In the Bleak Midwinter

Not long ago, I wrote about dreading our trip home for Christmas. I was looking forward to seeing our families and especially our niece and nephews, but every time we go home the Ogre and I fight. It’s often related to long-held disagreements about our different families and the stress of the holidays usually brings it to a head.

However, this year we swore not to fight. I told the Ogre that on Christmas Day, if we fought, I would leave whatever celebration we were at and get on a plane, abandoning him with three children, one of whom would probably be really hungry. I told him over and over and over that all I wanted was a peaceful Christmas, a Christmas where we were together in spirit. He assured  me that we wouldn’t fight, that if any issues arose they would be handled calmly and without fighting.

Christmas morning, we woke up and opened presents with my family. It was loud and raucous and wonderful and just like I remember Christmas from  my childhood. While my mom cooked breakfast the Ogre and Sienna tried out her new bike while I wobbled around on my  new rollerblades. Charlotte played with her new train, Liam slept and my brothers and sister took turns capturing our Christmas morning on the Ogre’s new flip cam. It was fun, but it wasn’t Christmas.

Then we cleaned up in a flurry and headed out to Dallas to the Ogre’s brother’s house, where we were to celebrate Christmas with the Ogre’s family. It started in the car; a small, nothing disagreement that should have been handled calmly and forgotten. But I was snippy and the Ogre was irritated and we started bickering. Then we got to his family’s celebration, and an offhand and thoughtless remark by  me sent the Ogre into one of his silent furies. About thirty minutes after silence descended over us, a silence that certainly did not go unnoticed by his family, we went outside to work it out. But we didn’t work it out; we screamed and fought and neither of us gave an inch.

The rest of Christmas evening was a bleak affair. We ate dinner in silence. His mother asked us both to let whatever it was go so that the family could enjoy Christmas, so we put up a good show. We opened presents together, but we weren’t together. We were like the lyrics to “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”; close together, but miles apart inside.

On the way back to my parent’s house we were mostly silent but still fuming. We started fighting again about halfway there, and our sleeping children, whom we had hardly seen all evening, woke up crying. We went inside to put the kids to bed but got so distracted by our anger that instead of putting them to bed, we fought and fought and fought while they sat on their beds, crying.

We didn’t talk the next day. The silence gave me a lot of time to think. At first I was upset because I felt that the Ogre just didn’t care about me. All I had wanted was a peaceful Christmas, and he had ruined it.

That line of thinking gave me about three solid hours of bitterness and self-pity. Then, resigning myself to being reasonable, I took a hard look at my own actions which had contributed mightily to the events of the day. After playing it all back in my head until I felt like I had a clear picture of the whole disagreement, I came to a conclusion. I took our fighting like that to be a sign that we hadn’t changed as much as I had hoped. When we lived in Texas we used to fight like that all the time. We had a rocky and difficult relationship. But we grew up a lot in Vegas, and we hardly ever fight anymore. Even when we do, it’s never loud and drawn-out. It’s usually a quiet disagreement that is handled quickly. So when we come back to Texas and get into a screaming match, I see shades of the people we used to be, people I had hoped to never see again, and it terrifies me.

The next day the Ogre and I sat down to talk about it. I told him the conclusion I had come to and what our fight meant to me. After talking about it for a bit, though, I realized that that wasn’t actually the reason I was so upset. While those people that we were will always be with us, we simply aren’t them anymore. Even when our fighting gets out of hand, it doesn’t mean that we are out of hand, the way we were back then. I kept coming back, again and again, to the fact that Christmas had been terrible. That was what I was so upset about. The Ogre didn’t understand why I was so upset about it until I finally managed to put it into words.

We ruined Christmas. Again. Not just for ourselves, but for our children. We ruined Christmas because we put ourselves ahead of Christ. It’s His day, after all. The day when we should remember His birth, His life, and His death. The day when we should remember the hope and peace and joy that He brings. The day when we should revel in those gifts which He has given us; the gift of Himself above all, but also the gift of each other. The gift of our marriage and our children. The gift of our wonderful families. But instead, we thought only of ourselves, and not just when we were fighting. The morning was wonderful, but instead of setting aside time to read the story of the Nativity or to talk about Christ, we just dove right into a pile of presents. It was fun, but it wasn’t Christmas.

