Happy(ish) Holidays

A quick note to my friends and readers: thank you so much for your kind interest and patience. Many of you have written to ask when I’ll have something new for you to read (which is UNBELIEVABLY flattering and just the tiniest bit stress-inducing). I am working hard on both the re-publication of The Marriage Pact series with Thomas Dunne/SMP and on a new project that should be available digitally in 2015. To that end and with a few other December doings, this will likely be my last blog of 2014. Happy (really) Holidays! – MJP

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. For all the gentiles looking at the calendar and thinking that I’m losing my mind, Jewish holidays always start the night before the first day. It’s confusing, I know. Just go with it. Sunrise, sunset…

Let’s do this thing. #Hanukkah2014 #wepassedoverboardalongtimeago

A photo posted by Manda Pullen (@mjpullenauthor) on

Fozzie and especially Skywalker are going mad, mad, mad with anticipation. I could hardly keep them in their seats at breakfast this morning and away from the cache of presents we have all lined up for each of the eight nights. I’m just going to go ahead and confess that I gave in to the materialism of the season a little bit this year, lured in by Black Friday discounts and fueled by the fact that it’s kind of fun when your babies get old enough to have special things they actually care about. I just want to give them a little bit everything they love, you know? Is that so wrong?

Well, yeah, it is a little bit. I’m going to try to rein it in next year, I swear.

The other piece of it for me is, that without all the joy and excitement of the kids and the fun gatherings with family and friends, this time of year often makes me incredibly sad. I miss my parents horribly. I miss my mom’s cranberry bread and the fact that she always gave us more than she could afford to give (see? I come by it honestly). I even miss the awkward Christmases we had with my Dad in the later years when he didn’t bother putting up a tree and his gifts were usually in check form. He’d say something like, “Here. Get your car battery replaced.” Love you, too, Dad.  And the long, crisp walks into the hinterlands of the farm that was in our family from 1896 and that I very reluctantly had to sell two years ago.

It’s crazy. I miss the dysfunctional way my mom was never on speaking terms with all of her siblings at the same time, and how being back in the little South Georgia town where she experienced so much trauma as a child sometimes caused her to come unhinged. She was often hospitalized by January or February as a result, but we kept going back, year after year. Because that is what families do, dammit. I miss how my Dad’s side of the family were always drunk on Wild Turkey and Coca Cola by one in the afternoon, chain smoking with the windows closed, and openly criticizing my mom and her family, in between racist jokes and gossip about the neighbors.

I miss the way both grandmothers would criticize my weight in one breath and offer me chocolate cake or pecan pie in the next. And they’d just leave it sitting out. Tins and tins of fudge and cookies and homemade pound cake, just sitting on the sideboards in case (I suppose) fifty holiday revelers just happened by the house demanding a sugar fix. But I wasn’t supposed to touch it because everyone was noticing aloud that I had cellulite at only sixteen. And there was literally NOTHING ELSE TO DO but eat, unless you like fishing in forty degree weather or watching barely visible college football through a haze of static in a room that was 95 degrees all the time. And all I could think during every minute of it was, “I bet my friends are having way more fun than I am right now.”

It’s funny how now that my family is mostly gone — parents, grandparents, many aunts and uncles all dead, and my brother very distant in every sense of the word — I’ve become nostalgic for some of the most miserable hours of my life. Because I loved those people, my parents especially, despite their flaws and foibles and occasional cruelty. I don’t long for the life I had then, feeling powerless and adrift on a sea of dysfunction. In many ways I am just grateful that I survived (mostly) with my sanity intact (mostly). But I am still grieving, I guess, that they didn’t survive it with me.  I want to bring my family into the life I have today, to prove to them as I have eventually proven to myself that it is okay to be happy and loved and flexible and kind to one another. That forgiveness and love and light can all be part of daily life, beyond the forced proximity of the December holidays.

We do have cause for joy and gratitude this year. I mean, aside the fact that you’re always supposed to feel joy and gratitude and yadda, yadda, yadda. Things improved a lot for me and my family this year after several VERY hard years previous. I’m hoping we will continue to find peace and meaning and balance in 2015.

As we light the Hanukkah lights this season, I will honor my complicated family background with a few symbolic gestures: you’ll notice the stockings in the background of the picture above; and I may even attempt that cranberry bread myself. But my focus is mostly on making my family’s legacy more positive through the lives and love and memories of our children. I will treasure what little of my family remains and the warm embrace of Hubs’ family, who are wonderful and gracious and treat me like one of their own. I’ve realized that at some point, you have to stop looking back and turn toward the future. You have to take what is good with you, and leave the rest in the dust.

There are so many people in my circles who are struggling this season. People trapped in dysfunctional families or even in abusive relationships who cannot see a way out and don’t know where to turn. Friends who have suffered tremendous losses: jobs, parents, grandparents and most devastatingly, children. Friends overwhelmed by health problems of their own or who are caring for others. People going through their first holiday season far from home, or after a divorce or the loss of someone close to them. It’s amazing how hollow the season of joy can feel when there is an empty place at your table, or when you are simply eating alone.

Even though it envelopes a wide swath of celebrations and well-wishes, “Happy Holidays” seems inadequate in the face of so much sadness and grief. It’s not enough to fill the empty spaces so many of us feel this time of year. But flimsy though it is, it’s what I have to offer (well, that and maybe some burnt latkes and cookies shaped vaguely like menorahs).

So: Happy Holidays.

May your hurts heal, and your pain grow less each day. May your blessings deepen and swell around you. May you find the family you need by being a light in the darkness of others. May your cookies look and taste sort of like the ones in the magazine. May your holiday novels all have satisfying endings. While I’m at it, I also wish you indulgence without regret, peace on earth, and the best parking space at the mall.

See you in 2015, lovies!

~Manda

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I’m M.J. (Manda) Pullen, an author and mom in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I blog about writing, publishing, motherhood, health, psychology and whatever else strikes me in the moment. Like construction trailers.

My books include The Marriage Pact series, a trilogy of funny, semi-realistic Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novels coming Fall 2015 from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press in association with Macmillan Entertainment. If you enjoyed this entry, please follow along or join my email list.  Thanks for reading!

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is an author and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Find her Romantic Comedies, including THE MARRIAGE PACT trilogy, in bookstores everywhere; and the "Mom-Com" EVERY OTHER SATURDAY for digital readers.

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