Friday, December 16, 2011

Beating Back the Shadows

I feel that with a title like this, this post should be accompanied by some pseudo-scary music, bum, bum, bum!

I have decided that December is really not my favorite month of the year.  When I was still a student, I loved it, because it was the month of Christmas vacation and winter break which meant parties, hanging out with friends and being harmoniously free from studies and obligations.  In university I loved winter break because it meant coming home and catching up with high school friends and trying to cram in 6 months of contact in one month.  Loads of fun, loads going on, lots of activities.

You can say that I am a true generation X'er.  Born after the baby boom, I had the textbook prolonged adolescence, due to my not having any direction at all in college the first time around and being a prisoner of my many insecurities.  I ended up dropping out in my junior year after about a year of blowing off more classes than I attended.  I left and decided to move to Florida and ended up going to Tampa, where a close friend of mine from summer camp lived, and she was going through a similar thing so I went in search of the sun and fun and a lifestyle which was basically Christmas break all the time.  Loads of fun and parties, the only obligation being earning enough money to pay for it.  It was a lot of fun but mostly a numb, empty life.  Plus it seemed that no matter how many parties I went to or how much I tried to block out my insecurities through a hedonistic lifestyle, they still creeped in.   I lived in Tampa for three years before I decided to go back to Pittsburgh and go back to school and had the courage to face growing up.  I finished my Bachelor's degree and decided to go on for a Master's and while I was a much more serious student the second time around, I still lived and embraced the life of a student.  My dad supported me financially and I worked part time although that was mostly for fun and  to have extra money for shopping and goofing off.   I was 31 by the time I had gotten my first real job, after finishing my studies, and making the move to Israel.  Most of my friends from high school were already working, married and starting families, the living from school break to school break lifestyle far behind them.    But for me, although I had a job and obligations in Israel, it was still just-me as a single professional woman and I was still another half a decade from marriage, family and the obligations that truly usher you into adulthood.  It was not quite the same as being a student, but still, it was a pretty charmed life.

Now though, as a full fledged adult, I have come to truly dislike December.

I know that many people love December as it is the culmination of the holiday season and full of family, fun, parties, Christmas, Hanukkah, what-have-you.  And while I do enjoy the holidays I really don't like December.  Maybe part of it is just the switch from childhood to adulthood, that your carefree youth is something of the past instead of the present.

In the Netherlands, December by far has the shortest days of the year.  That is of course true all over the northern hemisphere but you feel it in the Netherlands much more than I ever did in the US in Israel.  Sure, the days are also shorter there, but you still a good 9-10 hours of daylight.  In the Netherlands, you literally only get about 6-7 hours of daylight per day in December and most of that daylight is foggy, wet, cold.  It's kind of depressing.  I am a homebody at heart and can happily stay home without going someplace for days on end.  But I hate when there is no sun, where I can't go outside with Maya for a little bit each day or walk without getting sopping wet.  We are a week from winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year, this morning it got light at 9.30 and will start getting dark around 3.  It's crappy.

I do love Hanukkah though, always did and we do celebrate it, we light the Menorah every night, give Maya small, meaningful gifts and usually have friends and family over for Latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganiyot (donuts) which are traditional fare to mark Hanukkah.  I do love doing this but it is always with Leo's family and while we always have a good time, I miss my family a lot at Hanukkah.  Hanukkah as a kid was always a lot of fun in our family.  We always gathered at my grandparents who let us order gifts from the Sears catalog (I know it sounds lame now, but trust me in the 1970's that was freakin' cool) and we would get together at my grandparents house and open our completely-over-the-top gifts, stuff totally impractical which our parents would never waste money on.  I got soda fountain one year, cotton candy maker, my cousin had an ice rink and tons of other stuff which usually broke after one or two days and then were stored in the attic.  But it was loads of fun, everybody was happy and mostly we were all together.  As much as I enjoy celebrating Hanukkah with Maya, Leo and his family, part of me is always wistful for Hanukkah at our grandparents' house in Washington, PA which lives now only in mind's eye.

Also December has a lot of emotional milestones for me.  My mom died in December and my dad's birthday is in December as is my grandmother's.  They are just on my mind a lot and being the end of the year and all December is a taking stock kind of month so I just  miss them more in December.  Also this year we have had a lot of little things going on, some health issues in our family, none of them truly serious thankfully but each requiring time and zapping energy already in a month where the stores are low.

So, mostly, I'd like to just skip over December.  January is still cold and wet but by February the days already get a tad longer and even though the weather still sucks, by the end of the month usually the crocuses bloom which tell me that spring is coming and brighter days (both literally and figuratively) are ahead.

One thing I am grateful for is that I am the type of person that can go through a low period and not totally decompensate.  I can keep my perspective even when things get bleak.  I can look at a low period as exactly what it is, a period in time rather than paint my whole life and future with a black paintbrush, that if I sit and wait it out, I know it will pass.  I can lose myself in tv or movies and I try to focus on what is good in my life and when all else fails I grab onto my little girl and let her beautiful spirit envelop me and that always helps.  And mostly I just know that while my life is not perfect, it is good and it is what I make of it.  I can choose to let December completely engulf me or I can just wait until it passes.  Thankfully I am the kind of person that chooses the second option.

So this year, like always I am a little bit blue but next week is Hanukkah and I am hopeful that as we and Jews all over the world again commemorate that miracle from so long ago that the light and warmth emanating from our Menorah will be enough to light the way through dark December.

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