What Makes Our Christmas Merry?

Next week I’ll write the warm and fuzzy column filled with eggnog and holly, all about the solstice, but to get perspective you need to read the column that I would have written last year.


In October, Brian’s father, Grandpa Jerry, was diagnosed with kidney failure. Qp, the Mother of All Pekingeses, passed away in November. And the first week of December, Zane became the only boy in the San Francisco Unified School District to be expelled.

We had driven down to Macy*s at Union Square for what would be our last visit to Santa, and Zane had an episode. His mood swing was so off the scale that one of the elves quit and Santa put all four of us down on the Permanent Naughty List.

Christmas Eve, I asked Brian to take the boys out for an hour so that a few gifts could magically appear all wrapped the next morning.

The plan was that when they returned we would get dressed up, go have dinner in the Castro (nothing gets you in the mood for the season quite like the Sausage Factory) and then on to Midnight Mass at Most Holy Redeemer, where the Fisher-Paulsons themselves were supposed to place the Baby Jesus in the crèche.

Don’t know what happened. Never will. Brian is actually calmer than I, but whether it takes stuffing a month’s worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches down the furnace vent or setting off the fire alarm in church, even he has a breaking point. Love my sons dearly, but our least favorite of all the family diagnoses is “Oppositional Defiance Disorder,” which means that if I gave either one of them free ice cream, he would argue for spinach instead.

What I do know is that, at 2:42 ln the afternoon, Brian walked in the door, threw his keys on the counter and said, “Take the damn tree down. We’re done. Christmas is over. I am not going out again.”

By then most stores had closed. Having plans to dine out that night, and to eat dinner with the lesbians the next day, there was little in the refrigerator other than leftover artichoke dip. And then it turned out the lesbians forgot to tell us that they had dis-invited us to Christmas Day dinner. Not their fault. Their own children presented a different plate of challenges.

So I walked the boys down to Cordova Market, a corner store, heavy on snack food and beer, light on fixings for a Holiday Dinner. Zane and Aidan were, of course, delighted, because their tantrums had resulted in a Snacky Dinner Christmas. Me not so much. I stood at the frozen section, debating between brussel sprouts and curried chickpeas and I was feeling pretty sorry for ourselves.

But then, an angel: Terry Asten-Bennett, having survived Christmas Eve at Cliff’s Hardware, turned up in the next aisle. She was shopping for a Christmas cocktail, and we laughed and that’s really what neighbors are about: to remind us that even if the corner store does not have cranberry sauce, it does have Amaretto Sour mix, and holidays are what you make of them.

The next morning I got up and baked cinnamon rolls, because that is what Nana would have done. As we sat down to the old kitchen table, Aidan stuck a candle in his sticky bun because, “After all, Daddy, it is someone’s birthday.”

This was not our Hard Candy Christmas. That has to compete with the Christmas Eve that the social worker told us we would lose the triplets or the holiday shopping when Zane threw himself into the middle of the intersection of 18th and Castro or the year that our Christmas tree committed suicide.

When you raise at-risk children, holidays are a Russian roulette. But I’m grateful for last year’s meltdown. It got us into therapy and better medication. It was the apex of our nadir.

This year, we don’t have the tree up yet. Not a single tollhouse cookie has baked in our oven, and the electric virgin remains unplugged in our garage, nary a manger to be found.

Not worried. Either we will get the Christmas cards out or we won’t. This column may be the only letter we send. We might not get to Macy*s, but somewhere in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior on December 24, Terry will be shopping for Amaretto Sour Mix, and that will be enough. We no longer feel pressured to be happy, and that in itself makes us merry.

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