Home For The Holidays

I gotta’ admit: Christmas got tolerable on my second martini.

It all started out well enough. After waking at the crack of dawn, recording and blogging a bit, I walked to Starbucks which is apparently, and thankfully, organizationally non-denominational. I sat in my big red chair with a viente mild (with a dash of nutmeg and vanilla, it bein’ Christmas and all) and a ham, egg, and cheese on a roll watching Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr., and Anne Bancroft in “Home For The Holidays” on (get this) Lifetime. I’m fully aware that “A Christmas Story” was on TBS for 24 hours yesterday, but that film doesn’t speak to me so much. Give me Lifetime! Now, the film’s about Thanksgiving, but still. It’s great. I mean, Holly Hunter’s great. And that classic familial dysfunction and how holidays manage to bring it out of all of us is so on display. Which should have been a harbinger.

Santa text messaged me, which was a first. He said, “Look outside your door.” Sure enough, he made it inside the building and left a beautiful, colorful sweater and dress shirt from Banana Republic. Guy’s got taste. And dressed me in bright colors I never woulda’ chosen for myself. (My mom complimented me later, so it musta’ looked good.)

My father called from Detroit, an unplanned stop en route from Indianapolis. He was going to be three hours late, and did not sound happy. So I wrapped gifts, watched TV, and generally lollygagged until about 11:15, then set out for my brother’s. Their apartment was eerily still when I got there. Gifts were still wrapped under the tree. Jen, and my mom were whispering and tiptoeing around. Chris was downright silent. Ethan was asleep. I read Wired, then National Geographic, then started in on Ethan’s books.

I have no idea what touched it off (one rarely does), but my brother finally broke the silent treatment to express his disappointment in my lateness. It took me five minutes of defensive smarminess (“Dude, you were completely nebulous about what time you wanted me over. You always are. You have to manage expectations. If you want me here at 10:30, say 10:30, not ’10-10:30, whatever.'”) to apologize. But it was game on. We were pissed. Thirty-three years of sibling bologna came roaring out of both of us. My mom tried to mediate (“Mom, I’m 33-years-old. I can manage my own relationships at this point.”). Jen sat gape jawed (“I’m not going downstairs to fold laundry again — look what happens to you guys!”). And my brother paced like a caged dog.

Listen, I accept responsibility. I was a bit of a jerk. I get pissed when I’m painted with the “inconsiderate little brother” brush. Even if it’s occasionally true. I mean, he is nebulous about his expectations, but I gotta’ practice what I preach: you can’t change people, you can only change your behavior in relation to them. But man, they can bring it out, right? Family? Everybody wants everything to be perfect, and as soon as something’s awry — Ben’s late, Dad’s late, Jen’s family’s stuck at the airport — it’s chaos.

Chris and I chilled out a little (my mom suggested we table the deeper conversation until we’re all on the beach in Eluthera with beers in hand). Ethan woke up. Dad and his wife showed up (with insult added to injury: the airline lost his bag). And Christmas remained massively chaotic: wrapping paper flying, bodies spilling over bodies, voices rising over voices.

But by the time the eleven members of the Bolster, Wagner, McGrath and McGarr families — Chris, Jen, Ethan, Mom, Dad, Madonna, Ed, Pat, Stephen, Ken, and me — spilled out of dinner at the Essex House, everyone was fine. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was laughing. Somehow, we’d all surrendered to the chaos. We’d checked our expectations, hopes, dreams, worries, and issues at the door. All that was left was this sprawling, crazy, wonderful, diverse family living and breathing right there in the moment. Which is kinda’ miraculous, if you think about it.

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