (at the time, I no longer hate them, in case anyone is wondering); my parents had ruined my life more than they could ever understand. They not only took me away from a place where I was immensely happy, but they didn't really care and they never showed any interest in really listening to me and hearing what I was saying. I think they heard my complaints, but I don't think they heard me, which there is a definite difference and distinction. I went away because I was used to moving around as a military child and I wanted to go someplace I had never been. I was hoping to go someplace that would appeal to me enough that I would want to remain there for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, as beautiful as the Pacific Northwest is and as much as I loved spending time in Seattle, it was not the right place for me to spend the rest of my life. I'm still searching though.
I do believe that going away was really great for me. I only saw my family at Christmas, Spring break and summer breaks, with the occasional Thanksgiving. We talked every Sunday on the phone and it sounded like they missed me. They actually showed interest in what classes I was taking, what my roommates were like, what the dorm folk were like, and what fun places I was going to and exploring in Tacoma and Seattle. Also, for the first time, I didn't get yelled at for getting a D one semester. I took an Economics class and it was a bit difficult for me to understand, even with the help of a fellow classmate and I ended up with a D. It was the only class I did horribly in; all my other grades during the rest of college were As and Bs (with the typical Pass grade in all of the Physical Education classes I took). I was more upset about that D than my parents were, which was actually a huge relief! My father even said not to worry about the D cause it was one class and overall he knew I was a good student and he knew I had great grades in all of my other classes, at least I tried taking a class that challenged me and I could always take it over or take other classes that might balance out the D. When I graduated from college, the look of pride on my father's face was enough to make me want to cry (but I didn't cause I didn't want to ruin my gown with wet spots or make my makeup run).
Then, I returned to Colorado and the excitement over my accomplishments wore off. I don't mean to detract from the things my sister did, but the way my parents talked about her, you would have thought they only had one child. Actually, the women that worked with my mother didn't know she had two children (I know this because when I went into the store she worked at and asked for her, they asked me who I was and I told them I was her daughter and they asked if I was the one attending CSU and I said I was her oldest daughter and they said "Oh, I didn't know C had another daughter". That's a true story, I'm not making that up). I just lost interest in spending Christmas with my family because it appeared that none of them were interested in me. When I would start to talk about things going on at my job or things my friends and I were doing, I was interrupted and talked over by my family so I just stopped talking. I waited until one of them asked me something, then I answered and that was it. I even stopped giving detailed answers. I didn't see the point. None of them were interested in anything I had to say.
By the time July 2009 rolled around, I was pretty fed up with my family and was ready to make a significant and, possibly dramatic, change. I wanted to get as far away from them as I could and cut them out of my life completely. Okay, that's a horrible thing to actually say outloud, but it's how I felt at the time. So, because I had always wanted to work with children and was disappointed I didn't change from Pre-Law to Education while in college, I decided to find alternative ways to teach. I started applying for Teaching Fellows Programs back East. The first program I applied for was the NYC Teaching Fellows Program and had just found out that I was invited for an interview when my maternal grandfather passed away. It was November 21, 2009. His memorial service was in early December, and we flew out as a family. I got to see all of the Aunts, Uncles and cousins I had been missing since we left California in 1992. I was able to see and spend time with my remaining 3 grandparents and even see/meet second cousins I either hadn't seen since they were under the age of 5 or had never seen except in pictures.
During the reception, I think several of my Aunts and Uncles could detect that I was miserable beyond mourning the passing of Papa. After speaking with a couple of them, the recommendation that was given to me was to get as far away from my mother and sister as I could because they were "putting out my light"; "they are the kind of people who need to be the center of the universe and can and will completely douse the light that is me". The opinion was that it was probably a good idea that I was applying for those programs in other states, that way I could go someplace where my light could shine and people would be able to know me as Tara rather than daughter of C and sister of A. That was, in my opinion, a brilliant recommendation and completely made me feel better. I had been fairly miserable as the daughter of M and C and the sister of A since I was about 23, so knowing that my Aunts and Uncles were able to sympathize with how I was feeling and could relate to how difficult it was being the daughter of C and sister of A (C and A, according to my extended family, are the exact same person, just different ages) was a really, REALLY great feeling.
