My mother came to my house last weekend. Each of her visits bring a rush of mixed emotions. For I know that while she loves me, she loves herself more. And that is something no child should ever know. As I get older, it has become harder to love her. When I look back at my childhood, she played such a big part in so much of my sadness. And ironically, her selfishness was never more rampant than it was during the season of giving.
Growing up, our Christmases were filled with gifts of socks and underwear and maybe a pair of Sears Toughskins, each concealed in a haphazard mass of wrapping paper and Scotch tape, and individually placed underneath the tree. The things other kids got in their stockings or throughout the schoolyear were the things we got from Santa Claus. My mother would sit me and my brother down each December and assault us with her guilt-absolving monologue. “Christmas is going to be tight this year. Your father isn’t working. Just so you know.” Of course we knew. Kids always know. Once again, our Christmas would be filled with the reality of unemployement checks, money arguments broadcast through vents, and bricks of government cheese that always seemed to be on the top shelf of the fridge when a friend asked for a glass of milk.
My mom saw to it that we knew our minimalist holidays were a result of my dad being laid off each winter. The hardest part wasn’t in knowing my friends were unwrapping Cabbage Patch Dolls, Merlins, and Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shops while I was opening things that should’ve been placed in my drawers or hung in my closet on a Tuesday night after dinner. The toughest part was 9 o’clock at night. That was when all the TV Christmas specials ended. I’d lay on the floor by our artificial tree, its tarnished star bending obediently to the ceiling as multicolored lights flickered magical patterns onto the nicotine-stained walls. Through claymation and the hypnotizing drum beats of the CBS Special opening sequence, I was transported to a holiday wonderland where the other reindeer eventually quit teasing Rudolph and Santa was able to fulfill even the poorest child’s desire. On these nights, for an hour or two, I believed.
Surprisingly, I was wearing a bra before I admitted there was no Santa Claus. I thought if I gave him up, there’d no presents at all. As I got older, I learned that my grandparents (on my dad’s side) gave my parents $500 each Christmas to buy us presents. I’m not sure where the money went. It never ended up under the tree. Now that I’m an adult, I can look back and see how even through the winters, my mother never went without. She still went shopping every Monday, stashing her kill in the trunk of her car so no one would see it. Knowing that I have eaten egg salad sandwiches every lunch for an entire week so I could afford to buy my son organic milk, her selfishness overwhelms me. I spend too much time wishing she wasn’t like she is, and hoping I won’t ever become her. I look at her today, and I see her as she was, and is. As she furiously tries to make up for what the world has not given her, the things that it has are slowly slipping away.