Okay, I confess. I was just listening to Christmas carols in the car. I know. I KNOW, okay? It’s too early. But you see, I am coming off of this hormonally induced and barely repressed 48 hours of rage. The kind where, from the outside, I look pretty much normal, but inside I am all bubbling anger, just waiting for someone to pop that champagne cork of doom. And when they do….? Imagine a soda can in a paint mixer– Ka-BOOM! A veritable geyser of obscenities and spittle.

So I am sitting in my car, minding my own business, which mostly involves taking deep, supposedly calming breaths and repeating an appropriate mantra (“homicide leads to prison….homicide leads to prison…”) while waiting in line at the car wash. Twenty five minutes later (“homicide leads to prison…”) the door finally rises. Hurrah! My turn at last! Except the woman ahead of me is one of those who parks themselves under the air dryer, hoping to extract every last droplet of water from the surface of their vehicle.

Folks. I appreciate that this maybe has some merit in the dead of winter– you don’t want to take the chance of your door or keyhole freezing shut. (Plenty of pieholes I’d like to see frozen shut, though. Sorry. I’m still so very crabby.) but it was 44 degrees. Pardon me for saying so, but come the fuck on! Just move the crappy Corolla already. I swear to god, if I had a smaller deductible on my car insurance, I would just plow through the car wash at forty miles an hour and push them out, Mad Max style.

Ka-boom.

Anyhoo, when I gave an exasperated yell and smacked my head in frustration against the steering wheel, I managed to change channels on my radio. So it wasn’t like I went looking for Christmas music. Tony Bennett randomly started crooning “Silver Bells” from the stereo and I just…. left it.

I react to Christmas carols much like Pavlov’s dogs responded to bells. Deep, deep in the core of my brain, the opening strains of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” mean something good is going to happen. (Especially if it’s the Muppets doing the singing.) I have forty-five years of associating “Feliz Navidad” with good food, yummy smells, fun times with family and presents. Not much can interfere with that wiring. I’ve been working on those neuro-pathways since I was a baby. Forget deep breathing, four bars of “Oh Holy Night” and I can feel the stress leaking out my toes.

How nice to find out that this is true, even when life hands you some significant changes. We’re missing some much loved family members this year, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to dig up much holiday spirit. But that was before Tony Bennett tapped into the well of conditioned responses in my brain. If we’re lucky, life is long and we have so many, many memories to draw upon. We never celebrate just one Christmas. We are marking and remembering and living the expression of all of them–The one when Grandma and Grandpa gave me a pair of pearl earrings. All the years Mom let us eat the entire, foot-long Santa Claus cookie after dinner and I was so full I had to lie on the floor to finish it. The first year with a baby. The year Kirk and his dad set the turkey on fire. The first year without Grandpa. Without Grandma.

Every year adds another memory to the day, another ornament to the tree. This is the first year Miss Teen Wonder must travel home for the holidays, as a college student and arguably an adult. Her siblings will follow, one after the other. With any luck, someday there will be grandbabies. (Do you hear me, children? LOTS of grandbabies.) Each holiday will be different than the last, with a rotating cast of loves gained and lost, different circumstances, different trees….

And I will celebrate them all. Because even though I am with my almost-grown children this year, they magically remain every age they ever were. They are still the same footie-pajama wearing children, struggling against sleep, straining to hear footsteps on the roof. And more miraculously, so am I…Even if I seem to be nothing more remarkable than a middle-aged woman singing along to the radio in a car wash.

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The Rise & Fall of a Momocracy

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