My interview in NYC was in mid-December, right before Christmas. It was an interesting experience, and I learned a lot at my interview (my interview skills were pretty rusty). NYC is a place I would definitely want to visit again, but cannot see myself living in. The nightmare was the flight back from NYC to DIA. Long story that can wait for another blog post, but I got home on December 23, pretty close to Christmas when my original return was supposed to be December 21. Well, at Christmas dinner, when I tried to tell them about my interview and the hostel I stayed at, I was interrupted and talked over and, essentially, silenced. No one cared. So, I just shut down. Their lack of interest reinforced my desire to move as far away as possible and cut them out of my life.
When I was invited to interview with the DC Teaching Fellows Program in March 2010, I didn't tell my parents until 3 days before leaving. The only reason I told them was because my grandmother mentioned my trip to my mom. I had told my grandmother cause she was excited that I was looking for an opportunity to teach; it didn't occur to me that she'd tell my mom and, in hindsight, I wouldn't have told her until after my trip so then I never would have had to tell my parents. I had a great trip to DC and the interview was really good. I can easily see myself living in the DC area, it just FELT like the right place! Unfortunately, I didn't get a position (10,000 applicants, 3,000 interviewees considered, 100 positions; I'm lucky to have gotten an interview). It wasn't until April 2010, that anyone in my family showed any interest in what I was doing with my life (my job, my church and my interests in the Teaching Fellows Programs) and that interest was shown by my father. I would like to think that the reason he suddenly started to show interest was because he could tell I was pulling away, and he didn't want me to pull too far away because he knew his time here on Earth was limited. In actuality, I think he asked because I hadn't shared anything with him in several months and that was not normal for me.
Up until my father's death in July, I was more than ready to apply to other Teaching Fellows Programs and try to get jobs back East. My plan, before he died, was to get a job out of state, move away and cut my family out of my life. I felt unwanted and uncared about. I believed that my family just didn't want me around, that they spent so much time glorifying my sister because they thought I was a failure. I had never really believed my parents were proud of me or my accomplishments. I hoped, that if I moved away and stopped speaking to them, it would make them wonder what they did to drive me away.
Then my dad died. Now, Christmas sucks for a whole different reason. Even though I have not liked and enjoyed Christmas for awhile now, I REALLY don't see the point this year. I bought cards that have been sitting on my couch in the shopping bag for about 2 weeks now. I didn't put up any of my lights or my tree. I haven't even pulled out my Trans-Siberian Orchestra CDs to listen to and I listen to them every December. I was trying to figure out what to buy my sister for Christmas this year and that led to me thinking of what to get my dad. Then I remembered, I can't get him a gift. As the daughter of an Air Force officer and an airline pilot, I'm used to my father not being home for holidays, but he ALWAYS called from wherever he was to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas. I'm fine with him not being home for Christmas this year, it's the fact that the phone won't be ringing that breaks my heart and really makes this a sucky year. I'm not going to lie and say I'm not still upset with my family, cause I am, but my hurt feelings are lessened. Now I wonder if he died because I was angry with him. Realistically, I know my anger didn't kill him, it was a micro-embolism caused by cancerous liver cells (that's a different, long story), but I did stop talking to him, which I know hurt his feelings. I did hurt his feelings.
My family isn't perfect, but we are family. I'd give up all of my holidays if it meant we could all be together this year for Christmas. It will just be my mother and I. My sister, who is a flight attendant, will be flying. My boyfriend (who hurt my feelings by doing this) informed me he didn't want to go to my mother's for Christmas dinner and would rather just stay home alone. And, my father is in a box at the USAFA cemetary. So, it will be mom and I, watching TV and eating a nice ham for dinner. I'll give her the gift I ordered (assuming it's here in time, boy will my heart break if it's not here in time; I ordered it December 8 and it still hasn't arrived; I'm trying very hard NOT to panic) and we'll just hang out. I'd give away all of my books and my knitting (anyone who knows me, knows that my passions are reading and knitting) if dad could be here for Christmas. I'd be a better daughter if it meant he could be here. I would rewind the clock and go to law school like he wanted, if it meant that he could be here this year for Christmas and not dead from cancer. I guess I'm in the bargaining phase of my grief? "Dear God, I'll go to law school and become a lawyer if you'll make my dad not dead anymore. Love, Tara". Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. I would have been a good daughter, stayed in state and gone to CU for college and then go to law school if it meant that my dad wouldn't get cancer and die. Yeah, I'm in the bargaining phase.
This year, I just want Christmas to go away. I admit, I'm a Scrooge this year.