Christmas 2003. I will never forget it. My parents and I decided to switch things up that year. Instead of opening gifts in the morning we woke up on Christmas morning and went to feed the homeless through the afternoon. Afterwards we went to dinner at The Ritz Carlton and finished off the night opening presents in our cozy home in a little village just outside of Las Vegas.
I told my parents that I did not want any presents that year. I told them to tell all of our family members not to buy me any gifts that year. But, there we were on Christmas night and there were gifts with my name on them. The one gift I remember most was a table lamp that looked somewhat like an opaque white mushroom-shaped UFO with a silver base and an alternating multicolored light bulb. I remember this gift because when I went on my rampage after opening my unwanted gifts, my mom wanted to keep this gift in particular. She still has it on the mantle above their fireplace in the living room to this day… forever standing as a reminder of this Christmas 2003.
Other than the UFO multicolored lamp I do not remember the other gifts very much because I did everything in my power to mentally detach from material goods that day.
I opened the presents….and then I BURST in to tears and stormed from the living room to my bedroom making sure to stomp hard enough so the wooden floors would boom and echo down the hallway. I was successful at this as I had mastered the art of using the wooden floors as a dramatic soundtrack to my tantrums throughout the years.
BOOM BOOM BOOM
When I reached my small, cotton candy pink bedroom, so cheerful that it glowed in to the dark hallway, I screamed “I need trash bags!” Within minutes my parents were at my bedroom doorway with a box of black trash bags in hand. They tossed the box on my bed and then stood just outside the doorway and watched on as I proceeded to bag half of my clothing and belongings along with the Christmas gifts I had just received.
It was at this point that my mother made the plea for the UFO light. I contemplated refusing her the light since she did not need it ( I know. I’m a brat) , but clearly she wanted it and was probably the one who had purchased it for me. How could I deny this woman a UFO light? Honestly NO ONE needs a multicolored UFO light, not even a homeless person…especially not a homeless person. I knew that I was gearing up to make a point and being vindictive would have taken away from my message so I spared the light and handed it to my mom. The UFO light is so big, and she is so little, that she had to beat hug it in order to carry it. Bear hugging the UFO light, she and my dad walked down the hallway back to the family room leaving me alone to detach from my belongings as I placed them in the trash bags…..1 bag of shoes, 2 bags of clothes, a bag of old stuffed animals, 3 bags of books……
When I finished bagging all of my belongings, I paused and took a deep breath taking a minute to make sure I had not bagged anything that I would regret giving away later. Once I had mentally assured myself I was not making any rash decisions that I would later regret, I switched the dramatics back on and proceeded to storm from my bedroom back down the hallway to the family room.
BOOM BOOM BOOM
As I approached the family room in the back of the house I could see the light from the UFO lamp glowing in the hallway, competing with the glow of my cotton candy pink bedroom.
When I reached the back room I saw the light sitting on the mantle.
I paused. Verbally silent. Physically still.
I stared at the UFO light as it glowed red…green…blue…yellow…orange…..
I disengaged just before it set me in a hypnotic trance.
I snapped back to reality where my parents were sitting side-by-side on the salmon colored couch in the living room, right next to the eclectically decorated Christmas tree. There is a step down in to the living room. Instead of stepping down into the room where my parents were I stood on top of the step like it was my stage….or my soap box. Similar to an actual stage, the step had bright red colored duct tape on the edge due to each of us and one too many guests face planting on the way in to the living room. Perfect. I had my stage. My parents were seated in the audience. It was go time.
I was on the edge.
I was impassioned.
I was impassioned because I had been overwhelmed by the stark contrast between serving food to the homeless that Christmas morning, and having creamy pumpkin soup served to me at the Ritz Carlton that same evening. I was torn between being upset that I received gifts when I had asked to not be given gifts, and knowing that I would have also been upset if my parents had actually obeyed my request and not gotten any gifts at all. I felt torn between being a hater of consumer greed and being a consumer.
