The holidays can be a strange time, and I have a history of getting especially panicky and engaging in bizarre behaviors, like the year I attempted to buy all of my holiday gifts in one fell swoop at Ross—a mountain of picture frames, scarves, games, belts, wallets, chocolates, growing so high in my cart that people literally stared with gaping mouths as I maniacally manuevered my sqeaky cart around them. My reasoning for this was because I had a problem: yes, I wanted to engage in this holiday tradition—be a capable person, who arrived at family functions with already wrapped gifts for everyone, labeled with little cards—have something to give so I could feel less awkward when I am given to and leave the holiday with some dignity in tact. And I did love that rare look on someone’s face when I actually managed to find something they liked. But the problem was that the actual act of shopping—bright department store lights, echoing floors, curious items grabbing my attention from all directions, made me anxious and compulsive and dizzy and weirdly thirsty, no matter how lovely the store was or how much water and snacks I had packed. There is a book about the Highly Sensitive Person in which the author describes shopping as a sensation overload—too much visual intake leading to overstimulation. I hope this means I am not alone in this problem.
Anyway, so trying to get all the mayhem over at once, by buying all of my holiday presents during a single trip to Ross, would have been weird enough (considering the large quantity I was purchasing—literally an overflowing shopping cart to cover my side of the family and my in-laws) but it gets even weirder. After cramming the mountain of stuff into my little car and muscling it all into our tiny apartment, my panic began to morph into a creeping sensation of disgust. What had I just done? Could we even afford this? What was all this crap anyway? Who was I pleasing? Had I become the ultimate blind consumer? The Diamond Rio song “Stuff” started playing on repeat in my brain: “It’s stuff, stuff, spreading like weeds. Dragging me under an endless sea of stuff, stuff. Are there aint no end? Gotta get a bigger place so I can move in more stuff.” These negative feelings only multiplied—I felt digust at myself for being so impulsive, mad at the holidays for making me act even weirder than usual, and angry at our consumeristic society that measured our worth on our ability to buy all this crap. These dark thoughts wrapped tighter and tighter around my neck, until finally, the next day, I mobilized—I threw every single giant plastic bag filled with stuff back into my car, drove to Ross, and, I kid you not, returned all the cheesy picture frames, the dominoes sets, the wool socks, the dangly earings, the bamboo coasters, every last crusty bag of Peppermint Bark. Literally, bags and bags and bags going through the checkout scanner, a receipt that could stretch to the end of the store and back. I thought I got some weird looks when I was buying the crap. But this was ridiculous. It took forever. “Beep, beep, beep,” as the kind, puzzled checkout lady scanned in each item, my face red with embarrassment, my hands, however, shaking with relief as I watched the items slowly disapear, one-by-one, out of my life forever. I must have looked like someone with serious problems. And I guess I was. Because who does that?!
Since then, I learned my lesson and discovered online shopping, which, if I do my search right, involves a much more humane, carefully categorized list on the computer screen—an orderly presenation of information that I can simply turn off with the press of a button, at any moment, if my mind begins to erupt into total choas. I did recently spend a little too much of my Saturday afternoon scrolling on my phone through “gag gifts” trying to maneuver the fine line between a present that is funny (like a T-shirt that says “Bad Mother F***er”) and one that is just gross (like a coffee mug that says “coffee makes me poop”). But at least I found myself laughing and not descending into dark places with Diamond Rio songs. And when I hit “confirm purchase” there was no self-loathing or deep digust for all of mankind. So that is definite progress.
Recently, we had some family over and made graham cracker gingebread houses with J for the first time, and I let him dip crackers in frosting and shovel Swedish Fish into his mouth, while his dad finished the crumbling house. I felt happy and peaceful and thought that maybe each year I am learning—that the holidays can be dealt with and I can manage my crazy self and discover ways to feel lighter and more joyful and accepting about the whole process. And J can laugh about “teeny-tiny Christmas trees” and ask the same questions over and over: “Why did we get a Christmas tree?” “What are stockings?” “Can I have a costume that shoots real fire?” and my pregant belly can wiggle after I eat way too many Hershey’s Kisses that were suppose to be for the chimney, and everything can feel ridiculous and crazy but in a good way.