We’re trying to reclaim that lost day now. We’ve bought the girls each a few small presents and have been taking time each day to give them their presents, talk about Christ, and spend some quiet time enjoying our children and each other.

It’s all we can do now, but we have yet another gift to be grateful for soon: the gift of a new year. What a blessing it will be to wipe the slate clean and begin again, to dedicate ourselves to putting Christ first this year. Next Christmas will be different. Next Christmas we will celebrate the coming of our Lord first, before presents, before breakfast, before coffee and definitely before arguments. I suspect that if we begin the way we should, the rest of Christmas Day will fall beautifully into place.

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  • Melanie B

    Calah, I'm so sorry things got so out of hand. I find that I also revert to a self I don't like very much when we go to stay at my parents' house. In my case it's not fighting with Dom; but I turn into a petulant teenager and it seems my parents can do nothing right. It's like just being in that house I have such a hard time not putting on that personality. I think it's easy to underestimate how much our environment shapes how we feel and how we behave. I felt sort of the same about not putting Christ in Christmas enough. I mean we went to Midnight Mass and all that. But then on Christmas day our only real nod to the meaning of the day was quickly putting baby Jesus in the manger before we dove into the presents. I didn't remember to actually read the Christmas story. I spent most of the morning cooking and then we went to the in-laws' and came home and put the kids to bed. I've been beating myself up over that. But I realized that we read the nativity story for weeks beforehand and we're still reading it this week and will continue to have those books out to remind us. The kids have been playing with the nativity figures and telling themselves the story. The wonderful thing about the way the Church celebrates the liturgical year is that having a whole season to prepare and a whole season to celebrate can help diminish the heightened emphasis on having to get it all perfect for that one day. Certainly it would be nice if we could make Dec 25 the best of all the days of the Christmas season; but we're human and we goof up. Happily, we have many more days of second and third and fourth chances. And really isn't giving us second chances what Christ's coming is all about? By modeling contrition and forgiveness for each other and for your children, aren't you and your husband are also teaching them the true meaning of Christ's coming?

  • Kat

    My husband and I had a hard time getting along on Christmas Day too. I felt bad about Christmas Day being that way, but I was comforted by the fact that there is more to Christmas than just one day.

  • Idoya Munn

    Calah, your honesty is very brave. I don't write about my marriage very much because those stories aren't mine alone to tell, and because we have made some big changes over the last couple of years, but I just wanted to tell you that I know what that fear is like. The fear that things are still as bad as they were, that they haven't changed as much as we hoped. Fear is debilitating, and sometimes it can be worse than the problem itself. Here is one story I have written about us. it encourages you! Don't lose hope. :)Idoya

  • Anonymous

    Calah, I love your blog and really appreciate your honesty. It is so encouraging to read a blog where not everything is always sunshine and roses and perfectly homeschooled children. You are real and that is a gift! Have you read the book "Fighting for your Marriage"? I thought of it when I read this post b/c I think there are a lot of married couples who believe the ideal is not fighting at all. I think that for certian personality types (I'm one of them!), that's not realistic. This book focuses more on how to get through arguments/ disagreements, etc., well, rather than to not have them at all. Just a thought!Thanks again for your honesty and keep it coming!

  • Emily G.

    I'm sorry to hear that your Christmas was so disappointing. Fighting is not something we have a major problem with; we fight pretty rarely. But my husband has a simply awful temper, and when we fight, it's always ugly. I am slow to anger, but I hold it, and he blows up and then forgets. I go around hurt for a long time, and I feel like he doesn't care about me because he forgets how mean he was when he was mad. It's not fun. I feel bad for you two. Arguing with your spouse is one of the most isolating, depressing things I've ever experienced.