I can tell you, now, that I was overwhelmed, then. I can tell you, now, why I was overwhelmed, then. I could not have told you, then, that I was overwhelmed or why I was overwhelmed. Then, all I could do was feel. I felt my heart so hot that my blood was boiling, my brain so hot that my thoughts were racing, resulting in a flood of steaming hot emotions building up pressure inside looking for a way out. The way out was tears. The way out was action. The way out was words.
I stood on my pseudo-stage in the family room and delivered my parents a powerful and tearful speech. I was simultaneously feeling and phrasing. I was simultaneously crying and speaking. I spoke about how uncomfortable I felt receiving a bunch of stuff I did not need when there were people who did not even have their basic needs met, such as food and clothing (guilt). I spoke about the good we could do by helping people rather than the holiday gift giving script (defiance). I spoke of wanting homeless people to have a good Christmas (love).
I was careful in my wording because I knew that at any second the script could be flipped on me.
I considered the very real possibility of my parents pointing out how many things I had that I did not need. I, as the consumer I am, wanted those things. I was walking a thin line. My parents are both professors so at any point this whole speech could be turned in to a conversation about what needs really are. What wants really are. What things I had that I said I needed which were actually just wants….. I wanted to avoid all of that philosophizing. Somehow I did avoid all of that philosophizing. I am guessing because it was Christmas day, I was having an emotional breakdown (breakthrough?) and I was trying to be socially conscious my parents were willing to let me have my moment rather than turn it in to mind-altering academic discourse. OR they did not flip the script on me, because they had no idea what I was saying, because I was crying while I was speaking. Have you ever tried to cry and speak at the same time? Words do not come out properly! So what I thought was a powerful and tearful speech may have been, to them, a tearful and unintelligible song and dance performed by their extravagantly emotive daughter.
So sweet of them to sit and make me feel listened to. Always willing to humor me, my parents had learned by this point to expect the unexpected around the holidays. To expect emotional extravagance.
I threw a lot of tantrums around the holidays when I was young. Other people thought I was a brat. My mom says that she always knew in her heart that there was something deeper going on. Adoptive parents have to know that.
I was, as my mom likes to put it, “a handful” around the holidays. Sometimes her hands weren’t big enough for my adoption issues, so she holds them in her arms instead. My adopted kid issues burst out in different forms each year but they are sure to always make an appearance. The holidays (Birthdays, Thanksgiving & Christmas in particular for me) trigger existential crises for many people, adopted kids included. Myself included.
I call them adopted kid issues but they aren’t really about adoption. Adopted kid issues are about being given up, not about being adopted thereafter. So, I am sure foster kids can also relate, people left behind by only one parent can relate, people with detached parents can relate. These holiday issues are really about that initial wound made by the people who created you, leaving you.
The holidays are finely skilled at reminding us of love and happiness and family joy, which in turn reminds us of loss and longing.
This particular Christmas my existential crisis was guilt ridden. The holidays were pouring hydrogen peroxide on my wound. It bubbled and stung, but in a way that was good and healing.
Why was my wound so affected by the contrast between serving Christmas dinner to the homeless and eating the delicious creamy pumpkin soup at the Ritz Carlton?
As I can understand it now, I spent that Christmas day with people who, as far as I could see, had been abandoned. It was not so much that they did not have things they needed that upset me, but rather that they did not have the love they needed or the family they needed. As far as I could see they had been left behind by friends, by family and by society. That is what really broke my heart. That is what picked at my wound.
I was left behind too, but then my parents found me and they love me and provide me with what I need. And at the same time, part of me still feels left behind and abandoned so I sympathized with these seemingly forgotten people. Looking at them made me think about what it would be like if my left behind part, my abandoned part, were my whole being….that pain would be unbearable. What if I had been left behind and never found? I knew I could not give these people everything they really needed. Not materially, not socially and not emotionally. I felt like the least I could do was give them whatever I possibly could…even if it was a multicolored UFO light…even if it was half of my own belongings, even if it was just a smile, eye contact and a holiday greeting as I plopped instant mashed potatoes on their tray.
