I stood in my parents’ kitchen, washing my hands before making something to put in my stomach. Not that I was necessarily hungry, but who doesn’t fix themselves a snack when they go to visit Mom’s house? Even though the overhead lights were off, the whole room was glowing from the small, enchanting Wonderland of Christmas decor: elves, santas, penguins, window stickers, glowing rainbow lights and their reflection off of the shiny garland above the cabinets. Mom always decorates the kitchen and living room more than any room in the house, even when it was just the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, almost every room always has some sprinkle of holiday cheer, right down to the “Ho Ho Ho” toilet paper in a festive basket on the back of the toilet. Decorating for the holidays was always a special tradition of jokes, Christmas Carols, and memory-making. A huge section of my parents’ attic is dedicated to all the different totes and boxes containing their vast collection of festive decorations. One of my favorite family customs with my parents and siblings is unwrapping and unboxing every ornament, trinket, and popsicle-stick creation, each with a happy story to recall. Mom acted as DJ for holiday music, even the funny stuff. Some of the best, inside jokes with the family started during the holiday season. I became lost in some of those memories, and washing my hands took way longer than it should have.
As I rinsed the suds off of my hands, I looked into the garden window above the sink, right in front of my face. I was so entangled in nostalgia, I didn’t notice the tiny craft sitting right at eye level.
I flashed back to making the project. The instructions were to turn a clothespin into a little person using the provided art materials that represents our current emotions. For a person who loves art, the materials were horseshit; but as an artist, I made it work. There were scrap pieces of fabric, beads, googly eyes, and the other toddler-safe items we were allowed to have in the facility. I made clothes out of a little, red piece of fabric and hot-glued a heart bead on the outside of the shirt; I remember thinking, “It feels like my heart is exposed.”
- Christmas Cray-Cray perched in his manger and proudly displayed in Mom’s Kitchen Wonderland
To me, the most expressive part of the project was the “thoughts and worries”, coming out the top of its head: different colors in a confused bushel intentionally pointing in all different directions.
Man, 2007 really fucked me up.
What the fuck? Where did she find this?
“Hey mom, can you come here?” I gently shouted with a sarcastic, yet curious voice.
My mom came into the room, “What?”
“Why the hell is this on your window?” I pointed at the ridiculous-looking, handcrafted nightmare, keeping eye contact and a cracked smile with Mom.
Mom shrugged and smirked back trying to figure out what the big deal was, “I don’t know, I figured one of you kids made it in school when you were little.”
Granted, like I mentioned earlier, it was dressed in Christmas colors with shimmering pipe cleaners floating around at the top.
“Well Mom, actually, this was an assignment in Art Therapy at the hospital, after I crashed my car. This is ‘me’ at the worst time of my life,” my mother waited for me to break the awkward pause first. Together, we laughed so hard my dad came into the kitchen, and I struggled to get out the words, snorting and unable to catch my breath, “I’m just minding my own business, washing my hands, admiring the setup of decorations this year. I grab a paper towel and all of the sudden, I’m looking into the googly eyes of the time I wanted to die... Merry Christmas!”
The roar of our laughs started to slow, but Mom picked it up again by giving this little guy a name, “It’s Christmas Cray-Cray!” This time, we were all holding our bellies with one hand and wiping tears with the other.
“I guess it means I’m healed if I can laugh about this. Man, that was funny,” I was still in stitches, but an honest observation.
My Dad looked at me with pride, “Yep. And now, it has become a holiday tradition and another happy memory.”
The following holiday season, Christmas Cray-Cray was given a comfortable home of his own, a tiny manger, and has been added to the box of things to pull out and put up each year. Even though Cray-Cray was created in an exercise to process some of the darkest days I have ever known; the meaning of him has changed. We all find joy every time we see him now, for more reasons than one.
Laughter truly is the best medicine.
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