Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hello Darkness My Old Friend or, . . ."Plastics"

It's funny. I've been trying to decide what to write about Christmas. Or whether to write anything at all about Christmas. I've already spent a good part of the morning venting my spleen about certain frustrations, and it seems kind of pointless to drum up all that energy again. And then as I headed toward the front door a few moments ago, intent on a walk, the sounds of Simon and Garfunkle drifted into the hallway and I realized that The Graduate was beginning on AMC. The music seemed far more apt than the Christmas carols with which I inundated myself last week.

(And no, I almost never turn on the television during the daytime. You will perhaps have some understanding of the desperation of my mental state if I tell you that I have been watching a Doris Day & Rock Hudson movie off and on for at least two hours, in between laundry and checkbook and dog-walking.)

As I write this, Anne Bancroft's long legs fill the screen and Dustin Hoffman is saying, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me." Things are looking up.

So, Christmas. No more than five sentences, or remnants thereof, for each of its three elements.

I. The Dinner. An extravaganza, for which a surprising 25 people appeared. The college students, it seems, do not want to stay long, but cannot stay away, which is gratifying to the mom who has watched them all grow up. The friends linger around the table for hours, and the kids, who know they are far too sophisticated for all of this holiday nonsense, occupy themselves with a game of some super-challenging version of Trivial Pursuit in the living room. We force them, to the tune of much grumbling, onto the front hall stairs for the annual picture, and one of them, whom we have watched advance from bouncing towhead to professional soccer player, is heard to say, "Come on, guys; you know that for the parents this never gets old." And I meanwhile, am quietly but literally and physically ill with frustration over the family which, per script, appears an hour-and-a-half after everyone else, combining a beautifully prepared offering of food with oblivion to the rumbling tummies and drying meal spread across the kitchen.

"Plastics," says Mr. Robinson to Benjamin.

II. The faith. I am the only one in my family who experiences Christmas as a religious celebration. I'm not sure that my husband, he of the every single week attendance at Sunday School and the years and years of membership in the Sunshine Choir, ever believed a word of it and, when my children got wind of that in the earliest and most cyncial stages of adolescence, they too opted out. They all have harsh things to say about religion in general and Christianity in particular. As a rule I am not too bothered by their views, believing firmly that each of us is called to her own path and that God tracks people down in God's own time and way, and fortunately I do not subscribe to the "Family Values" distortion of faith promulgated by the Christian right. But God has in fact tracked me down -- I find I have no option but to believe in a faith so convoluted and improbable that it can only be true -- and so Christmas can be a very lonely time right in the midst of everyone that I love the most.

"Are you here for an affair, sir?" asks the desk clerk of an astonished (and very young) Dustin Hoffman.

III. The New Year. After Christmas comes the physical collapse, the day spent almost entirely in bed, the children eager to burst the bonds of family and meet their friends at a concert. And then the inevitable realization that the New Year is almost upon is. Time to clean up the clutter, resolve to lose weight, to brace onself for the visits to and from extended family , and to do all the work for which one was paid but did not actually complete in the month of December when one was shopping for presents and stuffing ingredients instead of grading papers. And time, most importantly, to create a new self -- the skinnier, smarter, wealthier, more successful and more accomplished self so hopefully invented every New Year's. The self whose arrival just happens to coincide with a lower back in such pain and sciatica so severe that the old self actually says "Ouch!" out loud as she is walking the dog and finds herself thereby reminded that the old self is probably here to stay.


There is, somehow, a connection that brings us all together: the sad and confused Dustin Hoffman wearing a jacket and tie as he pulls the blinds and brushes his teeth in the hotel room, the diffident Mrs. Robinson smoking a cigarette in her black dress, the sounds of silence and the longing for. . . what, exactly?


rachael said...

so we didn't have 25 people, and yet my reasons for not writing much detail about our christmas seem much like yours. i like the way you write!

Cynthia said...

Something does tie it all together. I'm just not sure what. This is deeply moving and beautifully written. You really touched me here.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful capsule of your day, Robin. I see far more than plastics here. Your children may be grown and rushing all over town, but they spent the day with you. What ties it all together? YOU!

Love, Vicky

V said...

Robin, you are quite the writer.

Tess said...

Our Christmas celebrations were spread over 3 days and a few 100 miles, some of us traveling further than others. The storm repairs kept the whole family from being together in one home, mine is the usual gathering place but not this year. We had several celebrations. Our Christmas was an investment in time and energy above normal and I hope the current efforts for this Christmas are rewarded in the next Christmas.