Friday, December 6, 2013

And So This is Christmas: I Keep Forgetting

All of my lessons for the next week are planned, so I'm taking advantage of a rare opportunity for solitude at work by grading upstairs in our classroom. Clearly I am not grading in this exact moment; trust me when I say grading is a tedious and (no exaggeration) revolting task for me, in spite of my Type A penchant for charts and organization. The only way to get through it is with frequent carrots sprinkled throughout any session involving me, a red pen, and a mountain of my students' work. For one, I actually don't really believe in grades in terms of homework or classwork (it's all too easy to cheat, it's easy to misunderstand a question, I'm more concerned with understanding than with perfection, we could go on, but this isn't about educational theory) and for two I find the endless accounting paperwork of it all to be an insulting theft of time from the much more enjoyable and fruitful task of lesson planning and analyzing my students through the lens of often informal, usually formative, assessment. What I'm saying is, I'm taking a break from that racket to pound away on the keyboard about nothing.

The nothing in particular today is Christmas. Or, I should say, the holidays in general. Right now, our classroom is festooned with garlands and lights and wreaths and ornaments, dripping in tinsely bits and shiny balls, shimmering in glitter and sparkles and just generally being a bright and happy holiday place. It is one of the few places here that reminds me that it is, indeed, the holiday season of my home country (and of those who celebrate such holidays everywhere in the world, including here in Laos). This is also the second year in a row where I will be spending the holidays away from family, somewhere off in the world, celebrating with friends I made a mere handful of months prior. Yet I can tell you, in all sincerity, that it doesn't bother me nearly as much as the Colorado Christmases without family. In Colorado, Christmas was everywhere. Everyone I knew was gearing up for big holiday dinners, enjoying family traditions, staying up late to make purchases into presents with so many sheets of gift wrap and scotch tape, making elf dolls do precocious things, going to Christmas parties and Secret Santa affairs, making cookies and chocolate and all sorts of other outrageous Pinterest explosions of seasonal sugar. In the middle of all that? My God, the absence of my presence back home in Texas was a physical ache. It was something I could reach in and touch, gently, like a bruised rib. That was hard.

Here in Laos, or in Albania, or even in Japan, all of my acquaintances are in the same boat of expat living, floating on the often indifferent to holidays sea of our host country. No one is the odd man out, away from family for the holidays- we all are. Most people around us, the locals, actually don't give a damn about Christmas, at least not in the hyper family time extravaganza that I have known it. I spent my Christmas in Japan with Mormon missionaries who brought me along to tuck into the rare treat of a turkey dinner in a country without ovens and a traditionally passionate love for KFC during the holidays (horrors!). I did manage to sing Christmas carols with a group of other teachers, but we were swiftly dismissed by a stern policeman and then sent on our merry way home. I spent my Albanian year Christmas road trip criss crossing the gorgeous roads and treacherous mountain passes of Greece, landing in a stone cold closed down Athens and going on a do it yourself graffiti walking tour with my co-worker and his boyfriend. The hostel in which we stayed was a $6 a night Christmas tree and holly bedecked paradise, with lights and poinsettias to spare. I hung out the window on Christmas day singing "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" to the deserted streets before we headed out for a long walk through a city naturally empty of tourists because of course everyone was with their families- who wouldn't be, on Christmas?

I miss my family and friends, but I miss them in general, not specifically around these dates between late November and early January. I miss them on a Tuesday night when I want to be sitting on a couch and laughing until one a.m. about nothing but the fact that we find it funny. I miss them on the weekends when I think of Texas thunderstorms and coffee cups on back porches with tin roofs. I miss them on their birthdays, when I can't see their faces and tell them thanks for showing up here in the world when they did. I miss them on their wedding days when I wish I could see them put themselves into another person's life and make serious promises that change their lives forever, and I want to hug their bravery and tell them good luck and congratulations. I miss them when I'm out on a weekend and remember the hijinks we got up to, the banter we had, the outrageous predicaments with bricks (I'm looking at you, Tiara). I miss them when they have babies who won't be babies by the time I meet them. I miss them when they call me and their voices sound so very far away and they tell me dark things that make them cry and I can't do anything more than send my small voice back out across the line to the other side of the world, from my night to their morning, and tell them I love them. I miss them when they do the same for me. In light of all these everyday moments that I miss, the holidays, with their annual reliability of showing up right on their appointed date, just don't really bother me. The intimate spontaneity of proximity is the real gift, and I do daily know what I miss and am grateful that I have had that and will have it again.

So this Christmas I will be somewhere in Laos, possibly Northern Thailand, taking a much longed for and (I damn well think) well deserved break. I hope that I will be looking back on what ended up being a productive semester of grad school; I want to avoid what is still the real possibility of an incomplete that will nag at me all break and follow me like an unwanted puppy into next year. I'm hoping that my Christmas present to myself will be putting this past semester fully and firmly behind me, looking back on 4 months that felt like something much longer, and thanking whatever Gods might be listening that I never have to do that again.

Christmas 2012: Hanging out in the abandoned, graffiti covered streets of Athens


  1. Replies
    1. Christmas in Colorado is gorgeous. Fort Collins looked like a movie set for a winter scene. Perfect, fluffy, dry snow, immaculately swept streets, neat little houses and trees and local stores selling delicious things.