no.roots.

no.roots.

Traditions are held up as the gold standard of society. People described as traditional often evoke images of stoic, genuine, pure people. Immune to corruption. Immune to the progression of society. Or at least, the unsavory parts of it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of this. I come from a long line of traditionalists. Family on all branches of my tree have shaped and molded me through traditions that I’d never trade for anything else in the world.

But there’s something seductive and freeing about the thought of having no roots, isn’t there? Something that says, “You can do whatever you want and no one will care.” It plucks free the guilt like a popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth. If you want to go on a cruise for Christmas, you can do that. If you want to bake cookies and go caroling through your neighborhood, you can do that. No one expects any certain behavior from you if you have no roots.

So I’d be lying if I said I never thought about what it would be like to not have such tethered roots, especially during the holidays. The bustle and busyness of it all, the way we’re expected to do too much with too little, the unrealistic bar to which we’re all held by others or maybe only by ourselves, can get exhausting year after year. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to say, “Yes, Tradition. We see you. But we’re going to sit this one out so we don’t hurt ourselves irreparably for what’s to come later.”

For some of us, the exhaustion builds over time. We know it’s coming. We know that it’s been years since the last breakdown and we’re due for another. We know that the memories of those who are no longer with us are too heavy this year and are bound to break our thread-bare sanity when they’re dropped, one-by-one, throughout the holiday season.

Other times the exhaustion comes out of nowhere, blindsiding us with its strength, the way it so effortlessly and viciously knocks us off-balance. We have to stop. Catch our breaths. Remember that traditions are important, but they’re not everything. Sometimes, we have to be okay with the knowledge that others are carrying the traditions on in our stead, holding the torch until we can catch up again.

And that’s okay.

Last year, for me, was a no-roots type of holiday season. Everything was wrong. I wished we could go for a cruise and never come back. I wished no one expected anything of me at all. Even this past Thanksgiving, I still felt it. That hole where tradition should be. A hole that wouldn’t be there at all if no one had started the traditions in the first place.

Then yesterday was another Christmas. And some parts of the day were missing major players. Some sections of my day would’ve been made infinitely better by a brother or cousin or nephew. Some parts of my day could’ve been cheerier or lighter. I could’ve been cheerier or lighter. I could’ve gotten more done, baked more cookies, addressed Christmas cards, made more homemade gifts, been more thoughtful and present.

But I didn’t.

Not gonna lie, I wasn’t feeling much like hitting our last stop of the Christmas Day. I was tired. I was missing people. I felt like I hadn’t done enough, hadn’t settled into tradition enough this year. I had decided that maybe this was just going to be my new normal, and that decision covered me in a sadness I thought unshakeable.

And then I got to “the hall.”

The hall for those who aren’t aware, is a VFW Hall where my mom’s side of the family meets for Christmas. It’s tradition, since I was little. I have fond memories of running around the VFW with my cousins, singing Christmas songs and opening presents. Watching my uncle balance chairs and canes and books and anything we could find on his chin. Being able to skate or bike inside. The hall was a Christmas haven for us kids. We could do anything, it seemd.

Eighty of us were there this year. I know, because my aunt makes us count off before we can eat. Tradition. There were so many of my cousins present, cousins I see only once a year. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus, something we’ve done in the past, but had neglected to do last year. At the end of the night we went through old treasures of our grandma’s, on a table marked “Grab-Bag.” Another tradition that had died out, but recently came roaring back. This year we had an entire jar of old buttons and pins on the table. My grandmother’s. We went through them all, my cousins and me–the cousins who used to skate and bike and build with me but who now have kids of their own to do these things in their stead–laughing and remarking about the significance of each of the buttons. Demanding someone take a pin that suited them even if we wanted it too. Running our fingers over the sayings that were our roots. These ideas and sayings that belonged to the head Root-Planter who helped start it all.

I read each one. And I thought, “You know what? Maybe having roots isn’t such a bad thing, after all.”

cook.book.

cook.book.

Before the invention of the internet, people had to find recipes in magazines and newspapers, on the backs of boxes and plastic wrappers and jars, in cookbooks and handwritten on recipe cards. There was no Pinterest. There was no Google. If you lost that scrap of paper your grandma had scratched her wisdom on, you were screwed forever.

Around Thanksgiving, I tried to make my mom’s pumpkin bread. But I couldn’t find the recipe, it was no doubt already packed up in a box, in preparation for our impending move. I scoured the internet, but couldn’t find anything that looked right. Finally, I settled on one that seemed close enough. But it wasn’t. Pumpkin bread was ruined. I didn’t even attempt fudge.

Tonight, we unearthed the box of recipes in our new kitchen and took our time going through some of them. Most of them were from my mom’s house, saved from the dumpster after she died. We sifted through the scraps, the thin paper and plastic ripped or carefully cut from the various media my mother relied upon for information of the domestic sort. We found handwritten recipes stuffed into books, dog-eared pages for meals she wanted to make at some point. Carefully folded pieces of paper containing my grandmother’s sweet dough concoction. All of it causing a swell of bittersweet goodness in my chest. The pumpkin bread recipe! The fudge! It was all here for me to make at Christmas, scrawled in Mom’s perfect handwriting.

And there were other recipes, too. For casseroles and pies, spicy jerk chicken and pasta salads. Fancy appetizers and tarts. Meals and desserts she lovingly sought out and saved for her family.

All I could think, as we put the books on their new shelves where we can always find them from now on, was, “My mom never made any of this shit.”

So I guess I, here from the Pinterest generation, am not so different from my mother after all.

 

trigger.warning.

sunset

 

Grief is fluid. Yeah, there are five stages of it, everyone who has taken Psych 101 knows that. But what they don’t know, if they’ve never experienced it, is that sometimes the stages melt into each other, dissolve, disappear for a while, then reemerge and start all over again.

The word trigger has gotten a bad rap lately–or maybe it’s just been overused to the point of obscurity–but it’s true that there are things in a grieving person’s day that can cause her to get tripped up, freeze her in place, make her wonder why she’s not been grieving continuously and needed a reminder of her loss.

I have said many times that one of the hardest things to deal with after my mom died, was never seeing her name/number pop up on my phone again. I missed hearing the phone ring, looking at it, and seeing MOM flashing on the screen. Seeing her number. For a long time after she died, I couldn’t delete her number from my contacts. I liked scrolling through and seeing her there. She only disappeared when I bought a new phone and couldn’t bring myself to put her into it, knowing how pointless it was.

Another thing I missed was getting emails from my mom. When I was in college, before the age of texting, she would email me throughout the day with important information I might need to know. Upcoming events at home. News about my brothers. I never deleted any of them, but at some point, I did get a new email address and started using that more frequently. At some point, I must have let the new email transfer all my old contacts from the old email… and then allowed LinkedIn to scour my contacts for people to connect with while job searching… because yesterday, as I was going through my new notifications, the website presented me with people I should invite to join LinkedIn. And there she was, my mom. Her email address.

I hadn’t seen it in years.

And I know that all I would have to do, to never feel that lump in my throat and dramatic thump in my chest, is send the invite knowing no one will ever respond. Or delete her, finally, from my contacts.

It would make the trigger go away.

But the thing about triggers, is that sometimes you need them. And sometimes they remind you to slow down and sometimes the hurt is necessary and beneficial even if it’s unwelcome.

Sometimes, you can’t feel better until you feel worse.