Friday, December 18, 2009

Angel Face

My kid sister loved the shit out of Christmas. You think you know people who love the holidays and get all nutty excited? Well you don't. They are probably half asleep and drooling compared to my sister and I miss her this time of year more than any other.

Because of having Down syndrome my sister never matured intellectually beyond the age of 3 or 4. So it was like living with a very little kid for 15 years. Most children grow up and stop believing in Santa Claus. They become sullen, sour and insolent teenagers and then move on to become bitter, jaded, cynical adults (or was that just me?) about everything but especially so around the holidays. But my sister didn't. She stayed a little kid on the inside and she believed in all of it.

*As a side note, in very tiny font that I'm putting at the top of this post rather than the bottom, before I dig into my sappy sister holiday post I would just like to say that although I have written posts about my little sister before I always skirted around terminology and today I really struggled up there trying to find the right words to use. My family and everyone we knew in the special needs community used to just say "mentally retarded", but I've been out of it for awhile and now am given to understand that it's not always considered politically correct, although I used to belong to an organization called ARC which stands for "Aid Retarded Citizens" - it's still called that - so I'm confused now. Anyhoo... I would just like to let anyone reading this know how much I despise the word "retard". It's never funny to me. I Hate it with a capital HATE. Even when you change the emphasis like in the movie The Hangover (which I enjoyed very much by the way ) and say "re-tard" it still sets my teeth on edge. I think that anyone that uses the term "retard" should be forced to spend the afternoon volunteering at a group home for mentally challenged adults (which you can do through an organization like ARC) with varying degrees of special needs. Get to know some of these fearless, joy-filled and loving people and use the word "retard" after that. I dare you. Frankly I think the world would be a better place altogether if everyone spent some time with people who are mentally challenged or have special needs - we all have a lot to learn from each other. Using the word "retard", no matter what the context, degrades people who are mentally retarded or whatever term you care to use. Thanks for listening. Carry on...

My sister believed in Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and pixie dust, the Easter Bunny, Batman, Superman, Isis and Wonderwoman. She believed in Mork from Ork, Scooby Doo and the Fonz. But she lived year round talking about and anticipating Christmas and Santa Claus. She believed that a bunch of reindeer flew all the way to our house and landed on our roof without ever pooping (when you grow up around animals you think about these things and you never hear about anyone getting pelted with dung falling from the sky and our dad never had to hose off the roof on Christmas morning) and that a jolly fat man in a red suit let himself in with a key left under the mat on the front porch (we didn't' have a fireplace until later). She believed it all. And not just in a quiet wishful way, but in a jumping up and down, shouting out loud to anyone who would listen kind of way.

It wasn't the kind of enthusiasm you see every day is what I'm saying.

Right before Thanksgiving one year there was a guy wearing a Santa suit and ringing a bell in front of a bucket outside of the K-Mart in our town, he wasn't even wearing a beard or anything, not even trying to look like Santa (other than the suit I guess) and my sister ran towards him, arms open and squealing with delight, looking almost like those teenage girls you see in old news footage grabbing their faces and screaming like lunatics over the Beatles. It was a little embarrassing but once we peeled her off of him he said it was the best thing that had happened to him all week and I don't think he meant it in a perverted way at all because the man had tears in his eyes and seemed pretty overwhelmed.

Nobody in my family ever made any effort to tamp down her excitement either. No, quite the contrary, we would build it all up. My mom let my sister mark off the calendar every day, counting down till Christmas starting on my birthday in July, so that by the time her birthday arrived on December 20th, she was nearly apoplectic and bursting into flames from all the hype. Not to say that it also wasn't an ongoing lesson to help her learn about counting and dates and seasons and such, but a mostly the lessons ended with, "and that means it's only this many days till Christmas!"

You might be able to tell by looking at the picture at the top of this post that my mom also let my sister be in charge of most of the tree trimming. That's our old mashed up fake tree that I mentioned in my previous post and I love how all of the ornaments are right in the middle. I would also like to point out the vomit-y blue and green shag carpeting that my mother actually had installed - on purpose - when we moved into that house.

We would get her so worked up that by the time Christmas Eve finally rolled around my sister was bloody freaking exhausted and getting her to go to sleep was never the problem you might have thought it would be.

After we went to bed my dad would eat all of the cookies she'd left out for Santa except for one that he would leave behind with just one bite taken out. My mom would make sure that some of her toys were left unwrapped and set up to look as if someone had been playing with them already, like a dollhouse all set up or one time a new record player was left turned on with a record spinning on it all night (needle off of course), so that it looked like Santa had just left before he got caught in the act of playing with her stuff.

Maybe lots of families do these kinds of things. I hope you'll feel free to tell me about some of the goofy stuff your family did or does in the comments. My parents used to do it for me too when I was little enough to still believe, but they got to continue to do it for a very long time afterwards and I think that must be pretty special. Eventually I got involved in it too. I was all quiet and cool at school (I believe I mentioned something earlier about sullen and sour), but at home I would do anything to get my sister started. Not that it took much more than asking her how many days till Santa comes? or singing carols at the top of my lungs to get her to start squealing.

Have I ever mentioned that we were not Christians? I'm not sure how relevant that is to my story here, but we weren't anything. Maybe you could say agnostic, but my mom never wanted to put a label on it. We ended up celebrating Christmas in a non-Christ kind of way. We never talked about Jesus, but we had a tree and presents appeared under it on Christmas morning. She put up mistletoe, served eggnog and baked cookies.

