Well, how did your “perfect” holiday go? Mine was, with one notable exception (i.e. recognition of a sweeping, systemic, seemingly-unsolvable maternal/womanly hardship) pretty successfully perfect.
We all got sick, but just kind-of embraced it. Our plan was to mostly spend the two weeks in sweatpants relaxing at home anyway, so what’s a little extra snot and a day in bed for each of us (staggered, thankfully)? So we didn’t make it to the Museum of Science and Industry, or the movie theater. Who cares? We were together, and for the most part, we enjoyed ourselves. We all came away from our break rested and ready to resume our regular pants-clad lives.
But there was that one exception. I’m not sure why I forget every year that at some point during annual holiday preparations, I have an epic meltdown that spawns from the awful kernel of truth: I am the one. I am the end of the line. Most of the time, I can manage life with this truth just fine. This isn’t meant to be martyrly, but I’m so used to thinking of myself as the one that I can’t even really imagine what it would be like to NOT be the one. But every once in a while, my desire to be free from my position without first having to prepare so that my “freedom” in no way interrupts the seamless meeting of my family’s needs and contributions to our community is so strong. The ties of familial servitude chafe. So with crazy-wild eyes, I scramble in my mind to find a way out. I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE CHRISTMAS!
And so it was that upon opening the oven with great hope that the last homemade gift would be completed, in between checking the mashed potatoes for celebration number 1, and preparing the appetizers for celebration number 3 (of 5), I discovered that the gift-granola burned. And I lost my goddamn mind. The overwhelming feeling that I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE CHRISTMAS! took hold of me. With the vague realization that surely something is wrong if burned granola can send me over the edge, I said all of the most satisfying fuckwords while carefully protecting my hand with a hot pad. I threw the pan down on top of the stove. A few burnt granola chunks landed in the potatoes I was mashing and I mashed those sons of burned bitches right in there. Fuck those potatoes. FUCK EVERY POTATO! I slammed the masher down with such force that it broke, threw the cookbook with the granola recipe across the kitchen into the dishwasher, causing its spine to break and barf out pages. I cried the familiar tears of exhausted servitude. I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE CHRISTMAS!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in this alone. My husband Nate came into the kitchen and asked, “Is this something I can do? Do you need a break?” My marriage is a partnership and the only person in my family who would care if I never made a cent, allowed our apartment to denigrate into squalor, and ordered pizza every night is me. I don’t think anyone in my family is insisting that I be the one. And while Ida and Nathan definitely appreciate all of my hard work to make our holidays lovely, I don’t think they’d particularly care if I decided to quit. They’d understand, encouraged, I’m sure, at the prospect of avoiding my annual tantrum.
But not every wife and/or mother who finds herself in frustrated sometimes-festive familial servitude is there because her partner is a misogynist asshole. Sometimes it’s because she’s living in a world made and run by them. Sometimes it’s because the expectation that she will, of course, be in charge of MAKING CHRISTMAS, is deeply ingrained in every nook and cranny of her world and her mind. It is in this way that I cannot ever seem to fully escape being the one.
Living and having grown up in a patriarchal culture is mother fucking hard when you’re the mother. In households of all configurations, it seems to me (and, you know, experts) that there is a disproportionate amount of family-sustaining work yoked to mothers’ shoulders. Not to mention that on average, we get paid less when we do professional work. And I’m not even talking about the big stuff, like cleaning, cooking, childcare, etc., though, of course, the research shows that these are also heaped disproportionately on the plate of maternal responsibility. No, I’m talking about the fact that no matter what else is going on, you – the mother – are there at the end of it all, attending to whatever detail your well-trained mind has put behind your eyeballs by way of reminder. Start the dishwasher. Hang up the wet towel. Text the babysitter. All of these seemingly reflexive realizations weave together to form a veritable net underneath your family. Remember to pack the very important sleep-lovie-thing. Keep a calendar of the myriad family birthdays so that cards with cash make it to the post office on time. How much toilet paper do you have in the apartment? I bet you know (even if in a vague sense) the answer to this question. Not only do you know, but you’ve grown up and lived your whole life receiving the message through subtle and overt channels: It’s your job to know.
So while Nate and Ida might not care if I opted out of carefully researching, purchasing, and wrapping gifts, I think our extended family would. I think (because I know from the workings of my own jerky mind) that bringing a store-bought cookie plate to a party would be met with deep longing for nicer treats. And I know that when folks thought about these opt-out moves by my family, they wouldn’t be thinking of the role that Nate or Ida played in the grinchy lack of gifts, or the Oreos. No, they’d be thinking of me. I’d be thinking of me, too.
Of course, the solution is to look those me-thinkers square in the eye and say, “yes? Can I help you with something? Are you going to say, out loud, that you’ve got fucked up views about women?” And just like every year before, I put my Christmas tree in the basement while I thought about that possibility. I wondered if I’ve got the fallopians to do it. I wondered if I want to and what either a “yes” or “no” answer means to me. I wondered what it might be like to not make Christmas, to not be the one.
As for this year, I calmed down, taped the cookbook back together, fixed myself a cocktail, and patiently set to work on another batch of granola.
*I, for one, spent my invalid day hosting my own Downton Abbey marathon (seasons 1-3 in 30 hours), and have come to the conclusion in hindsight that my body was simply responding to my intense psychic need to know what happens to “Misssssstttttaaaa Baaaaayyyttttteeeeesssss!” and therefore kept me mildly nauseous, heavy as a sack of sand under the covers, and scouring the internet for working links. Best sick day ever.