I was privileged to be in an exclusive screening of Julia Roberts’ latest movie, Ben is Back, thanks to @themomsnetwork, a network of moms mutually supporting each other in their entrepreneurial endeavors and motherhood. (Nope, not a sponsored post. I’m not influential. Just a shout-out.)
The movie was excellent, all about the trials of a mother dealing with an addict son and the many ways he lies and steals and abuses drugs. Julia turns in a star performance, though I admit I’m in awe of her very being. But I’m pretty sure I was able to see through my star-struckness to say it was a powerful performance.
But what the movie really made me think about was holidays and sadness.
Pivoting in this post, the movie reminded me of a particularly powerful moment of connection I shared with my mom within holiday melancholy.
During a visit home post-college, I was exhausted by my own frantic running around and lunching/drinking with old friends. Further, I was feeling down about my frustration with my career, place in life, etc. In a moment of calm, I said to my mom, “the older I get, the more the holidays just feel like a pain in the ass.”
She smirked in a way I’ve come to realize was aged wisdom, nodded and said, “Now you understand me just a bit more.”
Holidays were tough for my mom. She put her all into making them “perfect” for me. She didn’t practice mindfulness or yoga or remotely take a moment for herself. And she was burdened by losses like my father and grandparents. But she charged forward meeting holiday clichés and obligations – baking, visiting, Churching, primping, buying, wrapping, and all the things.
I could see she was at her wits’ end, but my mom was all about presenting to the world her Donna Reed best – always smiling for the public, hiding any hurt, living as the right people are supposed to live. She had healthy emotional breakdowns with her best friends, but I was taught we show happiness and control all the time.
And now I call bullshit on that. Because all any of us are really trying to do is get by as best we can. Especially at the holidays.
The holidays magnify all of our Martha Stewart freneticism. Social media feeds make me want to puke candy canes as I watch people out-Santa-fy each other with baking and decorating.
To be clear, I try to do a batch of Christmas cookies every year, but I struggle to enjoy the baking and be in the moment. I’m a little…I dunno. Distracted? Preoccupied with the clean-up? Policing the licking of spoons and stealing cookies.
And over all, with the holidays, I fret about still living my life, pursuing stuff AND buying presents we shouldn’t afford and hoping we’ve done enough to create magic for my kids.
And add to that the sense of loss that many of us (like me) feel, having lost parents and family and friends to death, I don’t always feel merry.
And I’m lucky to be in an age where I don’t feel like I have to pretend I’m sweating sweetness through the season.
And I have full sympathy for those further depressed by all the frivolity.
Julia’s (cuz we’re on a first-name basis) Ben is Back isn’t really about depression and holidays, but my takeaway was how the holidays are all that much more stressful for all of us.
And is it necessary? Must we force ourselves to feign cheer?
Well, if we didn’t have a change of seasons or emotional roller coasters and a corporate color palate change, well then seriously…how boring a world it would be.
The highs and the lows give us texture in our lives. I just hope all of us could try to avoid pretending to be so high when we all need to commiserate more often in our lows.
That’s what life’s about and what we’re all trying to do most of the time: just get by. It’s important that we do not feel alone.