Ahhh, the holidays.

They’re so—what?  Joyous? Hectic? Miserable? Confusing? As ever, it depends on your point of view. 

Here’s a little anecdote for you:

When I was in the third grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Montgomery. She had been our neighbor before we moved to our new house, and by the second day of school, I was clear that there were two of her. There was Mrs. Montgomery, our friendly neighbor with the delighted caw of laughter that was akin to some strange sea fowl; and there was Mrs. Montgomery the teacher, one year from retirement, who had ideas about the rigidity of education that she’d no doubt learned in teacher training back in—oh, let’s say the Victorian Era.

But right before Thanksgiving, she surprised us by giving us an assignment that could sort of be considered fun. We were to have a little contest to see who could find the most words using only the letters in the word “thanksgiving.”

Well, this was right up my alley. I was good with words, but not much else. I was a tubby, bespectacled little child who got on well with grown-ups and knew a lot of the answers at school and wasn’t afraid to say them out loud. Did this make me a peer-friend magnet? Uh, no.  I was also a sad person much of the time, trying to make sense of the covert alcoholism that, at that time, went on at home; and trying to figure out how to be noticed in a gaggle of 3 older sisters, all of whom excelled at music, school and everything else, it seemed. I was often called by these sisters’ names both at home and at school. In short, I was often a chubby mis-named little puddle of despair.

I decided that winning this contest would somehow turn all these things around. I was desperate to be good at something, to be noticed, to be seen.  I began to make my list: thanks, thank, giving, tank, stank, ink, think, etc., etc., etc.  My 16 year old sister, Gretchen, came by and I told her what I was doing. She looked at the word for all of 2.3 seconds and “Didja get Viking?” she asked. Sheesh! “Uh…not yet,” I told her, secretly vowing not to use goddamn Viking. How did she see that so fast? 

By the day before the contest, I had 83 words. I’d had to include Viking, despite my jealousy, because Bruce Ward, our neighbor down the street and one block over, also had 83 words. It crossed my mind to let him win—I was secretly in love with him and had been since kindergarten, but even then I knew that I wouldn’t look like I’d made a sacrifice. I’d just look like the fat girl with glasses who came in second. And I just had to win. If only I could try a little harder, look a little longer, there had to be one more word, there just had to be…and then, suddenly, there it was. Eureka! 

I went running into the kitchen where my dad was making dinner. I eyed the ubiquitous bourbon and seven sweating by the stove; expertly, I took in his state and judged him to be sober enough to talk to. “Daddy,” I said excitedly, “Did you know there’s shit in thanksgiving?”


…..So here’s the thing: I’ve known since I was 8 that there’s shit in Thanksgiving. It’s there in Christmas too, if you care to look at it like that.  But—this year, I’m going to do my best to focus on the other words. Thanks. Giving. Words like that.

Instead of getting into the sometimes overwhelming insanity of a modern Christmas, I’m going to remember the gifts of growing up in that brilliant and sometimes imperfect family. I’m going to be thankful for sobriety and the time given to me by the universe to heal my relationship with my parents while we’re all still here. I’m going to be happy to find gifts for my fiercely intelligent sisters. I'll aim for good words.

I’ll have to practice, no doubt. A lot of the time, my default setting is still one of world weary cynicism. So—before I get out of bed in the morning, I’ll find 3 things I’m grateful for. I'll use the amazing Susan Hyatt "dial it up" tool: that is, I'll think of three ways I want to feel that day; and check in with myself as much as I can as I'm Christmas shopping and working and being with my kids— to see if my thoughts are supporting what I'm wanting to feel.  This year for the holidays, I’ll take the enlightened Indrani Goradia's advice: I'll do everything I do out of love—and if I don’t love it, I won’t do it. I’ll aim for a shitless Christmas.  And I sure wish you the same.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 at 7:42 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Ahhh, the holidays.”

  1. Kelly Peters Says:

    Did you WIN!? Talk about a cliffhanger….
    If I don't love it I won't do it either…Great advice…Let's meet after the holiday for coffee, or DRINKS, whatever is needed, and compare notes on how well that worked out for us… I love this, so I will do it…and I loved this post…
    Here is to a shitless Christmas!
    Love you

  2. Heidi Says:

    Sonja, you are so awesome!  I love several things about this posting.  First, I love hearing this story (one of my favorites) from your point of view.  There was so much more going on than I knew!  Second, I love how you tie this anecdote into something relevant.  Very clever.  I also appreciate the expert spelling and word choice, and the readable yet concise style.  Your writing is so professional.  I'm proud to know you, and even better, be part of the same gene pool.
    Love, Heidi
    P.S.  I did NOT know there is shit in Christmas, so thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Sonja Says:

    Thank you so much for the compliments about writing! I’m re-discovering how much I like it. As to pointing out the shit in Christmas–always happy to help. Love you–

  4. Sonja Says:

    I did win! And I didn’t even have to use shit. Which I’m sure saved Mrs. Montgomery a heart attack and me some corporal punishment. I found “ain’t” and though I wasn’t sure she’d accept it, it being nasty slang and a contraction to boot, it was accepted. So–no shit was revealed. But the metaphor remains…
    Love you, too!

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