FILED IN: Parenting

‘Tis the season to be S.A.D.

It starts somewhere around mid- September, when the weather starts to cool and mums begin to appear on the neighbors’ front stoop. Just about the same time when the playgrounds are packed with fresh pine mulch and are filled with drunken honeybees. It takes place soon after the first soccer game and before the first class photo. While the days quickly turn into night and the trees begin to drop their leaves suddenly. About the time when the parkways have emptied of endless shore traffic and the countryside harvests are well under way. When the grass grows a little slower and the late afternoon cicada song shifts from solo to chorus. While picking up my children from school a few weeks ago and being bombarded by the ghost of holidays to come…

“What do you think I should be for Halloween?”

“When is it my birthday?”

“Is everyone coming to our house for Thanksgiving?”

“How many days until Christmas?”

“When is it my birthday?”

My four children are already thinking two holidays and a full season ahead of schedule.

I’ll admit, having contributed to the chorus of moans and groans upon seeing Christmas decorations in September, my first thought of the holiday season is, “Ugh! And it starts…”

Why?

One of the many reasons, I think, is that motherhood has conditioned my brain toward responding, inescapably, to the effects of high volume advertising and pre-season blowouts including, but not limited to, the back-to-school sale. This typically requires some form of shopping be done…in a store…full of other people…shopping… and the binding family style dinner.

But, when did the holidays turn from annoying to down right sad?

There’s always a lot of media mention about “the holiday blues” this time of year. It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for some people it’s not. I remember reading somewhere about a mood disorder associated with the seasonal changes in light. It’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the National Mental Health Association states that, “Some people suffer from symptoms of depression during the winter months, with symptoms subsiding during the spring and summer months.”

Could this be what I was feeling? Or was it just your normal, average, everyday mommy stress?

The article went on to say that, “…as seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers are January and February, and younger persons and women are at higher risk…”

Okay. So, I was definitely in the “higher risk” range, but could I truthfully say that I was spiraling into some sort of seasonal depression?

Then I remembered 1956.

I wasn’t actually there, but I remembered the story. It was the year my father spent the holidays in the United States for the first time and contemplated suicide, ever. He was nineteen and alone. Not without friends, because there were three others that escaped with him, his sponsors (a local American family with Hungarian ties) and the local priest who he didn’t care for much. But, they weren’t family. He missed his father, his sisters and physically ached for his mother’s voice and was reminded of them at every turn. Experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time and wondering if there was anything truly to be thankful for. Could he have imagined a day when he would push away from a table filled with food, satisfied, while he sent boxes of canned food to his family back home? His depression became worse and his first New Year’s Eve in America, was spent at the corner bar, listening to other folks complaining about their families as he wondered… was his freedom worth leaving all that he knew and loved?

Fortunately, he pulled through and still calls it, “the year that Christmas almost I never was,” and often says he understands why people often succumb to their depression at that time of year.

So, I’m thinking that it’s okay to not feel so happy about all the hype. That no matter how much I clean or how early I shop, one of my children will most likely be sick and there will always be a place that sells it that much cheaper! And as long as I get through it with my mind, body and new Kia Sedona intact, I should be fine. That maybe I ought to think about lessening my expectations for the holidays. And then maybe, just maybe, I won’t be as disappointed when they don’t match up to the media version of a perfect Christmas.

Alas, some old habits are hard to break… the kids have long sent their letters to Santa… and so have I:

Dear Santa,

I have been a very good Mommy this year. I have tried to express, in many different ways, how much I love my family and friends; tried to listen more than speak; tried to forgive and forget; went another year without knowing my exact weight; changed what I could and made peace with the rest.

The only thing I want for Christmas is a space to call my own.

Today’s mail is hiding somewhere under a mass of pumpkin drawings. My desktop publishing CD is missing and has been replaced with Mr. Potato Head. Thanksgiving recipes are mixed in with job search responses. Remodeling brochures are mixed in with coloring books. PTO donation reminders, Girl Scout community service requirements and class mom reminders posted everywhere and donating my time has become second nature to me, now. I’m perpetually logged onto eBay and QVC… and what the heck is that sticky spot just to the right of my “I Love Nantucket” mouse pad, anyway?

So come on, Santa baby, make me into the well-organized and well-informed person that I seemed to have lost somewhere in between Mother and Hood.

Yours faithfully,

I.M. Amess