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Holidays: A season for grown-ups

Pike Place Market during the holidays Credit: Katie Mollon/Flickr

Perhaps you’ve noticed, these days we tend to think of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza and New Year’s as one thing, one season (or perhaps one force-field) “THE HOLIDAYS.”

I heard someone say, the other day, that the holidays actually begin with Halloween. Mercy!

There are those, though I’ve not run into many of this tribe lately, who just cannot wait for the holidays. From pumpkin carving to mistletoe to “Auld Lang Syne,” they are all in. There can’t be enough of it. They live for it and love it. The holidays are the cresting wave they catch and ride with unabated joy. God bless 'em.

At the other extreme, there are those who devoutly wish they would be transported up, up and away — lifted out of and beyond the whole holiday thing. To re-enter earth’s atmosphere again on Jan. 6 (the 12th and final day of Christmas), having been spared the entire season, would be just fine, thanks very much. For these, the holidays are not the wave you catch, but the wave that crashes into and over you, engulfing you, leaving you a choking, gasping-for-air mess. God bless them, too.

Most of us live somewhere between the “all-in’s” and the “please, take me out’s.”

One sure theme of the holidays, perhaps especially Christmas is, “It’s for the children.” Truth in that. Who can forget counting the days until the day, or the lying awake in the early hours on Christmas morning waiting to spring from bed? “It’s for the kids,” we’re agreed, “and for all those who are still children at heart.”

I’ve come to a different take on it, on the holidays. I’ve come to think it’s for grown-ups, or perhaps, a time to be in touch with our inner grown-up.

If we think the holidays are for kids, and a time for all of us to be a kid again, we might want to remember that a child is a complex being. There is the loving, enchanted child who can be lost in the lights, color and music, an angelic look of wonder and joy on their face. And there is another child, the one who is pretty sure their sibling got more than their fair share, who screams in rage and stomps off to hide in the closet.

The holidays may visit us with a bit of child No. 1, but they may also catapult us into child No. 2. One minute we are going along just fine, and another we have turned into a raging 8-year-old (never mind that our actual age may be closer to 48). There are so many triggers: Not getting the right gift. Getting the right gift. Not being invited. Being invited. Home as we remember it. Home as we remember it.

If “being a child again” can be a dream, it can also be a nightmare. Suddenly, we are that unhappy 5-year-old again. Who is he? Why am I acting like that? Real five-year-olds have an excuse. They are 5. You’re not. You are 55.

The holidays, in short, are charged. Minefields of memory, they can zap you out of your right mind in an instant. Edens of expectation, they can set you for a fall you never saw coming.  As such, it’s a good time to be a grown-up.

What does that mean? Being a grown-up doesn’t mean being perfect (another specter of the holidays — perfection!). But being a grown-up does mean being responsible for your own life, your own well-being and your own happiness. Children get to be taken care of. That’s the nature of being a kid. Adults are people who take care of themselves.

Which leads us to “self-care.” I used to despise the term “self-care.” It sounded so lame, so psycho-babble, so pathetic. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve (to use a religious word) “repented,” which means doing-a-180.

What is good self-care? Does it mean treating yourself to a gingerbread latte with whipped cream or does it mean hitting the gym? Does self-care mean saying “yes” to the invitation to a party or does it mean spending some time alone? None of knows the specifics of good self-care for another. But we do know the outcome: You are present, paying attention and responsible for your self and your happiness.

Sometimes self-care gets confused with self-indulgence. To me it’s closer to self-awareness. It is being aware of and honest with myself about what is going on with me. It is cutting myself some slack, being compassionate not just with others (that is a good thing, too) but being compassionate with myself as well.

So, as we prepare to enter into the holiday season, my thought is that if it is a season for kids, it is also a season for grown-ups. It’s a season for grown-ups like you and me to show up and behave like grown-ups, both for the sake of the kids and for our own sake.

Happy Holidays!

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