I am so ready for the holidays to be over! They are, you say? Try telling that to Pittsburgh.
You may recall how struck I was when I first moved here by how many of my neighbors still had their holiday decorations up. Here I am two years later, having weathered the confusingly windy roads, the general culture shock, the challenges to learn how to buy beer and the multi-layered tax system, but that one still flummoxes me. I actually get the outdoor decorations to an extent when it's snowy. My Rudolph with the blinking red nose was nearly buried in white stuff the day after Christmas, and I can't really get a ladder up to take down some of the higher stuff without fear of falling on my butt, although with spring like temperatures following rain that literally washed away all but stubborn remnants of snow, I think that problem is all but solved. But, even if you allow for that, it's the fact that a lot of people still have their tree up and are actually turning on their lights that kind of wows me still. I was so sick of the holidays that I took my stuff down the Saturday after Christmas with gusto and determination, only to have my neighbor stop by to wish me Happy New Year and ask, sadly, why my tree was down already. I think my cousin was on to something when she speculated that everyone is influenced by the Orthodox calendar, where Christmas was just this past Monday. The Orthodox church still has a strong presence in the Rust Belt, so even though my whole neighborhood is Irish Catholic, I get it. But, that's over, people. Now, let's move on!
My sense of routine really needs the holidays to be packed away and all my regular stuff back out and my space returned to normal. But, more than that, this was just a wild holiday, and I'm ready to move on. It wasn't all bad, of course. We have the newest member of our family, Ripley, thanks to the holiday, but it was dramatic. With all the distractions, I have yet to tell the story of the holidays and Greg's mother's visit.
First, so there is some context, I have to tell the story of my mother-in-law so you know her a bit. To start, it is key to note that she is a lovely and generous woman. She of course carries flaws like we all do: some born out of the generation from which she comes (a passive racism for instance or her lack of understanding about Kelsey and Marissa's eating disorders and sometimes saying the most damaging things), and some are born out of the fact that none of us are Mother Teresa. Heck, behind closed doors, Mother Teresa probably didn't even always live up to her own reputation. And she does indeed do some of the things that people tend to do when they are older that make us cringe. I was commiserating with a friend whose mother thinks she is whispering when she utters offensive things about people in public, but in fact people across the aisle can hear her. My mother-in-law has joined those ranks, which my mother proudly belonged to before her. I think for my part I'll try to remember just not to say anything in public, but, Marissa, watch out, my guess is I'll be exactly the same way. But for all of that, I have been very lucky to have such a nurturing mother-in-law, particularly being so far away always from any family of my own. Her visit, originally scheduled to be a little over two weeks stretching across the Thanksgiving holiday, ended up being a month because she fell the night before she was due to fly home and was fairly seriously injured. I detailed the whole story actually in the football blog I write because I was so struck by how wonderful total strangers were to us, but then contrasted it with how nasty Pittsburgher's were being about the Steelers. I won't beat the horse here again, but suffice it to say she was now stuck here with us, away from her own things, her cat, and - most importantly - her own doctors and easy access to medication. And she needed care, she was hurt pretty badly and very simply could not do things for herself. But I had to work; it was our busiest time. I had worked until midnight the night before Thanksgiving just to even get the bare minimum deadlines met, and things weren't showing signs of slowing down. Greg had to sleep some time, so to say it was an easy couple of weeks on any of us would be an absolute lie. And of course there was the guilt we all wrestled with. Her because she felt like she was a burden, Greg and me because she fell on "our watch".
She was with us therefore when news came that Greg's brother had fallen himself for the second time in a matter of months and had been rushed back to the hospital unconscious. That was at the end of November. He remains there still, having undergone two surgeries, one to remove some of the skull to alleviate swelling in the brain, and the follow-up just last week to put the skull piece back. He'll have a long road to recovery, probably facing many months in a rehab facility, and it's still unclear whether he'll regain full motion on one side of his body and how deeply his mental facilities will be impacted. His girlfriend reports he can now stay awake for longer periods of time, so the news is encouraging, but to say this will not be life altering for my brother-in-law is also probably an absolute lie. And here Greg is stuck. This is his baby brother we're talking about. I knew from the very first that Greg was very protective and fond of him. The way he would talk about his then teenage brother was very paternal. This is killing Greg, and understandably so. But if he leaves, he loses his job. So, he's withdrawn into himself, and I've learned not to talk to him about it. Between us, the situation barely exists. I just made him angry every time I mentioned anything about it - whether it was because I couldn't find the right words or because there just aren't any, I'm not sure. On the surface he's okay on a daily basis, but we've been together a long time so trust me when I say that on the inside he's anything but. He needs to be there with his brother. We need the income. How to reconcile the two situations, well, we don't know the answer to that. Obviously. But it was definitely the ten ton elephant in the room all during Christmas. Of course, putting away the garland and the lights doesn't take that away, but all the holiday regalia just seemed sort of obscene at times in light of the circumstances.
So, as I finally get up on a ladder today to take the last of the exterior holiday crap down and finally shove that last box up into the attic with very good riddance, I wonder how exactly is it that we overcome the bad times and remain intact: as couples, as families, as individuals within our own selves? We've certainly had a lot of practice at it, but I'm not sure I really know the formula still. You just do it. One day at a time. In my case, it helps to have the normal surroundings back. Therefore, it is with great satisfaction that I say so long to the holidays. Do not let the door hit you on the way out!