One Friday night about 15 years ago, my friend subjected me to the torture of watching old family videos. Christmas was near, and the spirit caught her mom who gathered us all to the den where colored lights from the tree illuminated the pizza she set before us. She was in a very chipper mood and promised us all cookies for dessert if we watched a family video with her.
“I thought it would be fun to look back on Christmas past before Christmas future becomes our Christmas present.”
I stared at her and gave a weak smile. When she spoke, I had no trouble understanding why my friend Kristen was in the drama club.
Kristen’s dad sighed as he sat in his armchair and did his best to remove the slightly aggravated look from his face. He had no desire to watch an old home video, but the promise of pizza and cookies was too much for this large, Italian man to refuse.
Kristen rolled her eyes when he sat down. As is the case many times between teenaged daughters and their fathers, the two of them annoyed each other. Kristen’s sour attitude annoyed her father, and anything her father did annoyed Kristen.
I was beginning to wish I had said ‘no’ when Kristen asked me to spend the night.
Mrs. Carlucci pulled out a blue tub of VHS tapes, all adorned with perfect, white labels.
“Christmas 1988. That should be fun!”
“What would that make you, Kristen–about nine?” her dad asked.
“I guess” was Kristen’s elaborate reply.
“Michelle, I thought you’d like to see what your friend looked and acted like as a little girl. She was so cute with her brown curls!”
Yes, Mrs. Carlucci. How did you know this was EXACTLY how I wanted to spend my Friday night!
For the next 15 minutes, we all watched with our eyes glued to the television. Clearly, Mrs. Carlucci did not remember what was on this video before she put it in the VCR. For the next 15 minutes, we watched as Mrs. Carlucci frantically picked up every piece of wrapping paper that hit the floor. We watched ‘chipper’ Mrs. Carlucci make her way through Christmas with a scowl on her face.
“Mom, what was your deal? Kristen asked as her mom on the video waved her away with a Get out of the way, Kristen.
Mrs. Carlucci looked away with embarrassment. “I, I don’t know. I guess I was just having a bad day.”
But before Kristen could cause her mother any more grief, our eyes were once again drawn to the TV screen.
Come here sweetie, we heard the normally gruff man say to his daughter as he pulled her close. Merry Christmas!
I love you, Daddy! the little voice said back to the gruff man.
I scrunched up my face as I watched a scene that looked like it was from Little House on the Prairie. This father and daughter oozed so much love and sweetness I thought I might be sick.
Aww, come here Bailey! the man called to the family dog. He scratched her ears and laughed as she licked his face.
Kristen and I looked at each other in disbelief–all this love coming from the man who normally complained that he had a Cocker Spaniel instead of a German Shepherd.
“Who’s the bad guy now, huh?!” Mr. Carlucci shouted out with a laugh. “Here’s the proof! Here’s the proof!”
Kristen and I tried to roll our eyes, but we couldn’t help but laugh. We did have proof–her father was full of love while her mother was a psycho!
We watched more minutes of opening presents and hugs between father and daughter while Mrs. Carlucci would occasionally look up from stuffing crumpled wrapping paper in the tall, black trash bag. Her weak smiles were not convincing, a far contrast from the chipper woman baking cookies in the kitchen 20 minutes before.
“Well, Michelle didn’t come over today to watch old videos.” Mrs. Carlucci began to stand up and make her way to the TV.
“No, no, leave it on! I want to see more,” the gruff man called from the chair. “Heh, you see that, Kristen! Your mean, old dad–ha! Look at that!”
“Oh, please, John,” Mrs. Carlucci said as she turned off the TV.
“What? I thought it was nice–a father and daughter showing so much love on Christmas…and now we have the proof!” he laughed again as he got up to hug his wife.
She pushed him away and went to the kitchen.
“John, sometimes you are so annoying.”
Kristen and I laughed as Mr. Carlucci made his way to Kristen with a sly smile.
“We have proof!” he yelled as he pulled her in roughly to his chest.
Now at this point in the story you may think that you know the lesson–we create our own realities; or people are complex, dynamic creatures, not defined by the labels we give; or never show a family video that you haven’t first pre-screened. However, there is more….
Watching that video 15 years ago, I thought Mrs. Carlucci was psycho, but then I got married and had my own children. I experienced Christmas from the perspective of a mother, and, somehow, it didn’t have all the magic of Christmas as a child. Perhaps that’s because the mother creates most of the magic.
Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci was simply exhausted after preparing meals for three different family Christmas get-togethers back-to-back. Perhaps after each get-together, she came home late at night to a sink full of dishes and laundry that needed to be moved from the washer to the dryer. She just wanted to go to bed each night, but she needed to get ready for the next day. She needed to set out her casserole dishes and grate cheese and organize the presents for each respective family Christmas.
Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci was tired from baking cookies. In an attempt to spread the love of Christmas, she spread herself thin for an entire week baking cookies with her daughter–cookies for teachers, cookies for neighbors, cookies for the mailman, and, of course, cookies for Santa. Maybe, on that Christmas morning, she was just sick of cookies!
And let’s not forget the cleaning. Perhaps, Mrs. Carlucci, after that final family get-together, came home late but was not able to go to the bed that called her name. No, now she had to worry about her own family Christmas.
Perhaps she cleaned the dishes in the sink so that she could prepare the ingredients for her own family breakfast in the morning. Perhaps Mrs. Carlucci saw the mess on the den floor and didn’t want Santa to break his neck when he came down the chimney. Perhaps, like the ‘psycho’ she is, Mrs. Carlucci vacuumed at two in the morning so that the family would be sitting on a clean floor when they opened presents by the tree. Perhaps, when Mrs. Carlucci finally went to bed at three a.m., after cooking and vacuuming and positioning presents under the tree and setting out cookies for Santa, she was satisfied with how she had prepared this day for her family…satisfied and dead-tired.
Mrs. Carlucci may have felt like a zombie that morning, and, perhaps, she was a little annoyed when she saw crumpled piece after crumpled piece of wrapping paper hit the floor that she had just vacuumed four hours ago. Perhaps, Mrs. Carlucci saw the crumbs Santa left after he ate his cookies, and she decided that next year she was going to serve the slob cookies laced with arsenic.
Mrs. Carlucci didn’t need to see the presents Kristen opened–she knew what they were–she’s the one who bought the darned things. She loved her daughter–maybe she told her to get out of the way because her own head was spinning from sleep deprivation and didn’t need three Kristen heads confusing her even more. And, perhaps, when Mrs. Carlucci saw Mr. Carlucci sitting on that floor that she vacuumed, eating the cookies that she baked, laughing with his daughter over the presents she bought, and scratching the ears of the dog she consistently fed and bathed–perhaps she just wanted to slap him.
It’s okay, Mrs. Carlucci. I get it now.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas! Thank you, Dad, for your ‘Christmas Lessons’ idea. I had some great ideas from others for more ‘Christmas Lessons’ about Santa, but due to the rush of Christmas and the inability to get out of bed after Christmas, not much has happened with my blog as of late! I look forward to getting back in a regular schedule…maybe next week.