I think my mom really liked Christmas and after she left her church continued to celebrate it in ways that incorporated her own favorite things about the holiday without having to think about or explain the religious portion of it to me and maybe also to herself, since she stopped putting out the gorgeous hand painted porcelain nativity set that she had inherited from her grandmother when I got old enough to start trying to apply logic to the story and began asking the tough questions about Christmas. If Joseph isn't Jesus real daddy then was Mary married to someone else before Joseph and got a divorce like the Shapiros?

All of our holiday fervor was fueled by our love for my sister and for me it still is. I love Christmas. There I said it. Even though she's gone now and Christmas will never be the same without her, and surly as I've become, I've managed to hang onto a bit of that joy that was always in the air around her and hope that you and the people you love, whether you believe in Jesus, Santa or Mork from Ork, can feel it too.

Merry Christmas.

If you're interested, here are links to some of my other posts featuring my little sister (they aren't quite as sappy as this one):

Cat-like Gag Reflexes

I'm Sure Your Family Is Weird Too

Deep Thoughts

Scare Tactics for Teens


BeckEye said...

That's a sweet post and a nice Christmas-time remembrance of your sister.

I'm getting much sappier in my old age. I get very misty when I think about Santa Claus because I try to still believe in him, even though I know he doesn't exist. But the world is such a better place when you still believe he does. I sat and cried the other night watching "Year Without a Santa Claus" during one of my favorite songs, "I Believe in Santa Claus," because the message is just so sweet. Here are the lyrics:

I believe in Santa Claus
Like I believe in love
I believe in Santa Claus
And everything he does
There's no question in my mind
That he does exist
Just like love I know he's there
Waiting to be missed

I believe in Santa Claus
But there was a time
I thought I had grown to old
For such a childish rhyme
He became a dream to me
Till one Christmas night
Someone stood beside my bed
With a beard of white
"So you're too old for Santa Claus"?
He said with a smile
Then you're too old for all the things
That make a life worth while
For what is happiness but dreams
and do they all come true
Look at me and tell me, son
What is real to you?

Just believe in Santa Claus
Like you believe in love
Just believe in Santa Claus
And everything he does
Wipe that question from your mind
Yes, he does exist
Just like love you knows he's there
Waiting to be missed
Just like love I know he's there
Waiting to be be missed

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Beckye - oh god woman those lyrics are killing me - I'm all misted up now too (seriously.) I remember being little and thinking I heard sleigh bells on Christmas Eve and just being crazy with anticipation. I still love Santa Claus and all those old Christmas specials on TV and Christmas carols and colorful lights, and wrapping presents and baking cookies...

Churlita said...

I like Christmas now that I have kids. When I was younger, I either spent it by myself or with someone else's family who seemed to pity me. Gross.

I will say, my sister worked for a job training program and said using the word retarded is fine if you're talking about someone who is retarded. But using it to describe someone or something you think is stupid is derogatory and wrong.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Churlita - Christmas is the one time of year that I'm even just a little bit prone to wishing I had a kid.

Like you say, I always thought using the word "retarded" was fine as long as you were speaking about someone who actually is but recently I used it (in the correct context) and someone tsk'ed and shamed me. All the blood drained out of my face and I began to doubt my correctness. Maybe people have taken the correctness issue with the word too far? Either way I felt like the last person who should be corrected for using the word, but it still made me wonder.

SkylersDad said...

Thank you so much for this post, and for sharing your hate for the word retard. I also can't stand it.

I tried to add something below here, but it is too long, so I will post it myself this weekend.

Anonymous said...

You know, Santa was magical to me when I was little and the excitement was tangible at Christmas too, so I'm envious that your sister got to experience that for longer than the rest of us.

I also will stop using the word 'retarded' from now on, not that I use it a lot, but still, I do occasionally to describe something that's stupid, and now I feel bad, because you're right.

I love your stories about your sister.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Skydad - I think it probably resonates with a lot of people, but I never say anything and I'm glad I finally did. I look forward to reading your post.

Veg - I don't ever want you to feel bad - but I'm glad to give the opportunity to be even MORE creative and hilarious than you already are when hurling insults about stupid people. Can't wait to see what you come up with my dear.

Chris said...

I like these posts... (Sorry, I was going to say something profound, but my word verification is "lapses," which immediately caused, well, a lapse.)

My wife worked for years with heroine addicts on the streets in Berlin, until the violence got too bad. Then she worked with the mentally ill population here in the U.S. Now she works with the intellectually challenged, helping them and their families find the resources they need, and she loves it! She says they're the most gentle, loving spirits...

Thank you for writing this post -- I'm gonna make sure to share it with my wife.

CDP said...

I love your posts about your sister.

i am playing outside said...

Merry Christmas to you too, LunchLady! :)

I love Christmas too. I always have. Its always been a pretty big deal in my family, and I'm definitely the type of person to love tradition, and seeing the look on someone's face when I give them something they love. So I love Christmas :D

Jon said...

The R-word has officially been dropped from my vocabulary. I'm a changed man, like that guy who was visited by all those ghosts on Christmas Eve. What was his name again? Scrooge McDuck?

Del-V said...

I have a special needs sister also and I never got the point of the ARC's name either. But whatever... they do great work and help her so much.

Merry Christmas!

Frenchie said...

Wonderful post. :-)