My abandoned part makes me feel like an alien. Being alien can be lonely and I can only imagine how much more lonely it is when you are an alien living out on the streets, actually physically alienated from society. I had essentially spent the day with fellow aliens who were not given the resources I had been given when I landed on this planet. I wanted to make sure that I did whatever I could to make my fellow aliens feel as human as possible, because feeling human makes it a lot easier to live on this planet earth, with these other humans.
In my impassioned speech in the family room that Christmas evening, with the glow of the UFO light changing colors against the tears streaming down my face, red…green…blue…yellow…orange….. as I stood with my toes pressed against the red tape on my pseudo-stage in my parents’ living room, my words may have made it seem like my issue was with the divide between the haves and the have-nots. It may have seemed as if I wanted the have-nots, to have more. But my issue was not about a divide. It was about a connection. It was about my connection with those people that I spent the morning feeding from a buffet line. It was one alien hurting for a group of other aliens. It was one alien understanding what it is like to be uncomfortable living on another planet. It was my abandoned part recognizing the hurt of these abandoned people.
It was my alien part paying it forward. Doing for others what my parents, what adoption, did (and continues to do) for me. My parents did not make me non-alien. They loved me as their little alien child. My birth dad always says that when he and my birth mother met my parents they knew that they had such a capacity for love that they would have loved even an alien baby. Well, that is exactly what they have done. They even got me a UFO for Christmas, which they keep on the mantle in the family room!
My parents, adoption, did not prevent me from being hurt by being left behind. I was handed over to them with a gaping wound, but the beauty of them picking me up is that they could help me heal that wound and understand it. I was not left, as some are, with a gaping, bleeding wound, and no one around to hear my cry for help. My parents were there to hear me cry for help. They answered my cry for help. They saw my cry coming before I made a peep and they were prepared to help me deal with it. They loved me (and continue to love me), their wounded little alien baby and they helped me deal and heal. They helped me learn to turn my wounds into wisdom and my pain into power. They helped me learn to understand the melting pot of emotions that volcanically erupts around the holidays.
It is because of my parents with hearts big enough to love a wounded little alien baby that this particular Christmas, 2003, I had healed to the point that I was ready to start healing others. That I was ready to love other wounded aliens and help them just as my parents had helped me. To love them and all of their oddities and eccentricities and imperfections.
The holiday emotional eruption of Christmas 2003 when my emotions erupted into a storm of giveaways and an unintelligible impassioned speech about giving to people in need, was the year it really clicked in my mind what the holidays were about. That holidays were about love, about human kind, about helping one another and bringing as much joy to the world as possible, about reducing hurt, and about reducing pain. Not about fixing, but about embracing and LOVING without judgment.
You hear people say ” ’tis better to give than receive,” and that holidays are about more than just gifts. The meaning of those words finally sunk in that Christmas 2003. Once I genuinely understood the meaning of the holidays, I realized that a heart full of love can work wonders.
Yes I am adopted and I am passionate about adoption-related issues. The core of that is a passion about LOVE, a passion about humanity, a passion about quality of life, a passion about preventing hate, sadness, and feelings of abandonment. Those are the things that tie all of my causes together. That is where my fire comes from. EMPATHY. Not only for adoptees, but for humanity.
I LOVE the holiday season regardless of my yearly tears because it is a time of giving, a time of caring, a time when people remember to take care of the forgotten ones. When the forgotten ones are remembered. When the aliens among us are acknowledged. That is the magic of Holidays for me. Holidays are not about the gifts. Holidays are about something with actual intrinsic value – LOVE.
Love given in a gift or in a helping hand.
Isn’t that MAGICAL?! LOVE is the magic of the holiday season.
LOVE always and forever,