SPINNING BACK IN TIME:
THE HAZARDS OF HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

by Joanna Poppink

Announcement!!! Ladies and gentlemen, right now, this very moment, time travel is possible. During the holidays you may return to when you were a child or any other time in your past.

If everyone around you agrees to travel at the same speed to the same time, this can be fun. If you are traveling to different time zones, all hell can break loose. Also, you can get stuck in time.

"Age appropriate behavior" goes out the window when no one, including you, knows how old anyone is at the moment.

How do we all do this? I don't know. But when mature and responsible Stefan is sad because creamed onions, traditionally served with the Christmas goose since he was five, are absent from the dinner table we get a look at time travel. When he fights his disappointment with sarcasm, he is not a 41-year-old man living in the present. He is time traveling back to when he was five years old in 1960.

And when the normally gracious 38-year-old Tina says to him, "You never like anything anyway. You always have it have it your way," lo and behold, we see her in 1971, 12 years old, squabbling with her older brother again.

These spontaneous time trips can happen at any time. But they are more prevalent during the holidays. They are often triggered by a moment of tradition or ritual.

The holidays are a time to be especially tender and patient with one another and with ourselves. We are all, in various ways, traveling through time. No one can be sure what year we are in at any given moment. Time travel happens whether you plan it or not.

Witness Jennifer. On Christmas Eve when Jennifer was eight, her mother brought her warm milk in a special Christmas snowy mug. Jennifer drank from it sitting up in bed. Then mother tucked her in, stroked her hair and kissed her good night.

Today Jennifer is 27 years old. She goes home for Christmas. On Christmas Eve her mother comes into her room with that mug of warm milk.

Possibilities:

Jennifer loves it and feels content. For a few moments she is a happy eight year old again.

Jennifer likes it, despite herself. She goes through the ritual but may feel uncomfortable and ambivalent.. She's 13, trying to be adult and fighting the pulls of little girlhood.

Jennifer becomes irritated. She explained the at at dinner the night before that she doesn't think cow's milk is healthy for adults. She says, "Thanks Mom, but I'm off dairy these days." She remains 27.

But what year is her mother in? She's traveling through time to when she was a young woman, sharing a calm moment with her little girl. Mother's feelings of strength and tenderness were sweet. She can re-live them if Jennifer is responsive and cooperative.

If mother cannot accept her child as a separated adult, mother may have to cope with some feelings of rejection.

And what if mother doesn't bring Jennifer that Christmas milk? What if mother remains in the present while Jennifer has traveled back in time?

Jennifer may be tense without knowing why. She may dream she is abandoned in the snow and wake up a little sad on Christmas morning.

Within each of us resides the feelings, memories and thoughts of every moment we have ever lived. Traditions and rituals of the holidays are strong magnets. They pull on our stored past experiences.

Sometimes those experiences come out as momentary feeling or recollections. Sometimes they emerge with such intensity our perceptions become those from years ago. Those past perceptions can be so strong that it is difficult to travel back to the present.

Look at Kelly, 31, sitting alone in her apartment on Christmas Eve. She's eating chocolate ice cream from the half gallon carton. With glazed eyes she watched Bing Crosby sing White Christmas on TV.

She has gone back to her past when she was seven. That was when her father disappeared and her mother had to work nights over the holidays.

At that time, Kelly was alone in their apartment, watching TV, eating crackers and jumping with fear at any strange sound.

Kelly thinks she is alone and abandoned in the present, when she actually is reliving her past as a neglected child.

Here's a time travel trip with a reverse twist. When Emily was six, seven and eight years old, she found a new robe and slippers at the foot of her bed Christmas mornings. She loved these special presents from Santa and would wear them while she opened presents under the tree.

Now Emily has a six year old. She leaves a new robe and slippers at Erik's bed on Christmas morning. Emily is back in time, being the grownup mother she imagined she could be when she was six.

If her son Erik enjoys the robe, she is content. But if Erik jumps out of bed and wants to stay in pj's all morning, she will feel sadness, maybe even rage and betrayal.

While Erik is in the present, Emily is back in time feeling like a disappointed six year old.

If Emily can remember she is time-traveling, she can pull herself back to the present and rejoin her family.

Time travel is tricky.

Uncle Ben gave his nephews Joshua and his brother, David, great Christmas presents every year. The presents were always identical: two footballs, two baseball bats, two drums.

When they were teenagers, Uncle Ben took them aside and quietly gave them both a package of condoms.

Uncle Ben died. David married and moved to Idaho. Joshua is single in Los Angeles.

Joshua likes his life, but Christmas feels lonely, even when he has a girlfriend and good friends.

Joshua gets a package from David with a note:

"Hey, I found these great wild socks. Ben would have loved them.
I got us both a pair."

Joshua is ready to cry and laugh at the same time. What year is it? Any one of many he and his brother shared with Ben, plus now simultaneously.

Maybe the holiday blues are really a lack of synchronicity because so many of us are careening through time. Perhaps we need to allow ourselves and others to go where we must and come back again. Then we might be able to let go of holiday expectations seen through the eyes of another era.

If we are tender and accepting of holiday time travel, we might be more free and able to enjoy love that is here and now.

11/28/98

Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.

Contact Information:
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax

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